A Perspective on Loss

“We don’t let go of anything important until we have exhausted all the possible ways that we might keep holding on to it.” ~ William Bridges

It is fair to say each of us has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting is on which we choose to focus. You can readily identify your most robust strength and your biggest weakness (acknowledging a weakness can be a strength and vice versa). And for all of my actual and perceived strengths, I know that handling loss is what I am least equipped to deal with — my weakness, if you will.

In two blog posts today, I read and was reminded of how common loss is. We simply don’t confront it until, somehow, it ‘hits home.’ And ‘home’ is a different place within each of us.

Losing someone or something you care deeply about is very painful. The range of emotions we experience, may never let up. There are many reactions to significant loss. And while there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew and permit one to move on.

Part of loss deals with searching for answers and meaning; trying to make sense of it all. While some may never fully recover, allowing grief to run its course is part of a time-undefined progression. In this vein, I recall reading a Robert Hall, Jr. perspective which he describes as the “fertile void,” a time of not knowing what is arising, what to do, or how to feel. And in this void people find themselves making changes to fill the void, sometimes even returning to something familiar — the way things were.

I know it’s cliché yet, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is something that can give one hope for the future after a long and difficult period.

We have countless ways to cope with loss. These four make sense to me. If you have others that you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share them in comments.

  1. Surrender. We cannot bring back what we have lost. We cannot undo a war or a natural disaster. Experiencing our loss and our feelings is a natural process, but it can lead us into deeper suffering, too. Surrendering to the situation as something we cannot change, and accepting that, can help us to release and honor grief in a healthy way.
  2. Write a brief letter to yourself or loved one of what you wanted to say before the loss. Putting your words on paper or expressing things you wish you could have said before the event or loss might help you work through feelings and emotions that you need to let out or put behind you.
  3. Connect meaningfully with others. Finding the right approach to deal with tragedy is a very personal thing. Pain in the short run in unavoidable, and that’s okay. The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run. Consider being in “flow,” having an intense focus on the present day and attempting to connect with others.
  4. Believe that someone else is in control. Just as contentment and happiness come into our lives unexpectedly, so too does loss. Perhaps important, is to believe that another is in control, no matter what.

Kindness Matters

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated.” ~ Gandhi

During a lunch conversation today, I was reminded about the significance of kindness, caring, compassion and giving. It’s good to be regularly reminded about these actions. Returning to my office, I saw an internet feed about an elephant that was freed after being held in captivity for 50+ years. The team that rescued the elephant was stunned when, during its release from restricting chains, it actually had tears streaming from its eyes.

I may be on my periodic soapbox here but the message is fair. Acts of kindness toward animals are prompted by little more than the goodwill of humans who recognize another sentient being in need and step in to help. While there are lots of videos and stories out there about the cruel things humans do to animals, there exists plenty of evidence to show that amazing and compassionate humans are also among us.

The now famous and viral commencement speech delivered by George Saunders in 2013 has been amended and abridged. In the following brief video, Saunders highlights the importance of kindness and failures of kindness.

Just as with humans, the smallest acts of kindness with animals can be incredibly rewarding. There is no kind deed that ought to go unrecognized.

Yes, I am an animal rights advocate. I abhor animal abandonment and abuse. Taking positive action in support and defense of animals is, in my opinion, a right and good thing to do.

There are many ways to be kind to animals. You don’t have to travel to Africa to fight the poachers; you can evidence your compassion locally. Here are three simple ways in which you can act on your desire to care:

  1. Help the strays. Stray animals aren’t any less living beings just because they don’t have a home, the same way people living on the streets aren’t any less human because they too are homeless. Resist the urge to shoo it away and just go about your day. They might be feeling lonely or are just pleased to see you. Remember to approach cautiously so you don’t scare the animal or put yourself in danger.
  2. Check that you aren’t inadvertently supporting animal cruelty. Did you know that circuses are cruel, because they force animals to do unnatural things using painful techniques? Maybe there are other tickets you could purchase. And check that none of your household products (like shampoos, makeup, or medicine) aren’t tested on animals. You can do this here.
  3. Spend even just a few minutes playing with, cuddling or walking a homeless shelter pet who is grieving the loss of her family. When you’re having a particularly stressful day, this is a good way to rebalance and is a beautiful gift to the shelter companion, too.

Why Be Assertive?

