Do No Harm

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trail and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller

It breaks my heart to read the posts of women in motherless daughters’ groups telling a woman who is in despair over having just lost her mother that “it doesn’t get any better.” I shout out at my computer screen, “For Heaven’s sake, give the poor grieving woman some hope!” Most of us, if we’re over forty, have suffered at least one significant loss. If all of us never recovered, we would all be walking around like the Zombies we were that first week.

Even Helen Keller, with no sight, hearing or voice, offered a message of hope for those who are suffering and in distress. I believe it’s important to acknowledge a person’s grief, be with her in the reality of the moment, offer no platitudes like “she’s better off now” or “you’ll be fine.” Saying nothing is always good. Your presence is what matters. Reminisce with her about her loved one. But please, please, don’t take away hope for her future. Hope may be the only thread attaching her to this Earth—sometimes, literally.

Affirmation: I will be a healer and do no harm.  

Coaching questions: What helped you most in times of despair? What words or presence brought you the most comfort? How do you show up for your friends and family in times of distress?

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Let Nature Speak to You

People talk about caterpillars becoming butterflies as though they just go into a cocoon, slap on wings, and are good to go. The reality is, caterpillars have to dissolve into a disgusting pile of goo to become butterflies. So if you’re a mess wrapped up in blankets right now, keep going. Jennifer Wright, author

Wright is right (I just had to do that). According to Scientific American, while in the cocoon, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. However, certain highly organized groups of cells knowns as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. These discs use the protein-rich soup to fuel rapid cell division forming wings, antennae, legs, eyes, etc. 

Nature gives us signs and examples to help us with most of our dilemmas. The majesty of a sunrise or sunset give us hope for another day. The first green shoots of spring give us courage as we crawl out of winter. Now, for those of you who may be wrapped in a tear stained blanket wishing that life was different, the butterfly is another powerful metaphor. The butterfly’s past experiences tell us that life will not only be different, it will be beautiful and, one day, you too will soar as you emerge from your soggy blankets.

Affirmation: Nature speaks to me when I listen.

Coaching questions: What metaphors of nature speak to you? If you feel like you are dissolving in a cocoon of grief, use the story of the butterfly to visualize your recovery. Then, share it with another cocooned person. 

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Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Four Truths From Toy Story 4

A person who seeks an enlightened existence must awaken to realize universal truths. Kilroy Oldster, author

Yesterday I took “my little girl,” Katie, and her three children to see the new movie, Toy Story 4. We all loved it! Here’s what I came away with: 

  1. We all need to learn resilience. When Woody’s child (the child to whom Woody, a toy, belongs) grows up, Woody is demoted in the playroom and loses his “favorite toy” status. As he clings to his old role, he must learn the hard lesson that life is ever-changing.
  2. Happiness can be found down a variety of paths. Woody believes that belonging to a child is the only path to happiness. Like a parent who experiences an empty nest, he has to come to terms with another way of life and realizes that, this too, can be fulfilling. 
  3. True friendship is worth the trouble. Woody places a high value on friendship and goes to great lengths to protect his friends— even when doing so makes his life difficult or uncomfortable. 
  4. Forgiveness is key to a happy life. As Woody and his friends forgive Chatty Cathy’s selfish, and sometimes sinister, behavior, they experience the peace that comes with forgiveness. 

Affirmation: Life’s lessons are universal.

Coaching questions: What have you learned lately from an unconventional source? What do people learn by watching you live your life? 

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There But By the Grace of God Go I

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. Warsan Shire, British writer, poet, editor and teacher

On December 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly instituted June 20 as World Refugee Day. It is commemorated to honor all refugees, raise awareness, and solicit support. The day is celebrated in many countries around the world. In the Roman Catholic Church, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, instituted in 1914 by Pope Pius X, is celebrated in January.

Why should we care about refugees, much less celebrate them? In my opinion, it’s because “there but by the grace of God go I.” Had I been born in a different country, at a different time, or of a different race or religion, I too might be the person forced to leave my country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. We frequently confuse immigrant with refugee. A refugee’s choice is frequently to stay and starve, be repeatedly raped, or die. An immigrant chooses to move from one country to another. Many years ago, I helped bring a refugee family to Illinois from war-torn Lebanon. Working with this family to help them assimilate and thrive, is one of my most cherished life experiences. 

Affirmation: I’m grateful to live where I am safe.

Coaching questions: If you don’t already know, how will you learn the facts about the worldwide refugee crisis? If you know a refugee or a refugee family, how can you make a difference in their lives?

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Photo by Siddhant Soni on Unsplash

Friends Matter More Than You May Know

Each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends. Klazuko Manna, Moai group member, excerpted from Blue Zones newsletter

The Blue Zone project on longevity has proven that elders in Okinawa, Japan live extraordinarily better and longer lives than almost anyone else in the world. Moai, one of their longevity traditions, are social support groups they start in childhood and continue throughout their life. Sometimes these groups last for nearly 100 years!

As a motherless daughter and only child, girlfriends have always been especially important to me. This continues to be true as I age. I recently spent time with a group of friends I only see about twice a year. As we gather, it feels as if we were never apart. Our love and caring for each other continues across time and distance. 

Affirmation: I have friends who care about me.

Coaching questions: Do you have friends you can count on? If not, consider why that might be true. If friends are important to you, what are you willing to do to keep your friendship alive and well?

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These two women (ages 90 and 91 in this photo) have shared the gift of friendship for over eighty years.

Involved Dads Make a Big Difference

My father gave me the greatest gift one can give another person, he believed in me. Jim Valvano, American basketball player, coach, commentator

Today is Father’s Day in the U.S. As dads evolve from being distant breadwinners to fuller family participants, statisticians are evaluating outcomes of involved fatherhood. Fathers who participate in their children’s lives produce better outcomes on nearly every measure of child wellbeing. 

For instance, according to recent statistics, children who grow up with an involved father are: Thirty-nine percent more likely to earn mostly A’s in school, sixty percent less likely to be suspended or expelled from school, twice as likely to go to college or find stable employment after high school. Kids with involved dads are seventy-five percent less likely to have a teen birth and eighty percent less likely to spend time in jail. I grew up with an involved dad in the fifties, long before it was a trend. His participation in my life was a game-changer for this motherless daughter. Thanks Dad!!

Affirmation: I’m grateful for my dad’s involvement in my life.

Coaching questions: What difference did your dad make in your life? If you’re a dad, what difference are you making in the lives of your children? What can you do better?

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Searching For Purpose and Pleasure

To be truly happy, you need to feel both pleasure and purpose…..and you may require each to different degrees at different times. But you do need to feel both. I call this the pleasure-purpose principle–the PPP. Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design

Hedonism is the pursuit of happiness via sensory pleasure and comforts. Eudaemonism is the pursuit of happiness through efforts to live a virtuous life and become a better person. There’s evidence to show that living well means balancing these two aims.

If we choose one to the exclusion of the other, we can end up feeling like we’re missing out which may cause anxiety, depression, or chronic disease. One way to obtain balance is to notice when experiences provide a sense of both pleasure and purpose then create more of these moments in our lives. The little girls below seem to have found the balance. Can you?

Affirmation: I have both pleasure and purpose in my life.

Coaching questions: Can you name a time when you experienced both pleasure and purpose? What helps you keep both pleasure and purpose active in your life? What gives you pleasure? What gives you a sense of purpose?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash