Category Archives: Uncategorized

You’re Angry, Aren’t You? Just Admit It

event_67256922

Anger is real.

It’s a physical reaction that rises up through our bodies. It is not evil. It is not hate. It just is what it is, a physical reaction to something that our mind is processing. An emotion.

People who are brought up to be submissive are taught that anger is bad. That is most of us. We are trained to deny or suppress anger as it rises up, but that energy does not then just disappear. It gets subverted on to the self, sometimes becoming depression or anxiety.

Or it gets projected onto easy targets.

Or it twists itself into hatred and impulsive violence.

Or it wreaks havoc in our bodies, causing issues like ulcers or heart disease. There’s several different paths subverted anger can take and none of them are healthy.

The healthiest anger is anger that is accepted, examined and processed.

I’m feeling angry. Anger is okay. What exactly is triggering this anger? Am I sure or is the cause something even deeper? Okay, I accept that. Now what am I going to do about it?

That is how you accept, examine and process anger. That last step, figuring out what to do about it, is the hardest and most important step.

Let’s try not to skip over it.

Day of the Dead For Superstars

(The art and function of public mourning)

unnamed-2 (1)

Something that my mom and I have in common is a fondness for cemeteries. We love to walk around those somber parks with their intriguing sculptures that peek from behind flowers and trees. We can practically hear the whispered stories as we walk among the etched tombstones.

unnamed-5

Some people think our graveyard affinity is odd, but I think it’s strange not to appreciate the beauty of art and nature joined together in an expression of grief, love and longing.

It is not just a visual beauty, but an energetic one as well. Whether the people within a particular cemetery are family or strangers to us – there is an aura of universal love that can be felt wherever souls gather together to mourn. I know because I feel it in cemeteries. It opens my heart in a way that allows me to easily enter into the flow of love that exists all around us.

(Where have you felt most connected to other souls? What opportunities do you take to experience that feeling?)

I am thinking about this now because I live about 25 minutes away from Prince’s Paisley Park. Yesterday, I joined the throngs of people who are congregating outdoors and creating an art installation that expresses their sadness, nostalgia and love of music.

The fence outside Paisley Park has been transformed into a massive menagerie of drawings, dream catchers, jewelry, balloons, carvings, flowers, candles, photos and guitars.

It is community art that exists only to express love and appreciation. It is beautiful.

unnamed-4

I had to see it up close to appreciate its beauty, to notice details like the personal notes peeking from behind interesting objects. I had to experience the somber, respectful and loving tone of the people creating this spontaneous masterpiece.

Gathering in communities to create a temporary work of art while mourning the dead is a universal tradition with ancient roots. My mom’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Poland, where elaborate Day of the Dead events are celebrated in cemeteries. This tradition is thought to stem from pre-Christian Slavic customs. Most countries around the world have eerily similar rituals of gathering together outdoors with flowers, candles and other beautiful objects to honor the dead.

all-saints-day-polandKrakow, Poland (©iStockphoto.com/badahos)

Outside Paisley Park, the gathered community was racially diverse and many of the people were from my generation. It was clear that back in the day, in our separate communities, we came of age to the same music, danced to the same songs, sang the same lyrics. Now here we were thirty years later, gathering to pay our respects to the soul who created our shared experience. We were connecting to each other.

If I lived more than half an hour away, I never would have come.

But it so happened that Prince lived and died very close to my home and I found myself participating in a public ritual that has roots as deep as the most ancient family tree. I had the opportunity to absorb the visual and energetic beauty of a community of strangers creating art together while listening to the whispers of a departed soul. It was a special Day of the Dead that connected me to my generation and to all the people who came before and afterwards.

It was similar to my cemetery experiences except I was sharing my feelings with a community and the art was being created there in the moment.

Living a Spirit Full life involves taking opportunities to feel connected to others, to our roots, to creation and to the Mystery surrounding us. It means stepping outside of our routines and to-do lists and making the time to honor the universality of our feelings and our experiences. For me this weekend, it was the art, music, nostalgia and tears of Paisley Park. For you, it will be something completely different.

The important thing is that when you have an opportunity to tap into the love, longing and hope of your fellow humans – you take it!

Our ancestors – and Prince – would want us to.

unnamed-1

My Status Update Sucks, But I’m Still Okay

I generally like to be in step with the rhythm of the seasons, but right now Spring is yelling at me to “Get up! Get out! Bloom already!” and I want to tell it to go to hell. While nature buzzes with the excitement of tree buds and hopping bunnies, inside my head winter dreariness is still going strong.

