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Category: Intentional Living

Feeling stuck in life? Help is here!

We all get stuck in life; it happens. Knowing when you are stuck and how to get unstuck is key to leading a fulfilling life.

If you ask someone today what they want out of life, the majority will tell you that they want to eat at a restaurant again! Joking aside, they will say they want to be happy. If you dig deeper into what they mean, they’ll tell you that they want to feel good and be at ease.

Sometimes, we aren’t at ease, and feeling good is elusive. Our work or relationship once-thriving can become unsatisfying. Over time, if dissatisfaction persists, we can feel stuck.  

What is the definition of being stuck? It’s the feeling of being not where we are supposed to be. It can also feel like persistent overwhelm or painful dissatisfaction with the current state or situation.  

Being stuck can be tricky. To help navigate, here are three common ways we get stuck and remedies for each:

Self-Created Stuck

Self-created stuck is what Buddhists call suffering. Suffering is part of life. A loved one dies and we hurt deeply. The pain of them being gone is real. This type of suffering is part of the human condition. I’m not talking about that kind of suffering; I’m talking about the kind we create ourselves.

The good news is that Self-created suffering is avoidable. It is the mind’s way of not accepting what is. For example, when you deny or don’t accept that something is painful, you create suffering. Or when you expect something to be different than what it is — you create suffering. Let’s look at an easy example. You are in a work meeting and your idea for solving a problem falls flat with your colleagues. You are invested in being right — you feel disrespected and angry that your solution was overlooked. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, you tell yourself it was no big deal. Oh, it doesn’t stop here! You then begin to spend time thinking about how your colleagues’ solutions were terrible! You also create a narrative about how no one listens to you and all the extroverts at the meeting suck up all the time. It’s like a mind map of negative thinking to cover up accepting what happened! This is needless suffering. 

Your Inner Purpose is to Awaken It’s As Simple As That

Eckhart Tolle

Remedy for Self-Created Stuck…

Accepting and acknowledging your uncomfortable feelings is crucial. So many times, we brush away uncomfortable truths only to inadvertently give them more power over us and steal our peace of mind. 

Instead of becoming the central actor in your own self-created narratives. Use your observing mind to watch your thinking mind and immediately create distance between the narrative and your true Self. You’ll notice that you are not your thoughts and often, the scenarios you have created keep you from peace. 

Comparison Stuck

This is another flavor of Self-created Stuck. Because it’s so potent, it deserves its own distinction. I have my own powerful personal experience with Comparison Stuck. Years ago, I attended a conference in my field of Organizational Psychology.  The field is broad and this particular conference focused on an area that I don’t have a lot of experience in or obviously, proven skill!

For two days after the conference, I felt anxious. I was feeling low and began questioning my competence as a consultant. Luckily, on day three, I had an insight that if I had not attended this conference, I would not be so miserable. Not that I shouldn’t have attended the conference, but literally, that I allowed it to change me. My consulting ability hadn’t changed in those three days. But, how I was thinking about myself did. I was comparing myself to others who specialized in an area that was not a keen interest of mine. I was creating my own suffering. There’s a saying in yoga, “Stay on your own mat, in your own practice.” This means that everything outside of your mat has nothing to do with you, so don’t give it your energy. 

Remedy for Comparison Stuck

Stay on your own mat! Don’t look at the person next to you doing the handstand or super-flexible twisty pose.When you compare, you surrender your peace of mind and what makes you unique. Just focus on your own skills, passion, and personal goals.

Dissatisfied Stuck

If your health, relationship, business, job gets stuck, it becomes a pressure point. These key areas are part of your identity, so it’s understandable you can suffer when they falter. 

Everyone has real challenges in life that require them to face adversity, make changes, and sometimes surrender to the illusion of control. For example, your relationships are constantly evolving, and sometimes, you resist the evolution or your partner does — and you feel stuck. Your career or job may have periods where you feel static or uninspired. And, if the block persists you can suffer.

