Marching Into History

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“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.”
~ Margaret Mead

Yesterday, history was made with women marching & gathering all over the globe to stand in solidarity for human rights, women’s rights, and to stand against derogatory statements made during the election campaign which too many have taken as permission for unacceptable behavior. The energy was palpable at the gathering I attended. I looked around and witnessed generations standing together which reminded me of my own daughter and grandchildren who were held dear in my heart. Also palpable was the common thread to hundreds of other marches both in our country and around the world. I also felt the presence of millions of women who could not be there in person but were cheering on the sidelines from their homes and work places.

I went to stand up for women’s rights that are threatened, to stand up against violence, to stand for equality for all, and to stand for peaceful action over hatred. When I arrived I knew I had made the right decision. What I saw were women, men, and children. Many wore their pink hats that were made as a statement of intention for the march, others carried signs expressing their sentiment, some wore “nasty woman” t-shirts and there was a sense of peaceful intention about the gathering.

Once the group energy coalesced as a sister march for human rights we all felt connected energetically to marches & gatherings everywhere, there was a common sense of purpose — to make a clear statement that we are the people who will not be easily abused, threatened, violated, or disrespected for our gender, our sexuality, the color of our skin, how we worship or from where we’ve immigrated. We walked and gathered in determined peace in order to be heard and seen.

What inspired me was that the marches were began by an idea that one woman had after the election. I am convinced that even one person can, indeed, institute change and mobilization. Looking at photo’s of marches in every large city in the US and cities around the world make me smile with pride. I do believe we made a statement in a very positive way.

Positive psychology focuses on living life with meaning and purpose as well as focusing on what is good and what is working in our lives. A foundational tenant that Chris Peterson spoke of in reference to positive psychology is that “other people matter.” I was marching because I do believe all people matter and deserve a life of meaning and purpose that embraces our diversity and our differences. Whether in DC, Boston, San Francisco, London, Australia, or the smallest of communities, we were there together making our voices heard. I was filled with a sense that I am not alone in my concerns that seem to loom so darkly on the horizon.

I woke this morning noticing that the heaviness I have felt since November had been lifted. I am grateful, more open, and ready to participate in the work that must continue. Complacency is not an option in my mind. Real and lasting change involves action. I am reminded of what Michael Moore encouraged us all to do — make calls every day to our representatives to stand for positive change. A phone call takes minutes yet can be the action we take to carry forward the change we need at this time (202-225-3121) and encourage our representatives to make good and right choices that uphold our Constitution (we the people, for the people) as well as our Bill of Rights.

Finally, I am grateful to my sister after an overdue conversation this afternoon. We generally stand on either side of the political divide. Today we sat down to talk about our views, our concerns, and our hopes. We allowed our love for one another and our willingness to ‘agree to disagree’ to bridge our differences when it comes to politics. We took the time to empathically listen to one another. What we learned is that we want the same things for each other, for those we love, for ourselves, and for our country. Even though we voted differently, I felt the divide narrow into remembering our love for one another.

I want more of these conversations so that the divide in our country can be bridged. I want to listen more to those who disagree with my point of view or my choices. I do believe we want the same when it comes to those we love. Empathy and the willingness to take the time to truly listen is what is needed most as we move forward.

Reflections, Foundations, and Intentions

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Here we are, days before this year ends and another begins. What do you do to prepare for the next year? Do you prepare? I do!

Reflecting… What’s been done? Who have I been?

I begin preparing by reflecting on the last twelve months. My journal pages fill as I ask, “What have I accomplished and completed this year?” and “Who have I been?” I write for days and one thought leads into the next as my list grows. You see, when I begin, I often think that very little has actually been accomplished. Every day is busy and full. I find it is easy to forget once I’ve finished a project or accomplished a goal and I am already onto the next adventure. Allowing myself time to reflect is like looking at a photograph or into the woods. At first, I look at the whole scene, take in its feeling without the details. The longer I look more and more details emerge that I hadn’t seen on the first look. Nuances of color, wildlife pausing in camouflage, a bird perched on a branch watching me, a fallen tree that I didn’t see in the initial looking. There is always more to see as my focus changes and deepens. The details are both in the scene and in me, my own inner landscape in response to the outer landscape.