10580268_10209147133106554_1861950747812624308_n

There is no way around it. A family situation is filling my days with unpleasant tasks, pressing deadlines and big decisions that have no pleasant outcome. It’s a difficult time and frankly I am okay with settling into that difficulty and letting Spring pass me by this year.

And don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t. Because you know what? It’s okay to have periods of sadness.

It really is okay, even though the photographic evidence on social media shows your friends experiencing only joy, joy, joy. It really is okay, even though pop gurus tell us happiness is only ten simple steps away.

The truth is that we all have seasons when sadness is the most appropriate emotion that we can feel. Well meaning friends and our own inner critic may pressure us to try and snap out of it, but that only creates an anxiety that tires us even more. Feeling bad about feeling bad is self defeating.

On the other hand, sinking into full-blown depression is not the answer either and some of us (ahem) are more biologically prone to that than others. So here is what I do in seasons of sadness:

1) I let myself feel sad.

2) I try to stay in tune with my gut (intuition.) That means keeping a handle on what feels right and what feels off. For example, “It will be a real effort to go out to dinner with a friend tonight but it feels like that will help me get out of my head.” Or “I should really tackle another item on the to-do list but it feels like I need to rest my mind for awhile and watch a movie.”

The key to #2 is finding the balance between what you “should” do and what feels right for your mind/body/spirit. You’ll know you found it when you are doing a mixture of both.

3) I hold onto my thread. (Of course, first you need to find what your thread is.) A thread is those practices, images and beliefs that connect you to your essential self.

My thread is stepping out onto my driveway every night and looking up at the trees before going to bed. It is the mental image I visit throughout the day that I am part of a chain of spirits and ancestors long gone and future generations to come. It is the belief that love and acceptance of myself and others is the purpose of life.

You find your thread by focusing on what you know for certain to be true. The practices, images and articulated beliefs you then come up with will take you back to that truth whenever you are in danger of becoming lost. Everybody’s thread looks different. It is what we can hold onto that will keep us from falling down the rabbit hole of despair.

So Spring is arriving with its fresh smells and vibrant colors and my friends are posting fabulous vacation pics. Meanwhile, I’m stuck inside at meetings with treatment staff and endless to-do lists. And I’m sad about it. That’s okay.

We all have seasons of difficulty, but life goes on and we can find peace again. I have a strong sense of my intuition and I have my thread. I am okay. You are too, even if you are sad.

Doing Good Last Year and Beyond

Did I do enough good in 2015? There’s plenty more I could have done – I never did get around to fostering shelter dogs like I planned, for example. But did I do as much as I could manage – mentally, emotionally, creatively, spiritually?

Sometimes I think of myself as fragile: burdened with traumas recent and far past that can flare up and make ordinary tasks seem Sisyphean. Each of us is fragile and strong in our own unique way, I know that. I look back on some of the things I endured, in 2015 alone, and know that I got through it with as much grace as I could muster, and sometimes that was barely any at all. There’s a lot of messiness in leaving your heart open to a family member whose mind and emotions are in dire need of healing, and yet my heart is still open to them, even if slightly little less than before. That is something good I contributed to 2015.

1520768_10202761691194497_336334936_n

But that wasn’t all. I followed the thread that the world dangled before me, for reasons I still can’t fully know. I followed that thread to University, studying theology and strengthening my connection to the spiritual realm. This year, I took classes studying Jung and his profound Red Book, the art of rituals and Mary Magdalene. I wrote papers on those topics that I hope to send off to a wider audience in 2016 (another 2015 thing I didn’t do as planned.) I also worked with people seeking spiritual direction and facilitated workshops sharing what I learned about “following the thread” that might be useful to others. Doing this work, I am privileged to witness the unique blend of fragile and strong within each soul.

Finally, I made a new friend in 2015. Someone whose journeys both internal and across the globe are opening me to new ideas for living in 2016. She has taught centering meditation for decades, and I can certainly use more centering. Knowing her has been a gift.

Will I meet other new friends in 2016? Will I continue to learn, write and teach? Will I still have love and grace to give? The outlook is good for all these things, and so I’m going to turn the page on the calendar with anticipation, gratitude and humility.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Birthday Reflection

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and if you know me you know that means it’s time for lots of reflection and brainstorming! Here’s an exercise you might find interesting:

FIRST, think of your life story in terms of significant chapters – however that makes sense for you.

