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Imagine

Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death.  And as I read commemorative pieces on the internet, I can’t help but think about how meaningful his song Imagine is right now.  Yes, we’re afraid, for ourselves and those we love.  This is the time of year we generally are feeling the love.  But that’s not the case for so many of us.  What seems to be emanating in the world is hate and suspicion.

I’m not advocating for an abandonment of prudence, but we can balance that with compassion.  There are terrorists that we cannot reason with.  But they are in the minority.  Throughout history there have been senseless killings in the name of some religious belief.  But those are distorted beliefs.  I hold on to the belief that we are more alike than we are different.  And in this time of fear and suspicion, we need to find our commonalities and an end to senseless violence and death.

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer

But [I hope] I’m not the only one

“Merry Christmas!”

“Light the candles and be blessed.
Get a wish and hope that it will be given.
Happy Hanukkah!”

“Habari gani”

“Umoja”

“Kujichagulia”

 

Source: Sky Bar, story by Linda McKenney (MY SWEET WORD Series)

My Calves Are Big

Recently a dear friend suggested that I delete the word “big” to describe my calves from an essay I’d written.    She said that I didn’t need to self-deprecate.  I deleted it, but that got me to thinking, “Wait a minute.  I was not intending to be self-deprecating.  I just wanted to describe my calves.”   They are bigger than some and smaller than others.  I will not need to ask Lloyd’s of London to insure them.  In addition to their size, they are scarred, laced with varicose veins and speckled with brown spots.

I was not using the word big in a good or bad sense.  I was simply using it to describe my calves, as compared to others’.  My granddaughter even commented that I have hefty calves and asked if I’d been working out.  She said that with a sense of amazement, not derogatively.

When I was a younger woman, I was embarrassed by my legs.  My calves were clearly larger than most of my friends.  After childbirth, the varicose veins surfaced.  I seldom went out in public in shorts, regardless of how hot it was.  If I wore a skirt or dress, I always wore stockings to camouflage my legs.  I’ve worked at getting to a place of loving, kindness and acceptance for my body.    Particularly at my age, I celebrate how my body serves me.  Those calves allow me to hike and swim.  They allow me to shop for hours with my daughters.  The support me when I pick up my great-grandchild.

Words like fat or big are only shaming when you believe that fat or big is shameful.   My boobs are large, my ass is flat, my skin is flabby and my calves are big.  Why not love all of me?  I do

I’ve discovered the best take-action. motivator  In my younger days, I used the “cleaning the oven” technique.  If I said to myself, “I really need to clean the oven,” (This was back in ancient times when we didn’t have self-cleaning ovens.)  I would do just about any other task to avoid putting my head in the oven.

But now, I have a much more exciting motivator.  Buy New Underwear!  This Spring I was once again faced with the daunting task of spring cleaning.  At this point, heck at any point, in my life, cleaning is not high on my desire-to-do-list.  But I do like our home to be clean.  Sooooo – I procrastinated and went shopping.

At the I-won’t-mention-the-name-of-the-store outlet, I was bedazzled by the underwear on display.  I chose a variety of colors and when I returned home, I realized that the first task was to clean out my underwear drawer to make room for the new items.  So out went the panties with stretched elastic, the bras that no longer fit on the third hook and some of the ‘mold me” undergarments that are supposed to make me ten pounds slimmer but only succeed in making me take twice as long to go to the bathroom.

I folded and arranged the new lingerie and looked at the drawer with bliss.  I could find everything.  It was all in neat stacks.  This moved me to the sock drawer, then to the closet and then to the rest of the bedroom.  Even under the bed!  I dusted, vacuumed, polished and organized.

That night you could feel how much cleaner the room was.  When I closed the blinds, there weren’t any particles floating in the air.  When I set my glassed on the nightstand, I didn’t create a tsunami of dust.  When I entered the walk-in closet, I could actually see the floor.

So that’s the secret my friends.  Want to get started on a project?  Buy new underwear!  Now for the rest of the house . . . .