“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the past few days, I’ve observed some blatant passive-aggressive communication. A lot of “I’m okay; you’re not” behavior that focused on one-sided needs. There were visible instances of ‘attitude’ as well as self-serving and sarcastic expressions. Figuratively speaking, there were people who were being steamrolled and walked over. I wasn’t directly involved so I simply watched the interactions.

How do you cope in passive-aggressive situations? Do you bite your tongue? Do you take your displeasure out in other ways? Or do you use a little assertiveness?

Assertiveness has been described as a personality trait and social competency. It is expressing one’s thoughts, opinions and wants in a direct way. Being assertive also means treating others fairly and with respect – while respecting yourself. Knowing when and how to assert yourself can be an asset in work and social settings. Yet many people don’t know how to be assertive – at least comfortably.

Assertiveness is also connected to self-esteem, communication style and values. Keep in mind that putting the needs of others ahead of your own does not make one unassertive. Take charity for example. Most of us want to be charitable, but charity is a choice to sacrifice your convenience, comfort or resources for the sake of someone else or the common good. Personally, I have no problem hanging up on telephone solicitors seeking money. That’s just me responding assertively to their emotional extortions.

Some people are naturally assertive. However, if you’re not one of them, you can learn to be more assertive. Being assertive can help you:

  • Improve communication
  • Create honest relationships
  • Earn respect from others
  • Understand and recognize your feelings
  • Create win-win outcomes

If you want to communicate in healthier and more effective ways, here are four tips to help you become more assertive:

  1. Use “I” statements. This lets others know what you’re thinking without sounding accusatory. Consider saying “I disagree,” rather than “You’re wrong.”
  2. Do not assume to know someone’s motives. Just because someone is acting badly does not necessarily make him a bad person. Stick to the facts at hand.
  3. Keep emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Although feelings of anger and frustration are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. Wait a bit if necessary and work on remaining calm. (This took me a long time to learn.) When you choose to speak, keep your voice even and firm.
  4. Do not get hung up on the outcome. You can only deliver the message. How it is received is up to the other person.

Be comfortable and confident, and be okay with sticking your neck out. 🙂

Images and Feelings

Image credit: Louie Favorite Terri Gurrola is reunited with her daughter after having served in Iraq for seven months.

Image credit: Louie Favorite
Terri Gurrola is reunited with her daughter after having served in Iraq for seven months.

“Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” ~ David Borenstein

Though we differ in the way we look at things and what we believe in, there is something we share: emotion. Human emotion is innate in all of us; it is something we are born with and something we die with. Happiness, sadness, love, hatred, worries and indifference – these are things that constantly occur in our daily lives.

As human beings we are all born with awareness. We can be aware of our environment, aware of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Yet self-awareness cannot be taken for granted. It can easily be lost. When emotions overwhelm, we can lose touch with our conscious awareness. So it’s important to recognize and manage our feelings. Most of us know that acknowledging our feelings is both healthy and a necessary step toward regaining our composure and clarifying our perspectives.

Image credit: Mark Pardew / Reuters A firefighter givrs water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday brush fires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.

Image credit: Mark Pardew / Reuters
A firefighter gives water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday brush fires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.

We frequently say a “picture is worth a thousand words”, but sometimes they are worth even more. A photographers lens can capture scenes that take us into deep emotional journeys, evoking feelings that range from uplifting joy to utter sadness. The thought-provoking power of images often starts us on a journey of feelings that exceed “a thousand words” with ease. Images capture moments filled with raw emotion and powerful stories and they frequently raise questions about how we feel and what we can do. This, in turn, can prompt compassion and action, but that’s for another post.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Sandro Miller said, “If you don’t look at photography and begin to think and wonder, and be able to start an intelligent dialogue with someone about the work, then I guess I haven’t done my job. I want people to really be able to go deep in their hearts and begin to feel things.”

Photo credit: Getty Images Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-yar-old cousin Private Douglas Halliday, as he and six other fallen soldiers are brought through the town of Wootton Bassett in England.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-year-old cousin Private Douglas Halliday, as he and six other fallen soldiers are brought through the town of Wootton Bassett in England.

Perhaps it is a photograph or a traumatic experience that triggers your emotions. Self-awareness and reflection yield feelings, too. People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts and feelings. And they have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life.

