Empowerment

What can I learn from this moment in time?

Since August 6, 2017, we have had a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse, and currently Mercury is in retrograde. What I know now following the solar eclipse on August 21 is that behind the shadow of life, one can discover the light or uncover the answer to a problem.

Santa Barbara was engulfed in a heavy cloud cover the morning of the solar eclipse. I was not optimistic that I’d see the eclipse which I knew would be observable at approximately 10:15 am local time. Nonetheless I grabbed a pair of the safety glasses as I left my dentist’s office around 10:00 am. Something nudged me to do so – a “whisper of wisdom” no doubt.

As I approached a local restaurant to have breakfast, I saw a tiny bit of the sun peeking through the clouds. By the time I parked my car, there was a slight hint of blue sky and more sunlight. I grabbed the safety glasses from my purse and looked at the sun. And there to my amazement was the dark moon sitting on top of the brilliant bright sun. I was ecstatic and texted my sister and niece who were looking together at the eclipse in Tucson. We shared that blessed moment together. I looked again and was amazed at the majestic sight of this cosmological event. I was bearing witness at the same time with millions of others across the world. In this experience, there was a sense of being connected with something bigger than my one small life. I looked around me and saw two men looking from the doorway of the restaurant. I motioned for them to come look and to use my glasses. They were thrilled and advanced towards me with eagerness. In that moment we were in harmony with one another and the cosmos. It was a blessing and a miracle all rolled up into an opportunity to be connected under the heavens.

I recognized that more times than not, people long to be connected. In that one brief space in time, I was able to share an incredible celestial moment with two fellow human beings here in Santa Barbara, as well as with my sister and niece in Tucson. I was humbled by how simple it was to do. I will never forget that moment nor the happiness I felt in sharing it with others. Life is a mystery and for that I am grateful.

Unexpected Transitions: When Life Throws Us a Curve Ball

Happy Birthday Whispers of Wisdom®. Today is your third anniversary of being launched! Wow… the time has gone quickly. When I wrote my first post in 2014, I was approaching the third anniversary of Roy’s death and thought I had “come through the grief” – which in a certain way I had. However, adding on another three years has taught me that this journey never truly ends. When we lose our life partner, we are faced with a choice: Stay paralyzed by the grief or become the author of our new life, which is what I chose to do. In my marriage, I had a different relationship with myself. My late husband and I shared responsibilities for one another – we had each other’s backs, we supported each other’s dreams, and we immersed ourselves in attaining our dreams. I was not 100% responsible for all the tasks of daily life – I could talk things over with Roy and get a great second opinion. We shared the joys and sorrows of life – we watched the world events and discussed them. We faced the world with two hearts, four eyes, and an incredible bond of loyalty to one another.

What do I know now that I didn’t know three years ago? Being single at 64 years of age is hard, often lonely, and yet as I become more and more accustomed to the aloneness, I find freedom. I have recognized that overcoming this horrible trauma and pain has led me to a new awareness of freedom. There is not much else that can stop me now that I have “digested” the reality of Roy’s death. In the aftermath of that life changing event, I was forced to fight for my life, to create new dreams, and in the process have cultivated a new sense of myself that unfolds regularly. I have become more compassionate, more understanding, I speak out against injustice, and support those who are suffering. I don’t tolerate a great deal of BS yet I am learning to widen the aperture of accepting others’ mishigas. I have created a very powerful relationship with myself and I have grown to like my company.

During the past three years, I have enjoyed dating some wonderful men. Each of them has been a valuable contribution to my life. Not too surprisingly, as I got “close” to them, I also pulled back – maintaining a comfortable distance and protecting myself from getting too close and being too vulnerable. The fear of grief has kept me from following the call of love for another man – instead I have been pulled towards self-love. Without knowing, loving and caring for myself in the aftermath of what was traumatic for me, how can I truly let someone get close to me – who is the “me” that is being experienced by others? And now I recognize that this has been the work of the past three years – grappling with becoming the author of my life without the additional responsibility of creating a serious connection with a man.

