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.

Articles

Ever-Blossoming Potential

photo by Maria Allred

 “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin, writer

I awoke this morning to the sound of author Harriet Lerner’s voice in my head.

“Every woman needs a life plan,” her voice was reminding me.

$_35I met Harriet in 1985 when her first book, The Dance of Anger, came out. At that time I was raising five daughters (Rose hadn’t been born yet) and wrote a weekly column for women in This Week Magazine in Portland, Oregon.

I interviewed Harriet about her book for my column and a sweet and brief friendship developed. Besides being an author, Harriet was a staff psychologist at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas and a wife and mother.

An important influence in my life, she offered ongoing motivation to my personal development as a woman through her books, lectures, and some precious personal time we had in Portland and Topeka. Much of my life was focused on our five darling daughters. Harriet helped me see I could be a priority too and that my voice was important both privately and publicly.

Honoring my selfhood, while mothering my then five daughters, was always a creative challenge.x_aa48b716 I went running at sun up while they still slept. I wrote my columns while they watched Sesame Street.

Now, six weeks shy of 62, I am realizing the narrative I had about this stage of life is pure fiction in real time. I am as busy and engaged with life as I was then, just in different ways. And, my potential feels as vital as ever. I have a vision of writing more books, mentoring my daughters, nurturing grandchildren, exploring the world and my place in it. Life can be a continual unfolding and fulfilling for each of us.

spring-blossom-trees-alley_tn2In the beautiful words of poet Emma Lou Thayne, “my arrival is as ongoing as prayer.” There is no arrival; there is only more opportunity to blossom in an ever-unfolding possibility.

So you might be wondering as you read, “When? How? Has she lost her mind?”

I used to believe I needed hours of uninterrupted prime time to write. Actually on the rare occasions those hours miraculously appear, I may find myself immobilized. The task is to ‘just start.’ I can put any string of words together and after five minutes of just writing anything that pops onto the page, I catch the wave of my own creativity.

Our challenge is to pick 30 minutes and start. You fill in the blank. What are your dreams? Are
there visions of art, crafts, pottery, education, writing, starting a business, learning to ski, trying Yoga, serving in a soup kitchen, volunteering in the schools, running for office?

Daughter's Sarah and Suzette completing a marathon

Daughter’s Sarah and Suzette completing a marathon

A marathon is accomplished one step at a time, a degree is obtained one class at a time, political office is won one vote at a time.

And as my older sister Brenda has taught me, there are many lives in a life!

As the last of her children were leaving home to start life on their own, she had an impression she needed to go back to college and get a degree in teaching. She and her husband and last daughter moved to Hawaii for the first leg of her continued education. Not only was she learning, she explored the islands in her down time with her now small family.

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Sister, Brenda and daughter, Annie

Sadly her husband passed away shortly before she completed her degree. And thankfully, she had a life plan and was prepared. Most importantly, she had listened to and trusted her inner knowing.

When the last of my daughters were in high school, I felt an unexpected impression get graduate degree in counseling. My only experience with that field had been as a client! The idea was daunting financially, intellectually, and hardly seemed practical. There still was a lot to balance in life. But my husband and daughters encouraged me. And so I started with just one class. That class, taught by Professor Greg Crosby, changed my life. I knew I had found my next calling and threw myself with a passion into my preparation.

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Daughter, Rose, selling goods at Pike Place Market

By the time my girls were starting college I was working and could assist them financially in carrying out their life plans—each plan unique. Some of the things they have done include helping run a farm-to-table restaurant (and working on the farm); teaching English in China; studying yoga in India; taking a road trip all around the United States; managing a quaint hotel on an island where whales could be seen from the porch; working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the shadow of the Grand Tetons; becoming a mother; becoming a therapist . . .

And, I just have to also give my husband a shout out; he bravely changed careers and got his graduate degree in his fifties. He brings not only his training to his new counseling career, but a life-time of experience including helping to raise six girls! (It’s no small task to be the only boy in the house!) He and I share a practice.

Just listen! Just notice! Let your inner-knowing tell you the story of your longings and desire. Then trust! Follow up with pen to paper or fingers on screen . . . Create your next life plan!

