Making Meaning…

This is my new site. Thanks for stopping by to give it a look. I will be updating it daily to include comments about the things I’m doing – specifically what I’m learning from my coaching clients, and my workshop participants.

For me, it’s all about meaning. I love noticing how we all make meaning from the experiences we have daily. One of the questions I often ask my clients is, “What do you make of that?” In other words, what meaning are you assigning to that encounter with another, or that particular event or experience?

We think we are seeking Truth (with a capital T), but we are really making meaning. And it’s very individual to us. Each of us will make a different meaning from the very same experience. There may be similarities. There will also be differences. It’s called perception.

How about you? What are you learning? What new challenges are you enjoying? Play along, if you’d like, and feel free to comment. Until tomorrow…

The Energy to Sustain

I’ve been noticing that I have lots of energy when it comes to creating something new. I get so excited! When my clients talk about projects, new books, anything that involves the spark of a new idea, I am sitting on the edge of my chair. Literally I am transfixed with enthusiasm. My friends know this about me too. They will often call me when they need some help with a new beginning. They know I’ll be all over the idea of sitting with them, handing them whatever tool they need to get started on the new task!

But somehow, as the new begins to wear off, I find it more challenging to have the energy to see my new idea through. The energy to sustain has a different feeling than the energy of creation.

So, the other day I was taking a long walk into the country. I do this most every day to let my brain have a break and to get some fresh air. I notice that walking helps me generate new ideas and work through thoughts and challenges. As I was turning around to come home, I noticed the wind. It had been at my back on the walk out and was now directly in my face. I began to tense up, thinking Oh no! I made a mistake to walk this way. How could I not have noticed the direction of the wind and made a better plan?! (You may notice yourself doing this sometimes too – being unkind and judgmental to yourself!)

In that moment, I shifted from blaming myself and creating catastrophe. I relaxed my entire body and slowed down. As I did this, everything changed. The wind was no longer my enemy. I quit resisting and started feeling. The experience of putting one foot in front of the other solved “the problem” of walking all the way home into the wind.

So that got me thinking about sustainable energy. When I have a new project or idea that feels incredibly compelling, it is like having the wind at my back. I just sail and life is so good. When I’m in the middle of it, or I’ve done it once and now it’s time to do the same thing again, it can feel like walking into a strong, cold wind. I’m tempted to doubt myself, the significance of my work, and to turn tail and keep running with the wind at my back. My walk taught me that in order to sustain my energy in the middle, it is important to notice what I’m holding onto too tightly. I need to relax, slow down and be easy as I figuratively put one foot in front of the other. And, it helps to lift up my head so that I have access to all of the interesting things that are going on as I’m walking through the mid ground.

Things never happen the same way twice. There is still a lot to learn and enjoy with repeat projects.

What is your Job on the planet?

I woke up in the middle of the night last night. I’ve found it easiest to return to sleep if I leave my bed and go downstairs to read for a while. I can’t read anything exciting or scary – it must be quiet, meditative subject matter. For this, I highly recommend Wherever You Go There You Are, Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I’ve read this book before but it lives by my bed for just such sleepless nights. And last night I read a section that I just loved! I am particularly excited about the metaphor of each person as a gift. I love thinking about people in this way – each of us gifted with combination of qualities and skills that only show up once in the course of human history. Think of it! Each of us is so unique and we have a very specialized purpose. Our purpose is determined by what we love to do and what we think is important – so important in fact that we can’t not do it. At least without harming ourselves in some way.

Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “Rarely do we question and then contemplate with determination what our hearts are calling us to do and to be. I like to frame such efforts in question form: “What is my job on the planet with a capital J?” or “What do I care about so much that I would pay to do it?” He goes on to say that if you don’t have an immediate answer, just keep asking yourself the same question. Eventually, if you are patient, he suggests that the question itself will lead you in some interesting ways.

It’s hard to know where this kind of introspection will lead. It may not change what you do, but it might change how you do it. What better time to begin? What is your heart calling you to be? What is your Job on the planet-the one only you can do?

A Thing of Beauty

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of visiting one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest – the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I accompanied my husband, Bob, to a meeting there. Bob is a sculptor George Rickeyhimself and has been telling me about the park for a very long time. It was delightful and a bit awe inspiring to see so many pieces of contemporary sculpture situated in beautifully landscaped surroundings. Currently there is an exhibit of George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture that is truly amazing. The pieces move very gently with the wind and they remind me of gentle giants.

