An Authentic Life Is An Inside Job

Whatever I am, wherever I am, whatever I have done – at this very moment – I am enough.

I don’t remember where I read those words, but obviously they made enough of an impression on me to write them down. They spoke to the most important requirement for building an authentic life: realizing and accepting that we are enough just the way we are.

Nothing we do or have done, no major improvements we make to our lifestyle, our looks, our homes, our jobs, or our politics can result in an authentic life unless we accept and embrace the idea that no matter what, success or fail, we are enough just as we are. We don’t have to be perfect at something. In fact, we don’t have to be perfect at anything. We just have to be loving, kind, and compassionate to ourselves first. Everything after that is a bonus.

“Gee, Barb, you wouldn’t say that if you knew what I did way back when,” you might say. To which I would have to reply: “So? That was then. This is now”. As the quote reminds us: ” – at this very moment – I am enough.”  If we want to live an authentic life, we have to start with identifying those areas in our life where we have judged ourselves to be inadequate or a failure and accept that we did the best we could, with the knowledge and experience we had at that time. And as the brilliant Maya Angelou reminds us: “When you knew better, you did better.”

This week our writing assignment on the Home Page is going to ask us to address those areas where we need to let go of our feelings of not being enough and put them to rest, accepting that, right here, right now, we are enough. From here we can build the authentic life we deserve. I can’t ask you to have fun with this one, but I can wish you peace and blessings, and an authentic life … and don’t forget: keep writing!

 

 

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Holding On To What Matters

When I moved into my tiny apartment last year, I had only a month before Christmas was upon me. After spending a month trying to decide how to arrange my few sticks of furniture, my pared down wardrobe and my household goods, it was suddenly time to decorate for the holidays. So I asked my daughter and grandson to haul down my Christmas decorations from her attic where I had stored them on the day of the move and bring them over to my place. That’s when I was presented with my next and most difficult challenge – downsizing my Christmas decorations.

You have to remember that in the space of two years I had moved from a two bedroom apartment with a huge storage closet, to a one bedroom apartment, also with a large storage area, and finally to a studio apartment with very little storage at all. By the time I hit the last move, I had gotten really good at downsizing my life, from clothes to dishes, from books to movies, and, especially, teddy bears. However, I had not had to downsize my Christmas decorations before this because I always had a large enough area to store them in. Not this time, not this year. This year I had to get serious about Christmas.

Picture this: a Christmas village complete with homes, stores, Santa’s entire village, a gazebo, a playground, people, trees, bridges … well, you get the idea. I had enough Christmas teddy bears and other holiday stuffed animals to fill a shop. I had ornaments that came to me from my own childhood, my children’s childhood, and all the years in between. I had five different Christmas wreaths in assorted sizes. What I actually had was way, way too much. The difference with this downsizing job was that it wasn’t about getting rid of what no longer mattered, but knowing what did matter. I needed to figure out how to hold on to what mattered most to me.

When we are building an authentic life, we are usually so focused on letting go of what no longer serves us that we don’t spend enough time focusing on what does. What part of our life works? What brings value, joy and beauty into our lives? It doesn’t always have to be a material object, although sometimes it is. I would no sooner get rid of the ancient, black and white photo of my mother when she was 21, waving and smiling in the sunshine, than I would my cats. Often, though, the things that matter most in our lives are our beliefs, our faith, our family, our friends, our values and our passions. Those are not things that can be packed away into a box and given to Goodwill. Those are the things we take with us to act as the bedrock of our authentic lives.

Last year I put up my tiny table top tree (after many cat-induced accidents with big trees over the years, I have learned that size isn’t everything). I decorated it with those few things that had special meaning for me, like all the decorations made by my children, my grandchildren and assorted nieces; a few tiny village pieces for under the tree; the Nativity set my mother gave me; my favorite wreath for the front door; our Christmas stockings (yes, my kitties have their own); my minimal Nutcracker collection that fit nicely on the window ledge; and my very favorite Christmas teddy bears. Everything else went back in the cartons and back up into my daughter’s attic. After two months of packing and unpacking, I was content to simply store the rest for the moment and make the final decisions at a later date.

