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Brown Teddy Bear in Old Fashioned Suitcase

Resiliency Requires Experience

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

The one thing in life that I know is true is that one must know who one is, before they can create any type of life that is filled with meaning and purpose. A life of meaning and purpose doesn’t come wrapped in a Zen experience or regulated schedule. It comes from living each day as a person fully connected to the world in which one lives.

Through one of my self-care indulgences is where I learned this deeply important lesson. I spend time each week delving into the life and times of those who came before me, while digging through records, old photographs, and journals or articles. It is the way of the genealogist.

As I methodically piece together the life stories of all the men and women who were necessary to bring me into the world, I find myself in awe of their resilient natures. I’ve traveled back to the Norse Invasion of Great Britain, sailed across the ocean on a coffin ship, lived lives of anticipation and trepidation on the frontiers of Canada, climbed mountains in the Appalachians, and bumped along the prairies in covered wagons, all in the hopes of finding a new life filled with the promises of hope and prosperity.

Deeply engrossed in their stories, I experienced the heartbreaks of the women as their men marched off to war, leaving them to hold down the fort at home. I read the repeated scenes, where babies came quickly and left just as they had arrived. My mother’s heart ached for the women who buried their babies, leaving them behind as they forged onward. I learned of the greedy and callous men and women, who populate the family life line. There were the surprising discoveries of the clergymen, trying to hold it together in a new land, where it seemed all bets were off, and God was either dead, or overly alive.

In every family history there are the tales of war, and rumors of war, families torn apart and families coming together, women striking out on their own or cleaving to the security of men. There are times of feast and times of famine. The one thing that all of them had in common that allowed them to overcome is they were all fully engaged in the process of life – from beginning to end.

Resiliency requires experience – both good and bad. It isn’t built through reading the stories of other people’s lives. Although, those lives still have meaning and purpose for us in the present. They are the stories of hope. They are the stories of meeting yourself where you are, and building from there. They are the stories of sometimes building your wings on the way down, while living on a hope and prayer. They are the stories that brought us here today. One misstep, episode of indecision, or making a different decision by any one of them, may well have prevented our being born at all or having been born into a very different life – for better or worse.

As I venture into each life, I look for the lessons that I can use today to make my own life filled with meaning and purpose. But, most importantly, I leave their lives as they were, and engage in my own life, so that when my 25th great grandchild reads about GreatX25 Grandma Donna, there will be lessons they can use in their life, many of which were gathered into my own life from the ancestors. My legacy will be the lessons of hope, perseverance, and an enduring faith in tomorrow.

woman standing with stretched arms facing beach

Don’t Just Survive…Live!

By: Adele Geiger, Resiliency Coach

“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.  Read that again.”    – unknown

 There have been many studies over the years that prove a mind-body connection.  Emotional can manifest into physical symptoms.  Your emotional health can have a direct impact on your physical health. 

 

I learned this the hard way by enduring trauma and continuing as a caretaker to everyone.  I didn’t make time for me or healing me. I was either last on my list or not on my list at all.  As a child I assumed the role of caretaker. I guess I thought that the role had been appointed to me. So that is how I operated as an adult.  It simply didn’t occur to me that I was establishing a pattern that eventually would hold me accountable. 

 

Three years ago, I was ambulanced to a hospital and stayed for five days.  I was completely dehydrated and depleted of almost all vitamins.  Had I not gotten help; my organs would have started to shut down.  I had pushed my body (and emotional health) to the limit.  The doctor said, “I can’t figure this out, but I know that all you are doing every day is surviving and that is no way to live. I’m sending you to Mayo.” 

 

The trip to Mayo is what taught me the most.  A specialist there asked me a series of questions. My answers (which he had already guessed) brought him to the conclusion that the conditions that I have are all stress related and trauma based.  He compassionately said, “It seems you were in a position where you didn’t feel as though you could take care of yourself.  I don’t think you realize how serious this is.”  My high stress life, the traumas and caretaking had gone from taking an emotional toll on me to manifesting into physical conditions.

 

Your body does keep score.  There are places to go for support to help you to build yourself back up – EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY.  They can help you to find ways to care for yourself so that the manifestations are at the very least drastically reduced.  Support groups, individual therapy, positive self-talk and exercise are just a few ways to make life better and more meaningful. 

