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The Art of Listening

Listening
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Let me listen to me and not to them. – Gertrude Stein

Listening is an art. It’s a vital part of communication. We listen to learn, to understand, to make the other feel witnessed.

But how well do we listen to ourselves?

Our minds are full of chatter. They’re also full of different voices. The voices of our parents, teachers and peers. The voice of perfectionism, fear and deprecation.

The other voices continue in an endless loop and do quite a job in the background. They become part of the noise that turns white that we barely notice. Make no mistake, though, those voices are orchestrating a good part of our lives.

At the same time our wise, true voice speaks. However, too often we minimize that voice and magnify the others.

Until we listen, nothing changes.

I recently noticed my inner commentary on my lack of ability to play. It made me sad. I thought I had lost the knack. That I had forgotten how to have fun. That I was a dull girl, all work, no play.

I noticed because I had stopped and listened. I hit pause. I didn’t dismiss it or brush it away. I really listened.

Here’s what I heard:

Play is frivolous. It’s what you do when your work is done. Furthermore, adult fun involves high energy, adrenaline-soaked activities that have to be done somewhere “away” and costs money. Just like those TV commercials and ads for “active seniors”. Therefore, my play/fun is too small and insignificant and, consequently, not worthy of my time. Hey, go big or go home, right?

Wrong!

That was the loop that was running in the background. That was the driver. Therefore, if I was going to hear my wise, true voice I needed to move the conversation down to my heart.

Here’s how I reframed the conversation:

Play can be that thing I’m already doing after I’ve put it into a different light. It can be, lighter, less linear, more whimsical, pleasurable, silly, intuitive. My play is specific to me and anyone else I choose to have as part of the activity. It is not what I see on those pharma ads for seniors or what I see on Facebook or Instagram. Those feel shaming. Play can be fun; fun doesn’t need to be play. Play for me could be coffee and good conversation with a sister that includes laughter and silliness; a walk at the lake with a friend as we compete with our last best pace. It could be a satisfying yoga class. Play is a state of mind.

Here’s how Diane Ackerman defines play in her book, Deep Play.

“The spirit of play is spontaneity, discovery and being open to new challenges. As a result, it allows one to happily develop new skills, test one’s limits, stretch them and then maybe refine the skills and redefine the limits.”

That feels so much better. Play is not always idle; it reaches deep inside and moves us.

Getting back to listening.

If you paused and really listened to your wise and true voice, what would you learn? Would you discover that there is a tape running that is sooo out of date? Would you gently let that old chatter go (or maybe dropkick it to the curb? I don’t know how tenacious it is!)

I know you will learn something vital. For instance, you may learn that you, too, are looking at an idea through someone else’s lens and that the view doesn’t work for you anymore.

Pause and listen more often. Just be aware and noticing. You might be surprised at what you hear and how much lighter you feel when you change the tape.

As always, if you need some support as you hone your listening skills, please contact me to see how we can work together to assemble the small steps that will move you back to your own wise and true voice.

Creative Expression and What We Ache For

Creative Expression Brings Us To What We Ache For

Over the years, I have personally experienced how creative expression opens us up to the liberation found in discovering and following our truest yearnings. A recent article led me down a train of thought that brought this home to me again.

It was an article by Jaleh Bisharat, Co-founder/CEO at Naked Poppy, called “10 Books That Changed the Way I Think About Business”.

First, I chuckled as I am reminded of the magic in numbering. This many life hacks… days to…, habits… and yes, so many books.

But then I gave thought to the books that have had a meaningful impact on my life. There’ve been many. But one stood out. It was one that opened me up to the creative being that I am and became part of my own journey to finding what was truly meaningful for me.

The one that floated to the top

Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s What We Ache For fills the bill on so many levels. (Hey, why knock myself out to come up with a compelling “number”, I thought.  One is good.)