Reader Challenge: What dreams would you like to bring to life? What potential do you have that could be nurtured? What is a small and practical step to begin?

Come join me on the journey to continually nurturing our potential! Feel free to post about this on my FB page, Creating a Life You Love.

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Compensatory Blessings

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“Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future.”

  ~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

lilacsOn many Memorial Days, I have visited Rose Hill Cemetery, in my home town of Idaho Falls, Idaho, to decorate the graves of loved ones with purple lilacs.

That is where both of my parents, Norris and Roma Smith, were laid to rest – my mother when I was just 8-years-old, and my father, eight years later when I was 16. Cancer claimed my mother; a car accident my father.

Later, when I was an adult woman, my step-mother, Margaret Wilson, was also buried there next to her first husband, Charles, just a few graves down from my own parents’ graves.

Without a doubt, my early parental loss has been one of the great burdens of my life (at times greater than I felt I could bear). And, I have also been the recipient of profound compensatory blessings.

10584108_10204901771958405_996152146923195383_nMargaret, whom my father married 15 months after my mother died, was a no-nonsense woman who taught all of her children, including myself, how to work. She was incredibly frugal and thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs were the norm for us long before it was chic. Her priority was our future. Every month when our social security checks arrived, she deposited them all in the bank in our individual accounts for college.

Living in a small, conservative town during the sixties, she was ahead of her time. All of us, girls included, were expected to get an education in something that would lead to gainful employment. She knew from excruciating experience that every woman needs a life plan. When her first husband, Charles Wilson, died of a sudden heart attack, she was six months pregnant with her fourth child and had only a high school education.

482948_475564472491388_25718995_n4 (1)Margaret didn’t care where we went to college. What mattered was that our education would lead to employment. For me that meant a journalism major versus an English major. I did in fact get a job in my field before I had even graduated from college. She also encouraged us to travel and put off marriage until we had developed careers and had seen a bit of the world and of life.

When I graduated, thanks to Margaret’s thriftiness, my entire college education had been paid for and there was $1,000 left over.

I am profoundly grateful for what Margaret did for me, and at times it feels there is no possible compensation for my early parent-loss. As I write I am looking at the last picture ever taken of me and my mother. In the black and white Kodak photo I am eight-years-old. Though my mother looked sick, I did not know it would be our last picture together, our last trip to Yellowstone National Park.

She has taken the time to curl both of our hair. I am up on a log fence, pine trees in the background. She is standing and has pulled me in close to her with one arm. Our heads are touching tenderly. We are both smiling a similar smile. When I look at the picture, one word comes to mind: Beloved. I am reminded how much she loved me and how much I still love her and miss her.

1017364_10201040266280296_569399393_nAnd I wonder, is it possible, in one of life’s mysteries, that she had something to do with me giving birth to six daughters. Just as mysterious is the fact our youngest, Rose, was born on the same day as our oldest, Dec. 21, the winter solstice. I gave birth to her at home with two mid-wives and her five sisters, Annie, Maria, Amanda, Sarah, and Suzette, waiting to greet her. (I adored my Dad, but my mother-loss has been more difficult to endure.)

As I sit writing and pondering, I find myself reflecting on what it means to be the mother of adult daughters, not having had my mom past eight. Parenting profoundly changes when one’s children become adults. Instead of discipliners and teachers we are now consultants and even peers. All my daughters have transitioned into teachers for me as well.  

As I watch their continual evolution and unfolding, I too evolve and learn about unexplored parts of myself. When our last daughter left home, the house felt deafly silent. I mourned. I now rejoice with each homecoming – especially when more than one of them comes and the house is filled with loud laughter, constant conversation, and an ever- flowing ocean of emotion.

11071548_1575140202747691_2282661964437742215_nThey are bound by a shared childhood, yet each is a unique individual, mindful of her own purpose and path. Annie, our firstborn, has red hair like my mother. She lives in Oahu, Hawaii with her husband and two children. Her love of the island’s beauty was born when she and I took a mother/daughter trip there many years ago. Anyone who knows Annie loves her because of her kindness and hilarious sense of humor.

