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Archive for April, 2012

I’ve always been a seizer, of opportunities that is.  However, since 2002, I’ve become a mindful and intentional seizer. 

In July 2002 my middle daughter,Nava, miraculously alive and basically recovered, walked out of her rehab hospital after a year-long medical crisis.

I felt a strong need to honor her miraculous survival and recovery.  And so for the next few years I struggled with the what and how – what to do and how to live differently having witnessed this most incredible miracle.  People grow and change out of their pain; I needed to create something new and different from the awesomeness of watching a life be returned from near death and be literally rebuilt limb by limb, muscle by muscle, function by function.

There was no going back to life as before, although in concrete ways, that’s exactly what I did, what we all did.  There lied my immense angst and frustration.  It didn’t seem right to just ‘resume’ .  We had all been through something huge, and hugely defining.  There was a tugging force screaming out to do something with this miracle I was blessed with.    

To date, I haven’t Done That Something.  I haven’t started an organization or foundation or created that something out of nothing.  But now, 10 years later, I recognize that I am living with more intention, fervor and passion; I am actively engaged in the familiar but more so, seeking out the new and unknown.  I feel I’m living better than Before.    You could say I have taken life on with a vengeance.

My ‘seizing moments’ have come about by living intentionally with two basic principles as my guiding forces:

Finding ways ‘to do’ and stepping outside my comfort zone.

I live with these mottos.

Finding Ways To Do:    A ‘To Do’ mindset affords us wonderful opportunities.  It’s up to us to bring into our lives what we want and what we choose to go after.   And it’s not about getting it all; it’s about incorporating bits and pieces into our lives now.   Voltaire says, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”    We need not wait for that perfect time.  For it may never come. 

It’s always easier to find ways Not To Do.  They’re called excuses-  the easy ways out.  And they’re easy nails on which to hang our hats.   That is where our hats will stay, hung up on the status quo, remaining in place.  Is that how we want to live, passively in place?   Not me, said I.  I look for ways To Do, and I do it now.  For I know all too well how our lives truly hang by the thinnest of threads.  As the saying goes, if not now, when.

{Full quote: If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”   Rabbi Hillel (Hillel the Elder (c. 60 BC-10 AD)  Jewish scholar and religious leader.}

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone:    But comfort feels good.  Why step out of it?  Because therein lies the opportunities…. to engage in the new, to grow, to learn, to experience, to achieve, and yes, to risk.  But the new, the risks are scary.  Yes, fear is a powerful force.  We fear the unknown; we fear failure, rejection, loss.    If we give in to this fear, we sabotage our pursuits, dreams, goals and appealing chances. 

How about pushing through the fear and making it our friend by saying, “I’m scared and I’m doing it anyway.”    As  Neale Walsh says,  “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  New opportunities and experiences await us.   So much is out there for us to partake in.  Go for your interests.  Seek out and ye shall find… a wide world out there, open to us.  Are we open to it??

{Some of my} Seizable moments

Winter walks along the beach.    Excuses not to – it’s too cold, too windy, too empty, who goes to the beach in the winter…… 

To Do – winter walks are gorgeous, not many people ( I wonder why, they must be the Not To Do people), quiet and peaceful, bundling up to the cold ocean air, thoroughly refreshing and mind-clearing.

Times Square on New Year’s Eve.    Excuses no to – too cold, too crowded, too crazy,  I’d rather watch it on TV, that’s for tourists…..

To Do – exciting to walk in the city with all the excitement in the air, organized crowds, fun and friendly people, spontaneously ending up in Central Park at the bandstand for a free dancing party, fun ride home on the railroad. 

Into the city for a course/lecture/event.  Excuses not to – too tired, too far, too lazy,  too, too…    

To Do – interesting event, uplifting, stimulating, learn new things, meet interesting people, engage in good conversation.

