Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Letting Go of Regrets

For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 
'It might have been.'
John Greenleaf Whittier

Are you experiencing feelings of regret? Are you stuck in could have, would have, should have thinking? And, are these holding you back from moving forward in your life and towards finding a new romantic partner?

As we near the end of 2010, take this opportunity to examine your life choices so that you may resolve any lingering regrets. This will allow you to step into the new year with a fresh slate ... ready, willing and able to reach your goals.

With your "baggage" tightly packed into the carry-on size, you can think about what you want to accomplish. One way to clarify what you want is to write a Life Mission Statement.

1. Think about what you consider to be the most important to you in life. Choose 3 items and write them down. Here are a few examples, although there are many more from which to choose.
"I want"
...to be content
...to embrace spirituality
...to be indendent in thought
...to be a true friend and for it to be reciprocated
...to be wise or have a mature understanding of life
...to have a pleasurable life
...to have excitement in my life
...to experience world peace
...to find mature love
...to have the ability to make a contribution
...to feel needed
...to feel inner harmony
...to have a comfortable life (security)
...to have self respect
...to be socially recognized

2. For each of the three you have chosen, write down three ways you demonstrate this value in your life and three ways you feel it in your soul. (see the example below after #4)

3. Choose the top answer in each category and use it in the following sentence.
In my life I am committed to _____________, _______________, and ______________. I choose to have that show up in my life by my commitment to ___________, _____________, and ________________. I demonstrate these values through _________________, ______________________, and ____________________________.

4. Read your statement aloud and refine it as necessary. You can start each day with your Mission Statement to help you focus on what is most important to you in life. Then go out and make it happen!

My Top 3 Values: Spirituality, Freedom and Mature Love
How I Demonstrate Each of These
Spirituality: writing, being kind/helpful, meditation
Freedom: walking to my own drumbeat, constructing my life journey, continually learning
Mature Love: behaving nicely, respecting other, listening to others

How I Feel About Each of These
Spirituality: accepting, recognizing my inner knowing, being present
Freedom: remaining uncluttered, connected to nature, releasing expectations
Mature Love: be at peace, be in acceptance, be responsive

Choosing from the above list, my Life Mission Statement might read:
In my life I am committed to spirituality, freedom and mature love. I choose to have that show up in my life by my commitment to recognizing my inner knowing, living a life that is not cluttered with negative thoughts (or by living in a state of positivity), and living in acceptance of my partner. I demonstrate these values through writing, walking to my own drumbeat, and behaving nicely.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

10 Dating Etiquette Tips

Can first dates be considered an interview of sorts? Although you want to be careful not to grill your date, you are trying to get a sense of him or her and he or she of you.

For better results, here are ten dating etiquette tips.

1. Dress consistently with how you want to be viewed. Messy attire sends the message that this meeting is not important. Put your best foot forward. You are marketing the most important product you have: YOU!

2. Be prompt, or even arrive a few minutes early. This exhibits respect for your date and can also alleviate your own stress. By timing your arrival, you can acclimate to the surroundings and compose yourself rather than rushing in at the last minute and taking the beginning of your time together feeling stressed and anxious.

3. Put your cell phone away. No texting, e-mailing, taking calls, or even sneaking a peek at  your phone in the midst of conversation. Either leave your phone in the car or place it on silent mode and out of sight.

4. Be friendly and greet your date with a warm and welcoming smile. If you are naturally shy, think of it as putting on your 'game face.'

5. Be genuinely interested in what your date has to say. Use active listening skills and ask appropriate questions. Be neither an over-talker, where you jump in before your date even finishes his/her thought, nor a conversation monopolizer who doesn't allow a date to speak at all.

6. Focus on your date. No wandering eyes! This demonstrates respect and interest in the person and conversation.

7. Be aware of your body language. It sometimes speaks louder than your words. You may have a smile on your face, but your body language might be screaming: "I'm defensive." "I'm just waiting for you to say one wrong thing and I'm out of here." or "I'm angry."

8. Don't be argumentative. Consider different points of view as valid. At this juncture, it's just easier to agree to disagree.

9. Think before you speak. Don't blurt out any random thought you may have. This is a virtual stranger to whom you are speaking, and you don't know enough about him/her to be able to gauge a reaction on what may be a sensitive subject.

10. Don't allow the conversation to be all about ME-ME-ME! Although you want to be at your best and show a person who you are and of what you are made, you certainly don't want to hit your date in the head with this information. Consequently, no bragging about your long list of accomplishments and awards, your Architectural Digest perfect home, etc. Let your self-worth be evident in your respectful attitude towards your date, whether you like him/her or not!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How To P.I.C.K. A Romantic Partner

As we grow each day, we evolve into better versions of ourselves. Keep the best of the "old you" and combine it with new talents, thoughts and ideas. 