How to Remedy Disassified Stuck

A key starting point for any “stuckness” is curiosity. Being stuck can feel confusing and frustrating. And, often in your haste to release the pressure, you can make some bad decisions. These are what mid-life crises are all about. People become stuck, feel pressure to change something and they change their external environment; not their internal one. Resist the temptation to push on any rock, pull any lever. Be curious about what is going on with you.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Viktor Frankl

Calmly and curiously delve into that stuck point. Sometimes, the way will be difficult. You are not alone! Take care of yourself and invest in a therapist, coach, or support group. Read books that inspire you or advance your understanding of your situation.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that knowing when you are stuck and how to get unstuck is key to leading a fulfilling life.

Fulfillment means you see and experience your life as an adventure. When setbacks occur,  you don’t let them stop you – you work through them.

Do not succumb to the resistance that can accompany hard-won growth. Life is dynamic and ever-flowing and sometimes, you get stuck. But, the tools you learn to get back into flow — as well as what you learn about yourself — are truly invaluable.

Martin Luther King is the answer to America’s problems.

I began writing this very post on Sunday, January 3rd. I was filled with hopeful energy as I am every new year. For the last twenty-five years, I have used simple traditions for my personal development to review what has transpired over the last 365 days and to be intentional about the year ahead.

Traditions like a new year journal combined with a thoughtful read of the previous years’ entries. It never ceases to amaze me that seemingly separate events, when viewed in broad perspective, are inextricably linked. 

I also use reflection questions to view the year from different perspectives. This year, I created a new set of reflection questions that are tailored to the extraordinary circumstances we faced in 2020. I give my year’s names or themes that are symbolic of my intentions for the year.  I do the same when reviewing the year, too.  It’s a simple plan vs. actual exercise that keeps me honest.

The variance in what most of us planned or intended for 2020, and what actually happened — was like a chasm. And, it was no surprise that as I began to review my personal experience of 2020, it mirrored the external environment.

Simply put, 2020 was a year of extremes. It was about breaking down old structures and ways of being that no longer serve us.

And for many of us, the more we clung to those old structures and old ways — the more difficult it was to navigate 2020’s many trials.

The world saw the devastating video of George Floyd take his last breath pleading for his life as it was mercilessly taken from him by a police officer. America is a country of structural racism. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is largely reserved for white people through the intentional suppression of people of color. Our dominant two-party political system is a zero-sum game. Dualistic thinking of either/or, left/right, right/wrong, personal attacks, and lack of respect is the norm, not the exception. The constant news cycle that Americans ingest daily is owned by capitalistic corporations with profit first agendas. COVID-19 preyed upon America’s poor, old and disenfranchised while our precarious and enigmatic health care system teetered.  SO MUCH PAIN AND SORROW 

Like many of us, I searched for the bright lights.

The courage and dedication of the healthcare and essential workers who tirelessly worked for all of us; even the fools who eschewed masks. The seeds of listening and learning of white and privileged Americans as they were outraged and moved to become involved in social justice change for their fellow black Americans. The respite in air pollution and carbon emissions due to less air and car travel. The agility of small business owners who pivoted to serve their communities and employees. For the lucky ones, to work from home and have more family time. A break in the mindless busyness Americans have become addicted to. Record Voter turnout. A newly elected administration that reflects America’s core strength – our diversity. New ways of working and creating. And, all the furry-friends who relished being with their humans around the clock. SO MUCH GRATITUDE. 

On January 6th, 2021, as I was finishing my final edits on this piece, I watched, along with the world, an armed-insurrection at the US Capitol.

An attack on US democracy at the prompting of the sitting President. The final act of our incendiary President’s refusal to accept losing a fair and free election. While it is true, our democracy had regressed before 45 took office, he was the accelerant-in-chief. What has emerged to date is a disturbing reality and, we clearly haven’t hit bottom yet. Many of those old structures while wobbly are still standing. Some structures need to be abolished and demolished. Some need to be remade, reimagined, or reconfigured. There is so much work to be done. 

Today is a day in the US that we honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. MLK is such an inspiring leader, teacher, and healer. It was hard for me to feel despair today as I have since January 6th, when reading again what MLK sacrificed for equality for all in the US. He lived and died for his core values. It was this realization that snapped me back to action.

My intention for 2021 is to put my values into action.

In order to live your values, you need to first define them. Your values are your foundation as a person, guiding your actions and your decisions. I have included a Values Finders Tool to help you identify your values, as they can change as we age. It’s a great exercise to do alone or with loved ones. Included in the Values Finder tool is an action plan to get you started. 

We all need to take part in creating new structures that support us all – not just the privileged.

We all need to be selective about the media and information we ingest.  We need to use our talents and gifts to make the world a better place.  We need to put our values into action just like MLK.

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

MLK

Reflection Questions for 2020 through the Pandemic Lens

2020 was a year like no other.  The typical set of Personal Reflection Questions I created years ago to conduct a yearly review, simply won’t do. COVID-19 was a game-changer. And, before we leave it in our dust, it’s important to reflect on how we navigated a year steeped in extremes and unprecedented change. 

Here are a set of pandemic-specific personal reflection questions for 2020.

  1. How would you describe 2020 in just 3 words?
  2. What went well?
  3. What connections did you find yourself grateful for in 2020?
  4. How did you foster resilience? 
  5. What new habit are you most proud of?
  6. What old habit do you need to free yourself from?
  7. How has the pandemic changed you? 
  8. How did you handle the lack of control that 2020 brought?
  9. What did you do this year that you NEVER want to do again? 

Once you have had time to review 2020, then you can move into goal-setting. I recommend reading this inspiring article about people who have built better habits to help them achieve their goals. The article is written by James Clear who is a goal-setting guru. 

Why Worry doesn’t work.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher, and author, share a Buddhist parable about worrying.

The parable…

Three monks go for a walk—one wise, old monk and two younger disciples. The older monk points at a large boulder and asks his disciples, “Is that boulder heavy?” The younger monks reply, “Of course, that boulder is heavy!”

“Indeed, that boulder is heavy” says the old monk, “but, only if you pick it up.”

The boulder is a metaphor for worries. Big, heavy, hard to lift, and even harder yet to carry. Still, we bend down to pick up the boulder and lug it around with us all day. To worry is exhausting.

Our brains are wired for threats, so it’s no wonder we are prone to worry. The early thinking mind originally focused on survival still needs a job in today’s modern world. So, it relentlessly searches for problems to solve. Most of which pose no real danger. Yet, now in our sixth month of a pandemic and a lot of unrest in the world, many of us are in worry over-drive.

To stop worrying is difficult, but not impossible. There are some practical steps we can take to allay worry.

What is a practical step you can take when you have a worry?

Identify actions that are IN YOUR CONTROL. Let’s say the worry is that you’ll lose your job during the current economic downturn. What can you do?

  • Update your resume
  • Keep your networks “warm” (ie., reach out to them regularly)
  • Peruse job sites
  • Let close friends or colleagues you can trust know that you are always open to other opportunities
  • Connect with recruiters or influencers in your chosen field
  • Continue to perform and do your best at work
  • Exercise to help release stress
  • Talk to a friend or seek therapy

Once you have taken actions within your control…

LET IT GO.

Do not pick up that BOULDER! Kornfield suggests that after you take action on what is reasonably within your control, you can give the worry away to a higher power: Buddha, God, Universe, or some symbol of love and peace to hold for you. You write the worry down on a slip of paper and place it on a home-made altar to hold — symbolically releasing you of the burden.

Then, go about your life….

You took action within your control, but the worry resurfaces again in your mind. So, what next? There is only one way to move from worry to peace.

Presence is when we return our attention to what is happening to us now.

An example of how to be present…

Let’s say you are worried about an older loved one falling ill with COVID-19. Your mind thinks through a litany of scenarios — your loved one is exposed, gets COVID, hospitalized, etc. The worst-case scenarios are vivid, but you can choose presence over worry. Here’s how:

  1. Become aware that you are worrying. As you think, you become aware of your own thinking and observe your thinking with non-judgment.
  2. Return your attention to the present moment. Put your attention on what is right NOW. You are sitting in a chair. You notice the breeze coming through the window feels comforting.
  3. Stop for a moment. Notice that in the present moment – everything is okay.
  4. As your mind wanders again, without judgment bring your attention back to the present moment.
  5. You can also try a mantra to repeat such as “All is Well” and as you repeat the mantra, focus on your breath. You will notice immediately you will feel calmer and grounded in the present moment.
  6. Rinse and repeat.

The more you practice the skill, the better at it you will become. If you are interested in learning more about presence go to this post.

The practice of bringing the attention back to the present moment is called mindfulness. Once you start to practice mindfulness, just begin to notice how you feel in those mindful moments versus the moments where you let your mind focus on worry. (Hint: The present moment feels more expansive and peaceful.)

