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.

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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.

Image Credit: Flying Companions by Artsammich (Sam Nielson) Deviant Art

The Gift of Growth

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“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” ~ Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Growth happens. Whether we encourage and nurture it or it manifests organically.

It’s an unseasonably warm Sunday. The Christmas tree is still up (shame), I’m listening to soothing Chris Botti music and friends in the blogging community are on my mind. As relaxed as one can be, I realize that even in passive settings, awareness can grow.

Eleven months ago I had short-term clarity about what was next on my personal journey. And I shared some of those images in a post. While there were clearly interests to pursue, what wasn’t factored in was how unanticipated growth would parade her way into my new experiences… and what a lovely complement she became.

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Looking back, some of my growth was simply appreciating the wit, the wisdom and the insights of ordinary people, unplanned destinations and in allowing the intimacy of unfamiliarity to ooze into my being. I became more aware of other people, how they presented, the unique gifts they possess, and their openness to connection.

In a recent interview British actor Tom Hiddleston declared, “I suppose I am fascinated by the private vulnerability and the exterior of people.” “I think that’s an essential truth. I sort of quite like trying to find what makes people tick behind the construction of their identity.”

Similarly, Mr. Hiddleston’s intrigue mirrors what I have been exploring lately, by turning my attention inward as well as outward. For me, both seem meaningful facets of growth… considering personas and influence brought by others.

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Some of you may be interested in knowing how vision, vantage and vigor aligned and gave power to some of my warming experiences, outcomes and chance growth:

  • My speech Compassion as a Verb was well received by audiences throughout the Spring contest season. It earned third place at Toastmasters District finals. More importantly, it touched people, profoundly. That impact alone made the process worthwhile.
  • My book “Awakening to Awareness: Aligning Your Life With What Really Matters” was published in December.
  • I succeeded at regularly scheduling and reveling in solitude and spending more time in/with nature. This has done wonders for growth and grounding.
  • Self-teaching/learning Italian has seen slower than expected progress. Yet it continues, unhurried. La pazienza paga.
  • I have traveled more, both domestically (within the U.S. and overseas). And what a balm each of those trips has been.
  • The goal to find a worthy cause, one that would afford a volunteer opportunity presented. It is a global initiative that couples Professional Coaching (on a pro-bono basis) and not-for-profit organizations with the purpose of making a positive impact and supporting safer, healthier, happier and more productive global citizenry. Put simply, it is work that focuses on the betterment of the human condition and on uplifting the human spirit.

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But back to growth… and not so much mine as yours! If you are interested in heightening your awareness around growth, consider these simple actions:

  1. Have a truly deep conversation with someone. Listen! Appreciate what makes other people tick. And learn from them.
  2. Ask questions that encourage others to reveal who they are and where they want to go. They may inspire new growth in you.
  3. Create space where silence is honored. Be comfortable there, whether alone or together. Appreciate the inner stillness and the possibilities that emanate there.

Becoming Better Communicators

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“Communication works for those who work at it.” ~ John Powell

Jana Barnhill was elected Toastmasters International President at the 77th annual International Convention held August 2008, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She was only the fourth woman to serve as the top officer of the organization.

Recognized for her speaking skills, Jana placed 3rd in the World Championship of Public Speaking in 1993 and 2nd in 1996. In 1997, she became only the fifth woman in the organization to earn the coveted Accredited Speaker designation.

Jana Barnhill

Jana Barnhill

Professionally, Jana is a speaker/trainer for L.I.V.E. Speakers, Inc., a company she owns with her husband. She conducts seminars throughout the United States on management topics; including communication and leadership, team building, managing change and personality traits. She delivers keynotes and also serves as a speech writer and coach to other professionals.

Jana is no novice to staring trials in the face, while continuing to keep a smile on hers. Jana is a small plane crash survivor, suffers from a neurological disorder and her husband is battling ALS. She loves spending time with friends, theater, shopping, Christmas, movies, travel, anything fast, Disneyland (she has gone at least once, sometimes three times a year since 1991), entertaining and…shopping!