So as 2017 meanders along, I continue to stay busy with teaching, being of service, meeting men, spending time with my friends, and hanging out with myself and my cats. When I first began grief therapy soon after Roy’s death, I told my grief counselor that it would take seven years for me to heal. I will enter the seventh year in July 2017. I believe this is the year that I may meet someone. I realize that to hold back from loving and being loved because of the reality of grief would be similar to preventing a child from learning to walk because of the risk of falling. We do fall and we do get up again. That is my hope! I’ll keep you posted.

Wonder

crow planetIn her book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt defines wonder as “an attitude of mind and heart, a graced completion of a circle between observer and observed. Wonder is not a given; it is contingent on the habit of being that allows it to arise”. I have written about wonder ever since attending a Landmark workshop in Quebec last summer. I have attempted to create a practice of wonder for the past several months. Ms. Haupt’s definition brings me to a new level of awareness of a “wonder practice”.

There is something about looking out at the ocean from my terrace that encourages a practice of wonder and a way of being is cultivated that is open to wonder. The experience of being with the ocean lends itself to wondrous inquiry. Gazing at the horizon, I am often freed from the mundane thoughts that shape my day in the form of to do lists. Instead I drift and float with the movement of the waves. My listening is narrowed to the sounds of the rhythm of the waves as they move in and out from the shore. My senses are engaged and I am present to my breath and to the breathing of the universe. My mind is quieted and my imagination is freed from the cage of rational thinking. There are no enemies in this wondrous realm – I am just being with the cumulative forces of life.

These moments of wonder allow me respite from the daily wear and tear of my life: burdensome thoughts that create fearful internal states. The thoughts sound like: will I get cancer, will I have enough money to live on until I die, will I meet another wonderful man with whom I can co-create a lasting loving relationship, will we as a species find a way to honor diversity and do no harm to others, who will win the elections in November, and what will happen to our environment. In a practice of wonder, there is a freeing up, a liberation within intrapsychic spaces which brings forth creativity, energy, and possibilities. No longer are the questions fear driven, instead they are cast in lightness and generativity: the quality of the wondering shifts to themes such as what contribution will I make in my remaining days, who can I share my wisdom with today, what if I just surrender to a sense of faith that I will form a lasting relationship with a wonderful man and that he will arrive when he arrives, in what ways am I here on this planet to be of service, how can I help in the ways that I can, I wonder what can I do today to bring beauty and grace to those I meet.

I hope to leave you with a sense of wonder in your own lives. Is it possible that we can cultivate a habit of wonder at the drop of a hat – not only when alone with the ocean, but also when in the middle of a crowded grocery store when pandemonium engulfs us. This is I think at the heart of Haupt’s query into wonder as an attitude of mind and heart working together. My motto for this week is “think less, wonder more!”

 

What I know now

I have been asked by folks when I was going to start blogging again. Curiosity catThe last post was in September 2015 following a fantastic trip to Quebec with Landmark Education. The focus of that weeklong course was about wondering more and knowing/being certain less. I have been cultivating the practice of wonder for several months. So what do I know now? I have come to recognize that there is a creative energy that accompanies wonder resulting in a rise in imagination and a rolling out of unforeseen possibilities. Following that course in Canada, I went to another Landmark course for two weeks in Hawaii on the island of Kauai. That course was focused on an inquiry into the creation of freedom – like what is freedom, what keeps us from being free. I began this year with the awareness that freedom for me was going to entail saying NO to many of the projects I have been involved with for the past year. Freedom was about having the time to reflect, wonder, and imagine where my life is heading. I was acutely aware of how much time I was spending on projects that no longer felt fulfilling. By saying no, I have been able to start saying yes to new projects, having time to myself without the hustle and bustle of getting to appointments, sitting through meetings, and taking notes.