I had a weird reaction after being there for a while. I rode the tram around the park and got the guided tour that was very informative and helpful. I perused the gift shop and ended up in the cafe for a light lunch. As I was sitting there, I was overcome with a sense of overwhelm and sadness. I was surprised to be feeling this way after having felt very energized initially by all that I had seen.

When I sat with my own feelings for a while, what I noticed was that I felt very small and insignificant. What can I possibly do with my life that will, in any way, compare to the greatness I witnessed there?

I know intellectually that each of us is endowed with different gifts. I know that we cannot all be artists (and one in my family is probably enough!). I also know that I make a difference, and that my intention is to do good work that makes a difference in the lives of others. But, sometimes it’s a challenge to line up what we know in our minds and what we feel in our bodies. When we sit with our feelings they have much to teach us about ourselves.

So, what is the beauty you bring to the world? How are you sharing the gift of yourself with others?

If you want a bit of inspiration, I highly recommend the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park!

You as a Work in Progress

This week I coached with one of my favorite clients. She is a small business owner, a parent and a dedicated community volunteer. She has diligently worked with me to create goals for herself and systems to make sure she is accountable to the work of those goals. She is a very successful woman. Yet, this morning her inquiries were, Why am I still feeling unsatisfied? Why do I judge everything I do as not enough? Why can’t I be like others who seem to be happy where they are in life?
This is a common theme in coaching high achievers with high standards for themselves and others. You may well be able to relate. Her perception is that if she slows down or takes a break that her momentum will be lost and it will be mighty hard to find it again. She has been trained to work hard and strive, strive, strive. There is always lots of important work to be done!

This is not a bad way to be. After all, we need people who are willing to work hard and make a difference! On the other hand, we also need to take care along the way. No goal or plan or person is sustainable without down time. No learning can be realized without quiet time to reflect on how it’s going.

It is also part of the human condition to wish we were already “there”. Why can’t I solve this problem once and for all? That’s where the work in progress comes in. We are all making strides towards being more fully who we are. We are human beings, not problems to be solved. Give yourself a healthy dose of credit this week for the progress you are making. Give yourself a needed break to reflect on all the things about yourself that you enjoy.

Your Gathering Basket

Your Gathering Basket

I looked all over for a gathering basket last spring. They are typically shallow baskets that are either long and rectangular or oval so that your fruit or vegetables or even cut flowers can lay in a single layer on the bottom of the basket. These beauties also sport big handles that can go over your arm to leave your hands free for gathering. You’d think with all the popularity of gardens and garden decorations that a gathering basket would not be hard to find. The vintage ones are easy to locate in antique shops but they can be pretty pricey. I did persevere and finally find one online that I love.

And now it is harvest time. The colors of our midwestern landscape are warm and muted. Pumpkins and corn and tomatoes are abundant and delicious. We’re puckered up for the sweet taste of apples, cider and home baked delicacies that tantalize our taste buds. The kids are back in the swing of the school schedule; football games compose the social schedule on the weekends. The evenings are cool and ripe for a thick sweater and a warm fire. Young ones may already be dreaming up the ideal Halloween costume.

And yet, where did the summer go? Aren’t you just a tiny bit sad about the absence of long sunny hours, warm temperatures that leave you breathless to return to the air conditioning, and the vacation feel of the weekend? Didn’t it go by, just like always, in a heartbeat?

Why is it when we say hello to one season we must bid goodbye to another? Sure we’ve enjoyed some lovely weather in the fall. It feels homey and slow to experience the outdoors with its musky smells, crispy leaf and insect sounds, and glowing low light of afternoons. But it’s not summer…

According to Cheryl Richardson, best selling author and life coach, the best way to create the space for a great, new beginning is to fully participate in the ending. This means acknowledging, “what was” with eyes wide open. I’ve learned to say goodbye with meaning and purpose by using the power of ritual.

So my friends, I’d like to suggest that you use the metaphor of a gathering basket to take one last look at summer and see what memoires, images, photographs, songs, experiences you’d like to gather in your basket to keep you believing in summer until it comes again. We’ve got some challenges ahead – ice, snow, cold, dark. But we can do it! I think I may keep one of my favorite summer tops hanging in a prominent spot in my closet, even after I’ve traded out most of my skimpy short sleeves for warmer, wintry wools.

What are your favorite summer images? How will you plan to gather them and place them ever so gently in your particular basket? What other ritual might you want to put in to practice that will help you savor the sweet breath of summer?