[Some of my] Stepping out of my comfort zone seizable opportunities:

I started going on nature walks as a reprieve from my 15 hour days by Nava’s bedside when she  was in the rehab hospital.  I will soon be going on my third Swiss Alp hike.  I became a hiker- a mid-life new love. 

I now do lots of public presentations;  something if you would’ve told me 10 years ago I’d be doing, I would’ve looked at you like you were nuts and said, ‘I don’t do public speaking; not me, I’m too shy, too scared, too……  I can now say I not only do them but I truly enjoy them.  I love the interaction and find them very stimulating and empowering.   I have found my voice.

Computers ‘scare’ me as I am not very techy.  I learn slowly as I go and enlist lots of helpers.   I’ve recently embarked on my newest techy endeavor – teleconference parenting classes. 

Over the past 10 years, I have built the story of my life in the light of the miracle of Nava.  It is a shining force that guides me towards initiating and proactively seeking out wonderful and meaningful  opportunities.  When I string all of these together, the chain is big, the light is bright and the awesomeness of life is being honored. 

I would love for you to share some of your ‘seizable’ moments.   Do you have any mottos that guide you towards living well?

Thank you for stopping by.  Subscribe, share, comment.  All are appreciated.

 

 

 

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As many of you know, I do monthly interviews with inspirational people who have ‘successfully’  risen above their personal challenges to rebuild their lives with meaning, purpose and joy. 

I have been given a wonderful opportunity here – the chance to interview a most inspirational blogger who has just published his first book.  I am honored to be a part of Alex Blackwell’s promotional tour for Saying Yes to Change: 10 Timeless Life Lessons for Creating Positive Change. 

Change is a scary concept for most of us and one that we tend to resist.  Heck, it’s hard and requires a lot of work.  Most of us are content, or so we think, just maintaining the status quo and plugging on. 

But in Alex Blackwell’s tender and heart-reaching style, he has written a book that makes it so doable.  Simply put, he draws you into his life-affirming guide for change in a most authentic, strong and yet vulnerable way.   

He doesn’t just ‘write the walk’, he ‘walks the walk’.  As you will see in this interview, he takes  responsibility – a pre-requisite for change – for his difficulties and works at self-improvement; thereby creating change in himself and as an extension in his most important relationships.

1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

I think the quality that has sustained me most is my reliance on faith. No matter how tough the journey has been, I know there is a purpose, and a plan, that is moving me in a positive direction.

My faith has made me stronger when I saw the relationships with my children improve and my marriage with Mary Beth begin to heal. These glimpses provided the motivation to stay on the path to positive change; and these glimpses fueled my faith to keep moving forward because I believed something beautiful was waiting.

 2. Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

 I did. My period of self-pity lasted the first three months of my marital separation. The separation was something I didn’t want. Feelings of anger and desperation overwhelmed me.

My way out was recognizing that if I wanted my life to change, then I had to be the one to change it. This motivated me to take a closer look at my actions and to make a series of choices that led to putting my life back together.

3. Was there a specific moment or epiphany which helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically, or did it evolve over time?

 A little bit of both, Harriet.

My epiphany came when I realized what my selfish actions were costing me. It became clear the times I chose to work over spending time with my son and daughter. I saw their pain and rejection in their eyes. I didn’t want to push them away anymore.

Once I made the decision to change, it then became a process that I was committed to following every day, because I could see my life was beginning to change for the better.

4. What were/are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

 The three main skills I try to use day:

  1. Look for the gray in every situation – things usually aren’t just black or white.
  2. Don’t get too excited about the highs and don’t get too sad about the lows – life has a way of balancing itself out.
  3. When someone asks for love – give it freely, unconditionally.

5. What thoughts propel you forward? 

 Creating positive change begins with discovering one powerful truth:  You cannot change or heal what you do not acknowledge.