 

You’re not alone.  You’re not the only one.  Don’t just survive life – live it! 

 

 

 

Feet on the bus

The Wheels on the Bus

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

Betrayal never comes from your enemies. It always comes from those who are closest to you; family, friends, and even co-workers. For those who are young, confident, and ambitious, what I am about to say may save you a lot of time and heartache:

Everyone gets thrown under the bus (and sometimes ran over by the bus) at least once in their lives.

You would think that the experience of being thrown under the bus by a family member or friend would be the worst; but it’s not. With family and friends, there’s a stronger emotional bond that allows space for forgiveness to occur more quickly.

When a co-worker, or boss, throws you under the bus, it’s a much larger, more complex experience. The bus that you’re on in the workplace carries everything that you have and are: your livelihood, your family, your possessions, etc.

We live in a world where most people define themselves not by who they are inside, but what they do for a living. The experience of being thrown under the bus by people you trusted can result in a full-on crisis of identity.

Years ago, I worked in a small nonprofit where I felt I was thriving in the world. I looked forward to going to work every single day, including Mondays. I didn’t mind working evenings and weekends, because I was doing what I loved. I put my heart and soul into the work. The staff worked as a team, developed friendships, and trust bonds with each other.

Three years into the job, things took a very ugly turn. It was so dark and nefarious; it broke every bond that had been forged. Truth became lies, and lies became truth. Everyone was walking on egg shells and no one trusted anyone. The ugliness of it all spilled out into the communities we were supposed to be serving, and even those who trusted us the most stopped believing in us.

The tires on our bus had all gone flat and we were limping along the road, digging huge gouges in the asphalt. The sparks of blame, finger-pointing, triangulation, bullying, mobbing, and toxicity were flying everywhere. Some people jumped off the bus. In hindsight, I should have jumped with them. It took three years of riding on a bus that was on fire before I was thrown off the bus, under the bus, and then had the bus run me over, grinding what I had known myself to be into the pavement in pieces.

When I pulled myself up from the pavement, I watched the bus continue to limp itself down the road. In some ways, I had felt a great sense of relief. I thought that it was over. I could just move on with my life and everything would be fine. It wasn’t over, and things definitely weren’t fine.

I was a complete mess inside and out. I had spent three years of my life in survival mode. I had been going through life protecting myself from certain inhalation. I started to feel like I was suffocating in my own skin; and at that final moment on the pavement under the bus, I think I suffocated for real. I had nothing left to give – to anyone, including myself.

As a highly sensitive person, I turned everything inward. I swallowed it all whole and absorbed it all until I imploded. Thank God, I had the wherewithal to know and understand that everything wasn’t fine in me, and I sought the help that I needed to put myself back together.

The danger in these types of stories is that there are so many variables at play, with many different actors, not all of whom are highly sensitive people. Some of them don’t swallow the hurt and pain. Some of them don’t implode. Some of them throw back the hurt and pain in the form of acts of workplace violence.

At the point of toxicity, you have reached the point where “If you see something, say something” is useless. You have reached the point of no return. Once a work culture reaches toxicity, the likelihood of a comeback to healthy is slim if not impossible, without a complete overhaul of management and staff.

There are five stages between healthy and toxic.

  1. Healthy
  2. Incivility
  3. Bullying
  4. Mobbing
  5. Toxicity

A workplace will always bounce back and forth between healthy and incivility. However, if you let incivility grow into bullying, the bus will pick up speed and race down the road until the wheels fall off at the T-Intersection of toxicity. Drive carefully.

Sometimes, You Have to Do It Afraid

By: Adele Geiger, Resiliency Coach

There’s a quote that I’ve seen a lot lately.  “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.”  

It’s kind of like sometimes we don’t have the voice outside of ourselves, but we find it often in the most critical circumstances of our lives.  We become warriors without even realizing it.  

I was sitting in a closet covered with clothes, so I wouldn’t be found.  Shaking, crying and alone, until my best friend would answer the phone and she would be my saving grace.  The person that would listen to how afraid that I was. The only one who knew how bad with all certainty that it had become.  