For me, I have:   1) Childhood    2) High School & College. Then I moved around the country and each place gets its own chapter    3) Bloomington    4) Chicago        5) Seattle   then   6) MSU Grad School    7) Lagoon    8) Adoption    9) SKU Grad School.

(Or your chapters could include places you worked, for example.)

NEXT, for each chapter ask yourself:

a) Who (or what) were my main influences during this time?

b) What significant challenge did I overcome?

c) What is the main thing I learned? (about myself or life in general)

THEN, notice if there are any overall themes to your story.

FINALLY, think about what you want your next chapter to look like.

What do you want to do/see/be?

Who or what are you going to surround yourself with that will influence or affect you?

And most importantly, what, if anything, seems to be blocking your way and what are you going to do about it?

where-are-we-8gdfza

Exercises like this can bring clarity and a fresh perspective to your decision-making or whatever’s been on your mind lately. And, if you’re like me, you’ll have fun doing it.

What do you think?

(BTW, that’s my old buddy Murray in the backseat!)

Mad Men Finale and Ironic Tweeting From McCann

Mad Men was a TV show that resonated with me on many levels: as a biting social and political commentary, a dissection of the interior life of my parent’s generation,  and a portrayal of our universal questions about identity, happiness and meaning.

Below is my take on last night’s grand finale. I’m pretty sure this is the only time I will post about a TV show. If you’re a Mad Men fan, I hope you enjoy.

imgres-1

The real McCann Erickson advertising agency (now McCann Worldwide), which created the infamous “I’d Like To Buy the World a Coke” ad back in 1971, tweeted last night: “Thanks, Don. About time you came up with a good idea. #‎MadMenFinale‬

Cute.

And then seemingly unrelated to the show, this morning they tweeted a study stating “85% believe that global brands have power to make world better. ‪#‎globalbrands‬

Wow.

And that right there, folks is why I love Mad Men and the brilliance of Matthew Weiner.

Archetypal characters, mythological themes of journey and redemption and a setting that fully immersed my generation into not only the place and time of our childhoods, but the heart (ha!) of commercialization and consumerism – Mad Men is the kind of art that becomes the Rorschach test upon which we can project our deepest internal struggles.

Did Don evolve (even a little) at his enlightenment retreat or was it all just meaningless fodder to sell a toxic product?

Can both be true?

When I hear the first few notes of that Coke ad, it triggers within me a faint hazy memory of childhood happiness. It really does.

But that feeling then dissolves into a hollow memory of my own absent and scoundrel father – a man who, unlike Don with his daughter, has not revealed his true self to me. You see, Don did evolve beyond my expectations because I did not expect him to become more open than my own father, and yet he did.

And then I hear the rest of that Coke commercial, and am reminded that a corrupt multinational corporation is using peace and happiness to get me hooked on their toxic chemical beverage.

See how complicated life is?

Was Mad Men nothing more than a giant Coke ad? A Coke ad that Matthew Weiner held up to the mirror of Donald Draper’s Coke ad that was held up to the mirror of the real Coke ad and on and on into infinity?

Are the peons who now tweet for McCann Worldwide blind to the irony that first they acknowledged a show about the evils of advertising and then they gloated over the fact that 85% of people believe the bullshit that advertisers tell them?

Matthew Weiner gets the irony. That is why the series ends with Don’s ex-wife dying from lung cancer after smoking cigarettes that Don sold in the first season. And last night’s seemingly random scene of coke snorting was surely a wink to the poisons that Coke provides.

So much to analyze and make us angry and sad and puzzled – and more reasons to love the genius of Mad Men.

The Secret To Becoming Your Happiest Self

I’m not keeping up this blog very well, as my days are now filled with writing and reading theology for graduate school. I am more than halfway through this graduate program – and yet I’m still amazed at how the heck I, of all people (and in my mid-40s), became a theology student. I am not even particularly religious! I won’t go into the whole story of how I found myself here, but…

…the bottom line is that I was propelled into it – propelled onto this academic path.

Propelled much in the same way that I was propelled into motherhood – ME – a single, self-absorbed woman suddenly adopting a traumatized first grader and raising her. Really?

Both of these big life choices hopped right over the thinking part of my brain and grabbed my gut in a way that all other options disappeared.

Neither motherhood nor graduate school (this second time around) seemed like choices so much as road signs dropped onto my path (Detour Ahead!) with no way around it.

