School of Hard Knocks Or Self-Help Guides?

blog pic1-1I had a conversation with an old friend recently, a man I had worked with years ago. Let’s call him Ed, because, well, that’s his name. We were catching up on the phone and I was filling him in on my book, Tao Flashes, and some of the spiritual and inspirational work I am reading and also creating myself.

I invited him to check out my web site and was surprised when he declined. In his typical blunt straight-forward fashion, he told me he didn’t believe in self help and motivational work. He said he thinks that we all need to figure it out ourselves, and shared his belief that learning comes from living.

I argued with him. But not much. Because somehow, in spite of myself, in spite of the countless hours I have devoted to spiritual and inspirational reading and writing, I heard an echo of truth in his words.

And it got me to thinking. What if we’re both right?

I agree, learning comes from living. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than having your arse handed to you now and again to get clear on your values. LIFE is a great teacher because she’s going to spank you good at some point and make you run home to Moma. And if we’re good students, we’ll grow stronger by battling the weaknesses LIFE introduces us to within ourselves, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll figure out how to turn hay into gold.

Everything we say yes or no to helps to define us, for better or worse, and we only learn as we go, or as my friend would say, learn as we live. Maybe it is in the falling down, and then getting up, that we learn to trust ourselves or at the very least, avoid the things that make us slip.

But what if we used our life stories to guide or inspire others, what if we used our experiences to make someone else’s journey just a little easier? What if we used our hurts, our hard-earned wisdom, our healing, to help others?

I for one am happy to have others, especially spiritual teachers and motivational writers, illuminate the darkness with words, light, roadmaps, and other tools to make my life’s journey a bit easier.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the hard-knocks lessons that came a knock’in on my front door….those that rattled the windows and shook my foundation, too. After all, they helped to shape and inspire me.

But I am especially grateful that during dark times, my spirit led me to teachers who offered healing balms of all sorts. From many, I learned forgiveness of self and others. I learned meditation and tools to strengthen my intuition and psyche. I learned ancient philosophies like Taoism and healing modalities of all kinds.

And in being inspired by others, I developed the confidence to share my stories and my guidance to help others.

I learned by living and by doing, like my friend Ed said. But without a doubt, my journey has been made richer, lighter and infinitely more valuable, with the guidance of others.

Experience is a teacher. But how we master those lessons, how we integrate them into our being so we don’t keep repeating them, is the hardest part of our journey, in my book. And for that, I am grateful to have teachers with tools to clear a path for me. Maybe even leave behind a few road markers.  Because I’d be lost without them.

What about you? Do you believe in the school of hard knocks, or do you appreciate motivational work and self-help tools and books?

If you’re interested in thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book, Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

A Muse On A Walkabout

blog pic1-1My muse shows up when he damn well pleases, and lately, he has been playing hide-n’ go seek with me. To tell you the truth, I think he’s hiding in my closet right now, under a pile of mismatched socks and an unfortunate pair of BCBG leather studded boots.

(For clarification purposes, I am referring to my muse as a “he” because he has a distinctive male energy about him. Don’t ask.)

If I took my muse’s absence personal, I would be deafened by ugly voices of doubt, the kind that given a chance, would take up residence on my metaphoric front porch and kick in the door. But I know better.

My muse is the yang to my yin, and he doesn’t like to punch a clock. Sometimes, I can entice him with licorce sticks and Captain Crunch. But he is fickle, and like most muses, appears on a whim.

But the joke is on him because my Capricorn rising sign means I’m disciplined and not afraid of hard work. I can wait him out. Sometimes I’ll get a head start on his arrival–like now–and begin playing with words to see if I can make him jealous. It doesn’t always work.

I once heard  Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert give a TED talk on creative muses. In her speech she spoke of how ancient Greeks readily believed that muses were entities that provided creative help to artists/writers.  Their concept of muses seemed somewhat matter-of-fact: successful artists owed their good work and glory to their talent–and to their muses. The opposite was also true. If the work was panned by critics, everyone knew the artist and muse were equally responsible.

It wasn’t personal.

Gilbert talked about her own work being inspired by her mule-like work ethic and the help of her muse. Her pride came from knowing that even if her muse didn’t show up, she was doing her part…showing up.

Sometimes, showing up is the best we can do. Whether it’s writing a blog, paying our bills, or finishing a less than inspired project at work. Because sometimes, we need to direct the energy, funnel the creative flow ourselves. No matter what the outcome.