Maria is a filmmaker who lives in Portland, Oregon, and 538468_4237579502910_1642691890_nis working on her first feature-length film, The Texture of Falling. She is my editor and picks the pictures and posts all of my articles. As an adult, she has chosen to lovingly support my dreams and has been a huge part of this web-site development.

Amanda traveled the United States at 18, then got a job in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where she met her husband. 734573_10201075399032302_720774495_nShe is now a mother of two, has been continuing her education, and creating home and family in the Columbia River Gorge. She is known for her willingness to help others, her gentleness, and her commitment to the wellbeing not only of her family, but the earth.

Sarah lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, where her husband Grant is working on his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan. Sarah’s days are filled with 10612896_10152973072495746_7340654167737065132_nraising their three children, participating in book groups and women’s groups, and pondering what she wants to get her doctorate in and when. Already she is a community builder within the family housing where they live.

Suzette lives in Utah with her husband Mike. They are both mental health therapists and parents of their first daughter. At 10645277_10205162042279053_8736870650041956112_n-1the baby shower for Suzette, I was showered with numerous accounts of her quiet and positive support of so many people. It has been so endearing to witness her as a mother.

Our last daughter Rose spends her days working at Sea Breeze Farms on Vashon, Island, WA, where she makes artisan cheese and 254962_10200168641603933_1267083190_nhosts farm-to-table dinners at the Sea Breeze Farms’ restaurant, La Boucherie . It is not unusual for her to take off her apron at the dinners and break out into a jazz song with her beautiful, sultry voice.

I won’t be able to make it to Rose Hill Cemetery today. It is many years behind me and over 600 miles away from where I now live. And my daughters – though spread across the country — are very much alive. They keep love alive for me. Along with their father, my husband Brian, they are my treasure, my great compensatory blessings, my purpose, my meaning, my life.

On this Memorial Day, I invite you, as you honor your losses in life, to also consider your compensatory blessings.

 

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Me and My Shadow

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“You have to decide if you want to continue to walk around with stored pain blocking your heart and limiting your life. The alternative is to be willing to let it go when its gets stimulated. So you have a choice: Do you want to try to change the world so it doesn’t disturb you or are you willing to go through this process of purification?” – Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul

1910279_1189224859173_3889139_nLooking back at some of the articles I’ve written about my family, I wonder if some people think we have this big, joyful, perfect family . . . that we are part of the lucky ones who don’t know how hard families and life can be.

The truth is our family has had struggles over the years that have cast shadows over our shared history.

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Carl Jung, the father of Jungian psychology wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”*

Shadow Art by Diet Wiegman

Shadow Art by Diet Wiegman

Basically, our shadow is anything in our personality which remains outside of our consciousness. One way this shows up is when we project a disowned trait of ourselves onto someone else. If we encounter someone who triggers us, insight comes by looking in the mirror!

Healing requires curiosity about our shadow – learning what it has to teach us. What pain does the shadow hold that is waiting for release? Does it compensate for past injury? Is it a protection or place to hide? If so, how has that hiding place ceased serving us, and can we be honest about that? Often the mechanisms of the shadow feel secure and familiar to us and we can be strongly attached to them.

At one time during my work as a therapist I had a male client who had been sexually abused as a child by one of his parents. Part of his shadow work was to examine the shame he carried, very literally. He was obese.

140742624Over-eating was both his salve and punishment. If offered him comfort. But it also re-enforced the deeply held belief that he was stained. He always was swallowed by shame after an eating binge.

As we attended to this issue he was adamant that he had no interest in ceasing his 2 a.m. visits to fast-food drive-thrus to load up on warm, fat-laden food that felt ever so soothing. “I just want to rebel against that idea!” he told me emphatically.

I invited him to pretend like he was his own therapist. “What would you say to your rebel?” I asked.

His voice immediately softened. “What memories to you have about food from your childhood?” he asked himself.

And then he answered. “I remember how I loved to pull carrots right out of the ground from our garden and just eat them right there!”

54ebc407b8ef3_-_02-carrot-bunch-xl“Whatever happened to carrots that still have the green leafy stems at the top?” he asked.” You never see those anymore!”