Personally, I can't let go of that high school English teacher inside of me. Therefore, I need to give you a mnemonic device to help you remember four terrific characteristics that are desirable in a potential partner.

Use this criteria to help you P.I.C.K. a mate.

This is someone who is enthusiastic about life. He/she looks at the sunny side and sees obstacles as opportunities. He/she wants what he/she has at the moment and lives in gratitude about it.

This person adheres to a moral code, which is one that meshes with yours.

This person acts with steady continuity. His actions and words are always the same.

This is a kind, compassionate, sympathetic person who shows concern for his/her fellow man and the world at large.

Although these are not the only qualities for which to be on the lookout, they certainly are a good foundation upon which to build. 

Happy P.I.C.K.ing!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First Dates Can Be Fun!

If you haven't dated in 10, 20, or maybe even 30 years, the prospect of doing so can be a little daunting. The rules have changed and you may need a refresher course. One way to learn is to jump right in and get on-the-job training!

If you change your perspective, this "training" can be fun, rather than anxiety inducing.

I could never understand why people don't like first dates. I thought they were great. Each one is a chance for a do-over. Now, a do-over is my most favorite concept, which I learned when I was 15 years old. I was sort of nerdy and unpopular in high school, although I knew others just weren't seeing the inner me. I was put in a box at a young age, categorized by my peers because that is how people usually relate to each other. No matter how I changed, no one would look at me with fresh eyes. When I went to a summer camp where no one knew me, I decided that I would be a smilier version of myself  -- "Ellen Lite!" 

My do-over worked. I was popular, dated the boy every other girl wanted and learned that we each can be so powerful in our own lives, if we take the initiative. I've used this concept of the do-over my whole life, recreating or reinventing myself many times over. To read the entire story of "The Do-Over", which is the first chapter of Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story, click here.

Consider looking at a first date as the ultimate do-over. Each time you get rejected, examine what you think went wrong and then change it the next time around. I'm not suggesting that you become someone you are not, but refine your technique, maybe clean yourself up a bit in regard to language, clothing and hair so that you put your best foot forward. Learn how others see you and if you don't like the way you are coming across, make the appropriate changes. 

Additionally, keep the following first date tips in mind.
1. SMILE!!!! Be positive.
2. Neither monopolize the conversation nor be as quiet as a mouse.
3. Use active listening skills, verbal and non-verbal. That means no wandering eyes.
4. Be present. In the TV show, Parenthood, the main characters who are having marital problems see a therapist. To remind the husband to be present, he recites his mantra, "I hear you and I see you."
5. Be careful with your words. If something can be taken the wrong way, it will be. Thus, first dates are not a time for sarcastic remarks.
6. Use your best manners, which includes avoiding blue language.

Most of all, just have fun and accept the date for what it is and nothing more, which is a chance to connect to another person and learn about him/her and yourself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Who, What, When, Where and How

Losing a mate from death, divorce or break-up is a "press pause" moment. You can compare it to pausing a recording on your television. Your life as you knew it gets derailed and so you step off the platform and take pause to figure out the facts of your life. In order to do this, you can act like a reporter on assignment by asking the five basic questions of who, what, where, when and how.

Who are you now? You are no longer a couple, but you don't really feel single.

What are going to do now that you are alone and all the circumstances of your life have changed?

Where are you going to turn? Everything seems foreign now. Think of it as a foreign film where you have to read the subtitles to understand what is going on, but either the words are blurry or it's going too fast for you to make sense of it. 

The question of where can also be taken literally. Where are you going to live now? Work now? Many widow/ers or divorced persons need to move out of their homes due to financial difficulties. Others need to go back to work to support a family.

You may question WHEN are you going to feel normal. Sorry to say, the definition of normal has changed. Now there's a new normal for you to get used to.

You may wonder, HOW am I going to get through this time. Do I have the necessary "tools" to help myself?

Let me ask you a question. What would you do if you were going to do something that you had never done before or hadn't done in a long time? You would probably look for an instruction manual or do some research to get the tools to complete this task successfully. Yet, we beat ourselves up for failing to feel better after trying to mourn our loss without any instruction on how to do it in a healthy manner.

Society just doesn't teach us how to deal with loss. It's brushed under the rug. We feel awkward around it and the bereaved are sometimes treated as if they have a disease. Working on your grief is even referred to as grief recovery. Were you ill that you needed to recover? It's more a journey we take of introspection and questioning (such as the five I posed above) to get to the other side I like to call renewal.