I finally got brave enough to change the locks and put heavy furniture up against every door.  Then I went to see my doctor and she did the routine things.  After that, she looked at me and said, “You have the saddest eyes I have ever seen.  Do you want to tell me why?”  I did.  It came pouring out of somewhere that I didn’t even know existed.   

I’m trying to reclaim my life by taking my power back and understanding that although I did not cause the adversity, it was, and is still, my responsibility to repair what has been broken.  And…I was unmercifully broken.  

Find your voice and establish boundaries, or abusive people will keep hurting you.  Find the help you need.  Share your story, because it’s so healing to do that, and you are helping others in the same kinds of situations you have been in. 

I did it afraid.  There was no other way to do it.  You can’t continue to justify the scars that you have suffered just because you love the person holding the knife.

Joy Necessitates Sorrow

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

“I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime…”  ~ Lyn Anderson

Life isn’t always a garden of roses and sunshine. Sometimes, bad things happen, and often to good people. The why of it all is an existential given of the unknown. We may never know why bad things happen to good people, except the fact that life was never promised to us as a state of constant happiness.

Oftentimes today, we read about the pursuit of perpetual happiness as being the end goal of life; but is it really? The answer is a resounding no. Life is a natural ebb and flow of joy and sorrow, ease and struggle.

This is the danger of allowing our lives to be led strictly by our emotions, which can be limiting – if not paralyzing – to the fullness of our human experience. That is not to say that we should not experience emotions at all. The trick is to not allow ourselves to get stuck in the emotions.

Our emotional world, as a whole, is the greatest example of bodily felt wisdom. Our emotions are there to guide us, alert us, warn us, tell us, or inform us that what we are experiencing physically, socially, or spiritually has meaning, for better or worse. They are our compass to navigating the world in which we live.

AS AN EXAMPLE:

I was involved in a toxic work environment that lasted almost three years. In the beginning, my emotional reaction was on point. I just didn’t listen to it. I knew in the depths of my being that I should get out. At the time, I was emotionally invested in my job, as most people working in nonprofits are. The emotional entanglement and compassion for the people was my greatest strength, and yet became my downfall in the end.

I fought the good fight. I had used my core values of Integrity, Honesty, Loyalty, and Compassion to try to right a great wrong that was being perpetrated on those very same people whom we were supposed to be helping. As time wore on, my compassion for the people was sacrificed at the altar of self-preservation. I wasn’t trying to save my job. I knew that ship had already sailed, and it would only be a matter of time. I was desperately trying to hold onto to life itself.

I had allowed myself to get trapped in a web of emotions that not only ended my career, but rendered me unable to make any decisions at all. I was so deeply invested in the emotions of the events that my logical-self had gotten lost along the way. I had become paralyzed by fear. I didn’t know what would happen next, or which way to go. I was literally wandering through life – and I was lost.

All of this could have been avoided if I had listened to my bodily felt wisdom and left in the beginning. Other people were jumping ship from all sides, but not me. I was going to make it right, come hell or high water; and both came at me from all sides like a tsunami.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

If your body is evoking emotions that are warning you, trust yourself and know that whatever it is telling you is right. Practice the pause and consider all possible outcomes. This only applies at the beginning; at the moment that you know something is wrong. It can happen at work, as it did me, or in relationships, or even social circles. Don’t wait until you are so heavily invested – emotionally, financially, physically, or even spiritually that getting out will take an act of God.

Life isn’t always a rose garden filled with sunshine and happiness. It is how well we are prepared for the storms of life that will determine to what degree we experience happiness. Through great difficulties, great joys are born. Preparing for the storms means to know yourself, trust yourself, and most importantly – believe yourself, then act accordingly.

The Inner-Observer

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

People-watching is a fascinating pastime that millions of people enjoy on the daily. You see them on the park benches, in the shopping malls, and sitting at al fresco tables along the marketplaces of society. Observing others is something people have done since the beginning of humanity as a survival tool. It was a means of reading the body language of someone new in the midst to determine if they were friend or foe, or sizing up the enemy in times of trouble.

Observing others is a skill that we learn from birth. It comes natural and with ease. However, observing ourselves is another matter entirely. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. Developing the inner-observer takes practice.

The inner-observer is the part of ourselves that allows us to witness the thoughts and feelings we have, without judgement or involvement; otherwise known as, not getting into our feels.