Dreamer’s book is chock-full of beautiful prose. It offers reflections and exercises that deepen the reading experience. And it goes to the heart of what I believe to be the most important mission in the second half of life. That is, liberating ourselves to tend to those things that are truly important and using our innate creativity, our own creative expression, to weave them into a Multidimensional life.

While I won’t say that reading this book was a triggering event in my life, it was definitely a spurring one.

A well worn and loved book

I read it approximately 10 years ago and I’ve picked it up many times since then. For coaching program or writing workshop ideas. For my own writing inspiration. It is a book that I need to have in hard cover, that I can rub my finger along the rough paper as I read. I highlight and underline and put notes and exclamation marks in the margins. I engage with it as I read it or skim through it or open it up at random to see what wants to be seen. It has post-its and random pieces of paper to hold a place and the end flaps tuck in between pages to remind me where I want to go next. It’s the whole enchilada!

Doing creative work allows us to follow the thread of what we ache for into a deeper life, offering us a way to cultivate a life of making love to the world.

– Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Yes! Following that thread is my mission in my second half of life. Cultivating a deeper, more meaningful (to me) life and honoring the tug in my gut, the quiet voice in my heart. Having the spiritual courage to do all this while living in my world and doing my own work.

This is what I want for myself and, if this resonates with you, it’s what I want for you.

What do you ache for?

Have you also felt that ache, that tugging? This is what my 6-week program, You Are The Artist of Your Life is about. It will ease that ache, gentle that tug and begin your journey into a more integrated, Multidimensional life that is unique to you alone.

Want to learn more? Join me Thursday, August 29th at 6:30 pm ET on Zoom for my free monthly call. This month a I’ll be talking about my upcoming workshop You Are the Artist of Your Life. We’ll get to meet; you’ll get a taste of what the longer program will be like. One person will have a chance for a mini coaching session.

Begin your own journey to a deeper life!

An Invitation to Pause

Chaos
All great changes are preceded by chaos.
~ Deepak Chopra

I was always a leaper. Challenges? Problems? I was compelled to do something. Anything! I often thought in terms of “close my eyes, hold my nose and jump”! Must be that trial and error life I’m destined to live.

However, what I learned was that in doing that I was surrendering my freedom of choice. I learned that the better course of action was non-action. A stop, look, listen. A Pause. A bit counter-intuitive, I know.

I’m not talking about passivity, but rather a purposeful decision of which way to go. Not always the most popular, but the best for me. Not always a well-lit, well-traveled path, but one on which I would find the most joy.

When we are in the midst of change – which is really so much of life – it can feel chaotic. No, forget the “can”. It’s damn chaotic. It feels unsettling and uncomfortable. We feel rattled, uneasy, cranky. Something’s up. We soldier through. Because that’s what we’re taught to do.

In the moment, we may not realize what’s happening but when we pay close attention, we can recognize the symptoms of change and transition. Dang! Didn’t I go through this a few months ago??

Yeah, life is about change.

That is your invitation to pause.

Not only an invitation but an opportunity.

Consider this: If you had paused the last time you felt this way, would you be thrust into another round so quickly? Oh, there’d still be change and transition in your future, but it might play out a little differently.

Why Pause?

  • Pausing gives you the freedom to choose, to actively decide on a course of action rather than be swept away by outside currents. You may choose the same plan that life’s currents suggest, but it will be your decision.
  • It’s an opportunity to tap into the essential wise self that’s in all of us. It is asking questions and listening to your body’s response. It is heeding your gut.
  • When you pause you remember that your choices are not always set in stone. They can be evaluated and changed at a later time.
  • Pausing slows you down and lets you consider that deferring a choice could be a temporary solution.
  • Pausing jogs your memory so you can remember what you want and what is most important to you, not always most expedient and urgent.
  • The duration of a Pause can be done in a moment or days or months. Is this doctor best for me? I know what others have said, but… (a quick gut check) Is this the right time for me to retire? (longer process)

What helped me.