How to reach this seemingly elusive and far-away renewal? Well, I'm sure you have heard of the three R's in regard to learning. I have three R's that you can utilize to spur you out of mourning and towards renewal:  Rethink, Reconfigure and Refresh. 

As you review your answers to the questions of who, what, where, when and how, think about how you can redesign (and then reconstruct) your life to be able to welcome new life and new love into it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Are You Starving For Love?

It's Thanksgiving time, which is when we focus on the feast that we will prepare and enjoy.

When it comes to viewing the availability of quality men and women out there for dating and relationship development, how do you describe your attitude? Do you believe that there is an abundance -- a veritable feast -- of prospective mates from which to choose  OR is the landscape desolate with nary a tidbit to consume?

-There's no shortage of quality men or women available to meet.
-With the bounty in front of me, it is not necessary for me to settle for leftovers or crumbs.
-If someone is not 'just right' for me, I will let him/her go because I know there IS someone right for me in the universe. I just haven't met him/her yet.

-There are no decent men or women available to meet. 
-All the good ones are taken.
-I don't believe I will ever have an opportunity to meet many prospective partners. Consequently, I am willing to settle for less than I believe I truly deserve.
-I'm even willing to take the castoffs of others just so I can have SOMEONE.

If you believe "It's A Famine" out there, it may be necessary for you to change your world view before your dating success ratio can increase. 

Starving people can become desperate and make bad choices. The well-fed, who believe there will always be plenty, are continuously presented with multiple opportunities.

Don't settle for leftovers! Ask for, and believe, the entire meal is available to you.

Your success lies in your attitude about yourself and your opportunities. Respect and honor your own needs. Do not allow a needy attitude let you accept bad behavior from your dates.

The bottom line is to love yourself by only expecting and accepting the best life has to offer to you.

"Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and 
the universe is endlessly bountiful.
Just put forth a clear enough request, and 
everything your heart desires must come to you.
Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Robert Holden, Ph.D. is the Founder and Director of The Happiness Project and Success Intelligence. He writes about the areas in which you can make change in order to "Be Happy" – which also happens to be the name of his new book. 

He suggests that one should give up the pursuit of happiness. Instead, start following your joy. This will ultimately bring you the happiness you seek.

>Here are some ways to accomplish that feat.

1. Know, accept, be faithful to, and come to love yourself. Your overall happiness is increased when you are happy with yourself.

2. Don't put conditions on your happiness. (I'll be happy when I ....)

3. Be the person with whom you want to have a relationship, be it family member, a friend or a romantic partner.

4. Find a job that doesn't feel like work. If it's not possible for you to find a job like that, fill that need to contribute to society or to fulfill your true purpose in other ways (i.e. volunteering)

5. Choose positivity and happiness. It is a CHOICE!

6. Live in gratitude for what you have rather than ruminating over what you don't have. Gratitude needs to be practiced until it becomes an ingrained way of thinking.

7. Don't harbor resentments, regret. Forgive past grievances.

8. Invite fun and laughter into your life.

9. Treat your body as a temple. Take care of it physically, mentally, emotionally and spirtually. Nurture it every day.

10. Develop a spiritual outlook, which helps you to connect to your real self instead of the self that is ruled by your ego.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Developing Inner Dimensionality

Having met my first husband when I was only 15 years old did not give me much time to try out my wings to find out who I was as an individual. We were so alike that we naturally grew together, our branches tightly interwoven. When he died, I lost one dimension of my entire being, and I needed to grow a new limb to fill the empty space left by his absence. And that’s when I really started exploring who I was and who I wanted to be going forward.

One of the hardest tasks for me to accomplish was to merge the old pictures of myself that I was carrying around with the new pictures of who I had become. I still had this image of a 15 year old girl who was shy and didn’t have much to say. I thought I might even be boring and no one would be interested in what I had to say.

I remember quite distinctly when those two images merged. It was maybe a year or more after my late husband died and I was out to lunch with some girlfriends and others whom I had never met. As the conversation buzzed, I found I was leader. I actually remember stepping out of my body and viewing the scene objectively. I was neither shy nor boring; in fact, everyone was quite interested in what I had to say! Now, I’m not saying that to “toot my horn” but only to point out that others were seeing me differently than I saw myself. This happened at the beginning of my dating career too. I would tell a man I was shy and he would laugh at me and tell me I was crazy. He would go on to say that I was anything but shy and that I made it comfortable for him to talk too.

