When Life Calls

planning3

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

When Death Calls was the title of her last Saturday presentation. An expert in the field of planning for death and subsequent life celebrations, she shared some statistics that gave me pause – one of which is that slightly more than 70 percent of Americans do no planning specific to their own or other family members demise. Most leave the matter unaddressed simply assuming others will take care of things. And that can be an unfair burden.

Thinking later about her message, I acknowledged this as a serious topic, one truly worth talking about and planning for.

Then my mind pivoted.

planning7

Are you prepared for when life calls? Not necessarily for death (though it warrants attention) but for how you find meaning and significance in your remaining years?

Many people simply go through the motions, allowing life to determine outcomes rather than each of us having a measurable say in what’s next. Yes, there is tremendous satisfaction, often fulfillment, in going with flow – just as there can be in letting go and lessening the need or desire to control. However, I’m talking about how you can proactively determine the extent to which you want to be engaged with your life; what is important to you.

Without doubt, planning for and making life decisions can be made more helpful when one has a sense of and comfort with their financial plans and security. They’re definitely interwoven.

planning2

Yet when and as life calls, I invite you to ask yourself…

  • How often do I deliberately pause to consider what really matters to me? Deliberately?
  • What is it that can make me a better person?
  • How clear am I on who I want to be in “x” years?
  • What causes are worthy of my active involvement?
  • What have I missed?
  • What stirs my soul?
  • How can I give back?

planning6

Embracing this as a process and creating time to intentionally plan, what unfolds could be renewed clarity about what to do When Life Calls (as well as when death calls).

For your consideration, three thoughts as you explore this theme:

  1. Create space. Don’t cram your life with too many things to do. Give yourself room and permission to enjoy each experience. Give yourself space to find your joy.
  2. Spend time with loved ones. If you want to know how to live an even more meaningful life, spend more time with the people you love. Quality relationships truly matter.
  3. Think “aloha.” This Hawaiian term does not simply mean hello or goodbye but in the truest sense stands for “the process of passing a blessing from one person to another.”

Companions

companions

“A good companion shortens the longest road.” ~ Turkish Proverb

Companion defined (Dictionary.com): a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels; one of a pair of things intended to complement or match each other.

This Thursday, a fellow blogger (Silvia Writes) asked readers “What type of music inspires you?” Answering her question was relatively easy yet it prompted thought about music as a significant companion. When we think of the essentials, we think about food and shelter. However, we often ignore aspects that are essential to our mental health. We do not normally think of companionship as something that’s essential. Yet research has shown that social interaction is crucial for one’s health. And music and companions are social.

When we reflect on companions we often think of a friend, a spouse, a significant other, a soul mate, an animal, a travel partner or maybe an escort.

companions2

Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches or good people and noble ventures. I like wine and cheese. I relish traveling with a curious travel comrade. And my two dogs shadow me wherever we go, often as unwitting accomplices. But these aren’t the same as having cherished human companions.

For me, music will remain a companion, an inspirational one at times. Just as time in and with Nature will always be a welcomed balm. But have you ever wondered about that human ‘match’? I do, sometimes.

Alas, before digressions co-opt this post, let’s circle back to Silvia’s question. A female vocalist who collaborates with the group Above & Beyond, Zoe Johnston, accompanies amazingly uplifting music. Here’s a clip of Zoe singing a favorite:

What is significant in a companion to/for you?

If you are wondering what contributes to making a good companion, perhaps these three considerations will help:

  1. They listen to you (and you to them). They’re not just nodding their head supportively while you talk. They are actually paying attention because they care about what you think and how you feel and what you find interesting.
  2. They have something in common. Companions have a balance of shared interests, but not in everything. Art galleries, trying new foods, hiking along a coast… What matters is some cross-commonalty.
  3. Life is a dance. Enjoy dancing (literally or metaphorically) with those who will complement your life. Bow out of the dance when it isn’t time to dance and welcome new dance partners as they join in to your life.

 

What Others Know About You

strengths3

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W.H. Auden

Eleven years ago I met my first Life Coach. It was Jane who saw that my blocks and my direction were closely connected. We worked for some time to rediscover my direction. One early exploratory exercise that Jane invited me to pursue was to ask five people to describe me in short words/phrases.