This part of ourselves is what allows us to make conscious decisions, during stressful or painful moments. For example, the old adage, “It’s just business”.  Business people have to make difficult decisions after much consideration, or sometimes on the fly. Successful people make these decisions by not getting caught up in the emotions. They know what lives in their skin. They understand that feelings might get hurt; perhaps even their own. However, they make the decision, and then move forward.

When we live from our emotional dimension of being, we create an imbalance in our lives.  This is the danger of jumping on the “follow your happiness” bandwagon. Being happy all the time is not possible, and it’s not natural. We have our four dimensions of being to help us to shift with the ebb and flow that is life. When the four dimensions are balanced, our inner-observer can see clearly, and our conscious mind can make decisions that allow for the best outcome.

Tip for Developing Your Inner-Observer:

  • Use mindful breathing techniques to relax.
  • Once centered and relaxed observe things as they are; without attaching a story to it.
  • See your reaction as it is in the present moment.
  • Adjust your reaction accordingly and appropriately to the situation.

When we are relaxed, our mind opens a space that allows us to see things as they are, not as we wish them to be. We can be fully present in the moment, which is the key to the inner-observer that is always in the present.

Feed Your Soul With Laughter

By: Adele Geiger, Resiliency Coach

There is a therapeutic benefit to laughter.  I realized this the most at some of the hardest times in my life.  Laughing in the face of adversity creates a balance that we need in our lives. 

It’s not so much that it shows strength or courage, although I think that as we grow into this kind of laughter, it does. It’s more that you begin to realize that if you don’t laugh sometimes in the hard moments you’ll always cry.  I’ve learned to find ways to talk about difficult situations in a funny sort of way…a laugh out loud sort of way.  Not all the time.  But some of the time.  Now I make a point of finding amusing things to read or watch on TV. The kind that makes happy tears roll down your face and you can barely catch your breath.  The kind of laughing that makes your whole-body smile. 

Laughter is magic!  What would we do without it?  Life is messy and hard, so grab onto every good moment for all it’s worth and celebrate. Make it last as long as you can.

Cry when you need to…absolutely!  But after a really good cry, find another reason to smile. 

Look for joy.  Laugh intentionally.  It doesn’t change your circumstances, but it helps you create an awareness that the option to smile and laugh is available.

My children were six and eight when we were shell shocked into a completely different life.  One of the dearest memories I have about that time is getting into our pajamas every evening under warm blankets and reading Junie B. Jones books to them. Their laughter was the most beautiful thing I will ever hear.  We were going through the depths of despair.  And yes, there were many tears.  But in those moments snuggled up together under the covers, the laughter saved us. 

In your deepest and darkest nights of your soul, you’ll need the laughter the most.  It will help to pull you into a safer place and create a sense of spiritual wellbeing to continue to lead a meaningful life. 

Laughter feeds your soul!

 

Letting Go – Becoming an Empty-Nester

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

We spend a minimum of eighteen years as parents, feathering our nests, taking care of the children, and running a hundred miles a minute, all to ensure that our children are well taken care of and their every need is met – physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

As we enter into the Spring semester of high school, many parents are facing one of the iconic moments in their lives – the moment they become empty-nesters. The proud, smiling faces hide the heart-wrenching actualization that this chapter of life is also coming to a close.

There is no sound in the world more surreal than the final closing of the door. We find ourselves in an empty house or apartment that seems so much bigger than it once was. The only sounds being those we make ourselves.

The vast emptiness of the home expands into the abstract of life. The questions start to form in the depths of the night.

  •          What do I do now?
  •          How will I fill my day?
  •          What is important?
  •          Do I still have a purpose?
  •          What is my purpose?

 

Our lives don’t end when our children leave home. You would think we would know that as our parents survived our own departures. Yet, we struggle. It would be more concerning if a person didn’t struggle with the change.

The truth is that becoming an empty-nester requires that we allow ourselves the time to grieve the loss of our parenting role in their lives. Once they become adults, we have to let them live, grow, and master adulthood – without our interference. As much as the Mommy or Daddy in us wants to be there to hold the safety net, and smooth the rocky road for them, our children will experience failure, no matter how much we don’t want them to. We have to take on the role of the advisor or mentor, anything less is a disservice to their overall well-being and ability to handle life as it is.