When you get repeated confirmations from multiple sources, sometimes you just have to make the adjustments in your own perception too. So, I merged my old and new pictures in my mind and accepted the “new me.”

Did I reinvent myself? Maybe not, but I certainly felt like a different person. What I actually did was recognize another dimension of my being that was always there but which I kept in the dark. It was brought forth by these new situations into which I foisted myself.

As we evolve, we add more and more dimensions to our being and to our life, like circles that radiate out and orbit around us. I think I choose to be like the planet Saturn and have lots of rings, for this gives me more depth or dimensionality. It allows me to be comfortable in all sorts of situations and with all types of people. It allows me a cushion so if I “lose a another limb” of my tree (as I did when my first husband died), I still have lots of other limbs to support me.

I consider reinvention to be the broad category under which a lot of different actions can take place. It is rediscovering the ‘you’ hidden beneath the veil of ego that has you compare yourself to others. It is coming to neutral and clearing your slate to start fresh. It is building a multi-layered and multi-faceted person who can jump into any role when the situation calls for it. It is taking on new roles. It is being confident and brave enough to step into the unknown – and, if you fail, to pick yourself up and try again.

I believe any sort of loss adds significantly to your dimensionality as a human being. You need strength and depth of character to get through the hard stuff that is encountered during a lifetime in order to emerge intact. As you move through your journey of life and explore new avenues, you are naturally adding to your dimensionality.
I suggest you complete a self check-in every now and then to evaluate yourself. You may have unknowingly reinvented yourself!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reinvention vs Dimensionality

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about reinvention, which Webster defines as remaking or redoing completely. And although I do believe you become a different person after any life-altering change, perhaps reinvention is too strong or daunting a term for some. What you are really doing is adding new dimensions to your personality and to your life – and you can add them at your own pace as you become more comfortable with change.

However, the end result may still be a complete reinvention. It all depends on the depth of the dimensions and how many you add.

That said, I think I will replace reinvention with a new “buzz” word: DIMENSIONALITY, or the level of consciousness which describes the elements, factors or aspects that make up a complete personality or entity.

Let’s just complicate it a little bit more, though! There is both outer and inner dimensionality. As we evolve as human beings, we are adding to both these layers.

We take on new roles, for example, I started off as a girl; I grew to a teenager, woman, wife, mother, widow, wife (again), step-mother, and now grandmother.

We may also change jobs. Here’s my quick resume and you will see I still am figuring out what I want to be when I grow up!

I started off as an English teacher wanting to make everyone love reading as much as I did. Through many incarnations, I owned my own bookkeeping company and kept the books for many retail outlets. I owned a custom card company where I designed and hand airbrushed the images. I earned a license to sell health/life insurance. I was a pseudo Cyrano de Bergerac and wrote for others what they could not express themselves. I was the Managing Editor of a small press. I manage a stock portfolio. I am a certified Grief Recovery Specialist. I am a Life Coach, speaker and workshop leader. And here’s a fun one ... I am a certified Toe Reader! I am the author of my own books and have also written the life stories of many clients. I have co-edited an anthology of stories that focus on grief and renewal. I have co-authored a book on spirituality with Melinda Vail, an amazing intuitive therapist who has the ability to speak to those who have passed away.

Every time I hear about something new, I want to do it – whether I have the training or not. (And I happen to be exploring something today!) I know I am infinitely trainable, so I never see the limitations. Okay, so maybe I won’t be a brain surgeon, but there is still a myriad of opportunities from which to choose if you are not happy wearing your current hat or just want to expand your horizons.

The above are mostly outward manifestations, but they do, however, dictate with whom I come in contact. Sitting at home in front of my computer trading stocks is certainly quite different than being out in the world speaking, coaching, and interacting with a diverse group of people. In turn, my thoughts and emotions are impacted by these interactions and the feedback I receive. As I process and digest new information, this leads to the growth of my dimensionality. My husband sometimes gets upset with me that I may change my attitude towards a particular subject. I tell him that I am always a work-in-progress and as I gather new information I may need to change my old viewpoints. I always want to remain open to ideas and thoughts that allow me to see issues from multiple perspectives.

More to come on inner dimensionality ....

Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm Seeing RED Today!!