Reflecting back over my year requires that I take time to allow details to emerge — those details I’ve forgotten. Looking at the whole I can see and feel an experience (even the sense of non-accomplishment). My initial list is simple — drawn from the whole. As I stay with the list and begin to focus on parts (month by month or day by day) details emerge and I remember — listing the details. After a week my list has grown and I am both surprised and happy that I’ve done so much. I am grateful that most of my intentions, written a year ago, have been fulfilled. And there were many pleasant surprises as well. I always love the adventures I didn’t count on yet were an outgrowth of my intentions.

A New List Builds from The Last List…

From the list of the last year, a new list begins to form. I have a new question, “What is in me that wants expressing this next year?” My new years list has begun with events already planned — workshops, writing, travel, etc.

Another question I ask is, “Who do I want to be this next year?” These are my inner intentions — equally important for these create the environment for many surprises. For example, I wish to be even more of my Best Self this coming year — appreciative, curious, open to new possibilities, and living more fully into the spirit of giving and loving.

Long ago, I dispensed with resolutions — those actions inspired by what I haven’t done. You know them — join the gym, eat better, write that book, finish that list of projects, etc. These nearly always end in the trash bin of unfulfilled hopes that I can later use to berate myself. Resolutions don’t grow from my Best Self. They grow from thoughts of not being good enough. Not good enough isn’t a firm foundation for growth, success, or surprise.

Foundation of What Worked…

What provides a firm grounding for awe, curiosity, and positive growth come from my Best Self. For example, one of last years intentions was to remember what I deeply love about yoga, hiking, and the sweet surprises that I am grateful for every day. Looking back, I did remember what I love which led me to more varied hiking, appreciating the yoga retreat I just went on (that I hadn’t planned for) and every day was full of moments of gratitude. Looking back and reflecting, I am in awe of all I’ve done and experienced in 2016. This is my foundation built on what worked.

Carrying Forward & Intentions…

Beginning with 2017, my foundation is being my Best Self, allowing nature to be my mentor for living in trust and giving, and honoring community whether near or far. I’ve ended 2016 with a new appreciation of the importance of community. I intend to carry that forward in 2017. I’ve remembered and learned that all my relationships need nurturing just as my gardens need tending in order to assist in the best harvest possible. Some practices I will continue — gratitude, living from my strengths, my yoga, my daily writing practice, and my journeys into nature. These form my firm foundation for the next cycle of intentions. Some intentions already forming are taking action over inaction, allowing room for my voice to inform my actions. I’ve learned that action creates momentum and upward movement while inaction creates stagnation and downward motion. I like the upward spiral into positivity even if inaction is sometimes the familiar and easy way ‘out’. Action always leads me somewhere — adventure, new community, resilience, and fresh perspectives.

An Invitation…

I invite you to reflect and plan for your next year. Begin with listing what was done last year as a foundation for the coming year. Write them down (if writing works for you), share them with someone you trust, create a work of art expression, and then appreciate all you’ve done.

Here are some questions to help frame your intentions and planning:

1. What did you accomplish, complete, learn, and experience in 2016?
2. Who were you?
3. What will you carry forward and upward in 2017?
4. What is already in motion or planned for 2017?
5. Who do you wish to be this next year?
6. What strengths and qualities of your Best Self will you cultivate and nurture?
7. What intentions will begin 2017 for you? Consider both specific plans and broader experiences in your intentions — leave room for surprises and opportunities yet to be discovered.
8. If resolutions work for you, write them as well.

As we prepare to say good-bye to 2016, let’s go forward into the next year open to sweet surprises and fulfilled intentions in the most positive way.

Happy New Year – may it be filled with peace in your heart!

Inspired by a Holly Tree

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There is a park I stop at every time I go to Cape May, New Jersey. This park is very close to my destination and is my last opportunity to let my dog have a walk before our arrival. It is the only park that is not connected to a food and gas rest stop. I have walked around this picnic area park every month for the past few years and, only recently, did I notice a holly tree surrounded with a small fence and a sign telling the story of the tree.

On reading the sign, I learned that the Holly Tree is over three hundred years old and is now surrounded by a grove of many younger holly trees. This particular holly tree was on the original landowners property before the Garden State Parkway was constructed. What I find most interesting is that, rather than cut down the tree which is too often the way, the people who bought the property for the Garden State Parkway decided to honor this tree that has grown there for so many years and reroute construction around the tree and create a picnic area for travelers to enjoy!