For you consideration, here are some thought-provoking questions. When answered, think about how they make you feel:

  • Why do you matter?
  • What will you not tolerate?
  • How have you been a role model to someone?
  • What makes you likable?
  • What are three life lessons you learned the hard way?
  • What makes you uncomfortable?
  • What fulfills you more than anything else?
Image credit: via hfcsd.org Jewish prisoners at the moment of their liberation from an internment camp "death train" near the Elbe in 1945.

Image credit: via hfcsd.org
Jewish prisoners at the moment of their liberation from an internment camp “death train” near the Elbe in 1945.

Dealing With HSP

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Sensitivity is your ability to pick up on sensory information with your nervous system. It is neural. It is like a sensitive microphone; it picks up on subtle sounds. Not good or bad.

Psychologist Elaine Aron has been researching a temperament category she describes as “highly sensitive people” (HSP). Her work has been gaining increased attention in recent years. This little understood inherited temperament could be impacting your life or someone you love in surprising ways. According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it.

HSP experience everyday sensory input in a uniquely heightened way that can cause them both pleasure and pain. HSP feel emotions deeply and, as they tend to be empathic, find themselves affected by the emotions of others. We often think of sensitivity as weakness for three main reasons: it is out of our logical control, it makes us vulnerable, and we don’t know what to do with it, which means that we suppress and judge it – so it has manifested in weakness.

Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population that make up this group? Here are six tell tales that tend to be associated with HSP:

  • You were described as sensitive as a child.
  • You pick up subtleties in your environment.
  • You can easily become overwhelmed.
  • You fall hard and fast (as in love).
  • You are conscientious.
  • You have a vivid imagination.

Some HSP develop animosity toward their way of experiencing the world. Yet it is not a curse, but a path to wisdom. HSP who deny their sensitivity can lead to unhappiness but exploring its benefits can lead to positive change in yourself and others.

If you sense that you are a HSP and would like to experience more of your sensitivity, here are three ways to strengthen that awareness:

  1. Distinguish between sensations and emotions. A sensation is neural sensory information in your body (butterflies in the stomach, tension in the shoulders). An emotion is a personal response to a sensation (I personally feel scared about this).
  2. Give yourself permission to feel your sensations, then engage with them. For example, “I feel my body shaking right now and that is okay. I can shake.” Rather than judging it by saying, “Why am I shaking right now? What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be nervous now!”
  3. Remind yourself that you are an active life participant. See yourself as being on the chessboard rather than viewing it from above. Allow yourself to feel in response to the position you are in. Ask yourself “What would feel better right now?” and then let that come to you.

Your body knows more than you think. Consider starting where you are and taking a step in the direction of trusting your body and its nervous system. I have. 🙂

Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional intelligence is when you finally realize it’s not about you.” ~ Peter Stark

People once thought a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) would guarantee that an individual would rise above everyone else. As a stand-alone measure, that outcome is no longer the case. Enter EQ (Emotional Intelligence), an array of non-cognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.

EQ is about being aware of your own feelings in yourself and those of others, regulating those feelings in yourself and others, using emotions that are appropriate to the situation, self-motivation, and building relationships. Another way to contrast the two: IQ defines how smart you are, EQ determines how well you use your gift of intelligence. People with high EQ’s are better equipped to make use of their cognitive abilities.

In 2009, I became certified to administer, interpret results, and debrief respondents of the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), a premier tool used to measure emotional intelligence. When considered in tandem, IQ and EQ are important factors in determining one’s ability to succeed in life. Case in point: people with high IQ’s but low EQ’s sometime sabotage themselves because they are unable to relate to their peers, cannot handle stress constructively, and find emotional connections difficult to maintain.

There are many ways in which to heighten awareness of your emotional intelligence. If you’re interested in embracing your uniqueness and the uniqueness of others, here are four ways in which to:

  1. Become more self-aware. This involves paying attention to yourself and your surroundings in a positive manner. Knowing who you are comes in big here. If you don’t know who you are how can you expect to know others? Ask yourself: “Why do I act like that?” “Why do I have certain beliefs?” “Why do I find it so confronting to have my beliefs challenged?”
  2. Be more flexible. Being emotionally intelligent involves knowing when to stick to and when to switch your emotional attachments. When it’s time to move on, people high in emotional intelligence can make that adjustment. If you find change difficult, look at the possible consequences. What might happen if you stay with the status quo? On the other hand, where might you be if you go with the flow? Change is part of growth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. Tune into your reactions. In a given situation, when your voice begins to rise or you find yourself getting impatient, pause and name that emotion and then try to determine which of your core values is being challenged and thus, resulting in your emotional response. This begins to move you out of reaction and into a more considered response.
  4. If you don’t know how you’re feeling, ask someone else. People seldom realize that others are able to judge how they are feeling. Ask someone who knows you (and whom you trust) how you are coming across. You may find the answer both surprising and interesting.