I'm seeing R.E.D. today! No, I'm not angry. 
It's my new buzz word, and it stands for 

So, what does that mean exactly? Well, before I explain it, the high school English teacher in me feels obligated to show you how these three words have a long history of connectivity.
Taking a look at their origins, all three came into usage between 1400 and 1600 and have the same Latin root.
     Revolve, from the Latin revolvere, means to roll or turn around
     Evolve, form the Latin evolvere, mean to unroll, open or unfold
     Dissolve, from the Latin dissolvere, means to loosen
Okay, enough with the English lesson! What does R.E.D. really mean and how can you put it to use in your life?
Revolving, or turning your head, lets you see people and issues from a new perspective. With these new thoughts and ideas, you can begin to see the part you play in your own life dramas. This fresh insight allows the old to become new; obstacles to become opportunities; or even good friends to turn into prospective romantic partners.
Once you have "revolved" or opened up your mind to new possibilities, you can begin to examine your attitude and emotions toward a particular person, event or circumstance. Work towards coming to neutral by feeling your emotions so you can process them through your mind, body and soul. Once processed, try removing the emotional connotations you have assigned to a particular circumstance/issue. It is at neutral where you can make the greatest strides in your evolution towards greater understanding and enlightenment. Additionally, it is the place where you are more likely to clearly see both sides of an issue, which will allow you to figure out the way for you to move forward in your life.

With an action plan in hand, you can then move towards loosening your foothold from the unwanted muck and mire of your life. In other words, you are dissolving the attitudes and emotions that have kept you stuck in the place in which you find yourself and one in which you would rather not be.

If you are feeling stuck in your life, use R.E.D. as a reminder to step back and look at the larger picture of your life! 
I invite you to join me and see R.E.D. in your life today!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Relationships: The Delicate Balance

Balance is a state of equilibrium for which we each strive, not just in relationships but in all aspects of our life.

Envision yourself with your feet planted on a narrow plank atop an oversized ball. With your arms spread out and your legs flexed to spring into action, you attempt to keep your balance. Perhaps, for a few moments at a time, you actually are perfectly still and in balance. The rest of the time, however, you expend a lot of energy wavering back and forth trying to rebalance.  

Think of this “balancing act” as a metaphor for life – reaching that elusive balance in life require ongoing effort. Luckily, it is the time spent readjusting your stance that makes up the multi-colored threads and textured fabric of a rich life.

The term “balance” is often used when discussing relationships, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that relationships should always be 50/50? I think not, for our life is fluid and so must be our relationships. Just as you wavered atop the ball, sometimes relationships are 60/40 or 70/30, and, in extreme instances, they can even be 90/10 or 100/0 -- and each of these scenarios can still be healthy. For example, in the midst of a personal crisis, you reasonably could expect a partner to be totally supportive, thus, shifting the balance heavily to one side – and that’s good thing!

Couples also need to learn that one person can’t be in charge all the time, and, just because you’re not in charge, it doesn’t mean you are giving up your power. Sometimes it is just nice to be taken care of, and just as pleasant to turn the tables and take care of your partner. This constant “transfer of power” is what keeps the balance in a relationship.

If you are presently not in a relationship and are considering entering the dating arena, keep in mind that inner balance, or striving to be the best possible version of yourself, is a necessary component to having a healthy experience.

It is important to remember that you must be a “whole” person before entering into a relationship, meaning that you must take responsibility for the circumstances of your life and not look for someone else to “fix” what you consider wrong. And while a partner certainly may inspire you to work towards a greater purpose or lend support to you in times of need, no one else can “complete” you. Most importantly, you must love yourself before you can begin to love another.

It is when two distinct individuals come together, who keep the boundary space between them visible, that a successful relationship can be forged and eventually flourish. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Seeking Beauty

Every individual likes to put his or her best foot forward, be it in his or her professional or personal life. And, if one doesn't feel at the top of his or her game, this is sometimes used as an excuse, especially when it comes to dating. Examples abound.  
... "I'll start dating when I lose 15 pounds."
... "I don't like the way my hair looks right now; I'll wait until it grows out."
... "I don't have nice enough clothes to go out on a date."

Now it is perfectly acceptable if you are not ready to date or have no desire to do so. However, if you say, "I want to date, but ....", I suggest you look beyond some of these superficial excuses and discover your real hesitation. Could it be related to some fear you harbor? To name but a few ... perhaps you have a fear of rejection; you may think you won't feel comfortable in a dating situation; or you fear that others may not find you mentally and/or physically attractive.

The media, and in turn society, puts a lot of pressure on individuals to live up to an almost impossible ideal of beauty. Let's not forget that all the pictures of celebrities splashed across magazines are most probably touched up to look perfect. Just imagine if you had a retinue of stylists to dress you every day, you too could look "perfect"!

The truth is that one can look beautiful on the outside and be not so pretty on the inside.