Mindfulness is the practice of calling the thinking mind back to the body so that the two become as one in the present moment.

I hope these two strategies help. To recap on how to let go of worry:

  1. Doing what’s in your control around the concern and then, let go.
  2. When the worry comes into your mind, return to the present moment.

Here are some of my favorite quotes about worry!

If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.”

Dalai Lama XIV

Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.

Eckhart Tolle

The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.

Eckhart Tolle

The meeting of two eternities, the past and the future… is precisely the present moment.

Henry David Thoreau

Living in the present moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.

Oprah Winfrey

Don’t pick up that boulder! Choose the present moment and enjoy all the extra energy you’ll have when you make the conscious choice not to worry!

Love and light,
Ellen

Our First Year In Switzerland – For This I am Grateful

Our family just celebrated our first year of living in Switzerland. We are first-time expats. So as far as modern-day continental transitions go, I have no frame of reference.  But, my life experience and hard-won mom-skills tell me we are all thriving. 

Before I jump into another year, I review what worked and what didn’t so I can consciously create anew. I do these “new year” reflections all the time. It’s a formal effort to make the most of life or Live Your Jam.  Reflection also allows me to look at how I rolled with life’s twists and turns because most of what we think we can control is an illusion anyway. (I know. Bummer.)

We all experience many new years throughout a calendar year — job, wedding, birthday, lifestyle change, etc. Go to this link to get an idea of what questions you can ask so you can perform your own review.   

My gratitude in 2019 for the opportunity to move from the United States to Europe, now in 2020, has blossomed into daily blessings. And, while I thought we would enjoy living here; we are falling in love with this efficient and enchanting country.  So, in the spirit of what is working…here’s what I’m grateful for this past year living abroad.

“Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

Eckhart Tolle

Our welcoming Swiss neighbors

The Swiss aren’t an extroverted culture as a general rule, but our neighbors did not get that memo. All of our neighbors have been welcoming and gracious. One year later our relationships with each of them have grown naturally due to a mix of openness and mutual interests. Our children play together, some of us hike in nearby woods, some of us ride bikes together and all of us enjoy seeing each other. We have a real sense of community in our Swiss hood. We left a neighborhood in California where all the children played together on the street and the adults genuinely liked one another. I didn’t expect to create a similar experience in a new country. For this, I am grateful. 

The multi-lingual Swiss

In Switzerland, there are four recognized languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansch) We live 8 miles outside of Zurich (north-central region). Public school here is taught in German. But, most Swiss speak Swiss German which is a dialect, (not a recognized language), at home, and to one another. French is the spoken language in Western Switzerland (French Region) and, Italian in the Southeast (Italian region). Romansch is spoken by the largest canton called Graubünden (Southeast). 

If all of this is a bit dizzying because there are so many languages for a country with a population of the state of Virginia. I’ll break it down. In my experience, most Swiss speak at least two of the above-mentioned languages or dialects. 

To my delight, many Swiss speak English and enjoy speaking it. I thought the language barrier would be a real challenge and it is not. Recently while out hiking, I attempted to communicate in German (about my dog) to a fellow hiker. She listened patiently, and replied in English, “It’s okay, speak your language.”  This is not unusual. Often, if I begin a conversation speaking German, the Swiss will respond, “What language do you want me to speak, German, English, Italian?” My family teases me that my German is so bad that the Swiss simply can’t bear to hear it and that’s why they graciously offer another language. I think there is some truth to that! 

The Swiss, understandably, appreciate it when an Ausländer tries to speak their language. For me, it’s a sign of respect. A law was recently passed that foreigners have to pass an A1 Level German class to help them integrate. I agree! And, luckily, I have some cushion while I’m learning because the Swiss, who are fluent in many languages, also enjoy speaking English.  For this, I am Grateful. 

Our sons’ school

School is an anchor for families — especially those in transition. Housing, commute, and many other life decisions are based upon schooling. International schools, like the one our sons attend, focus on creating community and making you feel like you belong. Students and parents are a part of an integration process that is well-thought-out throughout the year; not just at the beginning. Students are required to learn German so they can integrate into local communities. And, for parents, there are so many clubs to join and create community. When home learning began due to COVID-19 just seven months after school began, our boys mentioned many times how much they missed seeing their school friends and teachers. For this, I am Grateful. 