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As my guest on this week’s Awakening to Awareness Radio Show, Jana shared how she never really sought a global leadership role; how community, culture, and connection are integral to the Toastmasters experience; how boomers can offer their wisdom and experience to help members of younger generations and; how listening is such a critical element of effective communication.

She shared two personal stories about being inspired and how mentoring builds confidence. She acknowledged that “people are her oxygen” and how they help to sustain her energy and positive attitude. Jana advocates for no matter where one is in their life, there are always opportunities to work on your communication skills.

Interested in learning more about Toastmasters, listen to the show podcast or visit http://www.toastmasters.org

Why Dogs Sniff Butts

 “Like the herd animals we are, we sniff warily at the strange one among us.” ~ Loren Eisenley

Stay with me; I’m going somewhere thoughtful here.

A dog lover, they’ve been part of my life for decades. So naturally, I was drawn to a recent article titled, “Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other’s Butts? It’s More Complicated Than You Might Imagine.” Turns out, it’s all about one canine literally sniffing out important information about the other; its gender, emotional state, diet, and more. It’s like communicating with chemicals. As part of its olfactory system, dogs nerves direct the chemical information it detects directly to the brain so there’s no interference from other odors. Keep this “no interference” in mind.

Which brings me to the actual focus for this post. As humans, we also process information by:

  • Being quiet inside and really listening as a way of being aware of our own feelings as well as the feelings of others and;
  • Being aware of habitual negative patterns of thought, behavior and communication and then making positive choices to better serve ourselves and others.

When it comes to effective, meaningful communication, there is probably not a more important skill than listening. Not just hearing but truly listening. Listening is challenging for many people because we are often:

  • Focused on the physical appearance, social status, or the clothing of the person speaking. Maybe even judging them.
  • Planning on what you have to do once the conversation has ended.
  • Devising a solution while the other person is sharing a problem.

Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. It’s what many people do. Listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Just as canines use their acute sense of smell to enhance communication, we can further develop our skill by listening with our eyes and our heart. Think Golden Rule: How do you want to be listened to?

Most of us believe we’re good listeners. If you want to become an even better listener, consider these ideas:

  1. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they simply need to talk it out.
  2. Listen without interrupting. Often, people want to interject their own thoughts. (Yes, we know we do.) Does your body acknowledge that you are listening? Use smiles, nods, and expressions of understanding to communicate to the speaker that you are listening. It is important for them to know their words are respected.
  3. Want to listen. This is unique. You must have an intent to listen. Sometimes you don’t want to listen. At other times, your actions may indicate that you don’t want to listen when you really do. And at still other times, you may be unaware that you don’t want to listen. We can be as good a listener as we want.

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Friendships & Relationships

                    Lauren Calcote & Dustin Simon

Lauren Calcote & Dustin Simon

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” ~ John Lennon

This past weekend, I was honored to bear witness to the binding of two lives. Their love for each other and their incredible zest for life is priceless. And for we who shared in their celebration, it was an equally memorable blessing.

In the bliss of their day, I reflected on three simple considerations:

  1. Value the people who are there. Sometimes we get so caught up looking for romantic love that we forget to appreciate the friends and family who are always there, offering their support. At least I did. You might be thinking that friendships aren’t the same as romantic affection, and I understand. But we don’t attract romantic love into our lives by focusing on what’s missing. We attract potential partners by radiating love. Take inventory of all the people who care. There are likely more than you realize.
  2. Have a sense of humor, some fun, and a bit of distraction in your life. You can’t spend all your free time “working” on your relationship – don’t make it a hobby. Discuss what you like to do, where you’d like to go, and how you’d both like to have fun. Then go do it. 🙂
  3. Listen and respond. This seems so simple, yet the act of listening with undivided attention is one of the things that sustains friendships and relationships. Just be with the one you love. Ask questions. Show genuine interest. When people fail to respond to each other’s bids for emotional connection, the results can be disastrous. Explore the value in positive exchanges.