Audrey Hepburn offers some advice on how to be beautiful on the inside and the outside, for, after all, they should be connected!

"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone."

And although Ms. Hepburn speaks of some universal truths, keep in mind that we are all unique beings (and that's a very good thing!), so our beauty is unique. Conforming to the standard of another is not something that will ultimately bring you happiness and fulfillment. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Profound Questions To Ask

The simplest questions are the most profound. 
Where were you born? 
Where is your home? 
Where are you going? 
What are you doing? 
Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change. 
Richard Bach
Let's look at each of these questions from two perspectives as I illustrate how you can answer them simply or delve for a deeper meaning.
Taken at face value, this question simply asks for the physical location of your birth.
Consider taking it one step deeper ...
Aren’t you constantly being reborn as you move through new circumstances in your life? With increased introspective thought, you can come to know yourself in more depth and with more clarity. After experiencing loss, your soul is laid bare. As you rebuild, you can be whomever you wish. It is a rebirth  -- a true do-over.
Taken at face value, this question simply asks for the place you live.
Consider taking it one step deeper ...
Where is your true home? Is it a physical place or a state of mind? Is it with your blood relatives or with your family of friends? Is it the place where people truly understand you and the circumstances of your life? Is it a place where you feel you can breathe?  Is home simply the place where you can be the true you? Take some time to decide on your definition of home.
Taken at face value, this question simply asks for the physical location of where you are going, for example, the store, on a trip, to work, etc.
Consider taking it one step deeper ...
This question could also be asking the following. "Are you lost in your life with no idea how to move forward from the place where you find yourself?" "Do you even know where you want to go?" "Are you afraid to leave the place where you are because you think that would mean leaving behind a lost loved one?" Think about where you want to go and then take the appropriate actions to get there. You don't have to decide on the final destination. Pick a small and attainable goal and when you accomplish it, pick a new one to work towards.
Taken at face value, this question simply asks you to share in what activities you are partaking; what tasks you are completing at work; what you are doing in your leisure time, etc.
Consider taking it one step deeper ...
This question can also be a wake-up call, depending on which word you accent. Listen to how the meaning changes when you ask the same question in different ways.
WHAT are you doing? 
What are YOU doing?
What are you DOING?
When “what” and “doing” are emphasized, the message is disdain towards or disbelief in  the person’s actions. When the “you” is emphasized, the message is one of true interest in what the other person is accomplishing. Your tone is a powerful instrument; use it carefully.

Additionally, this question can also ask, “What are you doing with your life?” "What are you doing to make yourself feel better?” or “Are you living in denial?” You may be at the stage where rather than "doing" you are just "being." Take that time to decide what you would like to do when you are ready to move forward.
As Richard Bach suggests, ask yourself these questions often as you move through various stages in your life. As a work-in-progress, and, if you are taking positive steps forward (even if they are baby steps), then your answers will constantly fluctuate. If you find that your answers to these questions are forever constant, you might want to consider that you could be stuck in your emotions and ask for a helping hand.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Traveling the Road of Life

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. 
I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.” 
Robert Lewis Stevenson

I like to make the analogy between traveling and working through the pain of loss.

Life is a long and winding road, and, although we may think we know where we are going, sometimes our path is laden with surprises along the way. At times, we are pleasantly surprised at the turn of events, and at other times, bitterly disappointed.

The thing we need to remember about our journey is that it is ever changing and despite disappointment and heartache, we never have to get permanently stuck in one place.

Perhaps you have heard the adage by Roy M. Goodman that “happiness is a way of travel and not a destination." The same can be said for grief and the ensuing sadness. Mired in a negative place over any sort of loss or disappointment does not need to be your ultimate destination. 

After losing a partner, this place is definitely a stopover on your journey. And maybe you think you will never get to leave or that it is taking an awfully long time to catch the next bus out of there! 

Spending your time well in this place will determine how long you have to stay. To name a few productive activities in which you can participate while there ... take the time to examine your life; learn about the “new you”; determine what you want to accomplish going forward; find your smile again; and adjust your attitude to one of gratitude.

Figuratively speaking ....

At first, you can take day trips out of grief. As you make more readjustments – maybe a weekend getaway. Soon you can visit other lands for weeks on end without feeling the need to go back to “Griefville.”  At other times, an event might occur and you will feel that tug back to your grief. However, now you are in the driver’s seat so that you can leave on your own timetable instead of waiting for someone to pick you up or having to wait for a bus, train, etc. 

Please know that at some point in time, “Griefville” will seem like a foreign country to you. You will remember that you felt sad there, but those hurtful emotions will not pierce the surface deep enough to draw endless blood again.