Each time I stop at that picnic area, I stop to see and honor that tree. I am in awe that one tree was the reason the Parkway was constructed with a picnic area in the middle of almost nowhere and without a food court or gas station! That holly tree and all it’s surrounding offspring continue to grow, are cared for by someone, and provide an area to enjoy nature as the traffic continues on. I wonder how many people who travel the parkway are aware that this park exists because of a tree that has survived over three hundred years? I wonder what history has surrounded this tree in those many years — who were the people who originally enjoyed the shade of that tree?

Of course, this has raised another, more current question for me. If one tree has been preserved and a major highway rerouted around it can happen, why can’t the pipeline contractors at Standing Rock find another route for their pipeline in order to honor and preserve the history of our country and it’s indigenous people and their sacred lands? Those lands have been sacred land for far longer than three hundred years. Have we not taken enough from our indigenous people?

It saddens me to realize that this holly tree preservation is such a rare happening. What would it take to reroute other plans in order to preserve our history, our environment, and honor the people who live on that land?

I am inspired by the ancient holly tree that continues to stand because someone decided to honor its existence and find a way to keep it standing. I want to be inspired by the goodness in people everywhere to find ways to respect one another, be kind to one another, and care for our history — its people and the land.

Working With Worry

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I am a worrier. Yes, I can be a serious hand-wringer when something happens and uncertainty ensues or unexpected change is in the works. I consider myself an expert at worrying. I have often thought if there were a way to advertise, “Let me worry for you”, I would be a millionaire twice over! I am good at imagining the worst-case scenarios just to be sure my worry is worthwhile. I used to think that considering the worst that could happen was somehow preparing me for what was coming and if I could live with the worst, then all would be okay.

I was also taught that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” On some deep level, I think I still believe that along with flushing out worst-case scenarios even though both leave too much room for worry…

I am in a worry session now which has had me struggling about how to write a positive blog post (honestly, my blog is called ‘Happy, Healthy, and The Prepared Mind,’ implying positivity). My truth right now is worry over happy… I have numerous tools to use that could ease my angst and I find my mind a blank slate for even one practice that could pull me in an upward trajectory. Meditation, positivity practices like gratitude or kindness, even permission to be human (all my go to practices) aren’t helping. My other practices that usually work — yoga and nature walks — seem only to open space for more worry.

Ever have one of those days? or a string of those days? I hear myself asking, “What can I do?” or “What’s a solution?” And then I continue worrying because I have no immediate or helpful answer, no immediate (or positive) solutions.

Even in this current state I continue my routine practices and hope that my mind will move to calmness when ready. During my meditations my mind often finds calm from worry and clarity arrives if only in a momentary glimpse. I continue to hope.

Then, I arise from meditation with the question, “What can I do?” Answer: What I always do. Take action. Immediate action.

For today, I picked up my knitting as my action to keep my hands and mind busy. Do I need another scarf, pillow, or blanket? It doesn’t really matter — just knit. I knit or, more accurately, I create. Keeping my hands, mind, and body busy with creative action always helps me focus. I need action that is engaging to my senses — creating something does just that, engages more of my senses, provides a sense of purpose (even if for a brief while), and I appreciate the respite from my worry.

As I settle into knitting my shoulders relax as my hands are busy with the process of knit/purl, my mind is engaged with counting stitches to track my design, my senses are further engaged with the steady sound of the knitting needles, and I am taking action, moving forward.

Is this action toward a solution to my worry? Yes and no. There is not a direct solution to the topic of my worry, however, there is forward motion engaging in something I love to do. I hear my mind repeating my personal mantra adapted from Dory in “Finding Nemo”, ‘just keep knitting, just keep knitting.’ I continue to be absorbed in the task of knit and purl and, as I do, I notice a gradual redirect from my angst and fresh ideas begin to pop into my thoughts between stitches.

Staying with it, my mind and body move into a flow state where there is only the action at hand while all else fades into the background. Much research on flow has been done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he presents the importance of flow states for wellbeing and a sense of purpose. Once I emerge from my flow states, I feel calmer, full of ideas, and I am aware of more space in and around me. This open space allows more positivity, relief, and room to explore solutions to the topic of my worry. I feel a glimmer of upward motion and a deep breath into the space that is so much more than my angst.

Action that leads me into a flow state is my recipe for changing my trajectory to a more positive and meaningful direction. Some people clean, organize, and throw things away as their focus action. I know many who create something, anything. Through action, any focused creation, appropriate action and solutions can present themselves. I trust that.

