Life On Purpose

August 18, 2012

The transcience of life is never more apparent to me than when I learn of someone’s passing. Whether at their own hand (news which I have heard far too often lately) or at the hand of Fate, death is a reminder that our personal bank account of time is limited.

How much of our time is spent doing things that aren’t serving us, or worse, are actually harming us? How little time do we spend focused on the people, places and passions that really turn us on?

I’m not saying your life has to be one peak experience after another. We’d tire out quickly if we didn’t have some down time between all that luscious intensity. What I am saying is life on purpose is a lot more satisfying than aimless wandering into the “I have no idea what I want and I don’t care to find out” approach to your days.

It is upsetting to think people feel they have no other way out of their troubles than to exit this world voluntarily. There is always a way out ~ inside of life. You needn’t jump outside it to find the solution.

Repeat after me: You are not your circumstances. You have instrinsic value no matter where you are right now. Circumstances change. You can too, if you wish.

If you are reading this and feel a sense of helplessness, know that you aren’t alone. We all struggle sometimes. We are meant to help each other in this world, to raise each other up to our truest potential, to celebrate exactly who we are and to take pleasure in participating fully in all experience.

If our lives are the culmination of our choices, what do you need to do to change yours? Ah yes. Make different choices.

Now you’re talkin’…

Biding Your Time

July 8, 2012

After attending a recent concert of international singers at my daughter’s school, I am convinced that music can heal the world. You can’t help but feel touched when voices rise up like that. Just try to listen to soul, for instance, and try not to be moved by it.

Music can also help us with hard times. We have all had the experience of waiting for someone we love; whether it’s because they are overseas in the military, on travel or simply live far away.

Busby Marou sings of it in his song, “Biding My Time”. It’s lovely and reminds me of the songs by Jack Johnson.

Enjoy!

Life’s Little Surprises

September 28, 2011

You wake up an hour later than you thought.

Your job description has been turned on its head.

The weather takes a sudden turn.

Change, and the way its managed, can impact our lives more than we realize. As I recently read somewhere, long-term success is not based on what you do right, but what you do when things go wrong.

Life’s little surprises hold a nugget of wisdom we often cannot see. The day I got up a full hour later than I had intended, I managed to get to the TV studio earlier than anyone else.

How was that possible?

It’s a little secret I am about to share. If you take it on, magic will happen. Wait. Before you turn the dial (or click the mouse), hang on. It is real.

It is called time abundance, embracing time so you have more of it. I literally did what was necessary instead of fretting about what I could or could not change. And the full extra hour of sleep kept me focused as I drove down the autobahn (at the speed limit!) without any distractions. No radio. No CD. No cell phone. Nada. I simply looked at the road and assured myself that I would arrive at the exact time I needed to. And wouldn’t you know? I did!

When your job takes a new direction, see it as an opportunity to learn something new. It’s a stretch, for sure. Change is merely the cause for bringing back into our awareness that things happen just as they should. We are reminded in those moments that uncertainty lurks just beneath our consciousness at all times. We work with probabilities. This or that will probably happen. We rest in the hope that it will.

The weather is a great example of how we have tried to harness the wind with our metrics and gizmos. Can we ever really know for certain whether things will happen as we think? All we can really do is raise the likelihood that they will.

One never really knows. And that is the beauty unfolding.

Life is full of little surprises. They are treasures wrapped in mystery. When we meet them with wonder, life takes on a fullness that can mend our broken hearts and restore us to whole.

Take a moment today to reside in that wonder. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find underneath.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes

Why is forgiveness such a loaded topic? Because many believe that somehow the victim has to be the bigger person, raise himself up to a higher standard than the perpetrator and make amends to reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

Hogwash.

Forgiveness is a process that can sometimes take years. And it is the key to personal liberation.

Betrayal, violence, neglect and abuse are the themes of Helen Whitney’s book Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate, which grew out of her upcoming film on forgiveness, which will be broadcast on April 17 and April 24 on PBS.

Forgiveness is a vastly misunderstood theme that deserves our renewed attention. As the world’s uprisings, both natural and man-made, have recently shown us, there is no better time than now to understand the healing powers of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean you have to reconcile with the perpetrator or condone their behavior. I am certain there are many who find Gaddafi unworthy of their forgiveness, for instance. But, as Dr. Jane Greer, New York-based psychologist and author of How Could You Do This to Me? Learning to Trust After Betrayal, so aptly stated in a phone interview, “Forgiveness is the resolution of your rage.” There is a time for wrath and a time for warmth. It is about coming to terms with what has happened in our lives, acknowledging our anger, releasing it to feel the depths of our despair, only to realize it has its limits, too.

Then, once felt, the gaping, lingering wounds of our years can seal.