14_06_28_Detour_Sign_Dunedin_FL_01

And here’s the thing: I love when these road signs drop into my life – because making the best life choices often require us to let go of our rational minds – a process that is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural and just plain HARD.

These road signs appear when I plead / pray:

God! (Universe! Angels! Saints! Spirit Guides! Ancestors!)

Show me the way!

open

And they do.

It’s a process of course – learning how to ask for what you need,

how to notice when it appears and

how to accept what has been offered.

It’s a long, difficult process but before I explain further I need to say that I chose the tagline of this website for a reason.

Focusing Your Life in the Direction of Your Happiest Self

I was stuck trying to decide between Best Self? Truest Self? when my friend Celina suggested Happiest Self.

Of course! Happiness is what I struggled towards for years – straining against the depression and anxiety that is so rampant on both sides of my family. My genes are definitely depressed genes but I have learned to step away from the rabbit hole, so to speak and focus my thoughts in a more positive direction.

I can share many life lessons about becoming my happiest self

because it is something I have had to work so dang hard at.

I consider myself a melancholic optimist.

Melancholic by nature, and stubbornly optimistic by sheer will. I am optimistic because I have developed the awareness to see that

God/ the Universe/ Angels/ Spirit Guides / Ancestors

really do have my back and really do want to keep offering me gifts and direction and opportunities.

You see, when I was a little girl my dad repeatedly told me that our family was born under a black cloud. Great role model, I know. He said this quite a bit and so of course I believed it. I expected bad things to happen. I focused on the bad things that happened.

And the Universe did not disappoint. As a new college grad living in my hometown of Chicago,  the shit just kept coming. In less than three months time, my car broke down on Lake Shore Drive, I was jumped by three strangers with a baseball bat, my car was stolen – and it kept coming. My roommate had to bail on our lease, I didn’t get the job I wanted, etc. etc – but through it all a teeny, tiny voice kept telling me that I was special.

“There’s something special about you.”

It started with a teeny voice but then I noticed the Universe confirming this message, letting me know it was true. First, in random ways: a drunk, homeless guy shouted it at me, an author at a book signing telling me during a talk at a bookstore. Then, in earned ways: from a supervisor, from a friend.

I began to LOOK for and notice the signs that showed that I matter, I have gifts to share and I am here on Earth to use them.

Noticing this message from the Universe and believing it to be true was my first step into the world of possibility. I learned to ask God/the Universe, etc. for signs of how to best use my gifts and accept whatever answers come.

This became a daily practice: asking, noticing, accepting – and giving thanks. (Over time, this practice morphs into a totally new perspective on life and everything that happens to you.)

And that, readers, is the short version of how I ended up in graduate school, how I became the mother of an amazingly courageous young woman and how I learned to overcome my melancholic genes and become a happier person.

And you know what?

God/ the Universe/ Your Spirit Guides / Your Dead Loved Ones

want YOU to know – YOU reading this –  that :

There is something special about you, too.

If you don’t believe it, and you have never noticed a sign confirming this for you before –

then consider this blog post and whatever path lead you to read it to be your first one.

There is something special about you.

(Use it for the greater good.)

Photo credit: By ReubenGBrewer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Check Out This Book: Body of Work

Have you ever thought about the many different roles you have played in your life, the projects you have worked on, the things you have created, the impact that you have had on others in a variety of contexts?

Thinking of everything that you do in the world as your “body of work” is a great way to not only assess your gifts, define your purpose and plan your next steps – but it is the most relevant way to position yourself in the work world in this age of self employment.

Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together is a useful book that I use in my workshops and highly recommend to everyone – especially those who are in a time of transition.

http://

Telling Your Story To a Spiritual Director

Telling your story matters.

YOUR story.

The ups and downs and moments that are significant to YOU. Like the times you felt a stirring in your heart and you aren’t sure why or if it even matters. You want to tell your story without being judged or given advice or diagnosed.

You just want to tell your story and see what unfolds: the memories, themes, strengths…

Who knows what gifts from your own life are awaiting your renewed attention, your discovery? 

20450799-hand-drawn-spiral-sun-cartoon-on-white-background

You want to see what unfolds from your story because you are a Seeker: someone who seeks meaning in why you are here, what you have been through and whatever you decide to do next. Going through the motions of life just doesn’t cut it for you. You want to really LIVE.

Spiritual Direction is an ancient practice of deep listening to another person’s sacred story.