That later date is now upon me. Over the weekend I will hike on up to my daughter’s attic and make the final purge. What remains will go to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or any of the churches that are collecting Christmas decorations to give to folks who need them but can’t afford them. I have even downsized my tree, if you can imagine downsizing a table top tree. I saw a sweet little Charlie Brown-type tree in the store, one that was flocked to look as if it had been snowed on. It was a skinny little tree, something I might well come upon in the woods. I could imagine it with tiny animals and a few simple ornaments tucked in its branches. When I told my daughter about it, she was kind enough to buy it for me. She said it was about time as the old one was starting to look a bit shabby. So this year my simple little tree will adorn my simple little home and bring to it all the wonder and beauty of Christmas from the outside to the inside, and that’s all that really matters.

This week’s writing assignment on the home page will be challenging us to get serious about what really matters. As always, have fun with it, and whatever else you do, keep writing.!

Peace and blessings.

Finding Your Voice

When was in my 20’s, my greatest passion, besides my two beautiful little girls, was the same as it is now … writing.  However, in those days, I immersed myself in all the how-to books and read all of the best examples of writing out there at the time, believing that we learned by example. I wanted to “feel” what those writers felt, and write what they wrote. I even took myself to places where the gossip columns reported the famous and published hung out. My favorite was the Algonquin Hotel in New York City where the famous “Algonquin Round Table” held court (for those of you too young to know who or what that was, let me just say that it was where the brightest and most influential people in the world of art, theater and writing gathered to drink and share their wisdom). How I didn’t get arrested for stalking I’ll never know but in those days all the young wanna-be novelists and playwrights looked hungrily at the front doors from across the street hoping to get a glimpse of their idols and praying that some of their genius would float through the air and anoint us.

Once my kids came along my days of visiting those haunts of the publishing world were lost to me. So I set myself to the task of writing every chance I got. I’d write when the kids took their naps. I’d write in the middle of the night. I’d grab a phrase or sentence between changing diapers and cleaning up strained peas. I would dutifully send my masterpieces out to all the recommended periodicals only to receive enough rejections letters back to paper my entire living room. Most of them were form rejection letters: “We’re sorry to tell you that your submission does not currently meet our needs.”  Translation: “Sorry, honey, we’ve got a hundred more just like this one.” Occasionally, I would get a short, handwritten note that said something like: “You write well but you need to find your own voice.” My voice? What did that mean? It has taken me 40 years to find it but I can finally say with the utmost confidence that I now know what it means for me.

A writer’s voice is more than just someone’s writing style. It is more than the tone or the genre they write in. To find your voice is to discover your unique way of looking at the world and expressing that via the written word. It is the reason two or three people will see the same thing but describe it in very different terms. Just like a police officer will get three completely different descriptions of the same suspect from three different “eye witnesses,” each of us sees the world through the filters of our own life experiences and beliefs. It is when we speak with someone else’s voice, echoing their beliefs and ideals, that we lose our own voice if, indeed, we ever had it to begin with.

In order to create our authentic lives, we must first describe it using our own voice, not the voice of our parents, our friends, the culture or anyone else. It must ring true for us. It must be our very own unique take on the world we see around us, and the one we wish to create. More to the point, once we find our voice, we must own it. If we’re not able to take ownership of our own voices, how will we take ownership of our own lives?

This week our writing assignment is going to be a fun little experiment with finding and using our own voice. The fun part comes when we see how others found theirs as well. As always, have fun with it, and keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Learning To Sit With It

No one ever said that doing the work to create an authentic life, especially in our later years, was going to be easy. Every day we are confronted with choices and decisions about what to keep from our old life, with all of its belief systems, family, friends and experiences, and what to let go of that no longer serves who we truly are. Sometimes we make a choice, confident that it is the right one for us where we are right now, only to feel doubt about our choices, second guessing ourselves. It is at that time that we could use a tool that teaches us how to “sit with it” until we know if our decision is the right one.

