My Thanksgiving Gift from the Universe

Here it is Thanksgiving week and I had planned on being in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb of Chicago visiting my in-laws. Instead I’m at home looking out the windows at the grey air that has been a constant reminder of the worst wildfires in California history.

My husband and I had plans to fly out yesterday, Sunday. Yet when we returned home from another family event late Saturday afternoon, a virus that had been raising its head earlier in the week suddenly returned with force. Luckily I don’t get ill often, so when a bug hits me I know it.  I had been dodging this one all week, yet I thought I could continue to keep it on the low and usher it out without fanfare. I went to bed early on Saturday night hoping that I’d wake up in the clear in the morning.

I woke up early on Sunday morning feeling feverish, with the mild sore throat I’d been fighting seemingly moving into my ears. I didn’t feel the motivation to leave my bed, let alone hoof it through the airport and endure a 5-hour flight. My worst fear was what the aftermath might bring.  I couldn’t imagine that such a journey in my condition was the recipe for feeling better. So we made the decision to cancel.

It felt very weird to realize that our plans for the week had been completely turned upside down. We weren’t going to hang out and cook at Dean’s parents’. We weren’t going to take the train to visit museums in Chicago. We weren’t going to be gone. We were going to be at home without a single plan or commitment for the week. I don’t know why, but the sudden change in plans felt overwhelming to me. And I longed to feel right again.

Finding Purpose in the Change of Plans

Dean and I talked in bed for a good couple of hours before making the phone call to his parents. I always look to see the purpose behind everything that happens. What came up for me was that now with a wide-open schedule during a holiday week that lifted most of our business responsibilities, we’d been given the opportunity to focus on what we want to create with our lives. This, at a time when it is unhealthy to do what we would normally do in mild weather, simply go for walks and enjoy the outdoors.

I’m looking at our blank slate as an opportunity to set a new vision, not only for the week, but for the  weeks and months to come.  The beauty in this  is that I know that this is exactly what we need right now, a time and environment from which to recalibrate. As much as we both know we need to, we would never have taken the time to clear the slate on our own.  My mother’s comment:  “It wasn’t meant for you to go.”

“It wasn’t meant for you to go.”

Today I graduated from an upright position in bed to my desk in my home office, clothed in warm layers and my favorite leopard slippers. Unless I have a setback, I imagine myself leaving the house tomorrow. I plan to be moving on.

 

 

 

3 Simple Steps for Happiness

I have been noticing lately that I feel an intense admiration for people who have a passion for something, and then create a successful life that is an expression of that passion. It’s not that this is a new respect that I have. I’d describe it as more of a shift in my focus. In the past I would be focused more on honoring someone’s work. I’ve gotten in touch with the fact that I now honor the person because they have succeeded in bringing their passion to a level of success.

1. Get in Touch with What You Honor

I recognize that what I honor in others is what I want for myself. This is a huge life compass, especially for someone like me who is beginning to see that there is a limit to the time I have here on this earth.

2. Understand What is Driving You

I am someone who is driven by the need for financial security. I guess I equate it with freedom. I started working at a movie theater at age 14 because I wanted to have the freedom to buy clothes on my own dime. I changed college majors from psychology to business once I started looking at the job opportunities and pay scales in the newspaper want ads. The job choices I made through my marketing career were usually driven by compensation.

Seemed wise at the time, but now I can see how empty this can leave your soul, and its desire to be who it wants to be. I am convinced that alignment with our soul’s desires is the key to happiness. How can I be happy if I am faking who I am and ignoring what I really want to be?

3. The Recipe to Happiness

Pay attention to your feelings. Honor them. Take direction from them. Give them some kind of outlet in your life. Don’t have any expectations, yet see where they take you.

Give yourself the opportunity to be you, one step at a time.

A Self-Guided Tour for Finding Your Life Purpose

Listen to the audio version: 3 minute listen

This afternoon I had a luscious time sitting on my deck in the delightfully warm sunshine. My husband was out car shopping and I had the afternoon to myself. I was feeling mellow after an intense morning workout that zapped my body of energy. I thought that maybe I would pick up the drawing pencils I hadn’t touched in a couple of years. Or maybe take out my beading container that has been buried in the closet for the last three. The beading won out. Yet as I opened the container to get reacquainted with my beads I realized that my heart wasn’t into it. As I pondered the idea of drawing instead, it occurred to me that the beading and the drawing suddenly seemed like distractions that I’d created to keep myself from focusing on what I really love to do. Write about life.