Lastly, from your time spent in this country, remember to take with you some souvenirs, such as the hard lessons learned, good friends made, self realizations found, inner strength actualized, and a new found love and respect for life and love.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Keeping The Love Alive

Some people are hooked on the excitement and the intensity of new relationships. With hormones on high alert, he or she pursues the object of affection with vigor. However, when the newness wears off, he or she quickly retreats, cutting off the relationship before it has a chance to become something real. Next!! He/she is off to find the next conquest in order to recreate the rush of those heady, early “in love” feelings.

If this is a pattern you recognize, let’s look a little deeper. While this person might profess he/she moves on quickly because no one seems just right for him or her, could it be that under this bravado (and perhaps denial), there may be fear lurking?

Of course, there is a time in one’s life when dating just for fun and without the intention of developing a relationship is appropriate. However, if one is desirous of  a deeper connection, running away at the first hint of emotional intimacy is a red flag to be examined.

A healthy relationship requires one to make him/herself vulnerable to another. And with vulnerability comes the chance of being rejected. Utilizing a self protective mechanism,  this person could always be the one who rejects, which precludes the possibility of being rejected.

Others may run away because he/she doubts his/her ability to maintain those “in love” feelings over the long haul. Dating can remain exciting, while everyday life includes the mundane. It is this fear of losing the initial excitement and longing to be with each other every moment that is beneath this pattern of chronic “first-date-itis.”

If the fear can be put aside, one can, instead, concentrate on developing ways to keep love, and the initial fire, alive.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Focus on emotionally honest communication. A relationship should be the place where you let down your hair and you are able to breathe; a place where you are accepted for yourself, which includes the good , the bad and the ugly.

2. Create space and time to truly listen to one another without distraction. If time is at a premium, a mere fifteen minutes of connected communication can be enough.

3. Designate special times for the two of you to go out alone on a date night. This schedule takes precedence, only cancelable under dire circumstances. Making it a priority and rearranging other commitments sends the messages of respect, desire, and love.

4. Keep the good feelings about each other in the forefront of your mind and always paint the picture of your partner into the landscape of your life.

5. Find something about which to compliment your partner. This lets him/her know you find him/her attractive and desirable.

6. If possible, communicate with each other during the day, even if it's just a quick text saying, "I was thinking about you."

7. Engaging in written or spoken “foreplay” while away from each other goes a long way toward stoking the excitement for when you are reunited. The following is an example of a little love note to send a partner that says, “I can’t wait to see you!”

Under cover of the stealth of the night she came to him. Scant moments after passing over the threshold of his house, he slipped his tongue inside her mouth, relentlessly exploring all the dark recesses. His mouth was hot, hard and urgent. Her mind and body exploded with light and color, all the while relishing the damp and velvety-rough feel of his tongue. From deep within his throat, there came a slow and purring, yet hungry, sound. The air was thick with desire, and their bodies were full of delicious tingling and emotions no longer able to be bound. They ate at each others mouths, but that soon was not enough. His hands slid down her body and with one quick movement he pulled her toward him. Grinding his body into hers, he urgently whispered, “I need you right now.”

As you can see, there are many ways to keep the home fires burning  by simply, “loving the one you’re with!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Happiness (Part II)

The following are my favorite lessons from The Art of Happiness.

Try to see the basic nature of humanity as compassionate rather than aggressive. This changes our  relationship with the world around us ... we relax, trust, and live at ease. Since the basic purpose of life is happiness, use this statement to help you navigate through life’s daily problems. Your task becomes discarding the things that lead to suffering and accumulating the things that lead to happiness. Utilizing this method every day gradually increases your awareness of what will truly make you happy. “The turning toward happiness as a valid goal and the conscious decision to seek happiness in a systematic manner can profoundly change the rest of our lives.”

Realize everyone is interconnected. As self-reliant as you think you are, you are still dependent on others for various items that make your world go round. For example, consider the food you eat. There is a farmer who grows the food or tends the animals from which your meals are made; there are businesses who can or bottle your drinking products; there is the market you frequent who stocks the items you desire; and so on. When you start thinking this way, one comes to realize that all people are interdependent on each other.

Try to find meaning in your pain and suffering, and deepen your connection to others by being empathetic. That is – foster your ability to relate to other people’s feelings. This will also enhance your capacity for compassion towards others. Both suffering and pain connects us to every other human being. It is a universal element shared with all living creatures. Helping others to understand and deal with its nature can bring you much satisfaction.