Slower pace

It’s only natural the pace of life slowed due to our move. It takes time to rebuild. In our case, instead of trying to re-create the life we had in the US, we decided to ease into our new life to see what unfolded. Our kids didn’t join sports teams, we didn’t pressure ourselves to make friends, and I didn’t pressure myself to get new clients. All this equals less rushing about and more time together. There are cultural differences that helped, too. Eating out is an exception, not a rule in Switzerland. So, there are many more family meals and time to be together – even before the pandemic. I was able to implement many of the practices from my two favorite fields: psychology, and spirituality. I have been able to consistently meditate, practice mindfulness in nature, or even while I’m cooking. The slower pace coupled with the daily practices of freeing my mental mind has allowed me to access my creativity.   

I think it’s the same for many of us. We have all become so attached to being busy, that our creativity is stymied. You can see the impact of the slower pace in the creative outputs of those of us who were fortunate enough to be healthy and quarantined. There is space to remember and relearn ways of creating that were left behind as life got too busy. Leadership Development expert Manfred Kets De Vries says, “The unconscious mind needs enough time to wander, pursue fantasies and assimilate information collected from diverse sources. When we engage in activities that make us relaxed and happy, dopamine is released in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps the mind to wander, activating the creative process.”  For this, I am Grateful.

Public-Transportation

Switzerland is known for a world-class transportation system; it is a reputation well-deserved. We have one car here and are rarely in it. We ride trains, trams, funiculars, buses, boats, gondolas, ferries, cable cars, T-bars, and chair lifts regularly. Our boys take the train to and fro school — it’s an easy, efficient, and safe seven-minute commute. Transportation really does run on time – we call it “Swiss Magic”For this, I am Grateful.

Nature

The natural beauty of Switzerland is astonishing. In the summer, the blue-green alpine lakes shimmer and reflect the mountains that rise up from the ground. In the winter, the snow-capped Alp peaks etch a silhouette that is breathtaking.

We wondered when we first moved here if we would become presumptuous with Switzerland’s beauty — we have not. Nor do our hosts. I see the smile on the old Swiss gentleman’s face as he sits on the bench looking out into the fields of yellow rapeseed with a backdrop of mountains illuminated by sunlight. Depending on the time of day it seems as if you can touch them. Truly Awesome. Feeling small in the face of nature, while perhaps fleeting and hard to explain, helps us all feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

What’s even more awesome than the natural beauty of Switzerland is the country’s relationship with it. Nature isn’t just to be admired, it’s to be explored. If there’s water, you swim, paddle, float or ride on it. If there’s a mountain you climb, ski, sled, bike, or ride it. It’s the keen accessibility to nature that is a marvel here. The Swiss invite you to nature to explore, enjoy, entwine, and esteem.

The Swiss love dogs

They are welcome almost anywhere: restaurants, hotels, transportation, and nature trails. Along with the privilege comes the responsibility that dogs are trained, registered, chipped, and owners abide by the leash laws specific to each canton. Chester, who meets all these practical criteria, has been welcomed all over Switzerland! For this, I am grateful.

Hope

July 4th, the US celebration of Independence is just two days away. Since we left the United States on July 1, 2019, it seems our divisions as a country have grown larger. We are a country embroiled politically in dualistic thinking which seeps in and poisons our humanity. On November 8, 2016, we elected a national leader that lives in an “us vs. them” world and has divided us further. The outcomes have set us back; there is no doubt. There is a vital revolution afoot for equality for black people in the United States that requires all Americans to demand action. 130,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 due to an administration that claimed the virus was a hoax and blown out of proportion by political rivals.  There is much despair. But, there is hope.

We have a chance again on November 3, 2020. All Americans need to be more willing participants in our elections — at all levels. The United States has faced adversity before. It is my sincere hope that we can overcome again to fulfill our potential and promise of “with liberty and justice for all”. For hope, I am grateful. 

Self-Care Sundays

Slowing down on Sunday…

is rooted in the Christian tradition. As far back as the second century, Sunday was a day of gathering to reflect upon Jesus’ resurrection. For believers and non-believers alike, Sunday has long been a day of rest and reflection.