Some time later I realized the purpose and benefit of this exercise. You see, most of us believe we know ourselves better than anyone else. And to measurable extents, this may be true. Yet when those five people replied with candid feedback, I read and learned of strengths that I did not clearly see or embrace.

There is a lot about us that we don’t notice or acknowledge because it’s simply who we are and how we’ve developed over years and through learning and experience. Yet there are often attributes/personal gifts/qualities that define us as seen (and known) by others!

strengths2

There is comfort in knowing how connected you are to your strengths. When confident in/with your personal gifts, you expand the potential by which you can impact others and effect favorable change. If you find yourself resenting what you’re doing or the way you are living, ask yourself if you are utilizing what you believe are your qualities and what others see in and know about you.

Some times tapping into what others know about you (that you don’t fully see) can awaken you to reconnect with a dream, with your heart or perhaps, with a new calling. New self-awareness may even inspire you to let go of what you perceive(d) as a strength, once you’ve adopted an even more valuable virtue(s).

strengths4

If the prospect of learning how others see you intrigues, I invite you to consider the exercise I embarked upon eleven years ago. It was revealing and the insight that was shared helped me to consider a new direction (and a more passionate focus!), simply because I sought candid input from people who knew me as well as I believed I knew myself.

Naming your personal gifts is unusual but the more exact the better. It is important in asking for words and phrases (not sentences) from respondents that they be honest, positively and negatively. The preliminary steps:

  1. Choose four people from among immediate family members, a close friend(s), former schoolmate, partner, spouse, colleague, supervisor (past of present). Aim for a mix from among all of these. The fifth source of input is yourself.
  2. Ask each of them (and yourself) to “Describe me as you know me,” “Describe me as you see me,” and/or “Describe me as you remember me.”
  3. Your lists will contain lots of words and phrases. When you have all of them, print (don’t type) them on a table.
  4. If/when you get this far and want to know what follows, let me know; I’ll craft a follow-on post. This involves some time and work. Yet the results can be quite telling.:)

strengths6

 

Inspiration Meets Sandstone

cave3

“Far better to live your own path imperfectly than to live another’s perfectly.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

This is a short, meaningful read.

Ra Paulette is an amazing confluence of passion, creativity, inspiration and living at choice. He is proof that people can follow their chosen path, as unique as it may be.

At 69, Ra demonstrates that even when we play, our efforts and contributions can stir the hearts and imaginations of others. To say the man has a vision might be an understatement.

For 25 years Ra has been axing, sanding, and forming exquisite sandstone caves in Taos County, not far from where I live in the New Mexico High Desert.

Following is a CBS video of Ra and some of his work. Or is it really work? If you enjoy being inspired and awed, sit back and enjoy this 5.5 minute story.

cave2cave

If you’re looking for the intersection of your passion and how it might inspire others, consider these three actions:

 

  1. Change your story. We all tell ourselves about who we are, what we’re capable of, and what we believe we deserve. If you can dispel your self-limiting stories, you can begin to write new stories grounded in courage and action.
  2. Nurture the nudge. You have inspirations and opportunities coming at you every moment. Start to nurture these inspirations by following through on the insights.
  3. Embrace your natural abilities and use them in new ways to bring excitement into your days. Embrace your strengths by reflecting and acting on them.

Who Do You Listen To?

listen3

“The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”  ~ Confucius

This previously shared: I have neither owned nor watched TV for 16+ years. I do not read or listen to mainstream media. However, I do read about topics that intrigue, inspire and/or inform me. It’s selective choice.

Last week a friend forwarded this linked article, knowing it would induce a cringe rather than a favorable nod. It’s a healthy read so I’ll leave that choice up to you. The article is titled “Drugs You Don’t Need for Disorders You Don’t Have.” Essentially, it is about Big Pharma’s campaign to sell us prescription drugs.

For a variety of reasons, drug companies are now increasingly relying on direct marketing to American consumers. Last year, the pharmaceutical industry spent $5.2 billion on ads promoting specific drugs – an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. In this era of escalating drug prices, spending on prescription drugs now accounts for one in every six dollars that go into medical care.

listen7

When the people raising awareness about a condition are the same people selling a drug to treat it, some obvious concerns arise. Ads rarely provide the kind of context consumers need to make good decisions about our health – about how a drug actually works or whether an alternative treatment might be better.