My two cents, unsolicited.

How Much Giving Is Enough?

“For it is in giving that we receive.” ~St. Francis of Assisi

I recently read some (to me) interesting statistics. For the 12 months ending September 2013, only 25.4% of Americans over age 18 volunteered their time and/or money. That’s one in four adults. Of this population, 40.8% got involved after being asked to volunteer or donate. 43% engaged on their own initiative. If I’ve done my math correctly, less than half of that ‘one in four’ people acted on their own.

I cannot comment on comparable data in other countries but as an American, I find this news bewildering. Individuals aged 65 and over contributed on average 96 hours of their time annually which is understandable given their greater amount of discretionary time. The median adult commitment was 52 hours annually. That averages one hour per week.

Americans, I believe, are a generally generous people. We tend to be a compassionate lot, especially in times of devastation and destruction. Many are moved to local acts of kindness in support of people who have lost their jobs, homes and/or family lives. Our willingness to contribute is most often in the form of charitable giving and volunteering of time. Yet I wonder…

In a country (and world for that matter) where there exists so much pain and suffering, where poverty, hunger, pollution, overpopulation and government corruption are increasingly pressing issues — how much of our time, talents and energy can we give to help those in serious need? What within us drives our desire to give to others, especially when we are abundantly blessed? I recognize personal choice is involved yet is giving a moral responsibility?

Most of us have a passion for our own growth. Yet none of us can succeed alone. We need to be there for others. And we can do this not only by offering time and money but by giving respect. We can become a servant of and to others. We can become friends with people we may be uncomfortable befriending. We can acutely listen to, not just hear their plights and basic needs.

So I wonder… How much giving is enough? Is it ever enough? Who defines what is enough? Is it one-time or is it continually? How much of your giving is coming from your heart and how much of what you give is a personal sacrifice?

We can feel.  We can care.  We can educate.  We can inspire.  We can give.  More.

For those who believe I am on a soapbox, please feel free to share your thoughts. The more I age, the more I become aware, the more I know that it is about giving it away for free. And the beauty in doing that is ever so rewarding.

Even Better than Success

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

According to the American Heart Association, the majority of heart attacks occur around nine o’clock on Monday mornings. In a presentation, author Gregg Levoy noted that this is when many people are going back to work they don’t like, work that doesn’t match their spirits, work that will literally break their hearts. Yet they are driven.

In a recent AgeWave/Harris Interactive survey, results uncovered a renewed focus on what’s important across multiple generations and an optimistic outlook on the possibilities for retirees’ new roles in American life. I recognize this blog is read by a global audience, yet these findings may hold true in other countries.

  1. A majority of respondents (58%) said that loving family and relationships are at the heart of what is held most dearly today – twice as important as being wealthy (33%) and twenty times more important than wielding power and influence (3%).
  2. Three-quarters of all respondents think the U.S. would benefit if retirees were more involved in contributing their valuable skills and experience to our communities.

People want more. They want to contribute more. Yet many are frustrated, disappointed, and needy. And unfortunately, they focus on what is missing or lacking in their lives, careers, or relationships. Getting what they believe they need or want rarely fulfills their sense of lack and longing. And often, they just continue their wanting to something else.

While desired by many, perhaps success isn’t the best thing to aim for. It’s a tricky target because it has so many meanings. How do you define success? Fame? Fortune? Everyone sees it differently. However, there is one thing possibly better than success — and that is significance.

Many people make the mistake of aiming for classic success. Once acquired, they may go on to lead a full and happy life. But success isn’t what allows your conscience to rest easy and it won’t satisfy your hunger for the feeling of accomplishment that significance will. The difference between the two is the application and the effect on those around you.