Your Call: Urgent or Important?

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.” ~ Dallin H. Oaks

Rarely do I jump on bandwagons. In economic theory (and more specific to financial markets), the act of doing what everyone else is doing and foregoing requisite thought or analysis is called rational herd behavior. But with this opening video, an impending Super Bowl commercial that has been viewed by 19+ million in two days, I am jumping on the viral bandwagon. Why? Because it makes me feel good and it actually has a message for we humans.

Yes the video is light-hearted. It also infers connection and perseverance – attributes that add value to our lives. While we cannot eliminate everything unpleasant from our lives, we are going to be more likely to focus on things that make us feel good and we enjoy doing. So when we feel overwhelmed with all that we are doing, examining our motivation for taking on so many obligations can help us understand why we feel compelled to do so much; why we feel unhappy.

One thing that can cause feelings of being overwhelmed and off balance is that you are not living by your priorities. You may be living on auto-pilot. Or you may be doing things that you were “supposed” to do, as determined by others. To restore equilibrium to your feelings, and start to regain some balance in life, you may need to revisit your priorities. Case in point: If you spent eight hours working at a job you dislike, that job is still your priority. If this is fine with you then you are doing okay. But if you spend time wishing you had a more fulfilling _________, then it is time to think about your priorities.

If determining your priorities seems difficult and you still feel pressed to take on more, try imagining how each new commitment will impact your life before saying yes. And if you are open to suggested actions in support of setting and keeping your priorities, here are three:

  1. How would you like to live your life? Write down all the things that are truly important to you, the things that ten years from now will make you proud. Now is not the time to worry whether what you are writing down is feasible or not. If you write down ten or more things, you are probably mixing the urgent with the important. The important cannot be more than four or five things.
  2. Reward yourself.  It is important to reward yourself for setting priorities and following through. If you’ve achieved a milestone towards a priority, don’t just cross it off your list and move on to the next thing. Create time to reward yourself for a job well done.
  3. Get wise counsel. Be open to engaging others but keep in mind that wise counsel comes only from wise people. It is imprudent to seek the counsel of someone who will just agree with you. Often the best advice is contrary to your own desires.

Present Moment Mind-set

“But non-doing doesn’t have to be threatening to people who feel they always have to get things done. They might find they get even more ‘done,’ and done better, by practicing non-doing. Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way. Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a ‘doerless doing,’ cultivated over a lifetime.”  ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Yes this is the longest quote with which I’ve opened a post. Consider reading it again.

Recently, I wrote about patience. And no sooner did I share thoughts about the art of patience, then mine was tested. 🙂 I am rarely one to become angry with an individual who is lost or confused. My inclination is to understand and help, if possible. But if we have a driving experience in which we find ourselves feeling impatient, we can become agitated. The flip side is that by experiencing these feelings, we have an opportunity to see ourselves and monitor/change our reaction(s). So what did I do?

Here is something to ponder: As we age, chronologically, do we become more thoughtful and accepting of others’ behavior or do we become impatient and increasingly opinionated? My take is that whatever is showing up in our current experience is meant to be there or it wouldn’t be. This helps me put things into perspective. And even if you do not believe in fate, what happens in the present moment helps us to consider that everything has a useful meaning or purpose.

Put simply, being in the present moment (similar to flow), with any given situation, is about losing yourself in whatever you are doing – forgetting about the outside world and choosing to instead, focus your perspective. In my driving example and from a place of awareness, I can then choose to feel compassion for those who are banging their steering wheels and honking their horns at a confused driver, rather than join in (which I did not).