Being human means navigating change, unexpected as well as planned change. For me, worry has been and continues to be my default setting. What’s yours? Worry, though oh so familiar, always circles the drain downward. Taking action helps me spiral upward into a more resourceful state where solutions reside.

I do give space to my worry, angst, fear, and anger. I try to embrace the feelings that are painfully present. In other words, I give myself space to allow the feelings to be as they are without trying to make them go away. I also set a time limit on my wallowing or ruminating time so I don’t get sucked into too much darkness and despair.

Mindfulness is another practice in positive psychology as well as in many spiritual practices. Ellen Langer, a leading positive psychologist, refers to mindfulness as being actively aware. Through mindfulness I learn about myself so that I can change if and when necessary. Being mindful of my worry, listening to my minds story about a situation, and drawing on past practices of what I know works to change direction or course, I can begin to return to my upward spiral.

After my allotted two days of commendable worrying (I do give 110% to that time) and action through knitting (and some cleaning), I woke this morning with renewed energy. The world is more colorful again and a song is in my heart and mind. I am grateful for my worry, for my action, flow states, mindfulness, and trust in my process.

On a final note, taking action doesn’t necessarily mean action related to the topic of concern. My actions were focused in three tracks: 1. knitting to enter my flow state; 2. cleaning and accomplishing three things at home to clear space; and 3. wrote in my journal by telling the story that held me in angst in as much detail as possible. After several writing sessions listening to the running inner dialogue, I began a more meaningful conversation with myself, began a more positive story, and discovered solutions in a hopeful direction. All these actions quelled my concerns and helped me refocus on what is positive.

I am, once again, grateful to be on an upward spiral of goodness, positivity, and meaning.img_1437

Positive Action in Challenging Times

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“You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and by allowing the pleasure other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.”                   ~ Cheryl Strayed

Presidential election weeks tend to be challenging — on one side are the ‘winners’ while on another side are the ‘losers’. In this election, there is a wider divide than in any previous elections I’ve lived through. By now, in most elections, the dust settles and we get on with our daily lives. This time, however, the campaigning was filled with too many words of hatred, racism, and disrespect of women — words that cannot be unsaid. This time, the dust is not settling and there is much fear and separation and determination.

I have had to turn away from the news and social media in order to find my way back to my personal calm center. Writing and processing in my journal and being outdoors in nature are the two ways I find the most solace and can relax. This time, I feel the need for more time to heal and to consider what will be next. This time I am ready to roll up my sleeves and stand up for what I believe in.

It has helped for me to gain clarity around what I believe so that I might take positive action in each moment.

Here is what I believe:

  1. I believe we all, essentially, want the same things for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation. I am discouraged that because of words spoken (even shouted), it seems the hatred, racism, and disrespect has won.
  2. I believe that our system of the electoral college and voting needs to change. The results of the electoral college and the popular votes do not agree. I wish the system would change and be updated. The electoral college is an outdated system that was designed at a time when slavery and women were unable to vote and information travelled slowly. The idea, for the time, was good as it created a balance of voting in areas where the majority of people were not allowed to vote. I do believe it is time to change the system to be one vote for everyone — which counts. In that way, there is no guessing. The popular vote wins and everyone who votes matters.
  3. I believe we all want a government that works for the people, all the people. We are a nation built on diversity. Not too long ago, we all came from immigrant roots. Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, everyone is created equal and has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It also means that the government is designed to be by the people and for the people.
  4. I believe it is time to deeply listen to one another in order to get to the deeper story of what we all want for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country. Through listening — lovingly and empathically — we can find our common ground and discover our way forward.
  5. I believe we must begin to ask different questions, ones that focus on moving forward. More useful questions would be, Who am I now, even in this? What positive actions can I take to be sure that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are available for everyone?
  6. I also believe that we all have a choice in every moment. Positive Psychology encourages us to make choices from strength and in alignment with our values.
  7. I choose to stand up and focus on positive action. I will wear my safety pin in solidarity and encourage others to do the same.
  8. I choose to listen to those with different viewpoints.
  9. I choose to focus on what I am grateful for in my daily life.
  10. I choose to stand strong for what I believe in and roll up my sleeves for positive action.
  11. I choose to let go of negativity and live in my values of love and peace.
  12. I choose to stand strong with all women who deserve respect, who have a voice, and should not suffer from abuse, harassment, or assault.
  13. I choose to use my voice and my actions for the good I believe in.
  14. I choose to trust that what is right and good will prevail.
  15.  I choose to take positive action and to do the work that needs to be done to keep my family, my friends, and my community safe — all those who are of a different color, nationality, gays, and everyone who deserves a chance.
  16. I also choose to take time away from the news and social media so that I can continue to find my calm center.

