Lessons from a Warbler

A week ago, during a 30 inch snowfall over two days, a bird that I did not recognize showed up at our suet feeder. His little beak told me that he was a bug-eater, not a seed-cracking year-round resident. I posted his photo on Facebook, both in my news feed and NY Birders. The owners of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop (Saratoga Springs) identified mystery bird as a black-throated blue warbler. He’s a tiny little thing, about the size of a goldfinch. My bird books agree that they summer in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains and that he “should” have skedaddled in September or October. Hum….

warbler and woodpecker What was I to do? The only thing a mother CAN do…. FEED him! He’s a bug eater, so I stocked up on highest quality suet with dried meal worms, increased the number of feeders and made sure the bark butter (seen in this photo) did not run out.

My friends who “follow” totem animals implored me to discover his meaning. Only then would I be released and he could fly south to his winter home. I’m always curious about the spiritual meaning of wildlife when some critter out of the ordinary shows up, so I did my research and discovered that when a warbler flies in as a spirit guide:

  • You have a song that you want to share.
  • You seek confidence to be yourself.
  • You have a dream but are not following it – when you need guidance or direction.
  • You have a desire to be valued for your work or effort.**

Well sure, I can always apply any spirit message when an animal shows up.

Snowed in for a day, ignoring “other” work that needed to be done, I watch this little bird take sustenance from the feeders and this season’s grapes left on the vine for wildlife. I fret about how he lost his way, wonder why he didn’t leave with his flock on schedule, curious to know how he found our feeders.

Comments on Facebook range from dire predictions to suggestions on what to feed him to ooohs and aahhhs and keep us posted. Every dawn and dusk I’m glued to the windows looking for our little visitor.

A week later, he is still here, through below zero nights.

In the stillness of pre-dawn, as I hear the rain of a warmer day ahead, my heart speaks and lessons are revealed.

I acknowledge my abiding desire to nurture.

Nurture songs that has yet to be shared — yours as well as mine.

Nurture confidence and encourage you to be yourself, as I strive to be authentically me.

Nurture my unfulfilled dreams, as I support and celebrate you fulfilling your own.

No doubt there is more.

Back to little bird… Who am I to say he is “out of season”? I would never think that of you.

What if he is exactly where he’s meant to be?  Landing on my doorstep to receive nurturing and sustenance. Until he is ready to fly, this is his safe refuge.

What if YOU are exactly where you’re supposed to be? (You are.) When you’re ready to fly, you will.  In your time of “waiting”, I will nurture you with the sustenance of unconditional love and remind you that letting go of the need for certainty (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection) and trusting what you cannot see is a true act of courage.

As I sit in acceptance of this moment and surrender to the fickle weather of climate change, I’ll feed and nurture little bird and continue to rumble with the gifts of this miraculous visitation.

Some people see angels. Me too.

** credit for the spirit guide info: https://www.auntyflo.com/magic/warbler

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Loss and Longing

This morning, as I was folding towels just out of the dryer, I was overcome. It took a few beats for the emotion to surface. I commented to my husband that the old striped dish towels, worn but usable for spills, belonged to my mother. I gave them to her at least 25 years ago. At first I laughed at the longevity of William Sonoma towels, then it hit me. I was overcome with grief. Missing my mom, my dad, my youth, my connection with family, my old life. I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed. How could it be that my mother, gone now nearly 17 years, and my dad, 15 years, could still be so embedded in my emotional body? How did I get so old and I’m now just noticing? How is it that we are (culturally) so bad at claiming and talking about loss and grief?

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes: Grief seems to create losses within us that reach beyond our awareness — we feel as if we’re missing something that was invisible and unknown to us while we had it, but is now painfully gone. (P 146) On longing: Related to loss is longing. Longing is not conscious wanting; it’s an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for understanding, for meaning, for the opportunity to regain or even simply touch what we’ve lost. Longing is a vital and important part of grief, yet many of us feel we need to keep our longings to ourselves for fear we will be misunderstood, perceived as engaging in magical or unrealistic thinking, or lacking fortitude and resilience. (P 147)

Turning to these pages again brings comfort. I am not alone in experiencing loss and longing.

In my work facilitating Rising Strong™ with individuals and small groups (curriculum based on the research and book of the same name, by Dr. Brené Brown) we give ourselves permission to “rumble” with grief, loss and longing. It is never an easy topic and as we dig deep, tissues fly out of the box. We hold each other with compassion as we share our common experience.

I remember this as I rumble and give myself permission to acknowledge and allow the feelings to move through me. I practice self-compassion, as well as gratitude for my life and loves today.  I will share this with my coach in our weekly session to help me discover the key learning from this recurring experience.

I am compelled to be vulnerable and share this tender emotion with you today because I want you to know, in the deepest part of your being, that you are not alone.