His question was deeply intriguing to me. I knew it carried an answer to part of his shadow. An untraditional idea popped into my head. “How would you like to go on a quick field trip?” I asked.

He lit up. I asked him if he had been to the new natural foods store just down the street from my office. He hadn’t. I suggested we each get in our cars and drive there. We did.

When we arrived, I headed straight to the produce aisle to a stack of leaf-laden carrot bunches. I pointed with a ‘Vanna White’ gesture as if it was a new car on Wheel of Fortune.  He picked up a bunch of leafy carrots as tenderly as if it was a baby. And as he looked at it tears rolled down his cheeks.

photos.demandstudios.com-getty-article-181-109-166621761_XS“My mom would get so mad at me when I picked the carrots right out of the ground and ate them on the spot,” he said sadly.

“Why?” I asked.

“She said we needed to save them for canning and freezing.”

She had shamed him in a moment when he was intuitively connected to eating healthy food.

“Hmmm, looks like we have a clue to your aversion to change.” I commented. It was a sad and sobering moment. But as often happens in the complex world of emotions, we both suddenly noticed a store employee just feet away from us and starting laughing at the unusual circumstance we were in.

“I wonder how many customers cry over the carrots?” I quipped.

In some ways the laughter celebrated the illumination of his shadow and the hidden truths it held. He began to viscerally see how his eating compulsion protected him from his shame. It made sense that he sought nourishment in the middle of the night, when it could be hidden and that is was drawn to less healthy food.

On an unconscious level he had an entitlement to eat as much as he “darn-well-pleased” (as he said) because of his suffering. Ironically, his shadow was causing self-imposed suffering. In fact, it had reached a form of self-abuse because of its extremes and severity.

ways-to-eat-healthierBy becoming conscious of what he was doing, he was claiming more power to overcome it, one loving choice at a time.

So back to the personal shadows in my life and family. . . honestly, there have been struggles some of my posterity have or are suffering that are heart-breaking to me. I would rather it were happening to me than them. I have wished I could take their pain and difficulty away. But that would be like thinking it helps a young chick to break its protective egg open, when in fact, it needs to peck its way out to strengthen its beak for future food gathering.

Butterflies-in-cocoons-emergingThe same is true for a butterfly in its cocoon. It has to emerge by itself to in order to develop the enough strength in its wings to fly.

In light of recent troubles in our family, I had to tend to my own sad heart. I wanted to see my own shadow more clearly and how it’s cool, grey image had been cast forward generationally.

I wanted to wallow, but decided to walk instead. Nature has a way of offering me clarity versus self-pity (part of my own shadow.) As I headed out the door, the sun was just beginning its startling rise north of the snow-capped peak of Mt. Hood. My shadow stretched out before me, elongated, an exaggerated image of my own form.

I smiled to myself at the site of the powerful metaphor, remembering that as I continued to do my own work with my shadow and pain, my own enlightenment would also reflect onto my offspring.

*Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

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The Lessons of Life’s Seasons

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My granddaughter Amelia turned two last week. Amelia reminds me so much of her mother, Sarah, when she was a little girl. During our birthday Skype session with her, (they live in 10711109_10152918557995746_6287771912939620681_nMichigan, we live in Washington) it felt like I was looking into the past. Like her mother did, she has soft curls of light brown hair framing her face; big, brown eyes; and a sweet, mischievous grin.

For her birthday she had chosen to wear a green turtle costume complete with a large stuffed shell that bounced on her back as she ran around the house and jumped off the couch! She was in bliss! It was her birthday! “Celebration!” she exclaimed to us.

The wave of nostalgia I felt washed me onto the shore of early motherhood memories. I was back in the eighties when Sarah was three-years-old and I had taken four of my daughters shopping for shoes. (Suzette was home with my husband having her nap and Mary Rose hadn’t been born yet). The girls on the shopping trip ranged three to eight-years-old.

Annie and Maria needed tennis shoes. Sarah needed shoes to wear with her dresses to church. She rain-boots-and-puddleimmediately fell in love with a pair of yellow rain boots, put them on and began running around the store. I gently led her back to the dressier shoes. I suggested some white patent leather shoes. She reluctantly agreed to try a pair on, but then marched around the store chanting “I don’t like these. I don’t like these.”