Looking back, I see that once I began to pause, I made much better decisions. I didn’t just react. I would write it through. I spoke with the right people. (Fortunately, I have lots of coaching friends!)

Were there times in your life where you would have benefited from a pause? Are you in the midst of that chaotic feeling of change now? How would it feel to pause? To step back and look at what is happening from a different viewpoint?

Here’s what will turn your chaos into great change.

Sometimes it helps to have someone to accompany you during a Pause. Someone on your side holding the light so you can see things clearer. A safe place to think out loud. To sort through the noise and, yes, the chaos. The tools to listen to yourself better and discern what is best for you. Because you are the one that knows best.

This is what I do in my coaching practice. Want to learn more? Contact me for a 30-minute discovery call.

The Midlife Journey and Opening Doors

Transitions And Closed Doors

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.  Helen Keller

Reading this quote led me to think of how, in midlife, we begin to feel the unease of change and the belief that too many doors are closing. Each time I read it, I get an immediate visual of someone looking longingly at a closed door, looking backwards at what’s done and gone. It may be that she’s not ready or willing to face what’s ahead. Or perhaps she’s not even aware that there is another door beckoning.

That makes me sad.

Our Options

When life hits us with challenges and changes it certainly feels like doors have closed and options are evaporating. And sometimes we’re too tired to go searching for the newly opened doors. I get that. And, while it may not always feel believable, what I do know is that we always do have choices, also known as doors.

We can:

Ignore the open door. Or continue to believe that there are no open doors for us. Feel sadness and despair.

See the door but feel fear about walking through it. Do nothing. More sadness.

See the door. Or doors. (There may be several.) Pause and step through with understanding.

That pause in the last option is a rich one.

A Potent Pause

A pause can be minutes, days or longer and here is what I have found to be true about it:

  • A pause is a rich time when we listen to our thoughts, observe and feel our way to choices. Because there are always choices. We can make them actively or passively, but they are always there.
  • It’s a period to process and integrate what has passed. When we do so, we can regroup, refresh and reorient ourselves to what lies ahead.
  • For me, pausing enables me to set aside my impatience and be objective and observant. I have aha moments and my body cues me as to the best direction.

What I’ve learned

As we listen deeply during a pause, we begin to understand that the first attempt might not be the final and that’s okay. At the same time, we know that inaction is rarely good. I’ve learned that life is full of trial and error and that we always have a second chance (or a third or fourth!) until our time on earth is over.

Life has taught me this many times. It’s why I pause. It’s how I remember what I know. When I believe there are open doors, they appear. When I trust my inner voice, I make wiser decisions. Those decisions are always the best for me at the moment. It may not always be what I expected. I leave myself open to wonder and surprise and I know there will be more doors.

Are you working through changes and looking for open doors?  I can help you with that. Contact me and together we will shine the light on the door that has opened just for you.

 

Finding the Incredible You

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

– Carl Sagan

If you live in New Jersey, road work is a fact of life. The sun rises, Taylor pork roll is fried and the road crews set up for the day. Something is always being taken apart and put back together; milled and paved; big projects (think new bridges), small projects (paving your street…in fact, they just set up camp at the end of your driveway.) Detour signs take us on new roads, concrete partitions (ironically called Jersey barriers) shunt us from lane to lane, sometimes leaving our desired point of exit in the rear-view mirror. We’re used to it. We don’t particularly care for it, but we’re used to it.

I have found that the path through life can present similar obstacles. Yes, I know that the idea of life as a highway isn’t new. The journey, the road, the way. But it’s still a good analogy.

And the idea of waking up to the best on-ramp to your next stage of your life? A good parallel and oh, so necessary. (I prefer the idea of an on-ramp. It feels like movement to something new rather than an off-ramp which feels like the journey is over.)

My Goal

What I have learned is that if you don’t look ahead and form even the slightest idea of your desired destination, you’ll end up on an eternal round-about. Have you ever gotten stuck on one of those? So frustrating.