We have all experienced some level of betrayal in our lives. We think we cannot bear the searing rod iron-hot pain so we develop coping mechanisms such as self-abuse, angry relationships and continued drama cycles. In many of the personal stories Ms. Whitney conveys, people held onto their pain for years. In the book, she illustrates the story about a fugitive responsible for the death of a policeman in the face of anti-Vietnam protests who didn’t fully accept responsibility for her acts until well after she had handed herself in to the authorities two decades later. It wasn’t until she released her anger toward the U.S. government from the 1960s that she could apologize to the family whom she had caused so much pain.

“Apology is necessary to begin the journey of forgiveness within a relationship,” claims Dr. Greer. But what happens if you do not receive that apology? In many cases, the victims in Ms. Whitney’s book did not. She interviewed people from Rwanda and Nazi Germany who experienced so much sorrow. Millions of people died at the hand of a few. It is only now that people can speak of the abomination they experienced.

Without apology relationships cannot thrive. And so how does one go about forgiving someone who does not wish to be forgiven? The relationship ends, if there ever was one. That is where self-healing comes into play.

“[F]orgiveness in no way means you have to reconcile with someone who badly treated you,” states Dr. Frederic Luskin, head of The Forgiveness Project at Stanford University and author of Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. “If you were the recipient of childhood abuse or are in a harsh relationship you can forgive the offender and as part of that choice make the decision to end or limit contact. Forgiveness is primarily for creating your peace of mind. It is to create healing in your life and return you to a state where you can live capable again of love and trust.”

Roxanne Renée, author of Laughing Again: A Survivor’s Guide to Healing Depression, says that “[t]he one who hurt me does not suffer the destructive, internal physiological effects of my sustained anger; I do. When I practice forgiveness, I engage my “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) nervous system, triggering myriad calming and healing physiological changes in my body. When I forgive, I am the one who is set free. “

In fact, forgiveness begins and ends with us.

Our misconception of forgiveness lies in our belief that we someone should ‘forgive and forget’. The truth is we will never forget, although we may suppress memories that bubble to the surface, oftentimes decades later. The pain is expressed either way. Sometimes it comes in the form of an illness. What the mind ignores, the body absorbs.

Forgiveness is not about reconciliation. We may never wish to see the perpetrator again. Dr. Luskin says there is nothing wrong with that.

“Another misconception about forgiveness is that it depends on whether or not the abuser or lying person apologizes, wants you back or changes his/her ways,” says Dr. Luskin. He cautions about making someone else’s behavior the determinant for your healing and happiness. “[Y]ou can forgive you ex spouse for their insulting speech and even for abandoning you and your children… but forgiveness in no way means you do not take the ex to court to make sure your children get their support payments to which they are entitled. Forgiveness and justice are not the same. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Forgiveness and condoning are not the same.“

At this point in my research, I was quite relieved to learn the distinction between forgiveness and what our religious traditions have us believe is forgiveness. Ms. Whitney’s book features the 2006 Amish schoolhouse shootings in which the parents of the children killed by the local milkman turned gunman promptly forgave him, even though he was dead. They reached out to his widow and found comfort in their God that says you will enter His Kingdom if you forgive. Ms. Whitney raises the question of whether suppressing one’s natural feelings without allowing for a certain level of unforgiveness is healthy.

There’s got to be grieving at your own pace.

But perhaps Ms. Renée is right when she says “As we vividly remember the hurtful encounter again and again (practicing un-forgiveness by holding on to our hurt and anger), we trigger the same fight or flight response that we initially experienced. When we stay angry, we keep our sympathetic nervous system constantly engaged. In this state, we are trapped in a place of unrelenting stress. Because humans were not designed to live this way, the ultimate result over time is quite harmful — systemic inflammation leading to a host of chronic, degenerative conditions.”

Many studies have been conducted about the health benefits of forgiveness, including lowered blood pressure, slower heart rates and decreased cortisol levels. Dr. Philip Carlson, author of Love Written in Stone, pointed me to one such study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine that claimed study participants who learned to forgive experienced significant increases in blood flow within the areas of the heart where it had been previously impaired due to damaged tissue resulting from a heart attack.

Whether we choose to forgive or not needn’t be a loaded question. It is our choice whether we wish to carry the burden of a heavy heart or to nurture it with forgiveness.

Forgiveness heals. Unforgiveness destroys. When we forgive, it is much like love. We are all entranced by its power and through it, we are set free.

~~

Listen to my podcast with Dr. Frederic Luskin to learn more about what forgiveness can do for you.

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The Power of Imagination

November 7, 2010

Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, was on my mind this weekend as we took the kids to the mountains for a few days of frolicking. The four-star hotel offered great food, free WiFi, a wellness area with a pool with an Alpine view and enough cable TV to make the kids’ eyes bug out. We managed to go for two hikes, swim in the pool four times, and visit the gym twice. To distract the kids on our long walks, we practiced math problems in our heads. All in all, it was a glorious time.