Switching gears, I brought the journal that holds notes I’ve made while attending inspirational retreats and conferences out to my deck. Flipping through the pages reading my notes energized me. In particular were words from Caroline Myss that I jotted down from a day-long conference I attended in San Francisco a dozen years ago.

            “Asking questions about life’s purpose stimulates movement.”

How often do you wake up to the day and ask yourself questions about the purpose of your life?  I am someone who thinks about purpose quite a bit. I believe that I have a purpose, that you have a purpose, and that every event that unfolds is meant to guide us closer towards expressing our purpose. But in order to be guided, we have to be paying attention. I don’t know about you, but that’s where I often fall down. I am often asleep at the wheel of life.

“Approach each day with the expectation that it will be full of messages for you personally. Look at life symbolically. Look for larger and deeper meaning in any event.”

I love this philosophy and believe it to be the key for living a deeply meaningful life. But it intimidates me. Where do I begin? How exactly do I do this? How do I stay the course?

I remind myself that I have been intimidated by many things over the course of my life that I have later come to manage quite well. These things range from losing weight and developing a running regimen to learning Google Adwords and building websites. I remember that these things seemed overwhelming the first few times I tried, but I succeeded as I persevered. What it takes is intention and commitment.

“We must discover our unique gifts and then choose the way we will use them to be of service.”

I personally don’t think most of us have a problem in discovering our unique gifts. Is it fair to say that most of us know what we’re good at and what brings us joy? The hard part is figuring out how to make a living sharing these gifts.

Yet how many of us have asked for guidance to get to the answer? I know that I do once in a while, yet I’m not consistent. For all I know, the answer has been presented to me six ways from Sunday, but I’ve not been paying attention.

Another Wondrous Coincidence in Life 

About 15 years ago I enrolled in a program through which I earned the accreditation of Ordained Ministerial Counselor. Although I felt drawn to spiritual counseling work, my primary motivator was to be legally recognized as a minister who could preside over weddings, which I did for a few years after I left corporate life.

The program curriculum was based on the teachings of A Course in Miracles, a self-study book which sought to assist its readers in spiritual transformation. Initially published in 1976, I was first introduced to the Course in the late 1980’s when I was working at Mother Jones magazine, which was a magnet for publishers seeking book reviews. There were always stacks of books piled high on a wooden bench on the edge of the editorial department that were offered for the taking to the staff. The Course was only one of an assortment of new age books that I was more than happy to snag during my tenure there, although the book sat on my bookshelf for nearly two decades without my attention.

As I was doing my research for ministerial accreditation, I found it interesting that I already owned the book that was aligned with the coursework that spoke to me the most. When I was ready to get into the work, I totally resonated with what I see as the main premise of the book. In very simplified terms, the Course teaches that all of life is connected through the divine energy from which we were all created. The Course teaches that although from our human minds we see ourselves as separate entities from everyone and everything else, the truth is that we are all spiritually connected by the energy that created us. We are each connected to that creative energy as well as to each other.

A Compelling Coincidence in Life 

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I consistently believe there is a higher creative power. While I have certainly gone through periods of falling off the spiritual wagon, I happen to be riding on it right now, and it can make for a wondrous view of everyday life.

This afternoon I was sitting at my desk at work, analyzing the performance of a client’s advertising campaign. My eyes have been bothering me lately, a combination of allergies and needing to graduate from cheap readers to real prescription glasses, which I finally gave in to and ordered last weekend from Costco. As I was staring at my computer screen with watery eyes, my mind jumped for a moment from my campaign analysis to the thought that my new glasses should be ready soon. Within seconds my cell phone rang. I can’t explain why, but I suspected the call was related to my glasses. I get so many junk calls that I typically don’t accept calls unless the caller is on my contact list. This call was coming from my nearest Costco location so I picked it up. Sure enough, it was a recording telling me that my glasses were ready for pickup.

What is a Coincidence in Life?

