Consciousness, Character, Ego and Balance

Speak from your best self

Words to Speak the Deepest Truth

parent pic 2When my amazing sister Kris and I reviewed the draft of Mom’s obituary, we noted that it sounded boilerplate. Beloved wife, devoted mother, loving grandmother: it sounded like the funeral director who drafted it just filled in the blanks with our info. Which is probably exactly what she did. We didn’t mind. All these things were true, and it served the purpose of letting people know Mom was gone. We made a minor change and approved it.

The memorial was another story. That had to be personal. And it was.

I stayed away from Facebook. The experience felt too tender to share and yet, too precious not to. I’ve been waiting for the right words to come to me. They finally have.

It’s an honor to be a part of someone’s life and an even greater honor to be a part of their passing.
It’s a blessing when the person who is transitioning is ready, and faces their demise with courage and even humor.
It’s inspiring when each stage of decline is lived consciously in a way that leaves no regrets.
It’s a gift when the loss of one family member brings the family together in new ways, deepening their love.
It’s heartening when the surviving spouse settles into his new life so authentically that it leaves you in respectful awe.

My Step Mom, Harriet Jonsson, passed away December 19th 2014. I was honored, blessed, inspired, gifted and heartened. It was a grace-filled and transformational experience for all of us.

We know Mom is resting in peace because that is how she passed.

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A Personal Take on an Impersonal Forward

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I like it when members of my community share posts and slogans and other gems they get online with me. I like it even more when they tell me how they relate to it personally. A personal take on an impersonal forward highlights things I might miss, shows me how knowledge and inspiration are lived (how the talk walks), and helps me know my buddies better. I understand that when people forward something that touches them deeply, it feels personal to them. Yet, it’s someone else’s words. If people don’t personalize their forwards, I often will invite them to tell me what moved them. I sometimes share my own personal twist for the gems they shared with me.


Today I share an online gem with you. The Behavioral Scientist from Vital Smarts “share BS you can use.” I love it. This particular post shows how Santa’s wording can evoke generosity from the children who answer the age old question, “What do you want for Christmas?”

When Santa follows that conversation by asking what they would like to give someone for Christmas, the children show more generosity in a subsequent experiment about sharing. You can read about it here.   

What struck me about the post? Well, the before experiment, where only the “what do you want” question gets asked, gives the impression that the kids are selfish and there is no generosity to evoke. The question about giving for Christmas surfaces a generosity that an observer would assume isn’t there. The second, giving question shows that it is.

Like that, when conversations get challenging, it’s easy to assume there is no grace to evoke in the other person. We might not even try.  Instead, we might conclude the situation is impossible and there’s nothing we can do – when in fact a simple shift can alter the dynamic. 

You don’t know until you try. Yes, like all of us, there have been times when I’ve concluded the other really doesn’t care about me, and any further efforts to find common ground is time and energy better invested elsewhere.

But there have been many other times where, by simply changing the frame or dynamic, I have discovered there is much more to this person than I had concluded from our initial exchanges. 

What do you want to give for Christmas?

If you were to forward this post, how would personalize it? What struck you personally?

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Holiday Segue

Meryl Bob Birthday-300Last week I posted about the value of using a verbal segue before changing topics.

Today I post about the value of segueing from one kind of activity to another. 

We had a magical and marvelous holiday visit from my son and charming consort. It included a fabulous and fun didgeridoo birthday party. Thanksgiving dinner was traditional and sweet. Friday we went catch-and-release fishing in a beautiful Colorado retreat. We had a magical week.

The youngsters left Saturday AM. I missed my dance and a tempting sale at my favorite small-business-retailer’s shop to give them a proper goodbye. I spent the rest of the day washing sheets and tidying. In fact, I was savoring the experiences. I was segueing into my next chapter. 

We tend to pile experiences on top of each other. I think of how my husband used to flip through television channels the second show credits started running. I told him I needed a few moments to segue – to digest the show we had just seen. I don’t need a lot of time. Just a moment to transition. He shares that preference with me now. 

This is me and my big guy at the didgeridoo party. It’s Monday now, and we’re back to business. It doesn’t feel too abrupt. We’re ready because we segued. 

By the way, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The youngsters allowed themselves a day after working before drivingout here from Iowa, and they left Saturday to give themselves some time to segue as well.

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From a “Soulless” Work Environment to a “Kindness” One

During the exit interview, “Laurie” couldn’t think of a good way to describe why she was leaving her job. “So you’re leaving because it’s stressful here?” the interviewer asked. No, Laurie thought – that’s not quite it. But she didn’t have better words for it. 

In creating her resume for a new job, Laurie noted that one of her leading qualities is that she’s nice. After her experience at the previous cutthroat workplace, she doubted that trait would enhance her resume…

…until she checked the website of the company she was applying to work for. Kindness was listed as one of the core values.

Laurie applied and got the job she wanted. It was and is an excellent fit. 

The contrast gave Laurie the experience she needed to voice why she left the previous job. The previous work environment was hostile, unsupportive and inappropriately competitive. It was soulless. 

