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Joyful Gratitude

By Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

This is the time of year when we celebrate all that has been and the hope for all that might yet be. It has been 506 days since the first day of what I lovingly call my second birthday.

I was born with a congenital heart defect way back in the late 1960s. My mother was told in the early 1970s, after my open heart surgery, that I most likely would not live to see 50 years old. As a young teenager of 16 years old, I was told that I should probably never consider having children. It was kind of soul-crushing to be 16 years old and looking at a very bleak future that would last a mere 34 more years. I remember asking myself then, “What’s the point?“, and began to believe that somehow I was not meant to be here in the first place. Given the mindset of a 16  year old girl, it’s not surprising.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty. There’s a certain amount of clarity in it. When we look back at our lives we see all the times and places where things might have been different, had we made different choices. Usually, the reflection period comes during difficult times in our lives. We fight with ourselves, and beat ourselves up over decisions we made in a time that is now far-and-away. We wrestle with the fact that none of it can be changed, and we are left in the midst of our present, feeling rejected by life.

However, if we choose to turn the lens to the times when we made joyful decisions, we find ourselves in a place of being okay. They said I should live a careful life, and always be aware of my frailties. If I had done that I would never have had the experience of being a cheerleader and of being on the track team in high school. They said I should consider not having children, but I went ahead and three very beautiful daughters, who are the delight of my life along with my three grandchildren.

Five hundred and six days ago, I went ahead and lived beyond fifty years. For me, everyday is a joyful celebration, because it is a gift that I wasn’t predicted to get. I eat dessert every day. Literally, I eat some dessert every day to celebrate. I don’t drag around the previous fifty years everywhere I go; that was another lifetime. These next years are the gift I choose to celebrate by being fully present in every single day; by being joyful and peaceful; by choosing to be grateful for each day as it comes. 

Happy Friendsgiving Day (today), and Thanksgiving (Thursday), and Native American People’s Day (Friday).


It’s You Girl and You Should Know It!

Sometimes we find ourselves stumbling down the streets in such a hurry that life seems to stream by at break-neck speed. We run from place to place without care or concern that we are losing sight of whom and what we really are. There doesn’t seem to be a moment to breathe. You know…we do this to ourselves. We choose it.

I’m an 80s woman. When I need a bit of encouragement, I pull out my entourage of fierce girls. Joan Jett has always been one of my favorites. Joan Jett’s public persona was always one of strength and endurance. In my entourage of fierce girls, Joan Jett stands right between Janis Joplin and P!nk.

There were many nights in the 80s when I hung out with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts -figuratively. I was ecstatic when my cousin invited me to the Joan Jett concert at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot. I was fourteen at the time. I jammed and played air guitar with the best of them. I screamed my heart out that night. It was awesome. I felt on top of the world!

Fast forward to a few years ago. I was in a time of transformation. I wasn’t sure which direction I was going to go and life was taking some interesting turns. And who should walk out of the shadows of the past? That’s right! Joan Jett! She was playing live at the Fargo Ribfest a few blocks from where I had lived. She hadn’t changed a bit, except for a minor hair style change, but I was beyond excited! I had forgotten what it was like to be that excited about anything.

Joan Jett performed “Love is All Around” at that concert, and that was when I realized, yeah, I am that girl. I could take a nothing day and make it all seem worthwhile. I could make it on my own, even if I was all alone.

Happy Sunday to all the fierce women out there! Remember, “It’s you girl and you should know it!” You got this!

You Don’t Live There Anymore

We have all done it, and some of us still occasionally do. We live our lives looking out the rear window, while we watch the ever lengthening road of yesteryear disappear in the distance. Our eyes strain to see all the milestone moments of success, or fixate on those we considered failures, or places we feel we made a wrong turn.

We begin to obsess over the “would’ve beens”, “could’ve beens”, or “should’ve beens”. If I had only said this or that. If I hadn’t done one thing or another. Or even, what if I had done it. All the possibilities of a life unlived appear as shadows in the mist.

The fact of the matter is the past no longer exists. There is nothing there to see, but shadows of all the once was. It can’t be changed, no matter how much we might engage in such wishful thinking. The most difficult part of the journey is acceptance; accepting that we don’t live there anymore.

Our current place of residence, or stop on the road of life, is the here and now; this present moment. The only useful thing to do is to look in the mirror and accept what we see as the all of everything that is. It doesn’t matter if you are twenty-something or eighty-something or greater in years than even eighty; you are at your starting point.