For me, the goal is and continues to be to building and maintaining an on-ramp to each next stage of my life. It started as an unconscious yearning close to twenty years ago. Since then, I’ve had to make several U-turns. I got proficient at driving in reverse. I learned to pay better attention to where I was and where I was going. (Believe it or not, I have missed work exits, not once but several times. Being attentive really helps!)

You plan ahead for a road trip, right? Why not do a little for your one, precious life? Seriously, where is the benefit in the struggle?

If we stay with the analogy of the road and visualize the crisscrossing winding arrays of possible directions, here are a few things to consider:

The speed at which you’re traveling.

Like the White Rabbit who’s always in a hurry, are you always in motion? No time, no time…  What might you be missing as you rush through life? Possibilities can be hidden in plain sight as you speed by.

Take the time to pause and listen to the quiet voice inside that is nudging you in your best direction. Be curious about where you’re going and understand that it is an unfolding process.

What you bring along.

What are you toting around in your bag, backpack, trunk of your car, the untended places of your heart? The old messages about what you can and can’t do; should and shouldn’t do. The ballast that weighs you down. The rules of the road that don’t work anymore.

What is one small thing you can offload now?

The clarity of the view

Sometimes we drive along squinting through our windshield, when all we need is a little Windex.

What are the things you say to yourself that get in the way of what’s in front of you? What old beliefs are coloring your current experiences? Are they true? Maybe they were then, but are they still?

What might clear that view, even if just for a mile at a time?

A vision of where you’re going

 Even if your vision of the journey is not fully formed, there is usually an overarching element in your yearning that is non-negotiable. Freedom, beauty, creative expression, relationships, family, out-reach, advocacy.

When you know what is essential, you will tune in to the possibilities that will provide those elements.

The Goal

The goal in all this is to home in to your personal journey so you are able to recognize your on-ramp to what is next for you. Pausing and considering your direction will set you up for a rich and meaningful next part of the road, your second half of life, retirement or whatever is next for you.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be overwhelming. It should always be a work in progress.

What part of the incredible you is waiting to be known? Contact me to find out how I can help.

What to do when what you’ve always done doesn’t do it for you anymore

Discover Possibilities In Midlife

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.– Thomas Edison

Do you feel like possibilities are dwindling in midlife?

You’ve been doing what you’re doing for 30 years or so. There was a time when you were passionate about it. You leaped out of bed in the morning ready to conquer the world. Can you remember that? You were a crusader. There were windmills to tilt at. You were learning tons of new things and gobbling up new experiences.

Now, you’ve hit a certain age and you feel like your spark has gone out. At a minimum, the pilot light is flickering. How do you find new possibilities?

Something has shifted.

As a result, it’s gotten harder to drum up the enthusiasm that had once filled you up. Now many mornings bring dread instead of excitement.  Something has shifted. Is it just you?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve been there myself.

Wayne Dyer said “change your thoughts, change your life.” I used to think that meant I had to change the way I thought about my career. And while that might work for some, it didn’t work for me. For me, in midlife, the thoughts I needed to change were about what else I could do. I needed to see doorways, not brick walls. I needed to widen my lens.

What to do?

First, I would never, never, ever suggest you quit what you do every day. Even if it’s an effort.

But what I always, always, always would suggest is that you step back and Pause.

Some things to do in a Pause.

Do a little exploring and excavating.

A small, Kaizen-like question is a perfect place to start your explorations. Stay away from the question that begs to solve all the problems of the world. Instead, make it smaller and more immediate. Frame it in a positive way. Ask what lights me up as opposed to why am I feeling so flat. (How you frame it is important because your brain will supply responses to the negative also.) Ask it frequently during the day without any expectation for an immediate response. Your brain will grab onto it and go to work. Answers will pop up. The real trick here is to be paying attention and not censoring. Be curious.