6. In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life?

I believe there are no accidents without value. Meaning, we have the choice to look at our past and see only the bad; or we can choose to look at our past and see something valuable. Today, looking through a 49-year-old lens (age gives us 20/20 vision when looking back), I do see pain, but I also see a little boy who was determined to make it through. The persistence that drove him then, is driving me today – it’s driving me to share my message of hope, love and self-acceptance. And there’s a ton of value in that.

 7. What advice would you offer someone going through a difficult time/situation, in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact?

 I think the lessons I provide in my book offer the best advice:

 – Lesson One: Prepare Your Soul for Change (ready your mind and heart for the journey)
Lesson Two: Find Freedom from Pain (let go of the painful memories to find happiness)
Lesson Three: Listen to Your Inner Philosopher (stay confident when facing doubt)
Lesson Four: Recognize Your Beauty (accept and love your true self)
Lesson Five: Learn To Live Without Asterisks (place no limits on the life waiting for you)
Lesson Six: Be Inspired By Love (create and sustain loving, positive relationships)
Lesson Seven: Live Beyond Your Skin (learn new tools for dealing with negative people)
Lesson Eight: Find the Brighter Side of Failure (find value in everything that happens)
Lesson Nine: Take Down the White Flag (find the courage to overcome barriers)
Lesson Ten: Let Faith be Your Guide (learn to walk by faith)

Get a constant dose of Alex’s uplifting and gentle writing at his beautiful blog, The Bridgemaker.

Alex has graciously offered to ‘give away’ one free copy of his book.  To qualify please share a comment on a change that’s you’ve achieved, one that you’re working on or one that has been too difficult to achieve, yet.  Random drawing will be on April 25th, 10 pm (EST).

Thank you for coming by.  All the best.

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We all deal with grief very differently.  Some don’t talk, some desperately need to .  Some withdraw into themselves,  others can’t be alone and need to be around people. 

When people go through a loss or an extremely difficult situation, the problem can be compounded by one another’s differences in coping and grieving style.  That in and of itself can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation, which further exacerbates the loss. 

What attracted me to my last interviewee, Cheryl Strayed, was her way of dealing with her grief and her need to find her way back to her life.  She went on a solo hike for three months.  That takes guts and courage, tough skin (literally and figuratively) and a very adventuresome spirit.   But she needed to do something big and bold in order to rediscover and recreate herself as a motherless daughter.   By feeling  the earth she eventually got grounded. 

Most of us don’t take such a huge leap into the unknown in order to come upon the known.   Many of us struggle and work things out within our own everyday lives.   

I for one grieved intensely for a year after receiving my daughter’s diagnosis and finding out she had developmental disabilities.  I railed inside with every toxic emotion available.  I had no clue how I was going to come back to a grounding point where I could feel good again. 

It’s a very scary place to be, not knowing if you’re going to feel good again, if things will become O.K. again, albeit in a new way. 

Last night I attended an author’s talk where a woman asked a most poignant question to the author and moderator during the Q&A.   She asked how and what can help her feel happy again in life after the death of her son.  A hush came over the audience and after a long silence and deep sigh, the author answered by acknowledging her loss in a most compassionate way.  There’s a saying in Hebrew which translates as, ‘standing on one leg’.  In other words, something can’t be explained or answered while standing on one leg.  The woman’s question couldn’t really be answered here.   

It brought me back to my year in therapy when I used to ask my therapist, how will I feel better.  And his answer to me was, ‘there’s no recipe’.  I thought then it was such a lame response.  I wanted  something concrete, something I could grasp that would make it or me better.  But as I came to know, as much as I didn’t like the concept, it really was, ‘a process’ – a process of Going through it in order to Come through it. 

And then things start to shift.  The loss naturally remains but the concoction of emotions get shaken up, mixed and poured back and forth until some new variation of emotions is put together.   Gradually we come to a place where some of those good feelings can surface and rise to the top. 