For many years, I sat across the desk from the desperate. I would listen to their stories of how they came to be where they are. Some were tragic. Some were stories of youthful, and not so youthful, missteps. Some were stories of heartache and grief. Nonetheless, not one of their stories could be changed.

Each of them, in spite of their pasts, had to come to the realization that the only thing they could control was the moment in which they lived. What would they do next to reach a greater level of satisfaction in life? The only thing I could do was guide them along the explorations of what might yet be. We worked out needs, wants, desires, passions and hopes for better days.

Some followed through on their goals and missions in life, others fell along the wayside; a few of them even died. The one thing that made the difference for those who successfully created new lives was acceptance. They no longer lived in the past. They kept their eyes on the goal ahead and made each cautious baby step until they were confident enough to take life in greater strides.

I’ll never say the road is easy. It certainly hasn’t been for me. But, the one thing I do know is the road of life only travels in one direction – forward. 

Give Yourself What You Need

The choices we make determine the sum total of our lives. We all experience events that are out of our control, but our reaction to them is well within our control. In fact, we are the only ones who can choose our reactions.

When bad things happen, we tend to throw ourselves a pity party, and invite everyone we know to attend. We even indirectly invite people we don’t know, via the internet, when the festivities reach their peak. The pity party, in and of itself, is to be expected. It’s part of the grief process. But, as with all parties, the pity party isn’t meant to last a lifetime.

Some things to consider:

  • People don’t like being constantly inundated with negative statements;
  • People will be sympathetic and empathetic for a finite time;
  • People expect that you will begin to make choices of change.

I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, that’s cold, harsh, mean, and even somewhat cruel. Perhaps, you are even envisioning me as being akin to Meryl Streep in The Devil wears Prada. However,

More things to consider:

  • Most people don’t want to be in the position of an enabler;
  • Most people do want the best for others;
  • Most people don’t enjoy attending life-long pity parties.
Are your co-workers having lunch without you? Are the people in your circle of friends beginning to avoid you? Taking longer to respond to texts? No one is listening to your diatribes of the unfairness of life and how the world is against you? 
No one will spend an eternity feeling sorry for you; in fact many won’t feel sorry for you at all. Sure, they will be compassionate and empathetic, but their support will only last for so long, before they become exhausted. That’s when they will begin to migrate away from you, as quickly as they can.

Letting it Go

If it’s too much for you to handle, seek professional help. Just because you are overwhelmed by a life event, doesn’t mean you are crazy. It means your mental health is more important to you than a stigma attached to the counselor’s office. Gaining perspective through talk therapy is a far better alternative than lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, participating in negative self-talk. (Disclaimer: Crazy is an ugly word, and should not be applied to anyone with mental health diagnoses.)
Remember that whatever happened is in the past, and you don’t live there anymore. You live in the here and now, where every new day is an opportunity to make things different. The rising of the sun heralds in the better not the bitter.
Letting it go; whatever “it” is, is a process. Each person goes through the process in their own way, at their own pace. The point where others become frustrated is when the process stops, and they know it has stopped. They see you lying there in the basement of your soul, refusing to get up and try.
As long as you are trying, people will support you, and help you in whatever you need. But, if you are complaining for the sake of complaining, they will see it as an invitation to a pity party, which they will politely decline, and some will decline in a not so polite manner; and some won’t respond at all.
Create goals for creating better. Write them down on paper. Look at them every day. Take action every day to take a step toward accomplishing one of the goals. It has been scientifically proven that crossing an item off a list after completion releases the “feel goods” of our emotional world.
Don’t use the internet as a replacement for real life. The internet is filled with pity parties. The more you attend, the more you become comfortable in your own. The more you become comfortable, the less real life interactions that you have with people. We are social creatures by nature. We need real life interaction to feel good and mentally strong. The internet is great for support groups to an extent, but make sure you are getting support, and not attending someone else’s pity party.
So, go ahead and feel sorry for yourself, no one else will. Give yourself what you need, and then let it go.

Accessing the Right Help

Creating positive change in a person’s life often requires seeking help in the process, but how does one know which is the right help? 

Let’s be clear about something from the beginning: 


Coaches are not allowed to provide therapy unless they are a licensed therapist. It is illegal, unethical, definitely inappropriate, and in most cases dangerous to the client’s overall sense of well-being.

At Butterfly Phoenix Coaching, we serve those who are out of the Chrysalis; ready to take the leap and spread their wings and fly.

The Chrysalis: The time to choose a therapist.

Your mental health is nothing to trifle with. It really can be a matter of life and death. If you are experiencing any of the following examples, the right choice is a therapist or other mental health provider: 

Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, PTSD, a mental health diagnosis, overpowering or overwhelming emotions, addictive behaviors, or toxic stress. 