Growing up outside of Chicago many years ago, our Sundays were reserved for family and church. And, depending on the time of year, watching the Chicago Bears.  My friend Coco, a true southerner, says that Sundays in the South are preserved for faith and football. My friend Dan from the SF Bay Area cooks large meals for his Italian family every Sunday.

No matter where you live or what traditions you honor, protecting Sunday as a day of rest has become increasingly difficult.

My experience is that Sundays in America have transformed into another day for productivity. There are countless reasons why this has happened: Kids’ sports are now commonplace on Sunday because unfortunately, most sports in the US occur outside of the school system. And, with children entering competitive sports at such young ages, weekends are devoted to their sports. So, Sunday is just another day to plan for and execute the extracurricular schedule. 

Many American families are dual-income. So, Sunday is a day to get caught up and ready for the week. Grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry. Yay! Because many of us are always plugged in to work thanks to our smartphones, our minds often start churning prematurely in preparation for Monday – robbing us from our day off.

There’s more social pressure to be doing on Sunday. Everything is open and everyone is busy accomplishing things — who are we to chillax?

In the last few years, I felt my Sundays inching away. I often felt cheated because I wanted to slow down and resentful because I could not. Like many of my friends, I had taken to rising very early to squeeze in exercise before the commitments kicked in. Wait, was this Sunday? Because it looked an awful like like Monday — just less traffic. 

The idea to dedicate a day to slow down, spend quality time with our loved ones to BE and not DO is vital to our wellness. So much so that there’s a movement to reclaim Sunday. Have you heard of it? #selfcareSundays

Michelle Obama and Oprah prioritize Sunday as a day of Self Care.

Beloved Former First Lady Michelle Obama recently re-popularized slowing down on Sundays (#selfcareSunday) as a day for women to take care of themselves. Recently, Oprah is sharing her #selfcareSunday on her social media posts. Let’s face it if these two amazing souls are doing it — #selfcareSundays is a thing. Oprah and Michelle, like all of us, are yearning for fewer to-dos and a higher quality of life!

The Swiss know all about #selfcareSunday.

With its roots religious roots in Christianity, Sunday has been a day of rest in Switzerland for centuries. Only 38% of the population describe themselves as Roman Catholic, while one fifth doesn’t identify with any denomination at all. Yet still, Sunday is a day of peace and quiet for the Swiss. The majority of stores (grocery, consumer, services) and restaurants in Switzerland are closed on Sunday. That’s right, C L O S E D, people!

A popular Swiss saying is there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear! Regardless of the weather, most Swiss are outside with their loved ones taking strolls, hikes, skiing, biking – anything outdoors with family. And, for those of us who love the outdoors, it’s our church – our connection with humanity, ourselves, and a higher power.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

While most of Europe has opened its doors to Sunday shoppers, critics call the Swiss tradition of no shopping on Sunday “outdated”, but, the Swiss carry on undeterred. 

With the stores closed and a culture that protects Sunday as a family day, I now have #selfcareSunday with little effort. Now that I am out of the pattern of a busy Sunday, I realize no matter what I am, I can create a Sunday that feeds my soul.

How to Create #SelfCare Sundays  – No Matter Where you Live.

  1. Know your values and if things don’t fit into your values say no to those things. I realize the source of my discontent on Sundays was that I was out of alignment with my values.
  2. Don’t be afraid to swim upstream. It’s not easy to go against your peer group. But, have the courage to take care of yourself and live by your values. Be an example for your kids.
  3. Say no more often. Read my dear friend and brilliant coach, Denise Green’s article on How to Say No with Grace, not Guilt.
  4. Limit your children’s sports activities. Children are over-booked these days and the amount of stress competitive sports is putting on their still-growing bones is well-documented. Considering joining teams for recreation, not competition.
  5. Protect your time. One of my coaching clients established “No Meeting Fridays”. He would only work on strategic and important issues on Friday and simply would not take any meetings. And, he stuck to it. We can all protect our Sundays, too.
  6. Plan ahead with your shopping and meals. With shops closed on Sunday, I plan our weekend meals on Thursday or Friday and make sure to have the ingredients on hand. I also don’t meal prep on Sunday anymore. The refrigerators are small in Europe, so, I just go to the store more often. It’s a trade-off, but I have my Sundays back.