A successful person may achieve many things but significance is about relationships and significant people serve others. Here are five (of many) characteristics which are consistently practiced by a significant person. How embedded are these traits in you?

  • Intently listens
  • Empathy
  • Heightened awareness
  • Positive persuasion
  • Foresight

To live a life of increased significance, consider these three challenges:

  1. Embrace the idea of delayed gratification now. Don’t live for the credit of what you’ve done. Think legacy potential.
  2. Be open to letting go of your comfortable lifestyle or mindset to achieve something greater. (Thus, the opening Campbell quote; one of my favorites.)
  3. This sacrifice is ongoing. You have to believe it and trust that you will reap rewards in due time.

Valuing Our Elders

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Those who have followed this blog know that I’ve written about generational similarities and differences, Baby Boomers, becoming more connected, and being in integrity. In this post I’d like to weave these subjects together and address the importance of valuing our elders. Why? Because doing so is kind, courteous and necessary.

While each is defined differently, I see enough similarity in the words: honoring, favoring and respecting – to view them as interchangeable when talking about our older generation.

Honoring elders is customary in indigenous cultures where older people are respected and used in a socially integrative manner, passing on survival-based wisdom to the next generation. Sadly, in the youth oriented culture of modernity, our elders are not valued or used in this way and as a result, suffer a loss of self-esteem, self-worth and a sense of purpose. To address the challenges of today’s world, when there is not one part of our biosphere not under threat of extinction, we need to consider the value of all humanity.

There used to exist a concept called ‘elders.’ Seemingly they were these kind, wisdom-filled seniors who we could turn to in times of doubt for inspiration and teachings. They were no longer in a position of power but they were still held in high regard for they had survived life’s hardships and lived to tell the tale. They knew the obstacles in our paths because they had walked those same journeys. They could be called upon for and wisely shared advice.

Unfortunately, many elders haven’t been able to keep up with the accelerating pace of environmental issues, modern child rearing, lightening fast technological developments, social change and its related complexities, etc. They don’t possess the knowledge or experience to solve the problems that we face today. This is not to suggest that they have little or nothing to offer. Quite the contrary. But we have to think carefully how we can involve our elders so as to not frustrate or overwhelm them. They do have valuable insights and knowledge.

If the concept of ‘elders’ is to come back into our culture, then we are going to have to behave in a way that our young can respect us. As it is now, most youth do not trust their political leaders, the media, their educators, or even their own parents to be intelligent, honest, and compassionate. If we are to be seen as ‘elders’ some day, then we must earn their respect today.

Which begs the question: What can we do today to value, respect and/or honor our ‘elders’? Here are three suggestions:

  • Listen. One of my favorite acts. More than anything else, listening conveys love and respect. We communicate more by listening than we do by speaking. We do well when our ears are quicker than our tongues. Simply listen.
  • Slow down. Elders value not being rushed. They appreciate taking their time to talk and enjoy each other. The same is true with kids! We can honor our elders by walking their pace and refusing the urge to glance at the clock, never mind our mobile devices.
  • Ask advice. We might not always agree, but asking and really weighing their thoughts is a good way to show them respect. It wasn’t all that long ago that people asked people for advice. Google wasn’t around. No computer generated answer will ever compare to the wisdom in the white hairs of our elders. What a concept: advice with skin. 🙂

Messages: Mellow and Mighty

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if the simplest things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”

~ Eleanora Duse

Most of us like to think we’re aware, to a degree. For those attuned to their awareness, isn’t it odd that the more aware you become, the more you are aware of what you have been missing? This is evident with the messages we receive for directing, choosing, and guiding our lives.

So ponder this…how do you know what choices to make, direction to take, or things to change? The answer: you ask questions, often through your thoughts. Sometimes it’s a seemingly endless stream of questions, all in search of answers. Yet think about it…you have never asked a question, said a prayer, or made a wish that wasn’t answered through countless messages surrounding you each day.