Annie and Maria needed help lacing all 15 sets of holes in the high-top tennis shoes they were getting and Amanda was patiently letting me know she needed my help too.

In the midst of the chaos I finally gave in with Sarah. “Sarah, you can get the yellow boots,” I said in what I considered a very noble act of mothering.

She immediately announced, “I don’t want those boots!” and headed for a pair of hot pink high-top tennis shoes.

10849839_10152973065375746_5075678791845258097_nSarah, now 31, is the mother of two rambunctious sons—Edwin, 6, and Leland, 4— and Amelia. We talked on the phone last night for an hour while I was on a walk watching the large, golden orb of the sun begin its descent. Sarah’s dilemma is long past having her way with shoes. She’s totally comfortable with Amelia wearing a turtle suit for her birthday and easily allowed her choice (the next generation is making strides in getting it right!) Now what’s on her mind is whether now is the time to do a doctorate program. She explored the pros and cons and multiple options in her life—furthering her education, expanding the family, or just enjoying life as is.

As her young mother all those years ago, I couldn’t have begun to conceive of Sarah as an adult child – teaching English in China, marrying her high school boyfriend’s best friend, getting her college degree, becoming a mother, and after two sons, having a daughter who’s nearly her mirror image!

life-path-meanings1“Happy Birth Day,” I am thinking to myself as I write, in wonder of all the births in our lives . . . the different seasons, each with their important concerns, from which shoes you want to wear to what path you want to walk.

This article, which I started writing two hours ago, was interrupted by a phone call from my daughter Amanda, Sarah’s next oldest sister. Amanda is going to college now, and is a mom to Elijah 11, and Alia, 9. She also works. She had just dropped the kids off for school and was driving to work. Understandably she was overwhelmed by the demands and desires of her life—motherhood, education, taking care of her home, heaven forbid finding a moment for herself.

I remember her fierce determination as a four-year-old. One day I heard her in her closed bedroom shouting, “Get out of here, get out of here right now!”

Back CameraI couldn’t imagine what was going on since I knew she was in her room alone. I stuck my head in the door. I began to chuckle when I saw the object of her wrath—a fly, which interestingly had landed and was still. Definitely her approach was creative!

Amanda was my free bird. After high school she jumped in her car and drove cross-country to Minnesota, got a job on Mackinaw Island so she could provide for herself as she explored her new home. She would also live on Orcas Island, in the Puget Sound; and have another stint in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she met her husband.

734573_10201075399032302_720774495_nWhile married and a mother, she trained in Kundilini Yoga and became a yoga teacher. Now she is 33—a master number she tells me—and has decided she is ready for more education. Her quest to expand herself is amplified by the myriad responsibilities of her life as a mother.

Mostly I listened to her, but since she had started our conversation telling me how stressed she was asking for suggestions I obliged. We talked about perfectionism—how we need to let go and allow ourselves to be comfortable with the different parts of life being “good enough.” I reminded her that it’s ok for things to get sloppy when life makes extra demands on our time.

I reminded both daughters that there is always something ‘bigger’ going in life that we can’t see and that an important part of feeling peace in a chaotic world is trusting our process and trusting the varied nuances of our life’s unfolding.

Juggling-Mom-by-schlepping3.wordpress.com_The challenges of my daughters’ lives illuminate the challenges most women face in our culture—how to manage multiple roles; how to attend to one’s own development and one’s children’s development simultaneously; and how to keep up with the onslaught of competition for one’s time.

We are often hard on ourselves, seeing our flaws instead of our fortitude; inevitably comparing ourselves to the unrealistic images of perfection continually reflected back to us via multiple mediums, from magazines to movies.

What if we were to stop, take a breath, and allow for the inevitable imperfection in ourselves andour lives? What if we did whatever is our ‘almost best,’ and allowed that to be good enough? What if we let go of worry and made a dose of daily laughter a goal? What if we trusted ourselves?

Seeing Amelia in her turtle costume leaping off the couch with abandon; remembering Sarah marching around the shoe store in yellow boots; hearing Amanda shouting at flies . . . and now knowing my daughters as adults offers me a moment of awe this morning. I am reminded there’s enough time in the span of a life, not to take too much too seriously.