Journal. Writing is a powerful tool during a Pause. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron prescribes 3 pages, longhand, to be done each morning upon rising. This is ideal and, if you can, certainly start there. However, if this is too daunting, you’ll likely do nothing. In which case it’s better to begin with very small Kaizen-like steps. Promise yourself to write for 1 minute. Ask your small question on the page; do a very quick brain dump of what’s on your mind. If you go longer, that’s great. If you only do one minute you’ve still kept your commitment. As this becomes habitual, stay on the page longer.

As you expand your writing time you will get to a point where you think you have nothing more to say. At that point nudge yourself very gently to write a little more. I promise you will go deeper.

Is what you do for a living leaving you deflated?

Can you explore your current industry? Is there a way to shift the focus of your work, move to a different area of your organization, take on a different responsibility, learn something new? What opportunities are there? Often compensation becomes a factor here. If a reduction in pay is really necessary, put pen to paper and figure out if it’s feasible and worth it. How long would it take to get back to your previous level and what would you gain in the meantime?

Do you have a mentor or a trusted colleague with whom you could confide your frustrations and concerns? This person might be able to role play with you as you practice asking for what you want. She can also provide a different perspective on opportunities as well as an objective look at you.

Do a skills and experience inventory. Dig in to what it is that has made you successful. Maybe more of a functional resume. Where else can those skills be used? Get creative here. And, don’t forget the volunteer work you’ve done: the PTA, the fund raising, the sports coaching, even the family event planning. All of this has combined to make you a unique package.

Or is it something else?

There’s also the possibility that the problem isn’t what you do each day, but rather what you don’t do. Have you over-fished your personal pond? I’ve been there. It ain’t pretty!

More about that next time.

As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might help ignite that spark.

Don’t Be a Sunflower

I’m not happy, I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them. ~ Beverly Sills

One morning I woke up thinking “be a sunflower”. I have no idea where it came from. I can’t remember any context, just the statement “be a sunflower”. Sound a little goofy? Maybe. But, for me, that’s an opportunity to follow a thread of thought and see where it goes. It piques my curiosity.

I love sunflowers. I love the way they grow and bloom and how their faces follow the arc of the sun in the sky. They signify happiness, warmth, abundance and loyalty. They feel so positive.

Why would we not want to imitate the sunflower!

Percolation

I started writing this post several weeks ago.  And each time I came back to it, I disagreed with myself. I began to browse books on my shelf; I searched for articles on positivity, positive psychology and Pollyanna. I looked for ideas that substantiated what I thought I’d set out to say: That we should only be looking for the positive in life.

But that wasn’t quite right. It brought to mind the quote by Beverly Sills. Where was the thread? I kept thinking and asking myself questions to help give shape to this amorphous thought that was trying to emerge.

The Shadow Knows

At the same time, I was reading Awakening at Midlife by Kathleen Brehony.  I came to a section called “The Shadow Knows.” “At midlife unconscious, shadow material erupts into our life.” She goes on to say how the emergence of the shadow is an attempt to bring balance to our personality, accepting ourselves as we are, “… coming to love those neglected parts of ourselves as elements of our own authenticity and humanity.”

Okay, now we’re getting closer.

Looking for Balance

I had always strived to be a happy person. If something knocked me down, I would put on my big flouncy Scarlett O’Hara hat, say fiddle dee-dee and leave it for another day. I’d put it in the “long bag we drag behind us”, so aptly described by poet Robert Bly.

Boy, was I out of balance! And, at some point it got to be a lot of work. More than it was worth.

I could see where being a sunflower and only following the light no longer served me. As I followed this train of thought I also realized that I had already done a lot of the work. Coaches, reading and a little bit of therapy had helped. I gave myself a little pat on the back.

Brehony suggests that this distortion is quite normal in our second half of life, when we begin “perhaps for the first time to see the “other”, the parts of ourselves that have long been ignored in favor of who we always thought we were”.

How gratifying to know that it was normal to throw off these old stories at midlife and open up to the parts I’d kept hidden; to attain better balance.