Only Europe and Australia have considered and decisively rejected proposals to allow companies to advertise specific drugs there. Wonder why?

A study on drug safety conducted by the Institute for Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, found that “The credibility of the FDA, the pharmaceutical industry, the academic research enterprise, and health care providers has become seriously diminished. Of particular concern are the common but inaccurate perceptions that the FDA approval represents a guarantee of safety, that approval is based on high degrees of clarity and certainty about a drug’s risk and benefits.”

Yet many people listen to these ‘authoritative’ experts.

listen2

Disease mongering is prevalent in today’s media-rich world. It can be harmful to our health. When it comes to considering any prescription drug, I listen to my body and personally vetted, trusted sources. What do you do for yourself and loved ones?

There are many steps we can take to ensure we are listening to the right sources when it comes to what (if any) pharmaceutical we put into our bodies. Following the Nike tagline is not one of them. Here are three for your consideration:

  1. Ensure you are getting the right medication. Make sure your health care provider understands your condition and the signs and symptoms. Ask that individual whether there’s an alternative medication with ingredients that have less potential for bodily harm or addiction.
  2. Familiarize yourself with Alternative, Complementary, Holistic and Natural Medicine. Western medicine is not always a silver bullet.
  3. Consult Medication Risk Assessment Tools online. They are simply another resource as you evaluate what you may not need for a disorder you may not have.

The Thrill of Inclusion

inclusion5

“No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

Being included may not always be thrilling. Yet most of us, I suspect, appreciate being invited and involved.

Basically, inclusive refers to the extent to which we welcome a broad range of backgrounds and interests, taking into account issues of language, ethnicity and culture, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status and disability (or as a wise blogger taught me, ‘diffability’).

A colleague directs diversity and inclusion programs for a large, global business. I recently heard him speak about the proactive measures his company is taking to integrate and enrich diversity and inclusion, worldwide. What he shared, even though it was specific to the workplace, prompted me to reflect on how we consciously and unconsciously, include and exclude.

inclusion3

How often do you go out of your way to include people? How frequently (even after-the-fact) do you realize you inadvertently omitted or forget to invite others? Perhaps our knee-jerk response is ‘I always invite others,’ until we see or are reminded of an unintentional exclusion. It happens. Yet it need not happen.

Inclusion connects us to innovation and happiness. It’s true! It invites and allows us to make better decisions about the future when all voices are heard – especially younger and elderly voices.

Embracing diversity can bridge cross-cultural divides. Just think of the last time(s) you found yourself in a different cultural setting. Were you open to experiencing all of the newness or were you inclined to stay within your comfortable cocoon? Did you encourage others to share unique aspects of their lives and thinking or were you too tethered to your own beliefs and norms?

inclusion4

Take potlucks; potlucks are cool. And they’re making a comeback. The act of gathering with others to eat homemade food has health benefits. Merely inviting a diverse group of people to get together, to enjoy one another’s concoctions and to have a good time can be an amazing way to foster connections and build relationships. Simply because people were included.

Most of us know how to be inclusive and to create more positive environments. What helps to foster inclusivity is when our actions are intentional. If you are interested in simple inclusion starters, here are three for your consideration:

  1. When you have the chance, introduce people. Find that shy individual at a social or networking event and introduce them to someone they don’t know. Invite others into a conversation.
  2. Become a mentor, even if informally. Consider the wide variety of people you interact with, then make an effort to help another person to more openly understand and communicate with others. Think: encouraging action.
  3. Simply smile. People are put to ease at this simple facial cue. Building a rapport with someone, discovering more about them and listening to what they have to say builds trust and inclusiveness. The thrill of a smile can go a long way.:)

 

Our Well-Being

wellbeing6

“Life is an attempt to change a piece of a dream-world into reality.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

British Airways recently released data from two somewhat sad studies, which revealed two of the biggest regrets of 2,000 U.S. baby boomers – that they worked too much and didn’t travel enough. Not much new there!