The imagination part came in with all the storytelling I did to keep the kids’ entertained (and in complete unawareness that they were, gasp, hiking!). Remembering Dr. Reznick’s nine tools to broaden our kids’ imagination, we practiced some deep breathing on foot. Dr. Reznick calls it “balloon breath.” She says:

“Get comfortable on a flat surface and place your hands around your navel. Focus your attention two to three inches below it, and breathe slowly and deeply into your lower belly so that it presses into your hands like an inflating balloon. Stay there for a minute or two, feeling its gentle rise and fall. Notice how you feel. Try it sitting and standing.” (page 20-21) It is a great power of slow exercise for young and old.

It wasn’t hard to do the next piece because, in truth, our special place was right before our eyes. In the second section of her book, “Discovering Your Special Place,” Dr. Reznick says to foster the sense of self that dwells within. She suggests to visualize a peaceful place…perhaps our kids will think of the mountains the next time they’re bored, looking out the window during class!

Although we didn’t find any real animals (it is, after all, almost winter in the mountains, despite the unusually warm temps). Dr. Reznick recommends “Meeting a Wise Animal Friend” to act as protector. Perhaps the protective quality of animals is the reason why animal movies such as ICE AGE, LAND BEFORE TIME and GARFIELD are so popular.

In the third section, “Encountering a Personal Wizard” Dr. Reznick says sometimes we need to look to magical beings that might be able to assist us in times of need. During a particularly acrimonious homework session, I once called my son’s Math Wizard on my cell phone. Suddenly, he was able to solve the math problem on his own because of the mere confidence his imaginary wizard friend gave him.

If you wonder why imaginary friends are useful, consider the next section, “Receiving Gifts from Inner Guides.” Much like the phone call to Math Wizard, imaginary wizard and animal friends can provide gifts of strength and confidence when you need it most. The sixth section, “Checking in with Heart and Belly,” helps your child get in tune with their own feelings.

Dr. Reznick writes: “Neuroscience has shown that certain ‘brain’ chemicals— neuropeptides, which communicate with other parts of our bodies— don’t live only in the brain; they also reside in our intestinal tract. This suggests a second “Belly Brain” for emotions. Other research suggests that the heart has its own intelligence and communication system.” (page 40)

 

Other Suggested Reading

 

 

 

 

In section seven “Talking to all your body parts,” I was reminded of a recent blog post in which I offered up a simple exercise to help us re-enage with our bodies in a powerful way by greeting each section of ourselves with love, compassion and acceptance. Starting with your toes, moving up your ankles, shins, etc., thank each body part for the part it plays in getting you through the day. Give it a try!

We all know color can have an effect on our well-being. In “The Healing Properties of Color”, Dr. Reznick addresses how we can creatively use color to express our emotions. And finally, in “The Healing Power of Energy,” we learn the positive effects of ‘sending’ and receiving good vibes from others.

Fostering your imagination is a wonderful way to engage in the power of slow. Let it be your guide, wizard, animal or otherwise!

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“Send them outside!” my grandmother used to say when we’d get too rambunctous for her inside the house. We’d roll in the grass, sweep the stone terrace and weed the pachysandra. At the time I didn’t appreciate being sent outside when the air conditioned house seemed much more inviting. But today I find myself fleeing to the outdoors when life is too much with me.

In a pocket of time yesterday afternoon, the sun kissed the Earth with such benevolence that I felt compelled to grab my broom and sweep up the leaves that continue to fall from our walnut tree. There I met our neighbor who was enjoying the afternoon off from his stressful managerial position at an worldwide furniture store. His pet pig (yes, he owns a pot-belly/dwarf pig) was rooting around the ground for the last walnuts he could find. My son appeared with his soccer ball and a spontaneous game of kick-the-ball ensued between the neighbor and him. With each sweeping motion, I felt the stress of my day fall away. My motions were accompanied by the thump of the ball,  the grunt of the pig and an occasional jubulation for a shot well-done. The smell of the rain-soaked leaves soothed my soul as I realized there is great joy in sharing a moment outdoors ~ with son, neighbor and a pet pig whose presence alone reminds me that no matter how demanding our 24/7 world can be, the beauty of the ever-present moment can be ours if we awaken to it.

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Holistic animal healer, Tara McClure Purcell, speaks about the healing properties of nature. As a wildlife resuce specialist, she has observed how we can learn from animals. “Animals go at their own natural pace whereas we humans go too fast for our own good,” she says. Tune in to this week’s episode of Focus Fridays to hear more!

If you like what you hear, don’t forget to right-click, save, then place your Power of Slow badge of honor anywhere in your social media universe. We appreciate you spreading the word that slow is faster and that fast is merely exhausting!

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