If mindfulness and being in the present moment seem an attractive ‘space,’ these three acts may help:

  1. When you eat, just eat. (Note to self:) When you are eating, do not think or read about something else or type a blog post. Just eat. Pay attention to what you are eating. Experience it – the taste, the texture. Savor the moment. Just do what you are doing now, and nothing else.
  2. Accept things. Acceptance of an unpleasant state does not mean you do not have goals for the future. It just means that certain things are beyond your control. Sadness, stress and/or pain is there whether you like it or not. Better to embrace the feeling as it is.
  3. Do one thing at a time. Quite often when we multi-task, our attention is never 100% where it ought to be. Not all multi-tasking is negative, but we can focus on being in the present moment for the task at hand. If you try to do one thing at a time, your goal for mindfulness would be easier and you would likely feel less stressed, yet still productive.

Money is the Root of…

“Money is like love; it kills slowly and painfully the one who withholds it, and enlivens the other who turns it on his fellow man.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Did you finish this post title before you read it? I thought so. 🙂 That illustrates how conditioned we can be. But I digress…slightly.

Ponder, if you will, yourself surrounded by money. How do you feel about money? I invite the reflection because how we think and feel about money are two significant determinants of how much money we have and how easily we attract it.

It’s probably fair to say that most of us think of money as something we need, work for, and possess. We are taught that money is a necessary evil that we have to sacrifice to obtain and be smart about saving for the future. Thinking about money this way causes a lot of anxiety as we continually focus on how to get the money we perceive is missing and possibly scarce, yet necessary for our happiness. Nothing makes people less happy or un-healthy than thinking about and working for money.

Think about this: money comes to us and is utilized through a mindset about its value, purpose, and usefulness. Most of what we believe about money we learned from our parents and how they thought about and used money. This can be a challenging cycle of thinking to escape from, however it can be done using a more productive way of thinking and feeling about money.

First, become aware of how you now think and feel about money by finishing the following statements. Do not move to the end of the post until you complete the statements.

  • When I think about money and how I obtain it, I feel…
  • To have more money and especially enough money, I think I have to…
  • When I spend money it is usually to…

Look at the words and phrases you used to complete the statements. If the words are negative and fatalistic, the way you think about money is actually blocking it from coming to you. Your words and phrases lead to feelings of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration because your beliefs and feelings about money are grounded in fear and a view that money is scarce. Such feelings create low energy and lead to choices about getting and keeping money, rather than attracting, sharing, and exchanging it.

In part two of this post, I will offer a different way of thinking and feeling about money, including three tips to attract an abundance of money. In the meantime, consider paying attention to how money affects your wealth and health. Because in the latter case, it does!

At Choice With Happiness

“Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

It is said that happiness is the most common goal in people’s lives. How happy are you? I hope your answer was “depends.” That is because happiness depends on our personal view of situations, relationships, work, or things. If you change your view, you change your level of happiness.

“I will be happy when, if only, and after,” are the phrases used to preface our statements about happiness. They typify common beliefs that happiness is determined by the external and occurs mostly in the future.

The word happiness is derived from the root word “hap” which is being “fitted to suit.” Happiness is about the present; it happens or occurs now. Happiness neither yearns for the past nor waits for the future. Happiness is found in the feelings, beliefs, actions, and joy of what you are doing now.

To find happiness in the present you have to be willing to accept what and where you are. This means being grateful for the gifts, the experiences, and the opportunities of today. It also means being grateful for the frustrations, the challenges, and the disappointments. All are messages about what is working and what needs changing.

Being grateful does not mean you cannot work for more or expect bigger and better. It doesn’t mean do not set goals, look for improvements for progress, or anticipate more to come. Amazingly, being grateful is the sure way to attract more and bigger and better. Being grateful (happy) with the now actually creates space for more to come into your life.

When you choose happiness (it is a choice), you are then free to make other choices as well. Happy people choose what they do with their time, their resources, and who they allow in their lives. Unhappy people typically allow others, situations, and personal needs to make their choices for them. You can choose happiness right now with these three simple steps:

  1. Realize that the present is just as it ought to be. Choices and steps, beliefs, and actions, have brought you to this point. Accept where you are. What are the messages in your present that are telling you what to do next?
  2. Be grateful for it all, for it all has significance. See it all as a gift and enjoy the sweet while learning from the sour.
  3. Be content. What you have is all you really need right now. Choosing happiness today opens you up for more happiness tomorrow.

One of the world’s greatest novelists, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wisely said, “If you want to be happy, be.” Happiness is not about material things, accomplishments, or anything external. Your happiness is available to you right now, if you choose it!