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

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

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Quality Management Assessment of Your Life

Companies consistently use a Quality Assessment team to ensure their processes are operating well and in peak performance mode. This keeps each team member aware of any potential problems. It is this awareness that allows them to act proactively to repair "holes" in the system before they can develop into something more catastrophic.

As the C.E.O. of your life, you can implement this same procedure to make a quality assessment of the areas in which you may desire personal improvement.

1. Examine the various areas of your life. In coaching terms, this exercise is called "The Wheel of Balance." Rate the level of your satisfaction with each of the areas listed below. You can add your own too!  Use the satisfaction rating system of 1-10 with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.

Romance & Intimacy
Physical Environment
Fun & Recreation
Life Purpose
Spiritual Alignment

2. In your most successful areas, examine your habits and routines that you have utilized to gain satisfaction. Can you apply these to the areas in which you are lacking satisfaction?

3. Can you determine what it is you want "more of" in your life and what it is you want "less of" in your life? Do the answers to those questions balance each other out? For example, if you want more time for fun in your life, can you think of an activity (or an emotion) on which you could spend less time and thus allowing you more time for fun?

4. Start small so you don't become overwhelmed. At first, you can construct a written action plan to just implement one or two of these changes. As you encounter success, add a few more to the list. This exercise might alert you to other areas on which you might like to improve that you previously didn't consider.

Awareness is your first goal. Once that is realized, you can learn to integrate and balance all the different parts of your life. This should help lessen the stress associated with having the responsibility of doing everything by yourself.

You can repeat this exercise as often as you like. Keep your previous rating sheets so you can assess the changes you are implementing and the affects these are having on your satisfaction level.

For more in-depth work, contact Ellen for a one-on-one coaching session at


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Do You Need To Make Some Changes?

If you have decided to look for a new life partner and are not experiencing the success you desire, are you willing to make some changes?

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, "I'm not changing for anyone. Either someone likes me the way I am or not."

This is not the type of change about which I am speaking. You need not change your inherent personality only your approach to dating. After all, isn't it logical that if one method is not working you might want to try another?

Previously, I've made the comparison between dating and marketing. I'm not asking you to change the product (you) underneath, but just to update the packaging and presentation. When there are lots of choices in the marketplace, it is important to make yourself the most impressive and memorable.

So, how are ways you can accomplish this feat?  Following is some food for thought. Try to examine each issue without assigning a charged emotion to it. Moreover, in discernment, take what resounds with you and discard the rest.

1, Is your schedule so packed between holding down a job, taking care of children, and completing everyday chores that you can't even imagine how you would have time to fit in a relationship?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Even if you are busy, if you really wanted a relationship (or were truly ready to have one), you would make it a priority and make time and space in your life.

2. If you do agree to meet with someone, is it difficult to even carve out an hour or so because your calendar is so booked?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: This can be very offputting to a date. If you are having a hard time even finding an open time slot to meet for coffee, he/she might think it would be difficult to get your attention once in a relationship.

3. Have you developed so independent an attitude that you won't "allow" a man to treat your chivalrously (i.e. open the door, pay for a meal)?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: You can be independent but still "allow" others to do things for you. This does not negate the fact that YOU CAN do it yourself; you are just choosing to let someone else help you. Consider that allowing another to help is really giving him/her a gift. The idea of making another feel special can be very satisfying. 

4. Are you using dates as therapy sessions? At a first meeting is your prior partner monopolizing the discussion?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: You may want to consciously keep track of how many times you mention your prior partner. Try giving yourself a limit on how many times it will come up.

5. Are tales of your children and their escapades also monopolizing the conversation?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Your kids are great and they are a big part of your life. It's not that you shouldn't mention them (and at least ascertain the other person likes kids) however, a date is about two individuals getting to know each other. There's plenty of time to bring your family into the mix. Your date wants to know YOU, and there are many ways to define yourself other than as a parent.

6. Are you too afraid of more loss that you are subconsciously exuding an air of fear?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Fear is not a warm and welcoming emotion. Evaluate the vibes you are sending out. What is your body language saying? For example, do you keep your arms crossed over your heart as a way to protect yourself?

7. Have you let your appearance go? Does your hair need some touching up? Does your attire need a serious update?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: This point is really more about you than how you act towards a date. It's natural to feel good about ourselves when we think we look our best. I remember I practically let my roots grow down to my ears after my husband passed away! When I finally got my hair cut and colored, I felt better about myself more confident. Additionally, have you been wearing the same clothes for a while because you figure no one is going to see you. Is your underwear getting a little threadbare? Try treating yourself to some new lingerie and an outfit that shows off your best features. Even if you are not dating yet, a refreshment of your wardrobe may refresh your attitude! 

The bottom line is to reassess the messages you are sending out to prospective dates. If you don't like the response you are receiving, it may be time to change the message. And remember, you can change the message without compromising your true self. Change gets a bad rap; it doesn't have to be hard. "Change happens in an instant. It simply requires a decision on your part and then the willingness to follow through." (Anthony Robbins)