During these times, it becomes more about stamina, grace, faith….all the things we fall back on when our energy is depleted of its creativity. These are the things that sustain us when our muse goes on a walkabout.

I’m fine with it; I’ve got a lot of mule in me, too. I work with and without a muse, as you can plainly see. After all of these years, I’m not afraid to airlift in a commando team of new recruits for the job, either. But I know I won’t have to….because as soon as I put the period at the end of the last sentence and hit the “Publish” button, he’ll come a ‘knock’in all sly and smooth, and with a sheepish grin announce, “I’m home.”

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

What Is Your Anger Really Saying?

Many of us women have days when we wake up like cranky two-year olds, rubbing our eyes, sighing with impatience and being irritable for no “legitimate” reason. Noise bothers us, conversation distracts us, and we find it a challenge to be our most loving selves.

It is perplexing to those around us. “Where did that sweet, loving, agreeable, woman go?”, we’re asked. Sometimes we want to shout back. “She’s gone, gone for her good, gone for your good . . . gone, gone, gone, and gone for good!”

At midlife, we’re quick to chalk up our irritability to hormones, tiredness to vitamin D deficiencies, and forgetfulness to menopausal rewiring. Maybe this is the case, but maybe something else is at work. Maybe, just maybe, it’s our spirit nudging us, knocking on the door of our consciousness to get our attention.

Dr. Christine Northrop, author of “The Wisdom of Menopause,” has written a great deal about the changes we women experience during menopause. Changes that are emotional, spiritual even, as well as physical.

She talks of menopause as a time of rebirth, a time when we are releasing the old and birthing a new life. And for those of us who have birthed children, we know the process is often a messy business.

So, maybe at midlife, we’re trying to birth a new dream, write a book, create a business. Or maybe we’re in need of a new direction, or a new relationship, but we haven’t figured it all out yet. And so quiet and reflection is needed.

I believe everything has a purpose, a reason. If we are irritable, agitated, I think it’s likely we are trying to release something, or birth something.

So ask yourself, what are you really angry or irritated about? In Chinese medicine, anger is associated with the liver in the human body and the element of wood. It’s also associated with the season of spring and birth…or rebirth.

So it makes sense that the best way for the liver, and the body in general, to release toxicity is through some form of detox. That detoxing process could be for some, as simple as you owning your truth, and looking for ways to be your authentic self. To speak up about your needs instead of compromising your beliefs or wants on a regular basis.

It might mean you are in need of a physical detox. Maybe it’s time to consult your doctor or nutritionist about starting a liver cleanse, or taking the appropriate supplements.

And finally, maybe it’s just time to go within and listen to your spirit. Ask your spirit what it needs to release or what it needs to birth for your highest good.

After all, when we live in spirit, we are true to ourselves. And this is one of the highest virtues of the Tao, to live in integrity.

As I talk about in my book Tao Flashes, living in truth and integrity is an ongoing journey. Expect to trip and fall down. I fall down, and I pick myself up, and sometimes, sometimes I fall down again. For me, the bruises on my knees are badges of honor. Because I always learn something on the way down . . . and on the way back up.

And for the record, I wake up cranky every now and again. And I know, even when I don’t want to know, that my spirit is trying to get my attention. Sometimes I think it’s saying to me...”We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. You pick.”

And that’s when I know it’s time for me to get to work on myself, to excavate what needs to be uprooted or birthed.

Happy Journeying…

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife,  read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

The Hero’s Journey –The Search For The Meaning of Life

   file0001454659375   “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life…” 
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

When I was going through my divorce about seven years ago, I spent a lot of time in reflection. I devoured self-help and inspirational books like a “spiritual junkie,” sometimes reading three at a time (you should see me with a TV remote).

I went on what I could only describe as a hero’s journey, discovering authors, concepts, religions, meditative practices, only to spiral up and back and around to the place where I started. It took me a long time to realize that what I was really searching for was my authentic self, and my life’s purpose.

One of the books I read during this period, and am now re-reading, was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. For those of you who are not familiar with what has been described as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States, I’d recommend a read.  The book chronicles in part, the author’s time and observations as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, noted the way a prisoner imagined his future affected his longevity.

In his book, he also discusses logotherapy…the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is one of the most powerful forces within humans.