I will continue to work for the good in everyone unless they prove otherwise, then I will take positive action. My hope is that you will do the same.

What’s Wrong With Me? What’s Right With Me?

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Many of us go through life (I know I do), too often, wondering what’s wrong — with me? with my life? with my work? I listen to this question almost daily in my work. Once that question is asked, we go about trying to fix an illusive problem — unhappiness, anger, lack of motivation, failure, shortcomings, and on. I’ve heard myself asking this question and then feel even more dissatisfied. I’ve heard parents say it to their children and then watch as the child withdraws a bit into the question or fights back.

Our parents want(ed) what’s best for us and think that by pointing out our shortcomings we’ll become better people. I remember when my Dad once said that he raised all his children without any common sense. I spent months trying to assess and prove him wrong by exercising common sense as often as possible only to realize I, indeed, had common sense most of the time.

What if there is nothing wrong? What if we could spend equal time acknowledging and noticing what is right? There will always be things that we are not good at no matter how hard we try. There are more things we are good at. Science is now showing that we become better people when we know what we are good at AND know where we can improve. What are you good at? Choose one thing. How can you become even better at it?

What if, instead of asking “what was wrong with my day”, we began to ask what went well today and where can I improve? A practice I used when I worked in preschool, when I worked with children at Kripalu Center, and, again, with my own daughter when she was young was ‘the three plusses and a wish.’ This is a practice to learn to notice the good and then frame what could be improved as a wish. I can only express the wish after I’ve identified the three plusses or positive attributes about myself or someone else.

Have you found yourself asking “what’s wrong with me?” Perhaps you made a mistake at work, heard someone criticize you, wonder where you went wrong — with raising your children, being in a job that is unfulfilling, or being alone when your friends are all in relationships? Many of us seem wired to point out the negative shortcomings in ourselves, our situations, and our world. Yes, when we lived hundreds of years ago in the wilderness of nature, it benefitted us to be vigilant for warning signs of lurking danger. Yes, we are, even today, focused on what’s wrong. We go to the doctor and are asked, what’s wrong that needs fixing. We go to a therapist to get help fixing a shortcoming. We even call our mechanic to fix what’s wrong with our car. Rarely do we schedule many appointments just because we feel good and want to feel better.

When was the last time you noticed what’s right and what’s good? When did you last celebrate, really celebrate, a success? When we change our focus and notice the good, the good appreciates. When we notice our moments of kindness, gratitude, or a job well done, we prepare for more good. In short, we become happier and healthier.

With our children or grandchildren, teach them to notice what went well. How easy it is to point out their shortcomings — their outbursts, their sibling disagreements, or their whining. Remember, we all want what’s best for our children just as our parents wanted the best for us (in most cases). When we focus on the negative, we fuel the negative. When we focus on the positive, the positivity grows.

My first career was teaching preschool. I remember deciding to focus on trusting the children to do good and spent time each day teaching positive ways to communicate, both talking and listening. When two children had a disagreement, which often included violence, I’d have them sit in chairs facing one another with the simple instruction to sit with one another without touching until they could resolve their disagreement. They could get up on their own once they felt resolved and could drop their negativity. Around five minutes was a magic time and they would get up and go off to play and laugh together as BFF’s. Then, I didn’t really understand what happened. All I knew is that I trusted them to figure out how to resolve their disagreement without violence. That time sitting together provided the space and time to refocus their attention on the good — they were very creative in their conversations that lead to resolution. They also made eye contact which leads to a calm and connect response.

Another practice I used was the ‘three plusses and a wish’ in order for them to learn to focus on the good and frame their negativity as a wish. Over time, that room full of preschoolers from challenging homes began to be happier and kinder to one another.

For today, I challenge you to ask what is going well and ask “what is right with me?”. And, if you must, frame the negative as a wish, only after you can identify and state three positive things about yourself and your day. Try extending my one day challenge into a 30 day challenge. For the next 30 days – write down at the end of each day what went well and what is right with me. I am certain you will be pleased with the outcome.