I found such a tool the other day as I was going through my closet. I tend to do that more and more these days since I downsized to a cozy little studio apartment which I adore and which has the best view I’ve ever had of anywhere I’ve ever lived (which more than makes up for the limited closet space). It seems that every week as I am putting away the clean laundry and trying to fit it all back in, I find one or two items that I put through the now standard test of whether or not I will keep it:

1. Does this item bring beauty or value into my life?

2. Does this item bring me joy?

3. Am I willing to part with something else to make room for this item?

I pulled out the oversized harvest sweatshirt with the big pumpkin on the front that I wear for only a few weeks each year until Thanksgiving and then pack away again, as well as the very bulky open knit sweater that catches on everything, and started to put them to the test. It suddenly occurred to me that I could take some thoughts and decisions that had been bothering me recently and put them through exactly the same examination. Perhaps by asking the questions, and then sitting in the stillness and silence of meditation for 10 or 15 minutes, answers that were hidden in my heart might appear.

So I sat down and took out my” handy-dandy notebook” (anyone out there have kids or grandkids who watched Blues Clues on TV and knows what that notebook is?) and wrote out the first decision that I has having second doubts about. As before, I asked myself the three questions, rewritten this time to accommodate the exercise:

1. Does this decision bring beauty or value into my life?

2. Does this decision bring me joy?

3. Am I willing to give something (or someone) up to live my life authentically based on this decision?

Once I had written the questions out, I set the timer for 10 minutes, took a few deep breaths, and closed my eyes, listening in the silence for my heart to speak. After a few minutes I opened my eyes and continued to sit, taking in the beautiful hills beyond the rooftops, watching the blue jays play chase, and breathing deeply … no thinking, no doing, just sitting. When the timer went off, I went back to my notebook and wrote what came to me. I did not stop and question or try to manipulate what came out. When I got stuck, I set the timer for another 10 minutes and just sat. By the time I had done this two or three times, I was pretty sure that what I had written was an answer directly from my heart.

Most of the time, we do know what is in our best interest, what the right thing is for us to do, and why. Sometimes we let the opinions of others, especially those who are close to us, stir up feelings that make us question our decisions. When that happens, we need to take it to the mat, or chair, and learn to “sit with it” until we reconnect with the right answer. Often we find that silence can be our best and wisest friend.

This week our writing assignment on the Home Page is going to ask us to “take it to the mat.” As always, have fun with it, and keep writing!

Peace and blessings!

 

 

It’s Just A Matter Of Time

Earlier this week I posted an article on my blog, Flower Bear’s Garden-Growing A Life about turning the clocks back an hour this past weekend, and how once we humans developed the technology to manipulate daylight, we lost our connection to our own bodies’ natural rhythms to the earth (www.flowerbearsgarden.blogspot.com). It’s not just how much daylight we save or lose that makes a difference, however. It’s also a matter of time.

The subject of time has been in the forefront a great deal lately. Even Oprah and Deepak Chopra are addressing our obsession with time in their new 21 Day Meditation Experience. When did we become so addicted to the idea of time, because it is, truly, only an idea, a perception. There is no such thing as time. It is a human invention. When Mr. Squirrel kisses Mrs. Squirrel goodbye at dawn to go out into the great, big world to collect the nuts for the day (sort of the squirrel version of bringing home the bacon), he doesn’t check his watch to see how long he has to make his commute to the nearest chestnut tree, who or what may be in his way and delay his arrival, and how many nuts he must collect before quitting time. He just stays in the moment, doing what is in front of him, working with what he has, where he is. The sun will tell him when it’s a good idea to go home to Mrs. Squirrel before the night predators come out.

All we have is this precious moment in front of us. The past is simply a collection of present moments that are no more. The future is a collection of present moments that are not yet here. All we have is now. The expression “now is the time” is truer than you realize. Now is the time to be who we truly are, one authentic moment after another. What needs out attention, our mindful attention in this moment?

Living an authentic life requires us to be present for it. As American-born Buddhist teacher and author, Lama Surya Das, says: “You must be present to win.” We don’t win when we let time become our master. Our human life on this earth will take as long as it takes, from the moment we are born, until the moment we make our transition. In between those two moments, our lives move moment by present moment. Whether we use them to experience life as we truly, authentically are, or not, is a choice.

This week our writing assignment is going to take a look at how we view the concept of time and where we can make changes that bring more authenticity into our lives. As always, have fun with it, and keep writing!

Peace and blessings.