What is your tradition on Sunday? Do you feel that you get enough down-time on that day? If not, I’m interested in how these tips might help and what you do to keep one day a week restful.

The secret to a fulfilling life.

My mission is to help people lead more fulfilling lives. What I call Jam. I’ve been doing this work long enough to see the paradox in seeking fulfillment. The idea that fulfillment is something to attain, a destination, something we can enter into google maps if create the right action plan and script the right moves. The paradox is this – how can something so inherently intrinsic as fulfillment be found outside of us?

I’ve recently moved to a new country. I’ve taken the change as an opportunity to slow down while we transition our boys. The time has allowed me to re-commit myself to some of the tools and resources that have always been helpful (but hard to sustain) in my spiritual and personal growth.

Jam isn’t linear…

In my coaching practice, the client creates goals and I support the client in achieving their goals. Goal setting can be a linear process, but as with most things in life, the circuitous journey (whatever we discover about ourselves along the way) is equally, if not more, valuable.

In coaching people to Live their Jam, the notion that there is a linear process for leading a fulfilling life is misleading. And most importantly, it places our attention in the wrong direction. As I stated, Jam isn’t something outside of ourselves that we have to go searching for, and even if we reach it, we don’t get a golden ticket to sustainment. This can only mean one thing.

Drum roll…

We can only live a fulfilled life by consciously choosing the present moment.

I think we have all heard this before. But, why is it so difficult to live in the present moment? You would think with all the advances in modern science, technology and mental health we could find fulfillment! Yet, it’s gotten more elusive. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting around 40 million adults — almost 1 in 5 people. Let’s take a look at what’s getting in our way of Living our Jam.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in the present moment; we live in the future.

Beware of Destination Addiction – A preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.

Robert Holden, PhD.

It’s true we all think that wanting the next thing is the voice of our true self, but it’s not. As Eckhart Tolle says, “The ego is lacking. It’s in a constant state of always wanting more.” We have all experienced the insatiable wanting of the ego.  If we get that job, that car, that bonus, that vacation. If our child gets into that school or plays that sport. If that person thinks we are smart, or if we can prove how competent we are, THEN life will be (outstanding, awesome, perfect). That’s not living the present. It’s a never-ending cycle of, “I don’t have something and when I do have that something — my life will be amazeballs!” (Something = material thing, relationship, job, prestige, legitimacy.)

Living in the future-thought cycle ensures one thing – we will never be content.  

When we let the ego tell us what is important in our life, our life becomes driven by unexamined intentions and automatic reactions to the world. We get further and further away from ourselves. So far, in fact, that we can’t even create what we want any more — because we don’t really know what fulfills us. 

Our ego may even mislead us to what our Jam is! Many have pursued a dream that wasn’t our own! We love our parents and family and often confuse their wanting for our path. Or for some of us, our lack of fulfillment leads to a life where we become too involved, too enmeshed in the pursuits of our children.

Our ego weaves and holds the story we tell ourselves about our lives, so it’s understandable that many of us have pursued a path that was not of our own making. When we quiet the ego, Jam can be found as we sense what authentically lights us up. And, as we stay in the present moment, we can truly feel what appeals to us and what does not without the critique of the ego.

Many of us live in the past.

Another preoccupation of the ego is to live in the past. Those of us who live in the past either relish or regret what was. We prefer our identity back then or we return to the past because we don’t like what the future holds.  When we live in the past, our narrative is trapped in time and can be heard in our lack of acceptance and responsibility for our current situation.

The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.

Eckhart Tolle

When we realize that lasting fulfillment isn’t “out there” or “back there” we are free to mindfully give our attention completely to what we are experiencing in the NOW. 

Let’s look at another way we stay out of the present moment and away from our Jam…

Most of us push away “challenging” feelings.

We spend so much of our time actively avoiding pain or disappointment that we forfeit now. Two ways we avoid challenging emotions are: 1) trivializing and, 2) moving into action.

For example, our neighbor gets a new car and remodels their home. We instantly feel mixed. We are happy for them but, we don’t like the ugly pangs of jealousy and inadequacy. So, we deny it! We make it “bad” rather than just is. Or perhaps we suppress the feeling and turn our minds to work on how we can afford to remodel our home!