Funny how a taste of kindness can clarify what’s unacceptable.


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Shifting a Negative Dynamic at a Paint Counter

Stained-Deck300“Maybe next time I stop by, you won’t be painting the deck,” Donna joked. 

“Don’t count on it,” I replied. Deck staining has been quite the drama. I might post the whole tale sometime. It had gone on so long that it seemed endless to me. That said, with cold weather coming in, I anticipated that I would only have through the weekend to call it complete, whether it actually was complete or not. 

I was out of paint. I ran to the store to get some more so I could continue to work in the glorious weather. I was behind a woman who agonized over the color of her paint. Her husband teased and joked about her inability to decide. His words had some levity to them, yet to my ear, they were on the edge of belittling. He used words like “anal retentive” and “crazy.” I looked for an opening to shift the dynamic, and found one.

I forget what he said that I responded to, but whatever it was, I put my hands on my hips in mock affront and said, “I resemble that remark, even though it wasn’t directed at me. Be nice, will you?” 

Everyone laughed, including the woman in distress. I continued.

“Every night I find myself in despair over my painting ordeal. Then I wake up the next morning ready to try again.” 

“So she’s not the only one?” the husband asked. 

I turned to the woman at the counter and said, “Alice, what do you think. Is she the only one who stresses over paint?”

“I could tell you some stories!” Alice exclaimed. The tone changed completely.

When we parted ways, I said, “I wish you luck! Wish me luck, too!” Alice and all the customers sent me off with a plethora of well-wishes.

Not that the well wishes helped. When I got home, I discovered that Alice had given me oil stain, and I’m using latex. By the time I exchanged it, the glorious sunshine would be gone and the deck would be too cold to work on. 

So I made myself a cup of chicory tea and curled up with my book. I would get paint after dinner. Then, I would wake up the next morning ready to hit the deck again.

And I did. It’s complete now, and it’s gorgeous. Good thing – a cold front came in this morning, as predicted. 

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Codependents Don’t Have Relationships, They…

ball and chain 300There’s a saying in the twelve steps programs: “Codependents don’t have relationships, they take hostages.” 

When someone I care about acts like a victim or a hostage when they can simply say no to a controlling dynamic or walk out the door, it makes me a little crazy. When they talk as if they need permission to be themselves, take care of themselves and so on, I want to shake them awake into positive action.  I want to scream – “It’s YOUR life, not theirs!”

That’s when I remember the other saying from the 12 steps program: “Codependents don’t have relationships, they have caseloads.” I check my rescuer impulse. 

There are times to say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean when you say it. I do that. Then I let people use my observations as they choose. After all, when I want to scream, “It’s your life, not theirs,” I need to remember… It’s their life, not mine. 

Of course there are times to intervene, and there are times when helping isn’t codependent. That said, don’t let yourself be taken hostage by trying to change someone who just isn’t ready to set themselves free, and find a controlling other to be a convenient excuse. Also, don’t turn your friendships into caseloads. There are professionals for that. 

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Confronting the Witch with… Witch Hazel

Witch-Hazel 200I recently attended a meeting where everyone was required to use pencils because someone in the group is allergic to a chemical that pens emit. That woman is able to come to these meetings because the group is sensitive to her sensitivities.

Yesterday was a different experience. At the end of my Pilates session, the instructor handed me a wipe. She explained that no one wanted to exercise in other people’s germs, and she wanted me to wipe down the equipment I had used. I took the wipe reflexively, commenting that I am more concerned about chemicals than germs. The trainer laughed and told me about a student who held the wipe up with disdain, displaying her acrylic nails. The trainer wasn’t having it. 

We need to be sensitive to others’ sensitivities. My reactions are more food-based than chemical, and I don’t think the congestion I woke up with this morning was from handling Lysol. But some people suffer greatly from just a little chemical contact. 

No, handling a chemical wipe doesn’t send me to bed for a week, but I still don’t like it. So how do I handle the trainer’s policy and insensitivty with… sensitivity?

I shared the tale with Bob. He replied, “That’s why I use witch hazel. Most of my clients are fine with commercial antiseptics, but for the few that aren’t, the witch hazel works well.”

I was delighted. I use witch hazel on my face as an astringent. I will show up to my next session with a tub of witch hazel wipes. No need to get teachy-preachy. Instead of going confrontational into the problem, I will show up with my own solution.

I will leave the tub with her for my future use, and as a gift for others who share my concerns about chemicals. 

Thanks, Bob! 

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Honesty and Purity of Heart

Pure Heart 300When “Abby’s” interview ended badly and she declined my offer because I had made her uncomfortable, I wanted to speak with the gal who had referred her right away. Why? Well, I am human and I was feeling a bit wounded. However, I can honestly say that my major motivation was that I wanted her to be able to communicate some positive things about my impressions of Abby when they spoke. Our conversation was in no way an “Abby-bashing” session. It included quite a bit of sincere praise. I hoped some appreciation would slip in to her conversation with Abby. 