A Safe Place To Fall

“What I’ve come to understand about journaling is that it is a safe place for us to dip our toes into the pond of new dreams and ideas, struggle with our egos over what is truly in our highest and best good, and rage at the world when things don’t work out as we had planned.”

The above quote is from an article I wrote for the October/November issue of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine (https://elementsforahealthierlife.com). We’ve touched on the subject of journaling before, but it’s worth taking a second look at how journaling can be our safe place to fall as we learn, through trial and error, how to build the authentic life we want and deserve.

To begin with, here is what journaling is NOT:

  • It’s not a place to discuss your to-do list for the day.
  • It’s not a place to give a weather report or to complain about said report.
  • It’s not a diary.

What journaling does is open the doors to your inner sanctuary and allow all the many sides of you to come out and express themselves. On the pages of your journal you carry on a conversation with your ego self, your five-year-old self that never felt loved, or special, or the young adult self that never felt as if she measured up to everyone else, and discover how that is playing out in your life now. Your journal is the place where you can see your dreams and hopes in black and white, in the light of day instead of in the shadows of your mind. Your journal is also where the demons that have tracked you from your earliest years are exposed and vanquished.

When we sit down to write in our journals, we write from where we are right now in this moment. Are we happy? Sad? Excited? Why? Are we reaching for something but don’t know how to name what that “something” is? Write it down. What does it feel like, look like, taste like? If it were an animal, what animal would it be? If you’re stuck, write down the words: “What if …” and see where it takes you. Don’t be afraid. Your journal comes complete with a money back guarantee: if you don’t like what comes out on the page, you are free to write something else.

My journal has been my best friend and confidant since I was 10 years old. It was where I shared my deepest hopes and dreams, what I perceived to be my failures as well as my successes, and where my love life spilled across the page live leaves blowing across the lawn. All of my child-rearing years, the precious moments and the times that tested my courage as well as my patience, are in there. All of the hardest decisions of my life were made on those pages, and the unknown miracles and gifts of my wisdom years are now found there as well.

Building a house requires a set of plans, a blueprint. Building an authentic life requires one as well, and your journal is where those plans are created, tested and brought forth into being. Even if you build yourself into a corner, a mere turn of the page can present us with a means of moving forward. Your journal is your way out and your next step.

This week over on the Home Page, we’re going to play with some journaling prompts. As always, have fun with this, and keep that hand moving across the page!

P.S. The creator and publisher of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine, Cindy Kochis, has just released her new book: “Unleash Your Story: A Journal Writer’s Handbook” on Amazon.com:

“C.K. Kochis shares how journaling saved her life when she was sixteen years old, the benefits of a writing practice, her interpretation of what journaling is and simple instructions to make your own journals. Gain inspiration from the 365 journal prompts to unleash their story and cultivate a deeper connection with ‘self’. This heart-centered book is intended to help unlock expressions of emotion that are often hard to put into words, reminisce on days gone by, put dreams and goals onto paper, and to open the gateway for messages from the heart to be seen on paper. BONUS – 30-days of journal pages to encourage the action of journaling.”

What better way to get your journaling muscles going! Get your copy today!.

Peace and blessings.

Our Authentic Connection To The World

One afternoon about 6 or 7 years ago, I was taking a stroll along the river walk in downtown Binghamton, NY. It was 4 p.m. on a warm, late October day. I had just gotten out of work and was on my way down to the little independent book store on Main Street to pick up a book that I had ordered.

I walked slowly along the pathway, enjoying the beautiful day after being cooped up for 8 hours in a windowless office. I saw many others out doing the same. Some folks were taking an after-work run. Others were sitting on benches, cell phones to their ears, making plans for the evening. At about the mid-point on the walkway, I stopped and looked down over the cement wall to the water below. Today it was crystal clear (not always the case in this old industrial town), and I could see the fish swimming lazily about looking for insects on the surface. At one point a few feet from the shoreline a ray of sunshine was beaming down onto the surface and I saw a large, flat stone surrounded by water plants that looked like it was covered in diamond dust, a play of the reflection from the sun.  “How peaceful everything looks down there,” I thought to myself.