There are plenty of reasons for developing a kind and generous spirit.  I think its foundation springs from the wish that other beings are well and a willingness to see the world from another’s point of view.  And anecdotal evidence has long maintained that by practicing kindness we can reduce our own pain and boost our well-being.

By sending genuine wishes of kindness to someone, we can open our hearts and perhaps increase feelings of self-kindness and quiet our inner critic.

As you journey through your day, there are simple actions you can take to strengthen your kindness and generosity muscle.

Engage with the people you interact with: the grocery store clerk, a receptionist or people on the street.  Listen when they talk.  Gently smile and silently wish them goodwill.  You might be surprised at the pleasant feeling you will reap.

Offer acts of kindness.   The other day I noticed a young boy rush over to open a door for someone carrying a large box.  He was beaming when he walked back to his dad.  Gestures such as that can activate a pay-it-forward climate of generosity in your little corner of the world.

And practice self-kindness.  You can do this at various times, throughout your day.  When you shower, notice the feeling of the water cascading down your body and take a moment to relish it.  Set an alarm on your phone to go off periodically throughout the day and when you hear it, take a breath or two and send yourself thoughts of kindness.  “May I be happy and safe.”   “May I live with ease.”  “May I be healthy.”

Extending kindness to oneself and to others is a simple but powerful expression of mindfulness that can make a significant difference in your life.

It’s the second week of January, and are you are still gung-ho about your resolutions? Or maybe you didn’t make any, so you are avoiding all those people who did and go on and on about how wonderful they are. And you resist saying, “I saw you eat that candy bar.”

The number one New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Most of the people who make that vow abandon it by Valentine’s Day.

There are a variety of reasons why that happens:

  • Goal is too lofty – “I’m going to lose fifty pounds by March”
  • Goal isn’t maintainable – “I will eat only lettuce and drink only water for one month.”
  • Goal is constricting – “The only way to lose weight is to never eat any of the foods I love.”

There is plenty of information out there to guide you in being successful at sticking to your resolutions. And my role as a Coach would be very beneficial in that regard. But that’s not the purpose here. I want to give you some advice on what to do when you fall off the wagon, eat that brownie while hiding in the bathroom, or buy a gym membership, all the right clothes for exercise, and never use it.

If any of those or similar situations happen to you, give yourself some compassion. Practice Self-Kindness.  If your inner voice continually criticizes and berates you for making a mistake or not reaching your goal, you often end up in a negative cycle of self-sabotage.   You “throw out the baby with the bathwater” and resolve that next year will be different. Or make your mantra, “You fail at everything you try so why bother!”

If you eliminate harsh self-criticism and treat yourself as you would a good friend, you’ll come out a winner. We are usually kind to those we love when they mess up. We reassure them with respect and support and remind them that they are human. We encourage them to pick themselves up and try again. We counsel them. Yet we often deny ourselves this same compassion.

So when you find yourself in this place of self-degradation, take a self-compassion break. Here’s how:

Sit comfortably and place your hands on your heart

Breathe deeply in and out

Then speak these words or similar words in a warm and caring tone, out loud or silently. (If you are in the restroom at work, you may want to say them silently.)

This is a small detour from my goal

I will be kind to myself

I will give myself the compassion I need.

Repeat the words several times until you feel a sense of warmth and compassion emanating from you for you.

From this place, you can reevaluate your goal, rather than completely abandon it. Here are some things to think about.

Was it difficult to achieve? By breaking it down into smaller bites, it’s not as daunting.   Change one thing at a time. Use a smaller plate. Eat more slowly to recognize when you are full. Replace one unhealthy food you eat regularly with a healthy one.

Is there another variation easier to accomplish? Losing weight isn’t just about restricting what you eat. Perhaps starting to move more is a better start for you.

Is it your goal, or someone else’s?  Everywhere we turn we hear that we need to eat healthier and maintain a slim body. Any goal is more challenging if you are doing it for someone else. Your best chance of success is doing it for you. It may still benefit someone else, but you decide that you want to do this because you deserve: to be healthy, to have more money in the bank, to be happy.