Posted in Brené Brown, compassion, grief, life coach, self-compassion, Uncategorized, understanding, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My teacher – Beatrice

I haven’t ventured to blog post in over a year. I’m not clear about the reason, but it seems to have to do with my own “rumbling” with an overload of social media,  too much bad news, and distractions of all sorts. Somehow I have translated this into: I have nothing of interest to say that hasn’t been said before by someone more interesting than me. For today, I’ll let that go and get this blog out before I change my mind.

My story is about my morning and Beatrice’s gift. I awakened at 4:30 AM, early even for me. I lay in bed thinking about an hour “talk” I was scheduled to give later in the morning to a small group at the beginning of their weekend retreat. I affirmed to listen as much as talk and gently meet them where they are.

I spent the early morning quiet, as I often do, reading a book that inspires me. Today I picked up Pema Chodron’s comforting book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.  Slowly, I went through the many tabs I had placed in the book and found what stuck with me throughout the morning: “Our experience is the ultimate teacher.” I knew that I would be “presenting” to a group of people I had never met and that how I responded to them, my experience, would be my teacher. But I couldn’t have predicted how this would play out.

Because I had gotten up so early, I decided to run a few errands before my regular Friday morning dance class. I have been procrastinating about having a new passport photo taken and decided it didn’t matter that my hair was a wreck and that I was in my workout clothes. Passport pictures are awful anyway. The woman at CVS reminded me that for a U.S. Passport it is verboten to smile. She said forbidden, which sounds so foreboding, that verboten feels appropriate. She took several shots as I grumbled about not even wanting to see them. I was totally aware that I would be dissatisfied. And, yes, it’s pretty awful. Back in the car my inner critic went nuts, even spoke out loud. How did I get so OLD? How did my mother’s face suddenly turn into a face shadowed by my FATHER’S great nose? OY VEY! I told my critic: it’s OK. I LOVE my AGING self and who looks at passport photos anyway? If it gets me through the border, it’s fine! It’s way better than dead! Maybe if I get dual citizenship with Italy I can get a passport picture with me smiling…. Our debate continued as I drove.

And then I met Beatrice. I arrived at School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance a few minutes early.  A classmate was just arriving with her granddaughter. She introduced me to Beatrice, who is spending the whole weekend and is almost 3! Grandmama helped Beatrice into her ballet clothes. Beatrice takes a pre-ballet class at the school and would be joining us for our kick-butt dance class this morning. Beatrice was not really in the mood to change her clothes. She had a look on her face that could only mean trouble, it was just too much to change. Mission accomplished, her wise grandmother said, “Look, Beatrice, look in the mirror!” Beatrice looked at herself in her pink leotard, ballet slippers and headband and a HUGE smile filled her face and whole being! Suddenly the dressing room got brighter and I swear the sun came out! She was totally in love and in awe of her very own preciousness; her response to her image in the mirror filled my heart with love for the little ballerina in me. How could I be so hard on myself?

When do we lose that self-love? When did I lose that? When did life’s experiences and people’s responses to me teach me that I’m not enough? I know it happens very young. Not much past Beatrice’s age for some of us. It happens when we are compared to others, to some sort of “ideal” way of being, behaving and looking. Then we begin to compare ourselves to others. It’s not always those closest to us who give this message. We are experiencing a culture of scarcity, comparison, never enough and just “not good enough”.

I was so happy to see that Beatrice had not yet lost her self-acceptance and true love for the sweet, gentle soul in the mirror. She danced her heart out along side the rest of us, smiling and laughing.  I hope she gets to experience this kind of love for a very long time.

My experience with Beatrice changed me and filled my day with light. When I met with the retreat group, I shared this story to open our time together. By doing so, I hoped to encourage each of us to look inside to find the precious light-child that we all possess and know that, just like Beatrice, we are whole. There is nothing missing. We are worthy of love, connection and belonging. The first step is to belong to ourselves completely.

Thank you Beatrice. May you continue to teach us old folks how to love for a very long time.

 

Posted in Brené Brown, compassion, gift giving, life coach, self-acceptance, self-compassion, stay engaged, Uncategorized, understanding, vulnerability | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Just say NO

When the topic of “boundaries” was introduced in my very first coaching training (with Debbie Ford and The Ford Institute in 2004), I was dumbfounded. It’s not that I had never heard of boundaries, I just didn’t understand how boundaries operated in my life. As I researched and examined my own relationships, I was horrified, but not surprised, to admit that I was a chronic people-pleaser. I was desperately seeking approval because of a deep desire to belong and feel important. The “good” part of people pleasing is that I really DID genuinely want to help others, but the “bad” part was that it almost always came with a need for something in return — to be liked, wanted and indispensable.