When you are in the darkness of the Chrysalis, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to make successful, significant life changes. You know you are in the Chrysalis if you are feeling overwhelmed with life events, or trapped, or unable to manage your day-to-day life. The Chrysalis is where we make changes on the inside that transform us at the core of our being. Coaches are not equipped, and lack the capacity to be helpful in this area – unless they are also a licensed therapist.

The Butterfly: The time to choose a coach.

Coaches have the best capacity to work with individuals who are experiencing the desire to make changes in their life. Maybe those changes are personal or professional goals. In either case, you must be in a space where you feel strong and capable of following through with coordinated action-steps that lead you to where you want to be in your life.

A good life coach leads from behind. They work with you to design a plan that is realistic and obtainable, and then assist you every step of the way. They help you to celebrate the successes, and re-evaluate what isn’t working.

Sometimes, you have to spend time nurturing the inside and growing strong physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, before you can expect to succeed in any major life change that you want to make. It’s the “you have to build the foundation, before you can build the house” sort of deal. If you are out of balance in any of the four dimensions of being, you need to take a moment to practice the pause and ask yourself honestly: Do I need a therapist, or do I need a coach.

Choose the answer that is most honest to you. 












Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul should never be
allowed to take root in our lives. Our soul is like a garden, and we the
gardeners. If we allow the Dark Night of the Soul to take hold, it can become

Pain and suffering is part of the natural flow of life. We
all experience the Dark Night of the Soul at different levels, for different

However, if we let the grief, hurt, shame, guilt, or regret
to take hold, we may never get over it as long as we live.

The Dark Night of the Soul is event or situational based,
and always temporary. It comes during times of significant change or
transformation. The length and strength of the Dark Night of the Soul depends
on the depth of our spiritual dimension of being, a.k.a. the foundation of

There is no deeper well than that of self-pity. We all have
the occasional moment of “Why me?”, or even “Woe is me”.
One of the tools readily available to one and all is self‑love.

Not the self-love associated with narcissism. The agape
self-love – self-transcended love ‑ that allows us to look at ourselves as we
are, not as we wish we were.

When we look at ourselves with self-love, we do so with
compassion and empathy. We provide ourselves with good companionship as we
look at the scars, flaws, and the beauty, and the goodness. We accept it
for what it is and embrace it with a loving gentleness.

When we can honestly look at our deepest selves with love
and compassion, we can identify what the real need is, and then seek that to
heal our suffering.

Living a positive lifestyle does not protect us from pain
and suffering in the world. Each comes to us all at different times, in
different forms, because pain and suffering are, like us, part of the natural
flow of life.

One of the ways to approach pain and suffering is to observe
it, and accept it for what it is, and then to take action.

The first step in taking action is to lean-in to your
beliefs. When we lean-in, we inspire the light that lives inside of us. When
the light is inspired, hope is sparked and grows.

The second step is meeting our beliefs half-way and
taking action in our lives to change the course to something more manageable,
while guided by our beliefs.

The third step is to step outside of our worry and
fear, and engage with others of our beliefs to gain a sense of support and

Before we can be the change
we want to see in the world, we have to be the change we want to see in our own

Right Spirit

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

We seem to have come full circle again in the life and times of the human race. Walt Whitman was a self-proclaimed religious skeptic, and a practitioner of deism, which was prevalent throughout 17th century Europe, which then led to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. There was much discord within the realms of organized religion, and many people turned away from religion altogether, in favor of deism and similar beliefs.

If you were raised in western culture, you were raised in the paradigm of individualism and the accumulation of material possessions. This strong focus on the physical and social dimensions of being is wreaking havoc on your personal and spiritual dimensions, leaving you at risk of, or in the midst of, a spiritual or existential crisis. This alone brings us to understand the importance of faith; the faith to persist, to insist, and to endure.

Sometimes, when it comes to our souls, the world can seem more like an arena than anything else.

Finding ways to create beauty in our own small world allows us to create sanctuaries for our souls. It can be gardening, painting, interior decorating, immersing ourselves in positive, calming music, or any of a million different ways.

These physical and emotional sanctuaries are an integral part of self-care. Allowing our souls moments of solitude gives us time to restore our souls after traumatic or transformative times in our lives. Or, just a place to rest in our everyday lives.

The important thing today is to remember that your spiritual identity is your own. How you choose to express or experience your spiritual dimension of being is ultimately up to you as a sovereign person.

Our spiritual dimension of being permeates throughout our personal (mental), physical, and social dimensions of being, and is often referred to as the foundation of life. It is our sense of spiritual self that carries us through difficult times, traumatic times, and guides us through our day-to-day mundane lives.