Do you need additional support to achieve it? Make sure your support system includes people who will call you on your excuses. Remind you of all the reasons why you wanted to do this in the first place and all the benefit you will reap.

“I get by with a little help from a friend.”  Treat yourself as you would your best friend.

Reprogramming my brain so that food is something I enjoy without guilt or remorse started with a plan for what, where and how I eat. I have always been a planner for the important things in life. I have a spending plan, so why not an eating plan? Just as I don’t wish to be careless with my money, I don’t wish to be careless with my eating.

My plan requires discipline. I believe that discipline can be as strong as it can be flexible. I don’t think of it as punishment or restraint. I think of it as a creative way to accomplish my objectives. And I feel that each discipline may be different, but without discipline in food we will never be healthy for long.

My discipline includes loving kindness, understanding and compassion when I stray from it. It includes deep looking to understand why I eat out of emotion rather than hunger. It includes food rules.

Rules do not take the fun out of eating. They put the fun back in. I had to ask myself if I was really enjoying food. I ate quickly without tasting more than the first bite. I automatically ate whatever was in front of me, whether or not it was something I really wanted. I ate too much sometimes, leaving me uncomfortable and guilty. I chose to replace unconscious eating with conscious rules.

My eating rules include three E’s:
Eat when I am hungry
Eat mindfully
Eat healthy

Before I start to eat, I ask myself why I am going to eat. Am I truly hungry? Am I using food to feel better? Is there something in front of me that I really like?

If I am truly hungry, I eat. If I am using food to feel better, I find something else that will make me feel better. If there is something in front of me that I really like and I’m not hungry, I might take a bite or set it aside until I am hungry. If I’m not at home, I reassure myself that this will not be the last time there is a piece of carrot cake in front of me.

By giving myself permission to do what I feel is best for me in the moment, because it’s a conscious decision, I eliminate guilt and any chance of me thinking I’ve been “bad.”

By eating mindfully, I really enjoy the taste and texture of food. I choose food that I really enjoy. I eat more slowly, by putting my fork down between bites. I stop when I feel full, even if there is food left on my plate. I know this will bother my mother if she reads this:)

My rule to eat healthy is a result of loving myself enough to feel I deserve it. Just as I would take good care of anyone I love, I choose to take good care of me. This is how I’ve reduced the power ice cream had over me. Gradually I’ve reprogramed my brain so that ice cream now resides in the same category as any other food. I eat it consciously, slowly and only when it really appeals to me in the moment.

Thanksgiving is a couple of days away. I will apply all my rules I will eat mindfully. I will enjoy the food. I will balance between food that is healthy and food that is less so. I will celebrate abundance.  I will not surrender to it.

Walking down the hallway to the pool at the YMCA, I realize I locked the key for my lock in the locker. This isn’t the first time I’ve created a lock problem for myself. Another time, I forgot the lock combination, which is why I now use a lock that opens with a key.

I’ve locked myself out of my car a few times (once, it was still running), out of my apartment (the landlord had to break in), and numerous accounts that need a password.

And while all of those situations caused me stress, what’s been most debilitating is locking myself out of fully enjoying food. It’s a self-imposed lock created as a result of our culture, the type of food I eat and not eating mindfully. I have and still do sometimes – overeat.

Growing up we didn’t have a lot of sweets. My parents didn’t allow us to eat much candy or drink soda. My mother cooked all our meals from scratch. It wasn’t until adulthood when processed foods, with that wonderful combination of sugar, fat and salt were mainstreamed, that I started to gain weight. I still remember the excitement of TV dinners! What I didn’t know, was that the processed food I ate and served to my family, was training my body and mind to want to eat more. I started mindlessly overeating.