I began to realize that the “gift” I gave by pleasing others was no gift at all.  As I began to learn more about my nature, my authentic feelings and my true self, I came to understand that I needed to please myself first. I began to check in by asking myself questions: “Do I REALLY want to do this or am I just trying to be liked?” “Do I REALLY want to say YES when I know I’ll be resentful and angry at myself later?”

I’ve blogged before about the difference between NICE and KIND. Kindness truly does mean being honest and practicing healthy boundaries, even though there is a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, delivering a NO is kinder than the nicety of a phony YES. No follow up, no call back, hurts way more than that first, difficult, NO.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, I’m a certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown). My boundary lessons continue. Saying NO is not natural to me even now. Not only a chronic people-pleaser but a people-appeaser. (Think: Avoid conflict at all cost! I’ll deal with it later!) Now I practice Brené’s definition of boundaries like a mantra: Boundaries –what’s OK and what’s not OK. I affirm to myself that boundaries are a form of self-love and self-respect. Above all else, I wish to practice healthy boundaries, to walk my talk.

And yet I am struck again and again that social “niceties” suggest that it’s just not polite to utter that one word, NO, especially to an invitation. I’ve practiced excuses and reasons ad nauseam and, yes, they make me sick!

I write about this topic today because I met an acquaintance for lunch recently. We’ve seen each other only a couple times in three years or more, our paths and interests crossing infrequently. At the end of lunch she suggested that “the four of us” (meaning with husbands) meet for dinner. This seems to be a common “nicety” to extend a pleasant event. It can be interpreted two ways: a polite way to end lunch (like our mom’s raised us) or an effort to forge connection (because we truly want to cultivate the relationship).  When I think it’s the polite form of ending, not truly meant, my usual response is: “Oh yes, that would be great. We’re all so very busy, but do, let’s, keep in touch.” Ouch. Phony times two. How often do I say what I don’t mean?

Deep breath. I risked hurting my companions feelings for her polite invitation and said, “No”. I quickly added, “I hope you’re not offended.” As we left I expressed what was truly in my heart: “It was good to see you. I’m so happy for you. I wish you the very best. Take good care.”

Suggested readings:

Debbie Ford, Why Good People Do Bad Things: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Brené Brown: Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution

Posted in Brené Brown, compassion, Debbie Ford, integrative coaching, life coach, self-acceptance, Uncategorized, understanding, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Manifesting or Revealing?

I’m bombarded with messages about how to “manifest” dreams and desires.  It all seems so mysterious and out of reach, like there is some secret method to unlock the code and if I pay $$$ the code will be mine. Not buying it.

I’m not alone. When I talk with my clients, I’m aware of a general anxiety around this. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I manifest my dreams? Other people do it! Don’t they?”

Part of what I hope to convey in my coaching and workshops is that each of us has all the wisdom of the Universe within us. If this is true, everything we need already exists and there is nothing to manifest. Perhaps it’s all about what we believe.  If we believe we have to “manifest” our desires, then that will be our “work”: visualizing that ideal something out there so that this thought becomes a tangible thing. Sounds like a LOT of work to me and though I’ve witnessed success, I’ve always questioned whether this is manifesting, luck, destiny, or just seeing what’s ready to emerge.

As I struggle with this notion, the Universe steps in. A book on my crowded shelf calls out to me: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. I choose a random page: “The Buddha said that when conditions are sufficient, things reveal themselves. They just do not manifest themselves and become an object of our perception. They don’t go anywhere. It is a matter of conditions only.” … “When conditions are sufficient, things can be seen by you and you say that ‘you are.’ When conditions are no longer sufficient and things can no longer be seen by you…. you say, ‘you are not.’…. Being and non-being are notions created by you….”

This works for me. I embrace the idea that it is my thoughts and beliefs that matter. The work is not in “manifesting” but in seeing, being with, and shifting what gets in the way. Beliefs about what I can and can’t have, can and can’t be. Feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. The choice to please others instead of being real and expressing my true self.

Why is it that the workshop that I couldn’t fill last autumn is nearly full with 6 weeks to go this spring? Was there something else I needed to know or believe or was it simply timing? Do I need to know? You know the old joke about getting God to laugh… tell Her your plans. No, I don’t need to know. It just is. I am grateful.

Trusting that everything I need is already present and it is a matter of uncovering what’s hidden, I let go of the burden of manifestation. God(dess) has already done that work.  I am relieved and excited about what may be hidden and the discovering, in its time, what may be in the way.

 

 

 

 

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Better than I was, but not as good as I used to be

My first true Adirondack hike, October 1998. I believed it was like walking in the woods, only with hiking boots. Halfway up Blue Mountain I was paralyzed in fear. Exposed granite, smooth rock, wet with recent rain and icy in spots. I could feel my boots slip as kids ran by me wearing sneakers. I wanted to turn back, but not as badly as I wanted to reach the fire tower and see the view from the top.