Some of us make the mistake of equating painful feelings only to the “big things” like depression or the death of a loved one. We let go of these feelings that are part of human existence. Feelings of not belonging, not being good enough, not being liked. These feelings can come through even in the most common of situations! That’s why social media can be so unhealthy. The images and popularity can leave us feeling woefully inadequate. It’s okay to have these feelings – the key is to stay in the present moment and become skilled at noticing them from a distance. It is in this objective stand that they can exist but not have such a hold on us.

Here’s what works.

Accepting our feelings and reactions to situations is healthy. We can then move into conscious action. For example, limiting our exposure to social media would be conscious action after noticing and sitting with the anxiety we might feel after we peruse sites. Or, noticing we have personality traits that we don’t like, but accepting them nonetheless. Doing this allows us to be more whole – to experience all of ourselves and not just compartments.

Our impulse is usually either to try to deny our pain, by suppression or self-medication or to get caught up in dwelling on it through rumination and worry, allowing it to take charge of our lives.  How will you know the difficulties of being human, if you are always flying off to blue perfection? Where will you plant your grief seeds? We need ground to scrape and hoe, not the sky of unspecified desire.” 

Rumi

We are NOT our habitual thoughts and emotions

One of the most liberating and beautiful truths is that we are not that voice in our heads. When we give our thoughts and emotions too much power they can overcome us. Through meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can train ourselves to look at our thoughts and emotions and not necessarily silence them, but distance ourselves. Game Changer!

We can look at our emotions and thoughts objectively and do nothing but observe them! We can later decide how we want to think, feel, and react. And, even when our mind wanders as it will in meditation, we can learn not to judge it. As Dr. Herbert Benson,  founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests, when our mind wanders we can simply say to ourselves, “Oh well.” And, put our attention right back on our meditation (our breath, our body, our visualization).

There is nothing more important to true growth than recognizing you are not the voice of the mind. You are the one that hears it.

Michael A. Singer author of “The Untethered Soul”

How do you know if you are living in the present moment?

If you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, then you are in the present moment. The mind has two areas. The thinking mind and the observing mind — both are extremely valuable. We tend to over-rely on the thinking mind in the Western hemisphere. But, the observing mind is what ancient traditions have taught to live in the present moment. Try to observe what you are thinking. Notice the voice, let the voice do all its talking and just observe. That’s the present moment. You don’t have to try too hard, the voice will talk and you just have to listen and know that the voice is not YOU.

Jam exists in the present moment!

No matter where I have lived, nature has been my portal to presence. Nature is central to the Swiss way of life. And once again, nature has gifted me with a clarity that is transformative. I will serve others to lead a fulfilling life through the present moment.

Jam exists in the present moment because when we are focused on what we are doing and enjoying it — we are at peace and in connection with our true self (God, the universe, our soul). And, when we face adversity in the present moment, we can just take that as information, too. Information not to be ignored or dramatized, but as information that is also a part of who we are. It’s so simple and yet our modern life has complicated what we know. That we each have our own access to Jam – Every. Day.

If you are interested in some practical tips on how to become more present every day, please make sure you are on my email list. I’m also still trying to build my audience, so if you know of anyone who would enjoy this content, please forward to them so they can sign up for my email list.

Love and light,

Ellen

PHOTO CRED: Rebekah Gates. Near Einsiedeln, Switzerland 2020

Seeking those who are living their Life Purpose (Jam)

Are you someone who is living a life of passion and purpose? If so, how did you to where you are today? Who helped you along the way? What key lessons would you share with others who are committed to living a life of purpose?

VIKTOR FRANKL, LIFE PURPOSE and JAM

The notion that humans are intended for a certain life purpose goes back many centuries. Rumi, a beloved 13th century Sufi poet, wrote extensively about life purpose. He wrote, “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”.

The Christian tradition is rich with proverbs and passages from the Bible that discuss God’s calling people to a purpose. Apostle Paul says, “We are God’s handi­work, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

3 Steps to Live Your Passion and Life Purpose

Do you know what your purpose and passion is in life? Every one of us wants to feel as though our life matters. We want our time spent on earth to be meaningful and for the world to be a better place for us having lived in it. I started Live Your Jam because I wanted to inspire and help people live a life of meaning. (Jam = Passion + Skills)

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