We are now entering the sixth month of 2016 and many hours have been freed up since my Just Say No campaign began. It has been a bit overwhelming to savor my solitude – to be at one with my thoughts and thanks-no-thanksideas. I learned during the course in Hawaii that freedom is dependent upon a willingness to look at life as it is – to be in wonder about the nature of life, of time, and our relationships to others. The late social psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote in his 1941 bestselling book Escape from Freedom that human beings look for ways to avoid or escape their existential freedoms. The sense of freedom he writes about is due to the fight for individualism and self-determination that began in Western culture during the Renaissance. This sense of freedom often leaves us feeling untethered, afraid, isolated, and can lead to destruction. Some of the ways we “escape” or avoid freedom is by being involved in destructive relationships, substance abuse, and being overcommitted to work, projects, and volunteering. In other words we avoid being alone with our thoughts, with ourselves by being overextended with our time. Fromm noted that the escaping of freedom tends to encourage a climate of authoritarianism. In essence we become non-thinking, non-wondering, and not being aware and the tendency towards mass or group think rises in tandem with the climate of authoritarianism. The “group think” can take over as we saw in Nazi Germany and the rise of fascism in Europe and as we can witness currently in the polarization of our political parties in America. I am wondering about so many things right now. My next few posts will be devoted to wonder, freedom, and the nuanced relationship between being an individual and a community member.

Today’s food for thought

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“I am love, I am kindness, I am discerning, I am healthy,
and I am a commitment to women’s evolving well-being and equality.” – Kathleen Barry, PhD

From triggers to possibilities

Girl-and-butterfly
I recently returned from an enlightening trip to Quebec. I was there to participate in an eight day Landmark vacation course. Part of our time was spent in a coursework setting where we inquired into what triggers us in life. We also enjoyed lots of free time to walk around the city, meet in groups and socialize, go to great restaurants, eat sumptuous meals, drink delectable wines, and converse about what we were learning. During the coursework portion, I learned that a trigger is something that causes an automatic reaction and an almost certain and familiar response. For example, I do not like when someone attempts to put a muzzle on me when I am talking. I get very angry. When I was a young woman, I typically silenced myself while feeling incensed at the audacity of being shushed. Once I became a therapist, I learned to utilize therapeutic techniques which allowed me use my voice and feel like I had the upper hand. Neither approach is very satisfying in a social situation.

We investigated three possible ways of responding to the triggers: all is well, wonder, and service. We explored the practice of interrupting the internal conversation and disempowering behavior by trying one of the these alternative responses. I had the opportunity to practice in vivo when one of the participants expressed that what I was sharing while we were sitting in a social setting was causing her to feel embarrassed, that I was sharing “too much information” and told me to stop. I heard what she said, noticed the rage well up, and rather than shutting down, I stated that I was simply sharing something about my dating life since being widowed. I wondered what might be getting triggered in her by my comments and asked her as such. She stopped and stated “that’s a good question”. I interrupted my automatic response of shutting down, making her wrong, or becoming the therapist. Instead, I used the coursework material, went into wonder, and most importantly stopped the creation of an inner story about her being a domineering and narcissistic woman who obviously didn’t realize who I am. I let it go, recognized that “all is well”, and hoped that our interaction was of service to her as it was to me.

I have felt different since returning from Quebec. While away I learned new ways of responding to life which is allowing me to be with people differently. I am aware of a new way of being in life unfolding each day. I returned with an inner sense of calmness – a knowing about where I am heading. It is as though aspects of my past have unraveled and the path of where I am heading in my life is being revealed more clearly. I am in the last third of my life. I am wondering how much more time I want to spend reacting to circumstances rather than creating new opportunities for myself and others.