While I can’t explain it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my mind took a momentary segue from ad campaign analytics to my new glasses at the very same time my Costco call was in the works.

The dictionary defines coincidence as “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”

Does the “remarkable” suggest the events are attached to a higher power?

Are You Living The Legacy You Wish To Leave Behind?

Yesterday my husband and I were doing some gardening out on our back deck when my neighbor of 20 years came out to ask what we knew about the schedule for our upcoming roof replacement, a current project in our waterfront condominium community. We haven’t seen much of Perry, 78, lately, so it was nice to have an opportunity to chat with him.

When we finished discussing the community business, Perry complemented us on the  flower beautification project we were in the midst of and shared that he hadn’t had the energy for gardening lately.  He went on to tell us that he hadn’t been well, and that he had cancer of the stomach… a terminal diagnosis.

What do you say to someone you’ve known over a fence for 20 years who tells you they’ve been told they have 4 – 10 months to live? How do you communicate to them that you’re deeply sorry, that the news has shaken you, and that there is something you wish you could do to help turn things around?

How does the prospect of loss impact how you look at your own life?

Over the past year cancer has been hitting close to my home in far greater instances than ever. I lost a dear uncle and a beloved cat. My father was diagnosed with Stage 1 throat cancer and completed radiation treatments. Two other good friends have undergone or are in the process of chemotherapy for lymphoma. My naively optimistic view of my own longevity is beginning to shudder.

My neighbor sharing his diagnosis has invoked a wake-up call for me.  How can I assume that my healthy life will continue through old age? What do I want my legacy to be? What do I need to do to push that legacy forward?

The commitment to your legacy

What’s come up for me in the last 24 hours is that I need to make a commitment to the legacy I wish to leave behind. And that means I need to commit time to it, to make it a greater priority than the other things I do to “entertain” myself outside of my day job. I know that it is doable because I’ve done it tonight. I’ve shared this with you.

 

 

Memories of My Aging Parents

Last night we took my mother out for dinner to celebrate her 81st birthday. My parents still live in the house in which I grew up, in a suburb south of San Francisco. I’m lucky enough to have easy access to them, living within an hour’s drive on the northern side of the city by the bay.

My father, 83, was a career longshoreman whose work involved tough manual labor for most of his career. He now suffers from a bad back and walks with a cane to support his stooped over posture.

Signs My Parents are Aging

I first noticed my dad’s cane in the trunk of their main commuting car about three years ago. He rarely used it, yet I’ve seen his reliance on it grow in the last couple of years. Yesterday when we arrived at my parents’ home, I discovered a second cane for the first time in their bedroom.

Over the past couple of years my mom has become the primary driver because my dad’s eyesight isn’t great. He’ll drive himself to his weekly Tuesday lunch with his buddies, but that’s about it. Whenever we all go out now, we drop my dad near the front door of the restaurant so that he doesn’t have far to walk.

In comparison, my mom is in pretty good shape. She gets around rather well, yet lately I’ve been seeing different signs of her aging. The once almost immaculate house is no longer immaculate. Her outdoor orchid plants, until recently her passion, now have weeds in between the potted bulbs.

Gratitude for Time with My Aging Parents

Last night after we finished a wonderful dinner at their favorite Basque restaurant, I looked at my parents across the table and felt an emotional wave of gratitude for all the memories I’ve been able to share with them as an adult.

I spent a good chunk of my mid-20s to mid-30s living in New England for my work. My parents were in their 50s then. Although my dad, who immigrated to the U.S. from the island of Malta at age 16 had seen many parts of the world before arriving in San Francisco, he’d not traveled to the northeastern part of our country. My mom who was a Brooklyn born full Croatian had never traveled the northeast states either. So my home in New Hampshire made for the perfect launching pad for memories.

Reminiscence of My Time Together with My Aging Parents

During one of their early visits to see me in New Hampshire, my parents had expected to be driving with my husband and I to Montreal, yet our SUV that was supposed to get us there was sitting at the local garage. Somehow we gained access to the SUV the night they arrived and my dad fixed whatever was wrong so that it became our vehicle to Montreal the next day. There was another time when my mom and I laughed our pants off when we couldn’t find our way off the toll road that kept bringing us back to Newport, Rhode Island. I loved that I introduced my California parents to Maine steamers and lobster and the beauty of Vermont. Those were the days.