At that moment I felt as if my inner self, my spirit, had been magically transported. I felt myself standing beneath the water on that shimmering stone, with the water plants gently waving around me and the fish swimming by as if I was just another under water creature. Looking up I could see my physical self leaning over the wall and looking down with a smile of pure joy of my face. Here, beneath the surface, it was so very quiet and peaceful. The noise of the traffic and people were gone and in their place was a gentle lapping at the water’s edge. A very large bass swam particularly close by and I could swear he was smiling at me. “I could stay here forever,” I thought. In that moment, I was back on the surface looking down at the water. “What in the world just happened?” I asked myself in wonder? In the space of a breath I heard the answer. The voice was not coming from my head – it was coming from my heart: “You were connecting with the natural world, of which you are a part.”

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, we will experience such a moment in our lives. It will not necessarily be near or on the water, although it could be. Often it comes when we’re walking in the woods, sitting on the beach, looking down from the top of a mountain, or even just sitting and staring up at the sky. For one brief, exquisite moment, we are connected to all that is. We are reminded that we are just one small piece in a huge creation, and that our little piece of the world is connected to all the others around us. We won’t find it inside a windowless office sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day. We find it by sitting outside and looking at the world around us, experiencing every breath of air, every bird that sings, and every cloud that glides by like floats at a parade. It is in those moments that we are transported from the world that tells us what we’re not, to the world that tells us what we truly are.

Have you ever had a transformational moment out in nature? Did you ever feel connected to a world you had only read about or seen on TV? Did you wonder what it would be like to live as another creature, like a bird, or a fish, or some other animal? What about a tree? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stand tall for years and years, season after season? These moments are reminders of our authentic connection to the world.

In this week’s assignment on the Home Page we’ll be writing about our own transformational moments. As always, have lots of fun with this, and, remember, to keep writing!

Peace and blessings.

 

Harvesting Life’s Lessons

On any given day at this time of year I can often be found at my favorite produce stand joyously handling and examining the bountiful harvest from my area. We were again blessed with a good growing season this year despite all of the storms and over abundance of rain. While other women ooh and aah over things like clothes and shoes, my sounds of delight are usually over a perfect spaghetti squash, a beautiful butternut squash, or a elegantly shaped gourd that only Mother Nature could have designed. There are so many apples, of every variety you can think of, that I am sure every apple tree for miles around is bare of even one last piece of fruit. The last of the onions and garlic in netted bags or  hanging in strings from the rafters, piles of corn waiting to be husked … these are the jewels I covet (ok, I will admit to a purse fetish, but my 24-year-old granddaughter has helped me with my addictions; if I find myself in a store holding one obsessively in my hand, I call her and she talks me down).

Once I am back home, the harvest of the season becomes pots of soup bubbling on the back of the stove, to end up in containers in the freezer for a cold winter’s day to come. Some of the veggies will end up cooked as they are and frozen, or as an ingredient in some new vegan recipe I am excited to try. Nothing goes to waste, and everything teaches me something new about things like spices, seasonings and new ways to use what I have been blessed with.

I like to think of this time of year as another kind of harvest, a harvest of the bounty of lessons and experiences, our failures and successes, that have grown in our lives over the past year, and the benefit of the wisdom that has come from all of them. Like a finished pot of delectable soup, we are the finished product of all the individual happenings in our lives. Whether what comes out is palatable or not fit for human consumption is decided by how we use what we have learned. Often all we need to do to turn it around is to try a different kind of seasoning than the ones we’ve been using to create a whole different experience – maybe a little less salt and a little more cumin; maybe a little less negative self-talk and a bit more self-love. Stir well.

This week our writing assignment is asking us to harvest all of the experiences of this past year, good and bad, wise and not so wise, put it all in a pot, and see what comes out of it. You don’t have to be Julia Child or Dr. Phil to do this. Some of the best cooks, and the best people in general, were created by trial and error. As always have fun with it, and keep writing!

Peace and blessings.

