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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.

Butterfly Phoenix

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!