I told my then-boyfriend and soon-to-be hiking mentor/coach to go up ahead without me. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up and I could sense his frustration. I kept climbing. I kept stopping to rest.  I can still picture him sitting on a rock as I came around a bend, waiting for me, a moment of empathy and kindness. *

I made it to the top and back down again. It was hard. One of the hardest physical challenges of my life up to that point. In sheer exhaustion, I fell flat on my face in the mud just before reaching the parking lot.  I determined to throw away my crappy boots and never hike again. I figured it was nearly the end of hiking season, the heck with it. By spring, if I was still with then-boyfriend, I’d break the news. No hiking for this woman.

Something happened that winter. I kept going over the hike in my mind. I had a vision of what hiking “could” be:  Seeing the beauty of the woods and views. Feeling the path and the granite under my feet. Remembering the exhilaration of reaching the top with my heart pounding as I climbed the fire tower steps. I didn’t know it yet, but I would soon be an avid hiker. My face down moment of utter failure and embarrassment led me to achieve my own personal “greatness”.

New hiking boots. A workout plan for aerobic and muscular strength. Spring brought black fly season and more hikes, snowshoeing in winter. In the next two years my then-boyfriend, mentor/coach led me on harder and harder hikes until my 50th birth year, when I hiked my very first Adirondack high peaks. Still paralyzed by fear at times, I kept at it. I remember reaching the summit of Algonquin and having an out-of-body experience.  I felt if I died in that moment, it would be OK. This was enough. In that moment I didn’t need anything other than to sit quietly with my back against a boulder. Plus, I wasn’t quite sure of HOW I was going to make the descent!

The following year, I lost 35 pounds and continued to get stronger. Then-boyfriend and I parted ways.  I began to hike with the man who would become my husband. I took Pilates **, and continued to increase my strength and stamina. We used common sense and took on “do-able” peaks, though rarely did I find one “easy”. I recall turning to my husband on a hike and musing, “I wonder when I’ll peak, not get any stronger and maybe even start to decline?” It may have been that day…

I find that I can’t “do” the extreme hikes any longer. In 2011, a nasty treatment for hepatitis C left me flat out on the couch for the better part of a year. (Gladly cured of hepatitis C from a second treatment, 2015.) I never regained my “peak” strength. I had to “rumble” with feelings of loss, grief and frustration. It’s been a process that continues today, even as I feel extremely grateful for my health and physical ability. I can still hike!

Now we take on smaller mountains, less traveled trails to waterfalls and views of the higher mountains we once traversed.  I depend on my trekking poles — my third and fourth legs to help me balance and save my knees! I do the very best I can. In so many ways I am stronger than I was on that very first hike. I know in my heart it is precisely because I challenged myself to turn my vision of hiking into a goal and that I continue to work through my face down moments and acknowledge my successes.

All I’ve been and “accomplished”, all I am and still “do”, and all that I will become and decide to “do” is simply good enough! I always was good enough, even on that very first hike on Blue Mountain.

*special thanks to J.N. for introducing me to hiking in my beloved Adirondack Mountains

** and thanks to Melissa my dear friend and best Pilates instructor for helping me find my core strength!

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Never Too Late (until it is)

I have the great blessing of diverse circles of “girlfriends” in my life. Old friends, new friends, friends of shared interests, friends to share laughter and tears.

Recently a new friends “pod” has formed from different circles. We get together once a month to talk about the state of the world and how we might “make a difference”. We share articles of interest on a private Facebook page to stay informed.

Last night a few from this group gathered and we talked about the importance of continuing to move forward. We shared the feelings sadness and frustration from the increasing negativity of our politics and our world, as well as our feelings of powerlessness. Our conversation led to the League of Women Voters*. Founded in 1920, it is officially non-partisan, but does support progressive policies, including women’s rights, campaign reform, climate change and universal health care.

I’ve decided to attend Saratoga County League of Women’s Voters next open meeting and plan to join.

As I sat in bed this morning with a cup of coffee slowly stirring me to wakefulness, I reflected on the privilege of voting and how I have voted since turning 18 and have wanted to join the League of Women Voters since I was in my 30s. Each time vote, I picture myself as “the young one” on the floor assisting voters as needed, as “the mature ones” handle the ledgers and sign-in. With this reflection in mind, me, in my 30s, a member of the League of Women Voters, I laughed as I realized that I won’t be “the young one” on the floor, I’ll be “the mature one” wherever I’m needed.

How quickly time passes and dreams forgotten. And remembered. Now is the time.

It’s never too late. Make a difference. Think globally, start locally. Your voice matters.

*Thank you Linda, Kathy and Phyllis.

 

 

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