The late archetypal psychologist and preeminent scholar James Hillman spoke of soul, character, and destiny in his 1992 book, The Soul’s Code. Hillman proposed that one’s calling in life is inherent. The mission throughout the course of one’s life is to realize the imperatives of the call and to ultimately answer the call. I have known for many years that the call of my life is to stand up to injustice. I am particularly called to educate and empower women to stand up for themselves and one another and to transform the injustices they face. In my view of the world, when women have access to a fair and equitable playing field, then men also win. First women need to understand the injustices they face. Then they need to learn how to respond proactively, both individually and collectively, to the socio-political-cultural injustices that limit them. Ultimately, the injustices must be transformed and the greater good served. Stay tuned: lots of exciting irons are in the fire.

Shalom and blessings on your heads,

Kathleen

Caution: slippery slope ahead

Tstickmabnhe thoughts that the mind produces can be a slippery slope. Since my last blog post about ghosting in relationships, I have received valuable feedback from so many readers, colleagues, and friends. Most have had similar experiences and have asked me for an update. It has been over five weeks since I last heard from him. Two weeks ago I mailed his belongings to him and asked that he return things to me and I have yet to hear anything back. From time to time I attempt to analyze, and thus perhaps understand, how someone could make this kind of choice. My 21st century mind has been trained to analyze and look for clues. Our minds eventually create a scenario that says something must be deficient in us because why else could this, that or the other happen? It must be about US. Here is the slippery slope: if the shortcoming or deficiency resides in us, then there is an illusion that we can do something about it, and thus possibly change the current state of affairs. In other words, we are often deluded into believing that we are omnipotent and everything is under our control.

The truth of the matter is we have no control over what others do. We have no control over what will happen in a given day. However, we do have control over how we choose to respond to the situations that we confront in our lives. We have the choice to build the mental muscle that can help us challenge these learn-to-surfdelusions of control. So yes, we can choose to be okay with all the feelings that we experience as human beings. We can also avail ourselves of new possibilities and create opportunities for fun and growth. We can also choose to remember all the great contributions that individuals bring to our lives, even when they make us angry and sad. In other words, the mind can do more than one thing at a time. We can get closure with ourselves and perhaps not ever know what caused people to act the way that they do.

lets-make-a-deal

The late writer Helen Keller stated that when one door of happiness closes, another will open; but we frequently look at the closed door for so long we do not see the ones that are opening around us. Getting through sadness does involve spending time looking at closed doors. When we are ready to open the new doors, we are free to do so. I am curious about many doors that are appearing on my path and wonder what lies behind them. I am reminded of the old television show “Let’s Make A Deal” where contestants were able to choose one of three doors. They were told that behind one of the doors there was a fabulous prize, like an all-expense trip for two to Paris. The task was to guess behind which door that wonderful prize might be awaiting them. In life there are typically more than three doors that we need to choose among when we are making decisions and changes. We are often asked to take risks with very little to inform our decisions. We often take a chance on what may or may not be a good thing for us in the end. It’s having the confidence and wherewithal to know that we will handle whatever comes our way.

Life is risky. Getting up in the morning is risky. Yet I truly believe that there can be enough greatness in a given day that makes those risks worth the effort. My late husband found great solace in a quote by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire:

“Come to the edge,” he said.holding back the waves
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t. We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.

 

I will continue to go to the edge despite the risks and uncertainties. I will jump and fully experience life. What the heck – there might be a really great something awaiting me over that edge!

Peace,

Kathleen

Life is an inside job: What is it we need from ourselves to be successful in a relationship?

Facts, nothing but the facts ma’am. This is what has happened: I was suddenly widowed 4 years ago after 23 years in a wonderful marriage. I went through a very severe depression for 2 years. I gained 40 lbs. I began to come out of the fog about 2 years ago. I started working out and lost 25 of those pounds. I started online dating a year and a half ago at the age of 61. I have been dating a nice man for the past six months. I met him through a friend. It has been a lovely, fun, and overall delightful experience. I fell in love with him. https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--5Wuz4_0l--/dstp0ntdwdz8lurndrhy.gifThe relationship began to unravel several weeks ago. We were dialoguing about the relationship. About 3 weeks ago, I detected he was pulling away subtlety. This felt painful to me and I suggested that we begin the process of saying goodbye. I have not heard one word from him since, despite my numerous attempts to reach out to him. I have felt hurt, angry, frustrated, confused, incredulous, and just plain disgusted. Like, “Really? At this stage of life people act like teenagers?” Duh … They do! Fortunately the NY Times recently published an article “Ghosting: the ultimate silent treatment” that speaks to this strange silence. Bottom line: when a relationship turns, silence says everything.