I have a Spiritual Director and she asks about my life in a way that opens my heart to the meaning that is all around me. She does not direct me, she is simply present with me in a way that leaves me feeling a little more certain of who I am and what I want to do next.

I am being trained in Spiritual Direction through St. Catherine University. It’s an intense process that involves taking fascinating graduate level classes such as the Art of Discernment and Holistic Spirituality, going on silent retreats, studying the texts of both ancient and modern day mystics, and providing 100 hours of Spiritual Direction under supervision. The supervision process trains us to attend to our own issues and ego as they arise so that it truly is the sacred soul of our client that leads the way of our sessions.

If you are interested in arranging a (free) introductory Spiritual Direction session with me, please send an email to Carolyn@SpiritFullDirection.com

To find a different Spiritual Director, or learn more about more about the process, visit the website of Spiritual Directors International.

Connecting Our Kids To the Wonders Of the World

The world is much bigger than it seems on the internet. My first real glimpse into the vastness of place and possibility happened when I was small and trapped in the front seat of a pickup truck with my Mom, Dad and two German Shorthair dogs as we drove from Chicago to Florida.

I remember listlessly leaning my face against the window glass, staring at mile after mile of telephone wires strung across field after field. Boredom surpassed all known limits before exploding into a loop of sing songy nonsense rhymes and visions of an imagined life lived differently than anything I knew.

Then we were at the ocean and I was running right into the sensory tsunami of salty waves, fishy smells, and hissing white foam. My spirit burst with the contrasts of life, the vastness of the physical world and all that I might someday do and see.

Not long after I became a parent, I drove my newly adopted daughter from our Minneapolis home to my cousin’s house in Madison, Wisconsin. Twenty minutes into our trip, she saw the “Welcome To Wisconsin” sign and exclaimed “We’re here!”

“Yes, we’re in Wisconsin, but we have another 3 1/2 hours to Sheryl’s house,” I said cheerily.

“But you said she lived in Wisconsin and now we’re in Wisconsin.”

“We are now on the edge of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a big place. Sheryl lives in the middle of it.”

Blank stare, then “But you said we were going to Wisconsin.”

I put in our audio book and half listened while I thought about how to teach my daughter about our world.

World_In_Hands_02

From the beginning of our relationship, I established a rhythm of pointing out something cool every time we went outside. “Hear that? It’s a cardinal?” “Look at how pink the sky is!” “The snow is so pretty on the tree branches!”

After many weeks of this repetition, she began to look up from the fog of her grief and trauma and notice cool things on her own to point out to me. “That’s a turkey!”

(Now it is nine years later, and just last week she dragged me out in my pajamas to look at the full moon. I could not have been more proud.)

Our first Christmas together, I gave her a talking globe. She is proud of her memorization skills, and loved beating me in games of naming the countries and capitals. “Look how teeny Wisconsin is to the rest of the world!”

We began to take longer road trips together – with (almost) no screens and audio books that we heard together. So far, we have driven cross-country four times. K has taken a boat to see whales and pods of dolphins leaping around her. We have laughed outside in a sudden downpour near Niagara Falls, been lost in the north woods of U.P. Michigan and bored senseless on the highways of Indiana.

I think boredom is important. It gives us a glimpse into infinity, it makes us wonder, it helps us experience the size of our world and it creates a contrast with simple pleasures that we might otherwise not see.

When my daughter was little, there were many tear-filled nights when she could not sleep. Here is a bedtime story I told to soothe her:

“I remember the first time I went to the ocean–I was about seven or eight, I think. I stood in the water and looked out to where the sky touches the sea and I felt very, very small. Very small, but in a good way. Small in the sense that this big, beautiful world is so huge, that I will never run out of new things to see, new places to go, new adventures to have. I felt small and young with a whole big world and a whole lifetime ahead of me and knew then that the ocean would always be my favorite place to be.

And now I look out into the endless sea, and think about all of the whales and dolphins and multicolored fish and who knows what else that fills the oceans and how most of these creatures will never even be seen by human eyes. They exist because a Creator chose to fill the oceans with beautiful living things. And the whole world is filled with beautiful creatures, and trees, and flowers and people, too. We could never run out of places to explore, sights to discover or wonderful new people to meet. There is so much good in this world.”

Helping K fall asleep with a smile on her face felt better than running into the ocean that first time.

(Before you think “What a great mom!” read this disclaimer.)

Image courtesy of http://www.h3dwallpapers.com/world-in-hands-5758/