My ex-husband and I couldn’t have been more apart in how we each grieved.  My feelings were raw and exposed and I needed to talk. He escaped in his hospital work of very long hours and did not want to talk.  We were miles apart and each alone in our own grief.  His answer to me was always, “what’s to talk; how many different ways can I say I’m sad.”  But in truth he was also very angry, and angry at God.  His sense of helplessness and anger eventually turned inward to non-healthy ways of coping – to numbing pain-killers.    

Sometimes it feels like we’re hanging on for dear life, both within ourselves and with one another.  But hanging on can hopefully get us through with the right supportive strong rope.  Finding it can be a challenge but it’s out there.   We may find it on a solo journey or in our own backyard.  Grief and its comeback has many faces.  The trick is to find what brings us back to the land of the living, and the living well.

How have you been able to ground yourself through a loss or painful situation?  Have you experienced grief in a way that pulled you apart from your loved ones?  What brought you back?

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In light of my upcoming teleconference class, I’m re-posting a previous post, slightly modified.   

One of the best aspects of my job as a school social worker (pre-retirement) was conducting parenting workshops.  And one of my favorite is the “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” series.  The two authors, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, wrote this book (and program) back in the ‘70s and it’s still completely relevant today; perhaps even more so given the fact that we’re more hooked into screens than live faces.      

Our kids’ communication skills today are expertly played out through social media – texting, tweeting, emailing, facebook.  In a sense we’re losing our kids to this technological world.  Parents are truly hungry for skills and techniques to sink their teeth into and connect with their children in a face-to-face manner.   

Having run these workshops several times in the schools, I see the participants come alive with enthusiasm.   They listen intently to one another as their sense of isolation diminishes.  “You mean I’m not the only one”; “I thought it was only my kid”; “I’m at a total loss”.  They share, vent, role play, question, practice skills, shout –out, take notes, do homework and are completely engaged.

We are all involved in learning to respond in a non-reactive manner with new skills in our parenting tool box.   And many of these {communication} skills are ones that can be used by all with all.  They’re what I call basic people skills; not only relevant to parent-child relations.

A basic foundation for healthy emotional well-being is helping our children learn to deal with their feelings. 

Acknowledging feelings is a basic communication skill.  It is so important and so relevant to all human relations.  It’s how we all feel understood.  And when we feel ‘gotten’ we’re more apt to come on board and let our guard down instead of holding tight to our defensive and sometimes defiant stance.

So often we want to make it all better for our kids or anyone else we’re dealing with who’s expressing {uncomfortable} negative emotions.  We want to quickly take it away, stop it, or as I like to say, ‘pooh, pooh’ it.  But that only makes it worse.  By acknowledging, we are giving them permission to have them, to express them appropriately.    “You were really angry when he teased you during recess.” As opposed to, “oh don’t let it bother you, just walk away and tell the teacher.”

 But we as the adults must be able to tolerate their negative feelings  and not run to erase them,  lest  they run later on  to negate them  with alcohol or other drugs of choice.

If you think this is an extreme leap, think again and look around.  Talk to people who are experts at numbing their pain as they sit at the bar gulping down their anesthetic.  

As with any new skill, it takes practice.  It’s almost like a new language.  It all starts with us as parents, as people.   We set the tone.  Even the smallest shift tilts the pendulum and small waves of change can be subtly felt- between parent and child, friend and friend, boss and employee.

We need to communicate mindfully and consciously and from a place of non-reactive strength.  Easier said than done. 

If you’re a parent in the midst of this most important ‘job’ of raising the next generation, for which there is no advance training (or degree), consider joining in on the April 24th teleconference call.  Click here to sign up.

Please pass this info along and share.  Thank you. 

 

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I’m stepping out and embarking on something new – a teleconference class.   Since I love doing parenting workshops, I figured I’d expand my repertoire and start offering some online classes.  Another avenue, another way of reaching people and another way of expanding myself.   