Relationships that are based on caring and genuine affection are infinitely more lasting. Examine the underlying basis of your relationships. It should be affection, compassion and mutual respect as a human being. Do not base your romantic relationships on a fantasy that is unattainable.

Look at your problems in a holistic manner and try to realize that there are many events contributing to a situation. Try to avoid self-created suffering. “We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally.” We let little things bother us and tend to personalize every annoyance. If a situation is really unfair and there is a way to fight the problem, then certainly do it. However, if there is no possible way to win, let your anger go before it festers and hurts you even more.

Foster your ability to shift perspective, and this can become one of your most powerful and effective tools to help you cope with life’s daily problems. Quite often when faced with a problem, our perspective becomes narrow. We become self absorbed and focus all our energy on the problem, and, therefore, make it much more intense than it needs to be. Try to see your difficulties from a wider perspective; for example, realize that you are not alone and that others may have also experienced something similar. A good idea is to examine your problem by comparing it with a greater event. When you examine it from a distance, the problem appears smaller and less overwhelming.

Attempt to find balance in your life, for it is one of the key elements of a happy life. The tendency to go to extremes is quite often fueled by underlying feelings of discontentment. For example, look at an individual’s pursuit of material goods. Poverty is at one extreme of the spectrum, and the constant search for more wealth is at the other extreme. It is fine if one’s ultimate goal in seeking more wealth leads to a sense of satisfaction (happiness), but the very fact that one is seeking more, indicates a feeling of not having enough or a state of discontentment. Again, try to find the middle ground. Examine the reasons for your actions and work towards finding a balance.

Attempt to become flexible in your thinking. As we all know, life today is characterized by sudden, unexpected and sometimes violent change. The more supple your mind is, the easier it will be to reconcile the external changes going on all around you.

Do not have unrealistic expectations for implementing change in your life. Undesirable behaviors that led to problems probably took a long time to develop, and you must expect it to take an equally long time to develop behaviors that will bring you happiness.

Be vigilant in your fight against negative emotions. A positive state of mind is a first line defense against negative tendencies.

In dealing with anger and hatred, cultivate only positive anger. Anger motivated by compassion or a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place can bring forward moving action.

Remember that two antidotes to negative anger and hatred are patience and tolerance. Anger and hatred arise from a mind that is troubled by dissatisfaction and discontent. Try to work toward inner contentment and the development of compassion. Analyze your anger when it arises and make a concerted effort to exert inner discipline and restraint.

Additionally, Dr. Cutler and the Dalai Lama offer the following four helpful steps to take in order to eliminate negative behaviors.

1. Education. Learn how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to the pursuit of happiness and positive emotions are helpful.
2. Conviction. Develop belief in a need for change and increase your commitment to make it happen.
3. Determination. Determination is a direct result of this conviction (transforms it into action).
4. Effort. Effort is the most critical factor. The stronger the determination to change, the more sustained effort a person will be able to exert in order to implement the actual changes

The preceding was a brief summary of a few of the components of The Art of Happiness upon which Dr. Cutler touches. I recommend a complete reading of the book, which is available in bookstores and amazon.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness, a book written by Howard Cutler, M.D. in collaboration with the Dalai Lama, illustrates non-religiously how one can lead a happier and more spiritual life.

His premise is simple: our purpose in life is to seek happiness. He then proceeds to concisely and clearly illustrate how to capture this sometimes elusive feeling.

He emphasizes that even though you might have experienced great tragedy and suffering, it is also important to remember how this tragedy can foster incredible personal growth and even allow you to find greater, however different, happiness.

Dr. Cutler retells the following story about facing suffering. 

In the time of the Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child. Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life. The Buddha was said to have such a medicine. Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, “Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?”

“I know of such a medicine,” the Buddha replied. “But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients.”

Relieved, the woman asked, “What ingredients do you require?”

“Bring me a handful of mustard seed,” said the Buddha.

The woman promised to procure it for him, but as she was leaving, he added, “I require the mustard seed be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent, or servant has died.”

The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited; in one house a daughter, in another a servant, and in others a husband or parent had died. Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death. Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child’s lifeless body and returned to the Buddha, who said with great compassion, “You thought that you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.”
The Dalai Lama states that in order to relieve suffering, you must first accept suffering as a natural part of life. You must learn to confront your problems and courageously deal with them. Just as if you were in a war – know thine enemies. If you examine them and know their depth and nature, you can fight them more accurately. You can also think about the different types of suffering you might encounter and then plan some strategies to deal with them. When the time comes you are more mentally prepared to handle the situation.

Next up ... a few highlights from The Art of Happiness