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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!

 

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!

Metamorphosis

“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.