A Story For Anyone Who Thinks She Can’t Save The World

One afternoon back in 2005 I was sitting at my desk at work listening to the radio. I had it tuned to NPR and was listening to an interview with writer Sharon Mehdi who was reading from her new book. What I heard made me stop what I was doing and listen more closely:

“On a buffety, blustery early summer day, when the news was bad and the sky turned yellow, a strange thing happened in the town where I live. That morning, two grandmothers who had never met, not even by accident, put on their summer Sunday clothes, their most comfortable shoes, their favorite sun hats, and walked to the park in the center of town. …….It’s what the grandmothers did after they got there that set the whole town on its collective ear …. The grandmothers who had never met, not even by accident, walked past the river and past the rose garden and past the playground to the center of the big grassy area that faces the town square. And there they stood. Not speaking. Not looking at squirrels. Not munching on coconut candy. In actual point of fact, not anything at all.”

 

So began the story of two grandmothers who knew that something had to be done about the state the world was in, two little old ladies who, when asked what they were doing, simply replied: “We’re saving the world.” By the time the story ends, millions of people all over the world are standing for peace. Not speaking, not marching, not making a sound …. just standing for peace.

The book I am referring to is “The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering,” a delightful little story book by the very talented and gifted author, teacher, healer and, yes, grandmother, Sharon Mehdi. The subtitle, “A story for anyone who thinks she can’t save the world,” conjured up an image for me of 100,000 women in white marching on Washington, D.C. one hot summer day back on July 9, 1978. My friends and I had marched with the Pennsylvania contingent and stood proudly before the west steps of the Capital to listen to speeches by our heroines – Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem among many – and standing in our truth. This little book, however, while it was also about standing in your truth, was not embellished with signs and slogans, or marching and chanting. It was about the power of presence.

It’s one thing to want an authentic life, but unless we are willing to stand in our truth and be willing to bring the power of presence into the mix, it will most certainly only be authentic in name only. An authentic life has meaning, purpose and integrity. Our beliefs and actions must be in alignment. Quite often that means being willing to not go along to get along, but to stand apart from the crowd and take a risk. That’s what the grandmothers in the story did – they risked looking foolish and senile. They believed in peace, and they were willing to stand for peace for however long it took. The question I would ask you is this: what are you willing to stand for in order for your authentic life to be real?

This week our writing assignment will take us to that place inside us where our truth resides.  If you’re brave enough, I invite you to go to the Home Page and take the challenge. Who knows? You just might save the world.

Peace and blessings.

P.S. “The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering: A story for anyone who thinks she can’t save the world” by Sharon Mehdi, published 2005 by Viking, is available on Amazon. I guarantee it will lift your spirits.

 

 

A Conversation With Fear

One of the best books on conscious aging that I’ve read so far is: Do Not Go Quietly: A Guide to Living Consciously and Aging Wisely for People Who Weren’t Born Yesterday, by George Cappannelli, co-founder of the website Age Nation. In it he acknowledges the outdated misconceptions about aging in our culture and encourages us to set new standards for entering our 50’s, 60’s and beyond. One chapter in particular stood out for me and it had to do with fear.

I would bet that the biggest misconception around aging has to do with the horror stories we’ve been told for generations: illness, our bodies breaking down, loss of freedom, sadness, loneliness, etc. Hay House founder Louise Hay descried fear as a thought that we hold on to until it becomes a belief. So what if we looked fear right in the eye and had a conversation with it? This is what Cappannelli encourages us to do – have a conversation with fear.

To do this, he suggests that we pick one fear from our list, for instance, sadness. Then we write down our question about sadness and ask it to talk to us. From there we have an actual conversation with our fear, writing down the answers and posing the questions until we can acknowledge that it is just a thought, and a thought can be changed. Sometimes, the author suggests, the conversation will move into other areas that may be connected with sadness, like loneliness or loss of freedom. He advises that we just keep the conversation going and see where it leads.  He also suggests that we do not try to go through the entire list of fears at one sitting. Instead, we can take one subject at a time and have a conversation until we get a feel for the process. At that point we can make a commitment to come back to this exercise again and again until we have dealt with all of fears on our list. We cannot find our way out of fear unless we confront it, find out what it has to tell us, and then lovingly let it go.

Reading this was a powerful experience for me. I think our fears about aging are more powerful than the actual reality of aging. We have only to look around us to the many examples of people well into their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond who live healthy, happy and productive lives to see that if we change our thoughts about aging, we can change our experience of it.

Since you are all exceedingly smart and creative, you know by now what our assignment for this week on the Home Page is going to be about. As always, have fun, and keep writing.

Peace and blessings.