This first class will be about helping children deal with their feelings.  It’s based upon the techniques written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in their book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

I’ve written a guest post on the subject over at the Raising Small Souls website.  You can read it here.

I may be going out on a limb by saying this but parenting almost seems to becoming a lost art.  We are becoming overshadowed and overpowered by all the pulls of societal technology.  We’re running on a perpetual treadmill of trying to keep up with it all.  And we’re losing something vastly important along the way.  We’re losing ourselves and what’s important to us and our families.   We have a lose grip on our values and priorities.  The competition is huge and we are falling into that competitive market with our kids.  We’re finding it hard to maintain our own grounding and stance.  We’re therefore doing all too much For our kids with the rationale of, ’I can’t let my kids fall behind or not give them what everyone else has.’

We’re losing a lot here and our children are losing even more.  They’re losing the ability to stand on their own feet and be responsible and competent young adults.  Perhaps I should qualify this by saying, they’re not really Losing anything, it’s that they’re not being given what they need to become responsible for themselves, accountable and competent people.  But more on this in another piece. 

Let’s get back to some basics in parenting;  to skills needed to help our children grow into emotionally healthy  and resilient people.  It’s interesting to note that this book, How To Talkwas first published  over 30 years ago and it’s just as relevant, perhaps even more so, now. 

Please join me in this free class.  I will highlight the specific ideas and concepts and then I hope for lots of interaction.  You might consider getting a copy of the book and reading Chapter 1 before the class.  It will give you good food for thought and discussion. 

Information and  registration right here.

 

I’d really appreciate if you pass along this info to any parents you know.  Thank you.

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I have always loved reading books about people’s struggles and how they are able to overcome them.   That’s why my favorite genre of books is memoirs.  I love the real thing.  I know fiction certainly portrays this theme, but I want to read about the real person with the real situation and the real human condition being played out.  And truth be told, truth can be stranger than fiction. 

I get inspired, empowered, motivated and hopeful when I read redemptive and transformational stories.  That’s what people who ‘successfully’ rise above their challenges do; they become better (not bitter), they transform their lives with new meaning, new purpose and develop a richness where joy springs forth from the sadness, from the struggle.  Usually a keener sense of appreciation and a humbling sense of gratitude arise for the ‘smaller’ things and for the beauty of the ‘everydayness’ of life.

I learn coping skills, inner reflection and awareness, new ways of viewing concepts and ideas, new ways of thinking and overall attitude adjustments.    

Frailties surface and then inner resources of strength and resilience come through. 

There are people with incredible odds stacked against them who are living incredible lives by pushing through their challenges and not allowing the ‘misfortunes’ to define their lives.   They present lessons for living a rich and satisfying life; for living a good life.   For we all know it’s not in having the least amount of issues that presents us with the good life.  It’s rather what we do with what we have, and how we take what we get and make it into a good life; how we incorporate the difficulties into our lives. 

We all know people who appear to ‘have’ everything, but yet are running on empty inside.   Not that we ever want to have difficulties and/or losses, but it does seem that oftentimes, real substance and meaning comes out of the unasked for challenges that come our way. 

I gain tremendous faith in the human spirit when I read or witness stories of people creating good lives around, through, despite and because of their challenges. 

How do we grieve, how do we handle our losses, how do we find a place for our disappointments and still manage to live on with zest and a sense of awesomeness at the wonder of life?

Books open doors to these questions.  They portray different ways of gaining one’s equilibrium, of dealing with crises, of even dying well. 

So yes, I’m a memoir junkie. 

Here’s my most recent list of uplifting memoirs:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Enjoy Every Sandwich by Lee Lipsenthal

Thunderdog by Michael Hingson

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

(An oldie but goodie) Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

What memoirs do you recommend?   Please add some of your favorites.  And if you have some fiction that hits upon this theme, you can share that too.  I won’t say no to a novel.