Gather on! It’s time to harvest all the goodness that the fertility of summer has allowed. Say goodbye with love and prepare to be fully in harvest time.

We are All Inventors

We are all Inventors
It’s all about making meaning…

Inventors bring lots of new things to our lives. They are creative and resourceful with a strong sense of social interest – they want to invent things that will improve the quality of our lives. Things that make life easier, more efficient, and more fun.

In a sense, we are all inventors. We all seek to make meaning from the experiences we have in our lives. And, we are quite creative about it. We are constantly inventing stories about what has happened in the past, how we either are, or are not responsible for what happened. We create stories about what will happen depending on current decisions that we are in the process of making. We invent rationales for doing certain things in certain ways, and we invent our futures based on the meaning we’ve made about the past.

This is not a bad thing. In many ways, our inventions serve us well. We all seek two primary social needs: to find belonging with others and to seek ways that we are each important and valued for what we bring to the world as unique individuals. Making meaning of our relationships and experiences is a very important way of making peace with our circumstances.

It is important to recognize that we are inventing. The truth we think we seek about life is actually more about meaning, and we assign meaning ourselves. No one can do this for us; however, having another’s perspective can be very helpful.

For example, if you’re still holding on to a version of your life in which you play the role of victim, you may want to get someone to help you re-invent that story in a different way. After all, not all inventions are financially viable. There is no shame in junking an unsuccessful attempt. Inventors do it all the time.
Look at Thomas Edison. His eventual achievement was inventing not just an incandescent electric light, but also an entire system that contained 7 different elements necessary to make the incandescent light practical, safe, and economical. He supposedly had over 100 attempts and worked for one and a half years, before he was finally successful in creating an incandescent lamp that changed the world.
So why not shed a little light on your own invention. How is it working for you? Does your invention encourage you to see yourself as powerful, as important, as the author of your own destiny? Does your life’s invention portray you as a minor character, playing only an insignificant role in the story of your life? Are there some characters in your invention that need to be written out, or perhaps are some new scripts required?

Now’s the time for any revision that is needed. Take responsibility for inventing the life you want to live. There are so many options. Give up the fear that you will make a wrong decision. There are no wrong decisions. Decide what you want, and find a way to take some small steps in the direction of your dreams.
Invent the life you want to live and begin living it.

The Sizzle of Summer

Sounds like Summer

Sizzle-say it. It’s a word that makes its own sound when spoken, an onimonipeia – easy for you to say! Surely you remember learning about those in grade school – bang, bash, gong, crack, zoom, achoo, meow… Words that tear up the pages of a comic book or lend a rhyming structure to Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Words that signal something lively and active is happening. You’d better pay attention or you might get whacked.

But the sound of sizzle isn’t the half of it. Sizzle is a word that elicits lots of sensory images all at once – a sound, a smell, a tingle of anticipation. When it sizzles, there is change in the making and you can almost feel what’s going to happen. Something is going from cold to hot very quickly, raw to cooked, pale to pink. We’re not talking snap, crackle, pop, but siz-zle!

For something to really sizzle the temperature and conditions have to be just right or the results our mouths are watering for just don’t happen. You know what it’s like to put something on the grill when it’s not hot enough. Clunk! Not much! Or just try to cook fresh sweet corn in water that has not been properly preheated. Fizzle. Nothing. All those ears sink to the bottom of the pot and just lay there. Thud.

But when it’s right, the results can be unbelievably delicious. Summer is like that. A time when all the elements line up and the energy is there that makes things happen. The days just hum along. Birds chirp and tweet to provide music for our lives in the background. The summer sun simmers from overhead to provide the warmth we’ve been waiting for. Skates, bikes, boats, boards all come out of the garage for a clatter of activity. “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” we murmur.

And as we all know, this sensational season is short. Once the dog days of summer begin to bark at us in August, thoughts of fall and back-to-school begin to tug at our consciousness. Eek. Take every opportunity to enjoy the wonders that this season brings. Wake up, explore and enjoy all of the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the feels of this sensual season.

Aaahh, summer.

Say Cheese, The Power of a Smile

Say Cheese, The Power of a Smile

 

Did you know that when you smile, even if you are not feeling especially happy, your brain still responds by feeling better? Several studies have been done to indicate that this is true. It seems you can trick yourself into feeling happier simply by “pretending” to smile. Go ahead and try it right now. I’ll wait…

 

Further, it appears from recent studies that people who smile more live longer. Also, smiles encourage altruism – if someone smiles at you, even a perfect stranger, you are more likely to do something to help another person out. Smiles just seem to generate lots of positive emotion that bring us closer together as people. It’s no wonder photographers will do whatever it takes to get us to smile for photos. Cheese is evidently just an easy word to say that pulls our cheek muscles back and shows our pearly whites, thus leading us in the direction of a smile. When you smile, your face looks more relaxed, available and warm. Who doesn’t want to be recorded in this way?

 

Whose smile makes a difference to you?

 

I can remember a specific time recently when I was driving home from a weekend in Chicago and I was feeling really down. It was a challenging time and I was really doing a great job of telling myself some pretty horrific stuff about myself, the way the world was changing, and the uncertain future. I decided to stop and get myself a cup of coffee, and I was on one of those ramps that has two lanes for turning left. I looked over to the car beside me, and the driver looked back at me and smiled. I didn’t know her, had never seen her before or since, so I will never be able to thank her. But the impact of her warm and kind smile was huge. I felt a sense of hope, just from that quick connection. Suddenly all was not lost and I was able to regain a sense of realness. The world may be challenged, but in that moment, I was safe. Everything was OK.

 

Since our brains are equipped with mirror neurons, we actually invite people to reciprocate with smiles when we smile. Often referred to as “monkey see, monkey do” neurons, this is the brain’s way of teaching us how to develop empathy. We can feel what others are experiencing because of this wiring in our own brains. That’s what makes it possible for us to “experience” sporting events without really feeling the power of a 300-pound linebacker plowing us over on the football field. Or, to experience the sheer exuberance and joy while seeing an athlete standing on the awards platform ready to receive an Olympic gold medal. And yes, the mirror neurons are also active when we feel tears spring to our eyes when we see others crying.

 

 

The shadow of your smile, when you are gone

Will color all my dreams and light the dawn.

Look into my eyes, my love, and see

All the lovely things you are to me.

 

Smiles are powerful! Never forget the lasting impact of yours, as described in the popular ballad by Tony Bennett, The Shadow of Your Smile.  Say “ cheese” and pass it on! Do it now – I’ll wait.

Advice From a River

Advice from a river

River is yet one more wonderful metaphor for life, and aren’t we lucky to live near one to remind us about ease and flow. People have always settled near rivers and history books tell us that it’s because of commerce and transportation. Living close to a natural waterway does make sense for practical purposes, but I’m also a believer in the aesthetic pull of the river for settlers. The beauty of the Illinois River Valley makes the Peoria area unique to Illinois’ typical flat landscape.  The lushness of the trees on either side, the colors in spring and fall, and the vastness of the river inspire me each time I cross the Murray Baker Bridge!

 

Oh, if only those waters could talk. What would their stories be? And what advice for living would this wise old body share?

 

Here are a few ideas to try on. See which ones float your boat.

 

Go with it. Catch my natural current and allow yourself to reap the benefits of the tremendous energy produced by going with the flow. Your life has a natural direction, a way that it is unfolding. Pay attention. When you find yourself trying to paddle against the current, slow down and notice. What are you resisting? Why do you believe it’s necessary to work so hard? What is the more natural path you could try that will take advantage of all of the things you’ve learned so far? What permission do you need to give yourself in order to accept ease?

 

Have fun. Why live by a river and not enjoy the bounty of recreation I provide for your life? My purpose is to enhance all that is available here. Watch the ships that traverse my waterways. Take a boat ride and feel the summer breeze. Sit still by my side and listen to the steady, reverent way my waters create peaceful sounds to calm you.   Gather with your friends to ski, canoe, motor, or party. Enjoy life.

 

Stay steady.  Even rivers have cycles and seasons. In spring I swell with the melting snow and the natural pull of water to return to the sea. I feel so mighty and powerful, I behave as though no one can stop me. Sometimes damage is done by my increased energy and hardship is experienced. Other times I am reduced to a mere trickle, or worse, I disappear completely to be remembered only by a sign, a tombstone reminding any passersby of my previous glory.  This is nature’s way.  Do the best you can to prepare for the shift of the seasons. Understand that it’s not personal. Every living thing experiences ebb and flow.

 

Lazy is not as bad as it sounds. This is my last piece of advice. You humans sure do like to strive. You work so hard and get so much satisfaction out of telling each other how much you do. I’m just here to remind you that it’s ok to be lazy. I know, I know. You have to make a living. Times are hard, and money’s tight. But slow down. Take a tip from the lazy river. Choose your direction and then remember, at least occasionally, to float rather than swim.