While I don’t claim to do any of it perfectly, when I search my heart I can say that I honestly have good intentions most of the time. The people in my inner circle trust that. I trust that in them. Yes, we collide at times, fumble in confusion and wound each other in some way or another. That basic trust is what makes it so doable. Without trust, everything needs explanation. Without trust, Speaking Strong becomes a tedious chore that doesn’t make great relationships possible; it makes them impossible until the trust is built. 

Honesty simplifies life. Purity of heart is what makes honesty workable. One of my friends often affirms this. When I or we struggle she will say, “I know your heart.” I don’t claim to have attained complete purity and I don’t suggest that my inner circle has perfected it either. But we have enough purity that we can share the secrets of our souls with a sense of ease.

That is precious. I am grateful to everyone who honors me with that kind of trust. I am grateful to those who don’t slam the door because they discover I’m human too and/or I triggered them somehow. 

Some people say life is short, but I say life is long. I am also grateful to those who have slammed the door and then walked back through it for a do-over – a do-over that resulted in us being in each other’s inner circles. Perhaps some day, Abby and I will find our ways into each other’s inner circles, too.

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That Girl Can Talk, But Can She Listen?

I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past months with people about their tendency to dominate conversations.  Most have gone well – but the latest one didn’t quite work out as I had hoped.

I get frustrated when people finish my sentences for me, interrupt and/or talk over me, often assuming they know what I am trying to say. (Trying is the operative word here since they don’t let me finish.) Addressing it hasn’t always been easy or fun, but, to the credit of the would-be-dominators, I am now able to enjoy the company of several people instead of being frustrated in their company or distancing myself. Occasionally I hear of someone else who experiences the dynamic that I have worked through with them.

Saturday was a different story.

“Abby” was interested and excited about doing work for me. She had everything I needed – the skills, the enthusiasm, the interest. Except there was one problem. When we spoke on the phone, she interrupted me several times, took the conversation in directions and details that didn’t serve the point, and basically dominated the conversation.

There was no space for grace.

There were several things I intended to say that I didn’t because Abby was doing a lot more talking than listening. I considered saying something about it on the phone, but decided to wait until we met. 

When I got off the phone, I told my husband, “I will not have one more tangential person in my life.” If it was going to work, Abby and I needed to find a better communication balance.

I mentioned the issue to the gal who referred Abby. Yes, she noted, sometimes when Abby called she would put the phone down and do other things and Abby didn’t notice. In fact, she had just done that for an hour.

That wasn’t going to work for me.

So I told Abby that we needed to work that out if we were going to be able to work together. Abby launched into a long and detailed explanation of what had happened the day we spoke that made her nervous and chatty. I felt that sinking feeling I get when I sense I’m being led down a rabbit hole. I told Abby those were the kind of details that I found distracting and off point. Abby seemed to understand, and after that, she only interrupted me once. Abby left all smiles and reportedly eager to start. 

Two hours later I discovered a message on my answering machine. Abby wasn’t going to be able to work for me after all. She was very reluctant to speak with me when I returned her call. She said I put out “uncomfortable energy” and she needed to be herself at work. 

On reflection, I can think of ways I could have said it better. That’s always true.

Am I disappointed? Yes – and I’m also relieved. If someone being herself means talking and not listening, this isn’t the place for her. I’m sure she has people who love her. I also know pretending to listen like the woman who referred Abby just doesn’t work for me. Abby had everything I was looking for on a skill level. Just not on a communication level. 

Man, that girl can talk. But I discovered she isn’t willing to listen. 

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PowerPhrase: No need to lie, no cover to blow

Womann lie 200Nadine is a professional in my husband’s industry. She was interested in seeing what my husband does, so we invited her and her husband over for dinner. We were surprised when Nadine extended the invitation to our mutual friend Mike and his wife.

We love Mike and enjoy his wife, but having them there as a couple would change the whole intent of the evening. Mike understood that. He offered to call Nadine and tell her he had a conflict, and we would all get together for dinner at his house another day. Bob told Mike, 

  • No need to lie. I don’t want to involve you in any duplicity.

Bob said he would call Nadine and let her know that we’d like to get together with Mike and his wife another time, and keep the focus more professional for this event.

I love it.

I said almost the exact same thing to a friend only two days before. I interviewed someone my neighbor referred to me, and the interviewee reacted to some feedback I gave her. While she left all smiles, telling me how excited she was and how eager she was to start work, she called later and left me a voice mail saying she couldn’t do it after all because of other commitments. (More on that later.) I visited my friend to talk about it – and to get a hug. The interviewee texted my friend while I was there. “I’ll just tell her I haven’t talked to you yet,” my friend told me. I replied,

  • Please don’t lie. I have nothing to hide here. You are free to share anything I’ve said. 

More and more, I find that saying what I mean and meaning what I say without being mean when I say it is the best approach. I remember when I asked a woman I respect what I could say about something, because I didn’t want to blow her cover. She replied, 

  • I have no cover to blow.

What a great way to live. Not always easy, but great. 

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