No matter what you believe to be true, cultivate your spiritual sense of being so that you have a foundation on which to stand when there is nothing else.

*   *   *   *

The Divine, constructed wholly of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. Within each of us dwells the Divine. In all the world dwells the Divine. In all the universe dwells the Divine. In all the outer of the universe, still, dwells the Divine. The Divine knows no beginning and no ending. It is expansive and constrictive.

We have free will to make decisions every day, regarding what is beautiful; what is true for us; and to act accordingly to our interpretations of beauty and truth in a good way.

Sometimes, we mess up. Sometimes, we make mistakes. Sometimes, we darken our souls. Sometimes, we darken the soul of another. Sometimes, we lose our way.

The beauty of the Divine is that it IS everywhere. It exists in nature, in our neighbor, in our cities and on our farms. When we lose our way, we simply need to find our sacred place and immerse ourselves in the Divine and make the connection. By doing so, we renew a right spirit within us, and we can allow the answers or healing to flow.

Engage in your beliefs, and you engage the Divine. Do this every day, and experience the shift to a right spirit within you.

You Can’t Do It Alone

I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. ~Charles Dickens

by: Donna R. Wood

Like the butterfly, we create our own prisons; and like the butterfly it is only through our own fortitude, will, and desire will we free ourselves. The butterfly has an advantage; it breaks through the walls through instinct. It just knows at the right time that it must emerge and fly, or it will die. Contrary to popular belief, butterflies are not social insects. They live each day flitting to and fro, alone. (The great Monarch migration is not a social activity.)

People, however, are social creatures. We do not just desire the company of others, we need others. We seek out those who think, look, and feel the same way we do. This can serve in one of two ways: freedom or continued imprisonment.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who you want with you, and those who you don’t. Who do you want on your team? Those who would rather see you miserable like they are? Or, those who are willing to lift you up and carry you with them? My mother has told me, since the time I was young, “Surround yourself with useful people.

A few years ago, I got my wings clipped on both sides by people whom I had grown to trust. This threw me into a deep chasm of self-doubt, fear, second-guessing, and mistrust. I found myself spiraling out of control, until I heard the bars of my self-made prison clang shut behind me.

In a brief moment of survival instinct, I sought out the key to unlock the door. I made my cry out into the world, and the key was thrown to me by an unlikely benefactor. Sometimes, although another possesses the key, it is not their responsibility to unlock the door. In fact, they can’t. Especially if we are clutching the door shut with all our might, covering the key hole. He threw me the word, betrayal. I knew the second I received it that my whole world was about to crash down around me. I knew that the walls were about to implode and I was going to be crushed under the rubble.

Knowledge is power. That one simple word was the power that I needed to take action, or be lost to the ruins of my chrysalis. Asking for help is not in my nature. I was brought up a boot-strapper much like the rest of the people my age in North Dakota.

At this point I was so broken and comfortable in the midst of my chrysalis; I had to make a decision. I took the key and sought out another who could help me learn to use it. It turned out the key that was thrown to me was the master key to my life. It unlocked a lot of doors that had been closed years ago, although the toxicity from those events had been seeping through the cracks into my life the whole time.

If you do not take another thing away from this posting, please take this: You can never be free until you clean up the toxic waste from your past – and even from your present.


“Ordinary is painful when you were born to be great!” ~ T. D. Jakes

by: Donna R. Wood

When the Butterfly sheds the chrysalis, there will be loss. There will be collateral damage. It will be uncomfortable and even painful at times. But, when those wings unfurl for the first time, life takes a new path. It is no longer crawling along the branches and leaves, but floating above it all in victory.

I was born in the late 1960s with a congenital heart defect that could have ended my life before it ever began. It didn’t. I spent a good number of years wondering what I had been saved from; surely death at birth would have been a far better alternative than the life I had been born into.

This constant search for the meaning and purpose of my life led me down some very dark and treacherous roads. I found myself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Everywhere I looked there was death and destruction. I was surrounded by living ghosts – people who only existed, until their bodies wore out, and the reaper came to claim them, one by one.

I was terrified, because I knew with each passing day I was becoming one of them. I found myself very much alone on a road with hundreds of people. We trudged along, bearing the weight of all our shame and guilt for decisions made or not made; for love given or withheld. We trudged along, dragging our baggage with us, hoping to find an oasis in the desert; a place to rest. The oasis never came.

In the end, I was a living ghost, the same as all the rest. However, in the depths of the wells of despair and demoralization, pain and humiliation, there was the glow of a soft flame of strength and courage. With each breath that sustained my life, the flame sputtered, clinging to the hope for redemption.

I struggled with my own perception of myself, placed there by each new label as it had been firmly attached to my soul – single mother [shameful,] Godless [damning,] damaged goods [demoralizing,] and poverty stricken [unworthy.] These are only a few of the labels that had been placed on me by the world; the world, not me.

In the realization that my life was a living testimony to those labels, I began to tear them off one by one.

I couldn’t change the fact that I was a single mother, but I chose to tear the label in half. Now, I am just a mother. How liberating that is.

I couldn’t change the fact that I am damaged goods, I was born that way. I removed the word damaged from the label, and the ‘s’ from the last word. Now I am just good. I am kind and considerate of others. I am not perfect, but I try every day to live in a state of soul over ego.

I could change my socio-economic status. I went to college and graduated – twice – and have recently returned to challenging myself through courses offered on-line. I took the only gift I was given at birth, the gift of writing, and capitalized on it. This is not what makes me simply worthy, but I will talk about this in a future post. Godless – how does one conquer the label of Godless in a world where being damned by your labels prevails? Just be Godly like all the rest? Being like all the rest didn’t seem to work out very well the first time, so it required a bit more work. I found that I could not expect or receive compassion from all the rest – I had too many labels to overcome. I could not expect or receive forgiveness from all the rest – I was a living ghost encroaching on the land of the truly living. I had nothing to offer, nothing to give. I was damned to the wilderness, where I had to find it on my own or not at all.

Your labels and my labels may not be the same; however, what we choose to do with our labels is what really matters in the end.

Breaking the Chrysalis

The butterfly is a flying flower…  ~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

by: Donna R. Wood

Most people at the age of five dream of being something extraordinary like a firefighter, doctor, lawyer or some other high level profession, but not me. I wanted to be a flower. Flowers were soft, delicate, and beautiful. My grandma and I would pick wildflowers in the fields and ditches along the highway, bring them home, and put them in a vase on the table. I would marvel at the menagerie of colors and design. Oh, how I wanted to be one of them. They were perfect in every way.

That’s the trouble with people; none of us are perfect. We go through life collecting imperfections born out of bad decisions, mistakes, or even through circumstance. We hold on to these imperfections, packing them neatly inside and drag them with us wherever we go. We become so weighed down by all this unnecessary self-perception of imperfection, we cannot begin to imagine the idea of taking flight in life.

I dragged around bag after bag of guilt, worry, bitterness, and regret. The weight of these bags became more than I could carry, but I insisted on taking them with me wherever I went. I would try to fly, only to find myself confined in the chrysalis of the life I had made for myself. I had constructed walls around me so high and thick that no one could get in, and in the process trapped myself inside.

It was dark in that chrysalis. Yet over time, the darkness became a source of comfort. It was familiar. I knew each pain and suffering by name and date. I knew all the characters that had played a role in their creation. I would reminisce in their moments of completion. I began to live in the memory of all that had been, and my world became very small, ending where the chrysalis began.

One day, I stopped struggling to get out. I just stopped. It was a pointless effort. I couldn’t do it. I thought I wasn’t strong enough. I thought I wasn’t perfect enough. In reality, I wasn’t brave enough. I was scared of all the new pains and sufferings that might be out there. It was painful inside the chrysalis, but the risk to emerge was too great. All the what-ifs came into play. What if I get hurt again? What if I’m not good enough? What if…what if…what if… If a butterfly stays too long in the chrysalis it will die. It will suffocate in its own skin, never having felt the soft summer breeze that lifts it to flight.

Every chrysalis has a weak point, a place in the wall that can and should be broken. But how? I learned, inside the chrysalis, where the source of true strength lies – inside us. We have to take that deep breath and expand until the walls break, and we are free. When a butterfly is inside the chrysalis, at the moment before it emerges, it swallows air from the outside world to expand its thorax and break the chrysalis open at the weakest point.

When the butterfly emerges it is no longer a caterpillar. It cannot carry the extra baggage from its previous state with it. The butterfly must leave behind the days of being a caterpillar. It must leave behind the days of struggling to survive – to find food, hide from predators, and live each day until the next. It must leave all the pains and suffering of its caterpillar days in the ruins of the chrysalis. Only then will it truly be free to fly.

Although a butterfly spends but two weeks in the darkness of the chrysalis, shedding its past self, I spent almost three years. Transformation does not happen overnight – for the butterfly or for people. The most frightening moment of the process is in the moment before emergence. Break the chrysalis anyway.