By overeating, I mean eating all the time whether or not I am hungry and eating large quantities of food no matter how bad it might be for me. I’ve joked about how ice cream seems to call to me from the freezer. If I resist the temptation to eat it, I would think about it and think about it, until I finally give in and “to be good,” take a large spoonful of it and eat it standing in the kitchen. And then another and another. And tell myself, at least I didn’t eat a whole bowl!! This wasn’t because I am weak or lack will-power.

It’s because that ice cream triggers the reward system of my brain, stimulating it to want more and more. Eating foods that are a combination of sugar and fat, make food so powerful that it is hard to resist. Our brains become hardwired and tell us to eat as much of this stuff as we can get. Does that mean I am doomed to a life of overeating and feeling like food is the enemy? No, no, no.

Stayed tuned for part two. I will tell you how I began and am still working on reprogramming my brain so that food is now something I can enjoy without guilt or remorse. And the ice cream no longer beckons.

Can you remove the mask you wear?

And reveal yourself to those who care?

Many of us use a “mask” to hide our true persona. We fear that we won’t be liked or accepted, so we journey through life hiding our true selves. It eats away at our spirit. We smile when we are unhappy. We don’t speak up when we disagree. We don’t ask for what we need. All to fit in. And sometimes we don’t even know what we are fitting in to.

In my Brave Heart talk, I tell my audience to brand themselves. I’m not talking about the painful brand used to identify livestock. I’m talking about a marketing brand. How do you really want others to perceive you? Corporations do it!  You can too.

Here’s what I discovered when I dropped my mask. I attract people of like minds. I discovered my strengths and people appreciate them. I’m contributing in my own unique way. It feels amazing!

I’ve branded myself an empathic, humorous, clever and sometimes crazy woman.  If you need someone like that in your life, I’m your Life Coach

Sometimes fear is not at an awareness level. It’s like those dust mites floating in the air. We don’t notice they are there until the light exposes them. You’re put in an unexpected position that makes you tremble, shake and panic: an intruder, a disaster or a loss. You manage to survive, and sometimes, looking back, you don’t even know how.

But there are also those fears that we are well aware of, so we avoid those situations: rock climbing, flying or public speaking. That fear can define us and we let it.

How we deal with fear can be transformational. Because it’s not what’s happening to you or what you’re experiencing that matters. It’s how you relate to it. In fearful situations, if you shift your focus to what you do have control over, you can reduce fear’s influence.

This is how I diminished fear’s impact in one area of my life – public speaking.

Shift perspective

For years I let my fear of public speaking influence and shape many of my actions and decisions.  Early on, I had decided that public speaking was not something that was possible – at least not for me.  So, the first step was to simply entertain the idea that it might be possible. To consider, ‘What if?’

By spending some time entertaining possibility, instead of being completely opposed to the idea, I could expand rather than contract. I could imagine “worst case scenarios” and better prepare and accept those “what ifs.”

Acknowledge fear

I want to grow and evolve and the fear of making a mistake or looking like a fool in front of people had such control over my life, it was standing in the way of my evolution. So I allowed it to show up every time I just thought about speaking to a group. I accepted it and became the observer. Acceptance and not judging fear as good or bad reduced its power.

Slowly the desire to expand and grow became more powerful than my usual response of avoidance. When faced with the choice to be conquered by fear, or to keep walking, fear can become a comrade of sorts. Almost like a friend who keeps me on my toes.

Get Help

This is an important part of the process. For every public speaker, there is a fan club behind the scenes. I had the help of fellow Toastmasters and actively enlisted friends and family members; people who were open to listening to my message, who gave me feedback and most importantly – who believed in, and celebrated me. They are all there with me, every time I speak.

Own your message

Believing in and committing to my message wholeheartedly, significantly increased my bravery. And accepting that there is no guarantee that I will not make a mistake or say something foolish because I am, after all, imperfect in a perfect way.

Knowing, deep in my bones that my message is an important one….that it has the power to inspire, motivate and induce positive change – if only in one other person – that’s where I tapped into a whole new source of power.

And may it be so for you!

BERKSHIRE ON STAGE

From the Berkshires to Broadway and Beyond

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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