esherSo now what? First of all, I realize that it is not my responsibility to try to figure out what he is thinking. That is his job. Instead, I need to look within and get clear about what I truly need at this stage of life. The ideas and questions I am beginning to explore are:

1. What am I learning about me from the different types of men I have met?

2. What do I need to do to make myself happy?

3. What do I want in future relationships?

4. My destination point is ultimately to arrive at the belief that I am full and complete without a man in my life.

5. I am waiting to arrive at this place and will only find it within myself. Life is an inside job.

6. Once I know what I need and who I am NOW, then I can be clear in my expectations of myself AND others.

7. I believe the right person will show up rather unexpectedly when I am feeling whole and complete and standing on my own two feet.

So I ask you, dear readers, to consider: What is the inside job you are currently exploring in your life?

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy our freedoms. Happy 4th of July!

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When Things Don’t Go The Way We Expect Them To: Breakdowns

Bundle of EmotionsWe’ve each experienced those times when our plans just fall flat. Maybe you wanted to lose 5 lbs within a month and gained 2 instead. Or perhaps you envisioned finishing a work project and then got hit with the flu and you missed your deadline. It may be a situation where you have been disappointed by a partner or spouse and ended up feeling rejected and hurt. These breakdowns in life are common and often debilitating because we lose our perspective and often find ourselves spinning our wheels in response. I have learned two major lessons about breakdowns: 1) they usually get resolved so we don’t always need to sweat the small stuff and 2) we can reach out for help as required, because two heads are better than one. I have discovered in my four years as a widow that moving from breakdown to breakthrough is an inside job. What do I mean by this? Let me give you a personal example. I dread spending Sunday’s alone. There is a personal history involved with this – Both my husband and father died suddenly on a Sunday. When dread overwhelms me I feel vulnerable, scared, and incapable of comforting myself. The ways I repress the dread revolve around food and money. I mask it by overspending, overeating, and yes drinking too much at times. So I am learning now, 4 years into the journey as a single woman, to reach into a tool box of inner resources. A few days before Easter, I did not have definitive plans. I dreaded the thought of being alone and not included and yet I did not take action to create plans. I recognized that I was playing a familiar game of waiting for a particular kind of invitation, predicting that I wouldn’t receive it, and then I would end up being alone and not included. No big surprise: being alone is a large part of being single. One of the inner resources I pulled from my tool box was recognizing the familiar pattern, reaching out to my good friends, and making plans that ended up being fun. I did not overspend or overeat, bit I did indulge in too much champagne. Hey I am not shooting for perfection but for those whispers of wisdom that are there for me if I listen closely, feel deeply, and think clearly about what is happening in my inner world.

ms crankyPart of the journey of life requires developing a strong mental muscle that allows us to step back from a situation, talking to ourselves in a strong and loving way about what is happening, and to ultimately not react from a young and impulsive state of mind. We have seen little kids screaming, crying, and just a bundle of emotions – they have not developed the mental muscle I am referring to in this post. Here’s the not so good news: we adults still react from a very young part of our minds when confronted by challenging situations. Hence the high rates of impulsive drinking, eating, and buying behaviors we observe In ourselves and our friends.

My prescription for developing mental muscle in order to have a breakthrough: Stop, take a deep breath, calm down, evaluate what is occurring, identify the not so positive, yet familiar inner story we are telling ourselves, think things over before responding, and then file this information for future reference. In my case, I will plan to have people over to my place when the next holiday arrives. People love my place on the ocean! Cheers!