As my Dad often commented to me, “It will all work out!”  

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Clarity Beyond Clutter

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“…when you put your house in order, you put your put your affairs and your past in order too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.”   —Marie Kondo, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

782277_b8kim6GN_c-e1297060276739I choose shoes! Boy do I choose shoes . . . and the walk-in closet I share with Brian is evidence of my inability to say no when it comes to covering my feet.

“The number of shoes I have is obscene,” I recently said to Brian, as we were both in the closet starting to get ready for the day. A litany of self-justification began:

“I get most of my shoes for the price of a big mac, and I never eat Big Macs.” (I have a great second hand store where I find beautiful, hardly-worn brand name shoes.)

But when I am honest with myself I also have to admit that having a closet full of shoes is just one example of the burden of abundance. It doesn’t take long for my shoes to get in a scramble, an unorganized mess that requires time if I’m going to restore order.

EP-141208506Marie Kondo is getting me straightened out. She is the author of the mega-best-selling book on decluttering,

Key word in that title: decluttering. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved,” Marie writes, and then reminds us how quickly our things get too hard to manage, because we have too much!

“This is why tidying must start with discarding,” she says.

Her approach invites us to tell ourselves the truth about the things in our lives. Many of those things—the piles of unread magazines, the extra spices that have lost their zing, more clothes than we could wear in several months, more books than we’ll read in our lifetimes…you get my gist—create a burden versus joy.
Marie suggests getting rid of everything that we don’t love.

Like you, I have a very busy life with multiple roles and priorities. Too much stuff makes my life more difficult.

beautiful-details-of-esprit-homeI’ll never forget when we were looking for a new place to live several years ago. The last of our large family had left and we were downsizing. When I walked into the pristine townhome we would move into, my eyes filled with tears…tears of gratitude. I whispered to myself, “My life is going to be so much easier.”

My sister, Brenda, had her own experience with forced decluttering years ago: her house burnt down! Before that she had been in a constant struggle with all the stuff that accumulates when one is raising children.

I will never forget what she said after her family moved into a new house: “It’s so easy to clean a clean house!”

She had been freed!

Spring-Wallpapers-2014Many of us seem to feel a need to ‘spring clean.’ There’s something about moving out of the darkness of winter and into the light. We also want our houses airy and refreshed. I took a day last week, and bagged up lots of shoes, excess clothes, and books I’ll never read. I tackled stacks of defunct papers with the pleasing sensation of shredding!

I filled the back of our little pick-up truck with large garbage bags filled with the excess of our lives and happily delivered it to Goodwill. I took a breath of relief after the last bag left my possession. It felt like an act of good will towards myself.

Marie reminds us that, “the sooner we confront our possessions the better. If you are going to put you house in order, do it now.”

transitional-eclectic-airy-home-office-300sqSpring-cleaning not only clears the house, it unburdens our souls. As we declutter and discard it’s as if we give our very souls an opening to direct us to what we need to release emotionally. Just as the closet space is cramped, maybe our heart is heavy with resentment; maybe our thoughts have taken a negative downward spiral; perhaps our happiness has flat-lined.

The very act of examining our possessions can lead to an inward inventory. We can release ourselves from emotional burdens by letting go. We can see more clearly our illusions and replace them with the frank and honest truth. We can admit the toll our negative attitudes and criticisms toward self and others are taking and replace them with a desire to notice what is working.

We are free to create more peace, joy, empowerment, and love. Decluttering opens space for us to pursue our passions and discover our missions. When we are free of excess we can more easily live purposely, deliberately choosing what really matters.

As Marie reminds us, ‘Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.’

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Choose Happiness

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I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition – Martha Washington

c97b50226e5701d147806f35e58c3279We are each responsible for our own happiness.

The moment we assign that responsibility to another person or set of circumstances we give away our power.

As a mental health therapist I have worked with people who have suffered great adversity and difficulty in life, and yet have cobbled together a life they are happy to be living.

I have learned from them that happiness is found in how we relate to ourselves and others. It is created by our own thoughts and outlook.