I recently came across a wonderful blog with this as the first post I read, on memoirs: http://sunnyroomstudio.com/2012/03/30/the-human-journey/

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I am so excited to present this month’s interviewee, Cheryl Strayed.  I am exceptionally happy for Ms. Strayed because her memoir, Wild, which just came out March 20th  has been getting rave reviews and is currently  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list.  And Reese Witherspoon has optioned the movie rights to Wild, in which she will star as Cheryl. 

I am extremely appreciative that in this exciting ‘hoopla’ time for Ms. Strayed, she warmly and graciously agreed to this interview.    Her story is quite unique, to say the least, in how she has rebuilt her life after going through the tragic loss of her mother.  Ms. Strayed found her way back {to life} by embarking on an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). 

“It seemed like years ago now – as I stood barefoot on that mountain in California – in a different lifetime, really, when I’d make the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself.”

 

1.       What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

One of the last things my mother said to me before she died was that I was a seeker. I didn’t understand at the time how right she was, but now I do. My impulse to reach and dig and get to another emotional or psychological place, to understand a new thing, served me well when I had to rage against my mother’s death at the age of 45 and later, when I had to heal my sorrow and learn how to live without her.

 

2.       Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

One time about two years after my mother died I was with a group of women on Mother’s Day. We’d rented a cabin for the weekend and since none of us were with our mothers we went around in a circle taking turns saying something about our moms by way of honoring them. I was the only one with a dead mother. These women were kind to me, but I remember feeling an unreasonable amount of unexpressed resentment toward them. It felt so unfair that they got to have moms and I didn’t. (And then of course I felt guilty for feeling that way.)

I let go of my self-pity over time, as I grew up and accepted the fact that I would never get my mother back. I also met many people who’d also lost their parents young and they were a great consolation to me. I don’t experience self-pity anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what I’ve lost. I’m never with a friend and his or her mother that I am not aware of it. A little    voice in my head always says, lucky you. But it’s a loving voice, and one that understands complexity. There are many orphans whose parents are alive and well.

 

3.       Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

I had many epiphanies that together formed an evolution. The hardest part about losing one’s primary parent in one’s teens or twenties is that you’re still trying to form your identity, to figure out who you’re going to be in the world, and smack dab in the midst of that, you’ve lost the person who’d defined you and against which you’d defined yourself. You’re grieving so hard, but you’re also trying to grow up.

Those things are utterly tangled together for me. I don’t know what was youthful angst and confusion and what was my grief, and I never will. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if my mother hadn’t died. I’ve learned as much from her in her death as I did in her life. I had to stitch my own stories with the threads of her absence. At a certain point I became willing to do that. I accepted her death as my rebirth, whether I liked it or not. I was on a big journey when this really became clear to me—on an 1100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I wrote about in my memoir, Wild. The summer I hiked the trail was a time of many epiphanies. My experience on the PCT changed me forever. It was my evolution.

 

4.       What are/were your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

I miss my mother every day, but my grief has lessened over time. It doesn’t feel like the great weight that will sink me anymore. When it did feel that way in the four or five years after her death, I found comfort in my friendships, in silence and solitude, in the wilderness, and in my writing. Acceptance was probably the most important coping skill. I found solace in simply sitting with my sorrow. There’s a lot of strength in crying the tears that need to be cried and letting go of what cannot any longer be held.

 

5.       In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your losses?

By moving forward. By searching out love and goodness. By keeping faith with the things that brought me the most inner peace. By mothering my children with the same big love my mother mothered me. By becoming the woman my mother raised me to be, even though she didn’t get to be here to see her.

 

6.     What advice do you have for someone going through loss in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact?

There are dark days and painfully bright nights in this life. We have the capacity to survive them. We know this because so many others have and are and will. It’s an ancient tale. Trust it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/wild-a-hiking-memoir-by-cheryl-strayed.html

 

Photo credit goes to Joni Kabana for picture of Cheryl Strayed.

Thank you for reading.  Sharing and Comments are always appreciated. 

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