A Need for a Pause

However, that balance is not attained by quick fixes, but rather a Pause where we can explore and experiment with those other parts of ourselves that have been neglected.

That pause is a juicy place that includes light and dark, sun and shadow, clement and inclement weather. It comes bearing gifts for midlife.  It is the first step into a mindful second half of life.

I love sunflowers. But don’t be one. Our journey is rich and complex and the good news is that we do not have to travel alone! Contact me to find out how I might help you pause as you honor all your beautiful parts and create a path back to a whole you.

Please note that this is not intended to replace professional psychological help where needed. If life is okay but you feel there’s more I can help. If you are feeling despair, please seek a skilled therapist.

Untethered

“Time slows down. Self vanishes.
​Action and Awareness merge. Welcome to flow.”
​~Steven Kotler

Can there ever be too much summer? Even though the calendar says we have until later in the month, the start of September always feels like the end. We’d like a little more, but seasonal cycles prevail and the world returns to its regularly scheduled program.

Sometimes, though, it can be tough. There is such a looseness to summer. Lengthy days, languid weather, a longer tether to normal routines.

Maybe there can be too much summer. We say we need to get “back in the swing” or “refocused”. We have to “regroup”. September feels like the right time to do so, but we feel scattered and untethered. Now, where was I???

Does this resonate with you? If so, perhaps summer has pulled you out of flow.

Flow, that hum deep in our bodies when we are in connected to what makes us come alive. Just like the stream that moves unimpeded, steadily, from its source.  It is a meeting of your life forces that can propel you toward the manifestation of what is most important to you.

This manifestation doesn’t need to be world altering, but it does need to have meaning for you. When you step into this flow, you allow your own life to be altered.

What is most important to you as you move forward into this new season?

It’s not just summer that pulls us out of flow. Life offers many distractions and externally imposed changes. When you feel detached to the important and are just running in circles with the urgent, your initial response may be to just stop everything. However, when you recognize that feeling, it might not be the best time to do nothing.

What generates flow and that lovely hum? How do you get reconnected to your purpose?

Here are five suggestions to help you ease into flow:

  1. heck in with yourself and the activity or focus to which you want to reconnect. Make sure that it’s connected to meaning. We’re not talking about the car pool or leaf raking, but rather that something that makes your heart sing. That something that is on purpose and deserves your flow. Meditation, journaling and or small questions can help you with that deep knowing.
  2. Physical movement- Get out of your head (and your chair) and into your body. Autumn (or spring in the southern hemisphere) weather is much friendlier for walking and gardening. Or, it could be cleaning out a closet or taking a shower. While you are in your body, the bits and pieces of fractured thought begin to coalesce. Ideas form, aha moments arise. The bigger picture may begin to emerge and show you to your next small step. And your next small step is all you really need to know to move you into momentum and flow.
  3. Intentional exploration – Rather than go down the rabbit hole of the next great idea (and the next and the next), consider taking one idea through to an action step. Continue with it even though you’re not sure how it will pan out. Let each step determine the next. Be okay with what might feel like failure. Failure is necessary for all creative acts. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Fail, fail again, fail better.” Stay with an idea until you’ve exhausted it, beyond the point where it is hard or something else catches your eye. It may have so much more to tell you. The act of continuing can produce a flow.
  4. Mindful pauses – Instead of stopping because you’ve hit the proverbial wall, make an active decision to pause. During that pause let your ideas and thoughts go off on their own. Choose other activities that stimulate you. Come back to your idea refreshed.
  5. Seek like-minded people – So much creative work – business, writing, art… all the work that connects to your essential self and provides a beautiful flow – is done alone. When you connect to others who are also called to express their passions, you will find a new energy. They will feed your idea, keep you accountable, be a sounding board and a witness to your work. They will accompany you out of your head and into action.

Do you need help with this? Some of us just need a nudge; some a witness. Others need a guide. Which are you? Contact me to learn how I can help.

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