I woke up to dark and foreboding thoughts recently. I did not want to start my day feeling so grim. My inner pessimist was yelling. I remembered something I had read recently (sorry to say, but I don’t remember where) that suggested the creation of an ‘inner mansion’ where our dreams and hopes are held.

d3260a5875fd6e5675b8e7541386e594I decided to imagine what the rooms of my mansion would hold, not that I need a mansion to be happy! I pictured riding my bike near the river, my skin basking in the sun, the vast expanse of a blue sky with white billowy clouds the size of mountains. I imagined the laughter of my children. I thought of the quiet comfort of my desk with my computer, books, pictures and memorabilia.

By expanding our inner narrative, we expand our mood.

We are in a relationship with ourselves longer than anyone else we will ever encounter in our lives. We choose happiness by nurturing an attitude of compassion toward ourselves. If we can’t be kind to ourselves we will always be strapped to some misery, even if it’s held behind an exuberant façade.

Kindness toward ourselves, patience with our own shortcomings, acceptance of our mistakes and eccentricities allows us to do the same with others. And, we are happier as we offer that kind of generosity to ourselves and others.

And when we face the adversity and difficulties that are an inevitable part of life, the more we can find our way to seeing and being grateful for what is working, the more likely we are to thrive.

Amanda-LindhoutAs a young girl, humanitarian and journalist Amanda Lindhout made her way through a rough childhood by collecting pop cans to turn in for money and then buying used copies of National Geographic Magazine for 25 cents each at the local second hand store in her small hometown in Canada. She would lie on her bed for hours gazing at the pictures of all the amazing places there are to see in the world. She vowed that someday she would go to those places. She was already designing her own happiness in that moment.

At age 19 she began saving her tips from her work as a cocktail waitress for travel. She backpacked through Guatemala, Laos, India, and Thailand and many more countries. When she ran out of money she went home and worked another six months then headed out again.

Eventually she ended up in Bagdad where she began doing a little work as a self-made journalist. At that point she set her sights on Somalia. Despite a raging war, famine, and religious extremists, she felt she could make a short visit, write about a place that was largely being ignored, and get out.

It didn’t work out that way. Four days after she arrived, teenage insurgents from the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group kidnapped her. Her friend, Nigel Brennan, a 37-year-old freelance Australian photojournalist from Brisbane, was kidnapped along with her.

The kidnappers demanded $2.5 million each for their safe return. She was held for 464 days, sometimes in squalid conditions, other times in a normal house. She was given very little food and unclean water. Sometimes she was kept in a dark room. Sometimes she was chained up. She was frequently raped by her captors and often beaten.

article-0-1F4A269200000578-792_306x423Her survival was aided by the fact that Nigel was being held in a room next to hers. They were able to communicate through the walls. She offered encouragement to him and expressed hope. It helped her to not give up.

I could barely put down her memoir, A House in the Sky, written with Sarah Corbett, as I read it over the past two weeks. Most astonishing was how she continued to use her own agency, limited as it was, to make choices of self-support and optimism.

“I found my way into a sense of routine, curbed on all sides by the dark and the rules,” she writes in her book, “but still, there was comfort in anything I could do for myself. . . I stole fifteen critical seconds to make up the bed, tucking the bottom sheet tightly beneath the sides of the mattress, using a hand to smooth any wrinkles. I folded my blue floral top sheet into a neat flat rectangle and set it at the foot. This, for me, marked the beginning of a new day.”

“To pass the time, I reminded myself of what I knew, of things that tied me to the world beyond . . . back at home the Rocky Mountains would be covered in layers of deep white snow. My mother would be wearing a scarf … “

After she was eventually released, she was treated for acute malnutrition and received specialized treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Eventually she summoned the courage to travel again.

Most astonishing to me,29amanda-lindhout-blog480 she also founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to create more opportunities in Somalia by offering university scholarships to women.

Her book was an extreme example of choosing happiness, even if there are only a few crumbs available. Knowing that gives us power. Amanda Lindhout’s kidnappers could hold her hostage, but she held control of how she faced her situation and found that even in the worst of situations she still held the power of her own outlook.

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