Some of the study’s findings:

  • 17 percent of male respondents said that working too much was their biggest regret
  • 22 percent of women said not traveling enough was their biggest regret
  • 26 percent of respondents said losing contact with friends was their biggest regret

Regrets. Need they be? Are we able to make choices in the physical, social and emotional areas of our lives that can influence our well-being? Of course we can.

wellbeing

In another survey of over 2 million Americans, Gallup-Healthways’ found that poor financial management can actually cause obesity (not just a correlation). Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, says that the key to greater well-being is to have money but not to want it too much. Not surprisingly, there are strategies people of all ages can use to relieve financial stress and thereby lose weight and live longer. (See suggestion at post’s end).

One physical area of our lives that significantly affects our well-being is the workplace and what we do to earn a living. According to Claremont University psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it’s best to find a job that challenges us to an optimal level – one that’s neither so hard that we give up nor so easy that we get bored. Finding a job that engages your natural talents and gives you constant feedback is sure to contribute to your well-being. You know this, right?

wellbeing4

Two years ago I posted (here) about existing or thriving. I suspect you would agree that a thriving life is vital to our well-being.  If you are interested in optimizing (or perhaps, simply adding positively to) your life and thus your well-being, following are three considerations:

  1. Embrace a sense of safety. Research shows the biggest deterrent to physical activity for some people is perceived danger. You want the outside environment to draw you out, not nudge you in.
  2. Make it a lifelong and relentless habit to exercise serious caution when it comes to anyone who or anything that wants to touch your money or your welfare.
  3. Grow a garden. Several studies have shown that gardening lowers stress hormones. Hoeing, planting, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting all include regular, low-intensity, range-of-motion exercise.

And while you’re at it, create time to play. Get a passport or just reintroduce yourself to life’s simple pleasures.

wellbeing2

Gucci, Pucci, Prada…

Gucci

“Once you label me, you negate me.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

To label or not to label — that is the question.  From a sales and marketing perspective, labels help to distinguish brands. They serve a product differentiation purpose. Labels can also benefit when used to identify or inform, to wit, nutritional labels on food packaging. I read those zealously.

Then there are cases where labels are used to highlight differences in people. We use them often without thinking, even if unuttered. Some examples:

  • right/wrong
  • introvert/extrovert
  • clean/dirty
  • ugly/beautiful
  • Type A/Type B
  • left-wing/right-wing
  • the list is, unfortunately, endless

Label Loser

Increasingly, it seems, we have an unhealthy compulsion to categorize. Between social media, the Internet and other quasi-anonymous platforms, people are becoming more obsessed with telling other people what their label is, supposedly so they’ll better understand and accept them/us.

Or consider stereotyping: how have the labels we placed kept others from truly being who they are meant and blessed to be? How much of life’s joy and goodness have we actually missed because our labels have masked us to what is actually within another person?

I, and likely you, have seen people get carried away with negative labeling. They become their label and the label (sadly, often) becomes their identity. They don’t know where the label ends and where they, the incredible being begins.

Label Toxic

Conversely, it’s rare that people get caught up in positive labeling. Surprisingly, many people are unable to cite a single positive for themselves. Try this: ask a few people, “What are your good qualities or character strengths?” Then notice their immediate reaction(s).

Reinforcing labels need to be nurtured, now more than ever. Why not consider using and promoting labels that describe positive human goals, worthwhile achievements, or an improvement in the human condition? She is healthy. He is educated, They are free!

Labeling Colors

What if each of us abandoned the negativity of personal, social, and political labels? Imagine our interactions and relationships when the differences we highlight and label are an individual’s unique qualities!

For your consideration, here are three exercises that could augment your label assigning awareness:

  1.  When you catch yourself labeling someone, ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” Be mindful that definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.
  2.  Focus on intentionally using labels that positively reflect a person’s attributes.
  3.  When you observe someone doing something positive, label the strengths you observe them demonstrating.

Intentional Focus

focus4

“There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say ‘Here I am’ and those who say ‘There you are.'” ~ Abigail Van Buren

Looking east this evening at the sunset’s reflection on the Sandia (‘watermelon’ in Spanish) Mountains, I was reminded of the elusive green flash. Green flashes are optical phenomena that sometimes occur right after sunset or right before sunrise. The green appearance usually lasts for no more than a second or two. They were first observed and photographed in 1960.