Frankl believed we could discover the meaning of life by:

  • creating a work or doing a deed
  • experiencing something or encountering someone
  • the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering …and our ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.

Powerful stuff, right? I believe at midlife many of us are presented with challenges or shifting circumstances that make us question our purpose, that test our mettle.  Divorce is a big one. Empty nest is another.  Job loss or illness are other major challenges.

I believe Frankl is correct; the attitude we take toward the unavoidable suffering, the search for meaning in our lives, the search for purpose, is the journey to our authentic selves.

I believe with all of my heart, and even on bad days, that our purpose is to serve. What that looks like is different for each of us. Our journey, our way to healing is how we express service and love in our lives, be it through kindness, words, deeds … by creating beauty in any form or passion.

We might not really understand what life has in wait for us, what wacky, happy, cruel, uplifting, soul-searing adventures lie on the road ahead of us. Especially at midlife. But how we handle the ups and the downs, the successes, the failures, is up to us. We can choose to find meaning in the journey, we can choose our outlook, as Frankl says, and we can choose to serve.

This is the meaning of life, love. This is the hero’s journey for which we all embark upon, that we all share. So if our paths were to cross at any point on this journey, know, even if the words are never spoken, that I wish you well, I wish you love.

       “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets,  proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”   —Viktor Frankl

 If you’re interested in more inspirational books, check out Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes.

What Winnie the Pooh Can Teach Us

DCF 1.0When I was a child, I loved Winnie the Pooh. He was a sweet, chubby, simple-minded bear that seemd to spend his days in the pursuit of two things: fun and honey. Pooh didn’t seem to be too stressed about where his next meal was coming from, or the fact that his friends considered him to be a bit of a simpleton. He just lived his life joyfully, staying in the present, and always, always trusting that somehow things would turn out right.

Pooh, unbeknown to me at the time, was living some of the basic tenets of Taoism. Simplicity. Humility. Peacefulness.

Just recently I re-discovered Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, and have delighted in reading it with a new understanding. Now, with many more years (and yes, sigh, maybe a few extra pounds) tucked under my belt, I understand Pooh was not so simple…he was actually wise, and what the Taoists would call an Uncarved Block.  He was living a life free of worry, free of arrogance, free of complexitiy…in other words, Pooh had discovered the path to a joyful, simple life.

This made me think about how we women spend so much of our lives in fast-motion, running, doing, tending to other people’s needs. Many of us lead lives that are far south of simple. And sometimes in the process of daily living, we lose track, we lose ourselves, we lose our way… and we trade our authentic needs to keep pace.

Other times we get caught in the trap of more, letting “stuff” substitute for spiritual or emotional substanence. In the process we exhaust our spirits and we become disconnected emotionally, physically, to the little joys that surround us. Life then becomes about the next task, the next project, the next errand, the next demand.

I believe by midlife, we deserve more. As females, we tend to be the caretakers, the wish-granters for everyone else’s joy, often prioritizing the happiness of other people before our own.

It’s time to re-calibrate. Pull the plug on your perfectionism, tear up the to-do-list, and head out in search of your joy. Your bliss. Your honey.

How do you do this? You start by saying Noooooooooooooo. As much as you want. As much as you need. And then you start investigating what makes you happy, even joyful. Maybe it’s curling up with a good book (or a naughty one like 50 Shades of Grey). Maybe it’s playing King of the Hill in your backyard with your children (or  grandkids) while dinner waits. Or maybe it’s just enjoying the simple joy of silence, the chaotic-free sound of quiet time. All to yourself. 

Trust me, the world won’t fall apart when you step forward and demand your right to bliss. (Though you might upset someone else’s applecart when you say NO, remember, it’s okay to prioritize your happiness.) The laundry can wait, but your authentic happiness can’t. For if not now, when?

In the Tao Te Ching, a basic guideline on the principles of Taoism, its author Lao Tzu talks about tempering a busy life. In his profoundly simple and yet complex verse he says, “By not doing, everything is done.”

Pooh seemed to understand this basic philosophy.

How do you do it, Pooh?”

“Do What?” asked Pooh.

“Become so effortless.”

“I don’t do much of anything,” he said.

“But all those things of yours get done.”

“They just sort of happen,” he said. –The Tao of Pooh

Looks like that silly bear wasn’t so silly, after all.

If you’d like a different view of the Tao Te Ching, from the point of view of a midlife woman, check out my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes.