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Heart and Soul – The Art of Forgiveness

By: Donna R. Wood

In the corner of my mind stands a jukebox. It’s playing all my favorite memories…” ~ Alabama, (1990) written by Dave Gibson & Ronnie Rogers

Music has a way of connecting us with memories, some of which are not so pleasant. As a young person, I often dropped an imaginary quarter into that old jukebox in the corner of my mind and let it stroke the chords of sorrow, regret, and misery. I’d listen to it for hours and connect to times in my life that weren’t so good.

In my childhood, my mother would always listen to music as we cleaned house on Saturdays. My mother had a beautiful singing voice. She would sing along to the radio as we dusted, mopped, and did laundry. Every time I hear Kenny Rogers’ Lucille, it takes me back to the late ‘70s, cleaning house with my mom. It was the first time I heard my mom sing out loud. The memory is haunting and beautiful at the same time. My mom had left my dad only a few years before, and well, there were four of us children. Only, my mom took us with her, for which I am eternally grateful. I never realized how important and healing that song might have been for my mother at the time.

By all accounts of the family, my father was a monster in a large man’s body. He was explosively violent and abusive – both mentally and physically – not only toward my mother, but also my older siblings. Years later, I read a letter that my grandfather sent to my mother when he was in his late 80s (around 1971), recounting how my father had come to his home and beat him senseless. My father had beaten his own elderly father senseless, and had landed him the hospital where he didn’t wake up for five days.

At first, I thought it was my kindly old grandfather – the one I had imagined him to be – confirming that my mother’s assessment of her husband was correct. The truth behind the letter is that my grandfather was attempting to manipulate my mother into taking my father back, because my father was taking his rage out on others.

I’ve seen pictures of my father. I never had the misfortune of knowing him personally. My father looked like a mountain next to my mother. Just like the man in the song next to Lucille. My father was so large that when they lived in Florida, they called him Gordo, which means fat in Spanish. However, my father wasn’t just fat, he was tall. He was every inch of 6 foot 4; my mother a petite 5 foot 5 inches in heels.

The healing part of that song is that my mother, in one fell swoop of a good decision, crumbled that mountain into a pile of rubble. He quaked and shook as his heart broke, and in the end, my mother had won. Oh, there were letters and phone calls, and all the like, but she had stood her ground, no matter how difficult life was for her with four hungry children.

As an older and wiser adult, I can listen to Lucille with a different perspective on the memory of cleaning house with my mom. I can hear her voice singing along to the radio, not in pain or sorrow, but in courage and triumph. She wasn’t taking joy from making him look small – okay, maybe a little bit, but encouraging herself to look forward to the love and the laughter in the here ever after that would be her life; without him.

My father was indeed a monster. He will always be defined in my mind as a monster. However, I had some healing of my own to do in regard to this monster that lived in the shadows of my past. My father died in 2004. There is nothing left but shadows of the things that were. They were real. They were true. They were horrific. Yet, I had to find the part of me that was willing and able to forgive him for all of it. I wasn’t forgiving him for his sake. I was forgiving him for my own sake.

I had to let go of all of it. Forgiveness is a soul process. It transcends us above the reality of what was and allows us to release the hooks that anchor us to the past. Once the release occurs, there is an overwhelming sense of peace that takes its place and new melodies begin to play from the jukebox in the corner of our minds. Melodies that may be old, but are heard in a different way.

Attitudes of Well-Being

By: Donna R. Wood

Well-Being and happiness are not the same thing. Well-being is an overall sense of being at peace with life as it was, as it is, and as it may yet be; a peace that can only be achieved by how one views life in general.

In this article, we will cover some of the attitudes that contribute to well-being, beginning with gratitude.

I know, I know, it’s been said a thousand times. You have to have an attitude of gratitude. But, why? Does it really make a difference? The answer is YES!

People who practice an attitude of gratitude experience a more connected lifestyle such as healthy relationships and giving more of their time, talents and treasures.

However, many people only experience gratitude when times are difficult or they find themselves in life-threatening situations.

Counting our blessings every day helps us to break the barriers to eliminating bad habits. This leads to positive effects on things such as health, sleep quality, addictions, and so much more.

Gratitude breeds compassion, which is related to empathy, but not quite the same thing.

Empathy is the deep-felt understanding of the situation of the other, whereas compassion is the motivation to do something about the situation and increase the well‑being of the other.

Compassion requires a certain level of vulnerability. We may need to open up that empathetic part of us and expose our own experience in order to establish the connection with the other person.

Sometimes, we have to get past our own blocks to compassion, which could be anger or indignation, fear, or a focusing on performance and competition, in order to help the other person, in spite of ourselves.

Although having compassion for others is important, it is just as important to develop compassion and love for ourselves, because it allows us to have an authentic love toward others.

As our compassionate selves emerge, it reinforces the immune system, reduces fear and depression, resulting in a sense of deep joy and meaningfulness.

The last attitude of well-being we will discuss is Simplicity.

People who practice gratitude are able to easily find pleasure in the simplicities of life.

We live in a world where people often mistake the pursuit of happiness for well-being, and get off track by seeking more: more stuff, more events, more money, which can lead to dissatisfaction and general disappointment.

When we are pursuing things, we lose our empathy and compassion for others, due to the focus on performance and competition, and deplete our well-being in the process.

People who choose simplicity tend to have more energy and time for what they really value as important.

Practicing the attitudes that contribute to well-being begins by living from the inside out.

Is Anyone Out There?

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

The season of Advent begins tomorrow, December 1st, for those on the Christian path. It is a season of wonder, waiting, and the hope for better days to come. For most, Advent is the most wonderful time of the year. The hustle and bustle of the spirit of Christmas takes form in gatherings of family and friends, joyful laughter, and reminiscence of days gone by.

Yet, in the shadows of the Christmas trees and sparkling lights, there is a slow and nefarious epidemic growing across the land. This epidemic grips tightly around those who are considered the outcasts, downtrodden, and in some cultures “the untouchables”. It spreads further into the reaches of the homes of the elderly, the disabled, and those with no one to call friend. Unchecked, it moves silently into the bedrooms of forlorn teenagers suffering the angst of adolescence, and the dorm rooms of college students far from home. The epidemic’s creep marches ever forward into the offices, the factories, and the farms, where toils those who live invisible to the rest.

Loneliness blankets the season and suffocates all the aforementioned’s joy. It creates a silent vacuum in an otherwise noisy season. Recently, we have learned that 3 out of 4 Americans report to experience loneliness on a regular basis – regardless of season. Loneliness is born out of isolation and the feeling of disconnection with other human beings. We are, after all, social creatures by nature.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE LONELY:

 It would be disingenuous to say, “go make some friends”. Making friends isn’t easy at any age, and friendships aren’t usually the instant result of meeting people. Couple that with the anxiety you may be feeling about meeting new people in the first place, and “go make some friends” easily becomes “stay where you are and be safe“.  The thought of making small-talk is cringy at best and a full-on panic attack at worst.

Some things you can do:

Volunteer in an organization that captures your interest. Animal shelters are great places, because it keeps the “people-ing” to a minimum. Spending time with animals helps with anxiety and soothes a lonely soul, among other nerdy scientific benefits that occur. (Not going to go full-force nerd today!)

Call someone. I know, I know. Calling people is so 20th Century. However, hearing another human voice tells our brain that we are not alone and we are still part of the pack, clan, tribe, village, or whatever term you want to use. The voice on the other end of the phone soothes our brain into letting us know that we are okay and we matter.

Join a personal interest group. We all have personal interests. Maybe you enjoy woodworking, art, writing, snowboarding, boating, hiking, singing, or anything under the sun. The point is join a group involved in your personal interest. If there isn’t one try creating one. Let your freak flag fly high and proud. You would not believe the number of people in the world that hold similar interests. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU KNOW OR THINK SOMEONE IS LONELY:

Don’t force the issue. Not all people who spend time alone are lonely. Always invite, but don’t be offended if someone politely declines your invitation. They may have other plans, or just need some “me time” to recharge during this busy season.

Keep your hands to yourself. Never touch people, because you think that is what they want or need. Hugs are great, when the person being hugged is open to the idea. People like to be in charge of their personhood, and crossing that line is not okay. Ask if they want or need a hug, first. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for interactions they possibly haven’t felt in a long time, and the autonomy to say no thank you.

Show up. If you know that a person is experiencing loneliness, show up as your whole self. Put your phone away, and be prepared to be an active listener. Engage in the conversation. Play board games, cards, or take them out for a meal if they are able. The important part is your presence in their present.

The underlying existential theme here is that, again, we are social creatures by nature. We don’t just want the company of others, we need it. Our senses are designed to recognize other human beings through touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smell. When we socially engage with others, we feel safe, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

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: 

THERE IS NO GRAY AREA BETWEEN COACHING AND THERAPY.

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
permanent.

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
reasons.

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
life.

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
security.

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
lives.

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.