 

keep-calm-sunday

“Life Is A Balancing Act”

Always-to-your-bestOk I will admit it – I often enjoy working with alternative tools for self-awareness, development, and growth – like Tarot Cards, spiritual intuitive readings, and astrological chartings. One of my favorite tools is a deck of cards by New York Times best-selling author Don Miguel Ruiz, which is based on his best selling book The Four Agreements. The cards offer meditations on each of Ruiz’s four agreements which are: 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3) Don’t make assumptions; and 4) Always do your best. I was reflecting on the focus of today’s post and decided to pull a card for guidance. I pulled Always Do Your Best and the meditation states: “you are alive, so take your life and enjoy it. You were born with the right to be happy, to love, and to share your love. Just to be – to take a risk and enjoy your life – is all that matters”.

In the wake of grief, I have worked diligently at becoming reacquainted with happiness, to enjoy life, and to feel alive. I have done my best to be where I am today – living fully, doing the inner work required of someone in grief, and taking a chance on life again. Today’s card made me think that “just to be” takes practice and awareness. I equate “to be” with being right here in the moment – in the present. I have learned through my many years of involvement with Landmark Education (www.landmarkworldwide.com) that I frequently live in the past, which I then tend to drag into the future. I have learned that living from this vantage point pretty much guarantees a future that looks like my past. I don’t know about you, but there are many aspects of my past that I don’t care to repeat … EVER. I prefer to see the future as a blank slate filled with a bunch of NOTHING – and from this space of NOTHING – anything and everything is possible. But I get ahead of myself … first I need to be here now – in the moment.

The False Mirror - R. MagritteThe ability to be in the moment takes practice and a commitment to this practice. I believe being in the now is dependent upon the creation of an anchoring phrase – a phrase that we come back to when we are flooded with feelings that are laced with anxiety and fear. My anchoring phrase is “I am committed to living an empowered life and empowering those whose lives I touch”. I feel fully alive when I support others to live an empowered life – a life that provides them with opportunities to be of service to our poor old world, to fall in love, to laugh, or to be in awe of the mystery of life. I feel alive when I learn, live, love, and laugh. Yes there are significant problems in the world. I am not living in a bubble of ignorance. However, I cannot let those problems drag me down into a space of feeling insignificant, powerless, and disempowered.

Author and Executive Coach Eric Allenbaugh notes that “every choice moves us closer to or farther away from something. Ask yourself: Where are your choices taking you? What do your behaviors demonstrate that you are saying yes or no to in life?” My commitment to the world and myself is that my choices are in alignment with my anchoring phrase. I ask myself “Is this choice going to take me closer to living an empowered life or return me to living in toxicthe “sewage” of life? Sometimes I can get back into alignment rather quickly and avoid the sewage – i.e., numbing out or being in the grip of negative and disempowered thinking. Other times I muck about in the sewage for quite a long time and stop keeping my word to others and myself. In the sewage, I am reacting to something I don’t want to confront and often act cavalier and rebellious. No doubt there is wisdom to be gained in the sewage … primarily “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE! THIS IS TOXIC!!”

Where are your choices taking you in your life? A word of caution: if you find yourself heading to a place that has a bad smell and you feel disempowered, you may be stepping into the sewage. When I finally wake up to the bad smell and feelings, I follow a 6 step practice that brings me back to the now: 1) I stop, 2) I breathe, 3) I look around, 4) I reflect and become curious with what I am feeling, what my body is sensing, and what is my mood, 5) I remember and repeat my anchoring phrase, and 6) I decide if I need to take action.

amazonSometimes this practice is second nature. Oftentimes I may find myself logging onto Amazon to see what I can buy or I head to the refrigerator to find something to eat in order to numb out – and there I am in the sewage! I, like you, am a work in progress. Cheers – we are on the right path. My advice: Be it our right foot or our left, let’s watch out where we step!

Namaste,

Kathleen