Looking forward into all the possibilities can be energizing and exciting. The future is a canvas waiting to be painted, a story yet to be written, an experience yet to be had. The attitude with which we approach the future is the key to the unveiling of ourselves.

 

I have been an empty-nester for eight years. It’s been an exhilarating time in my life.  At first, I wasn’t sure of my path or direction. I assure you, no matter what stage of empty-nesting you are in, that it will get easier with time. You will find an entirely new and different relationship with your child(ren). It will be the time when you find that your adult child is now one of your oldest, closest, and dearest friends.

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Balancing the Social Dimension of Being

By: Donna R. Wood 

In the Social Dimension of Being, we consider the relations and connections we have developed and cultivated with others: our families, friends, co-workers, professional networks, and those who share our spiritual beliefs.

The Social Dimension includes our response to the communities and cultures that we belong to, and even those we do not belong to. Here is where we enter the realms of acceptance vs. rejection, and belonging vs. isolation. It is also where we decide our goals and attitudes in life. The attitudes range from love to hate, and from cooperation to competition.

Our Social Dimension is a direct reflection of our inner-world (personal and spiritual dimensions). In our Social Dimension we derive our place in the world based on our self-esteem, and our ability or inability to connect with others – regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, etc.

We are the sum total of the five people closest to us. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “You do not attract what you want. You attract what you are.”  The friends that we attract are reflections of our own inner-selves. When we honestly observe the friends we have, we gain a stronger understanding of who we are.

Signs of Imbalance in the Social Dimension:

  • Feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Fear of rejection.
  • A sense of loneliness or isolation

Our Social Dimension is an extension of our Physical Dimension. How we perceive ourselves or assign characteristics to ourselves will have a direct effect on the choices we make in regard to those with whom we choose to associate. These choices will always have rewards or consequences that are long-term.

To gain a sense of joy in our Social Dimension, we need to seek the goodness in all things.

  • Seek the good in ourselves
  • Seek the good in others
  • Seek the goodness in the world-at-large

Managing our Social Dimension can result in loss. T. D. Jakes once said:

“Finding your destiny will always disappoint those who have appointed you to theirs.”

The Empty Plate

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

For many years, as long as I can remember, my grandmother and great grandmother held to a tradition that I have no idea of the true origins. Perhaps it was something they came up with on their own, or maybe it was something that has been handed down for centuries. In my Celtic research, I have found several references to different variations of this tradition, but I cannot say that my grandmothers’ tradition came from these. It is the tradition of the ‘Empty Plate’.

I don’t know if I am the only one to have noticed, or took the time to ask why, but my grandmothers would always set an empty plate at the holiday table. When I was old enough to count is when I first discovered this. Grandma would ask how many people do we have today, and I would count them one by one. Then she would hand me that many plates plus one. Once I had told her she had given me one too many, and she replied, “No, it is just the right number. Maybe you miscounted.”

We set the table and placed all the chairs around. I was certain every time there was an extra place at the table, but when it came time to eat there was never an unoccupied chair. As a child, I was baffled by this. I counted and re-counted many times. I asked Grandma how she always knew to add one plate to the table. Her only response was, “There’s always enough for one more.” By the appearance of my grandparents’ kitchen, I never doubted that as a fact.

It was several years later when I noticed that each holiday there was always one unexpected guest. Sometimes the guest was a happy surprise. Sometimes the guest was someone who had nowhere else to go, or someone who just showed up at the door. Not a single year passed that the empty place at the table was not filled by someone.

When I became a parent and we had holiday meals by ourselves, I continued this tradition, and continue to do so. There has not been a single holiday in which that plate has not been used. Most often the place has been filled by those who have nowhere else to go. It has been filled by those who have been used, abused, thrown away, cast aside or just alone in the world. We have entertained people from every walk of life, from all over the world.

I am grateful for those who have and will use the empty plate. I realize how much I need them, more than they need me. I confess, for many years it was the act of carrying on what my grandma had always done, but today, it is different. Maybe, just maybe, Grandma knew something all those years that I never recognized, or perhaps refused to recognize. Maybe she knew that when we sit down to pray, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest…” it is a prayer that will always be answered, in the immediate.

Have a Merry Christmas, and may the empty plate always find a use!