I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996, and a year later bought a waterfront condominium in Marin County, which was a spot that fostered many other great memories with my parents. My father, a bird lover and a fisherman, enjoyed the unique outdoors where I lived. My mom was a presence I could rely upon, whether that be in-patient surgery or holding my hand as I said good-bye to my treasured kitty friend.

They haven’t spent much time at my place over the past few years. The traffic to get through San Francisco is too much for them and they’ve become much more comfortable sleeping in their own bed.

I miss the old times. I wish I had been more appreciative of those days as they were happening. I knew we were enjoying time together, but I didn’t have the awareness that those days would someday be limited.

I know that now. And better late than never for it gives me an understanding of how I want to charter the remaining times we have together.

Might you somehow relate?

Don’t Take Anything Personally

I joined a new health club a couple of months ago and am now settling into my routine.  I’ve recently discovered a class instructor who has become my favorite. Her classes are always very challenging, yet different, and she pushes us really hard. I always leave her classes with a great feeling that I’ve given myself a healthy workout that I can feel into the next day.

Although I do know the instructor’s first name, I refer to her as “Sergeant” when I talk about her with my husband. I call her this because of the grueling nature of her instructing style, along with an overall lack of warmth or compassion. While she has a good sense of humor, her demeanor is tough.

Yesterday was the Sunday morning after turning the clocks ahead. I was planning on attending Sergeant’s 10 am Total Body class and considered that I needed to go to bed early enough on Saturday night to feel energetic despite an hour of sleep lost. My alarm first went off at 8 am Sunday morning. I knew I had time to spare and made a mental note to snooze my alarm. That didn’t happen. Instead I woke up at 9:22 and jumped out of bed in a panic to make the class.

I got to the health club in plenty of time to make the class. Once the Zumba class ahead of us had cleared, I walked into the exercise studio with all the other women. We grabbed a step platform and weights. Sergeant got the music started and our time together began.

As we worked through the hour with cardio, weights, bands and core exercises, I felt a sense of joy that I was getting the workout I wanted. It was probably the sixth class I’d taken from Sergeant and I was thinking that it was time to express my appreciation to her and introduce myself after class.

Putting Myself Out There
After class ended and the exercise studio was emptying, I took a place behind a woman talking with Sergeant at the front of the studio. It was clear from their conversation that the woman had been a regular in Sergeant’s classes and that there was a fair amount of familiarity between them. When that woman stepped away, Sergeant turned her body away from me to focus her attention on the music she was disassembling. It struck me as odd. Hadn’t she seen me standing there waiting to talk to her?

I thought about tapping her arm or shoulder to get her attention, but instead I just spoke. I said, “I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your classes. You really give a great workout.”

The Surprising Snub
What happened next surprised me. Or better said, what didn’t happen amazed me. I expected a smile. I expected to see some type of facial expression or eye contact that displayed feelings. I expected to see that my outreach of gratitude was felt and appreciated. I experienced none of that. Instead I got a cold snub. It made feel bad.

I walked out of the exercise studio, through the health club, and outside to the parking lot totally attached to the bad experience I’d just had. I felt humiliated having extended myself and then being treated like that. I was pissed. If her classes weren’t such good workouts, I would have vowed never to attend them again. But they are, and I had to find a way to deal with my experience.

Don’t Take Anything Personally
After I got home and continued to process this experience, I was reminded of the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book, The Four Agreements, in which he wrote—

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves…”

I was reflecting back on what I’ve observed in the woman I call Sergeant. First of all, I typically refer to people by their names unless there’s a particular aspect about them that is part of the story I’m trying to tell. Why would I ever expect that a woman I have named Sergeant will be warm and fuzzy to me? Duh!

I’m also suspecting that I may have encountered Sergeant at a time in her life when she’s not feeling particularly good about herself. She’s mentioned in classes that she’ll be turning 60 this year, that no matter how hard she works, her body is becoming “fleshy”, declares that she hasn’t gotten a face lift because it will mean too much time away from the gym, and so on.

The coldness I encountered is not about me. It’s about whatever is going on in her life that is preventing her from having an open heart.

The next time I see her will be through eyes of compassion rather than insult.