I say ‘elusive’ because I have witnessed countless sunsets from mountain tops, Key West, and San Diego beaches where I focused on glimpsing a green flash. And once, it presented.

That flash would have been missed had I not been focused; had I not been concentrating on it, exclusively. Yet focusing can be challenging for many people.

focus

Every minute of every day, thoughts, desires and sensory experiences stream through our minds. Each wants our attention making it near impossible to focus. Our minds (well, at least mine) tend to drift to other matters when we try to focus on one thought, subject or activity. Truth?

In the last 10+ years there has been an unconscious shift from encouraging focus to belittling it. And it often happens without us noticing. As soon as multitasking became the rage, focus was quietly relegated to a space of lesser importance.

I consider focus and concentration, interchangeable. What is interesting (as well as encouraging) is that researchers have found that concentration is driven by interest, and interest is driven by attitude. If your attitude towards a specific person or project swells with interest, intrigue and passion, concentration becomes profoundly easy.

focus2

Lack of focus is a common killer of making things happen. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a goal or deepen a personal connection, pay attention to your attention. Stop yourself from getting on a wrong train of thought early – before it leaves the station.

We get so busy with our ‘stuff’ that it’s easy to forget others’ needs and our affect on them. If it’s significant to you, consider the value in focusing on the importance of caring and compassion for others, of seeing through their eyes. Be mindful of distractions, the frequency with which they interfere and the impact they have on your focus. Distractions can be stealth-like stealers.

focus5

If you want to manage what you focus on, these three actions might be helpful:

  1. Plan some joy!
  2. Take a break. Boredom and distractions invite procrastination. Find a comfortable balance between the activity at hand and the level of focus it truly requires.
  3. Consider less multitasking. The truth is you cannot see that green flash (or whatever you have your sights on) when you are doing multiple things at once.

A Lion, a Tiger, and a Bear

980x

“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” ~ Frederich Nietzsche

Humans aren’t the only ones who have best friends. Many animals benefit from forming strong, platonic relationships because friendships and social bonds actually serve as a survival mechanism.

Case in point: Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Georgia, USA. Considering how animals of different species don’t always get along, there are exceptions. For 15 years, three brothers, an American black bear, an African lion and a Bengal tiger have lived together, in the same quarters. Not separated since cubs, they have always been a source of love and comfort to each other.

2734531507_87e5305118_m

So… some (at least to me) interesting facts about friends and friendships:

A Harvard Medical School Nurses Health Study found that not having close confidants or friends was as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking.

A University of Oxford study indicated that each individual is only capable of maintaining a certain number of friendships at any given time. It found that the human limit for simultaneous friendships is around 150. However, those who maintain hundreds of friendships may do so at the expense of their closest relationships – those we turn to when we really need them.

Our friends truly bring out the best in us. In 2013, UCal – San Diego research found that people look more attractive in a group than they do individually. A simple reason to be with friends, right? (After publishing this post I’m off to hang with friends.):)

And according to MSN researchers, in a lifetime one makes 396 friends – only 36 last – and only one in six are considered to be close friends.

9245182723_1e46eefefb_m

How much time do you set aside to cultivate friendships? Are casual friendships as important to you as close friends? How do you nurture your closest friendships?

Friendships are relationships and they often go through testing times. There will always be ups and downs. Sometimes friends will let you down and sometimes you will let them down.

I miss my closest friends. They don’t live nearby. Acknowledging this, I am reminded of what brought us together in the first place and what will keep us as close as Leo, Shere Khan and Baloo (the lion, the tiger, and the bear):

  1. Make friendship a priority. When you do you empower yourself to say no to less important things in your life and elevate the value of friends in your life. It is always friendships that transcend the daily routine of life.
  2. Be honest. This is essential if you want to improve/keep your friendships – even when it may hurt. Your friends will respect you more, if they know that they can count on you to tell the truth.
  3. Take a road trip. Together! A simple getaway can bring a new level of connection to a friendship. Time away from the day-to-day will help you feel more relaxed, and the anticipation of the trip and memories afterwards – will give the experience additional meaning and value.

Chicas