How many times have you been listening to a song, reading a billboard, running into the same person, or had a totally unrelated thought pop into your mind – only to have it or them create clarity or inspiration for you? They seem to frequently materialize, don’t they? At least the ones we notice. That begs the question: What messages am I missing?

Here are two tips for receiving messages and knowing what to do with them:

  • Don’t look for the messages and especially the meanings or an understanding. The messages are always there or soon will be. All that is required is to slow down and pay attention to what is around you. Be curious and interested, then…
  • Do look for resonance. Do the messages resonate (feel a connection) with you and feel right and sensible? If they don’t, it doesn’t mean the message is the “wrong” message, it may be part of a bigger message that hasn’t been totally revealed yet. Keep listening, observing, and accepting the messages. You will know the answer soon enough and the resonance will happen, sometimes like a bolt of lightning.

I’ve witnessed this repeatedly with clients. Clarity comes when we focus on what we want to experience, learn, or know the path for or to. With clear questions we will get complete messages that resonate with us and provide the guidance we need and want. Then all we have to do is openly receive the messages that answer the questions or concerns.

Is this message for you? If yes, what will you do with it?

We All Need a Tree!

“Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.” ~ Lao Tzu

Even if it is, at times, troubling, it remains a small world. My friend Chris, who is Dutch yet lives in Taiwan, emailed yesterday with a piece entitled, “We All Need a Tree!” He added that “maybe I was a tree.” I took his comment as a compliment. 🙂

The essence of his (below) piece is clear and simple: We need to be aware of people and events that trouble us. And that we can benefit by finding ways in which to detach from problems and worries. They create unnecessary stress and we know too well the ramifications of chronic stress.

To refresh your memory, trouble is defined as: as state of distress, difficulty, or need. A difficult circumstance or situation. Effort, especially when inconvenient or bothersome. A condition of pain, disease, or malfunction. It can also be your boss, a teenager, or an in-law.

Family references aside, did you read anything appealing or inviting in that definition? Anything you genuinely want? I thought not. So let’s introduce Chris’s email piece, reflect on it for a moment, and then explore how you can live with less troubles.

We All Need a Tree!

I hired a plumber to help me restore an old farmhouse, and after he had just finished a rough first day on the job, a flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric drill quit and his ancient one ton truck refused to start.

While I drove him home, he sat in stony silence. On arriving, he invited me in to meet his family.

As we walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.

When opening the door, he underwent an amazing transformation. His face was wreathed in smiles and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.

Afterward he walked me to the car. We passed the tree and my curiosity got the better of me.

I asked him about what I had seen him do earlier.

‘Oh, that’s my trouble tree,’ he replied, ‘I know I can’t help having troubles on the job, but one thing’s for sure, those troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and the children.

So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home, and ask God to take care of them. Then in the morning I pick them up again.’

‘Funny thing is,’ he smiled,’ when I come out in the morning to pick ’em up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.’

For your consideration, here are five ways to mitigate trouble in your life:

  1. Talk less. Pay attention to what happens to your energy when you talk less, and how much happier you feel as you conserve energy. Appreciate the simple intimacy of your relationships as your heart-centered listening frees you of complications and unwanted dramas.
  2. Simplify your schedule. Reduce the number of commitments in your life to just the essential ones. Learn to say no to the rest. Schedule only a few important things each day and put space between them.
  3. Turn off the TV. Use your time more mindfully. Read, walk, meet friends. Use your time to connect to others and yourself.
  4. Do something calming. Take a nap, or a bath. Do housework or yard work (yes, some people are actually calmed by these activities). Find your own calming activity and yes, spontaneous and wild also count.
  5. Focus on simple truths. Keeping your focus on the simplest things offers an immediate experience of relaxation and joy. Embracing simplicity can fill you (and your day or evening) with freedom and lightness.

Perhaps you can be a tree. A trouble tree for yourself and others.