How to Find the Lessons Hidden in Everyday Dilemmas








By now, we’re catching on: a life in crisis can be a fantastic teacher. There’s nothing like a complete reset to wipe you clean, right? As you are dumped on your butt, you have no choice but to look around and reach for solutions. Which is how a lot of lessons get learned.

Yet … at the same time … what if a gentler sort of lesson-learning was available to each of us all the time, every day?

What if you really could look up from whatever is troubling you in the moment, and find the lesson staring back at you? What if your everyday troubles, themselves, were your finest teachers?

Yet, those lessons don’t always just jump up and present themselves in clear and easy terms. Sometimes you have to work for them.

A friend was struggling with a relationship issue in her job as a first responder. It was a beautiful spring day as we walked and talked around Lake Merritt, but she was angry and fed up with her job.

I could hear that an old belief was keeping her stuck, that she couldn’t own her feelings in the workplace. Somehow she thought she had to be a strong, capable, “together” woman all the time, 24.7. When I asked her what she’d say if she could say anything to her crew, she was silent.

Somehow my friend believed that unlike the rest of us, first responders aren’t allowed to have feelings even when they’re not in emergency mode. And yet, as we walked and talked, her emotions were right there.

“What do you need?” I finally asked her.

She paused for a moment and looked out at the lake. “I think I need to be vulnerable at work, and talk about what’s bothering me.”


When we allow them, our emotions can be arbiters of real change in our lives. It’s really very simple, but oh how we try to avoid this simple truth. We don’t want to feel our damn feelings –- and yet, they are the most direct path to the wisdom inherent in each crisis.

This is not to say we have to lash out, pound our fist and raise our voice. We can practice our words ahead of time, and deliver ‘right speech’ as the Buddhists so beautifully put it.

We can also make requests instead of shrill demands … and we can keep on politely making them until our issue is resolved. (And okay, a little more force may need to be used occasionally, but only after all else fails.)

Note: I’m not just talking about anger here. Sometimes what another person needs to hear is that we are scared. Or sad. Or that we simply need a pat on the back and a little support.

Wherever you are today, and whatever is bothering you, allow yourself to surrender to your feelings. Even if they take you to uncomfortable places you assume you’d rather not visit. Your emotions are happening for a reason. And they are simply God’s way of taking you more deeply into life.

There is no good reason to resist, no matter what you were told about your feelings when you were young.

And, as ever, enjoy responsibly!


Will I Be a Sorceress or a Priestess?

I put the deck of Goddess Guidance cards in front of me, shuffled them, and drew three cards – one for the past, one for the present, and one for the future. Since Teal’s death in 2012, I sometimes pulled these cards from her deck just as she once did.

I like to imagine Teal’s energy is still in these cards, subtly aligning with the goddesses whose names are written on each one. After she died, I found a worn spiral notebook in which she’d carefully transcribed the guidance she received from her own readings in the last few years of her life.

While I really didn’t understand this whole ‘goddess business’ while Teal was alive, now I paid rapt attention. As it turns out, the goddesses always seem to have an eye out for me, as well.

Over the last five years, the readings had been soothing, helpful, and surprisingly accurate. Now as I laid out the cards, I prayed about the unfolding work I have been given.

What was on my mind, specifically, was how to remain true to my cause.

The fact was that five years ago at the peak of my success I was lost. I was delivering good enough work as a ‘spiritual marketing’ coach, but my feet weren’t on the ground. I was too sucked into a system that was all about pushing, striving, and selling through whatever means necessary. This was training I’d paid tens of thousands of dollars to receive.

At the time, I’d conveniently forgotten about my values. Instead, I turned over my personal responsibility to a whole lot of magical thinking. After all, this was ‘spiritual’ marketing … right? So as long as it ‘felt guided’, anything seemed fair game – even wildly overcharging people.

It was amazing what passed for ‘guided’ in my psyche back then.

Now I’ve uncovered the magic of simply being real, honest and allowing the Universe to meet me however it does. Here, it seems, lies the true spiritual work. Gone is my ambition, my striving, my overwork. My greed.

Instead, I am gently shown the way, day after day, by simply surrendering to what is.

Now I value kindness, compassion and generosity. Instead of manipulating people into buying high priced programs, it feels much better to give freely and to honor each person I meet. As it turns out living simply isn’t so bad.

Just enough really is enough.

This is why I haven’t launched a program or attempted to sell my work, beyond my books, for the last four years. I’ve been getting grounded in these new values, and letting them take root and blossom in my life.

Holding such tender space is the gift of Teal’s death. Yet, at the same time, I know the time has arrived for me to step up and actively lead groups of people again. Hence the question I put to the goddesses.

How can I show up and lead fueled by purpose and service instead of ego and grasping?

The answer was swift. And, as usual, goddesses did not disappoint. In the position of the past was Rhiannon, the ‘Sorceress’, and she was upside down. “You are a magical person who can manifest your clear intention into reality,” read the card.

Yup. I was pretty magical then, and not in a good way. I manifested all sorts of crazy s**t including six figure weekend sales events and the massive tax issues that came with them.

Interestingly, the card was upside down, indicating something was off or there was a big lesson to learn.
In the Present position was Dana, High Priestess, and she, too, was upside down. “You have Divine knowledge that can help others through your spiritual teaching.”

Ah. Okay – yes, it feels like there is more teaching for me to do. And the card is upside down because I’m still holding back, afraid that once more I will fall into the trap of ego and overreach. Can I remain humble and still stand in front of the room?

In the future position was Aphrodite, the Inner Goddess. “Awaken the goddess within you though dance, self-care, and appreciating your divinity.” Happily, this time the card was right side up.

And what am I to teach people? Healing work that begins with self-care.

Clearly, the goddesses are telling me trust the path. It’s all there, and I have nothing to fear. I’ve learned the key lessons, and my awareness is great. Not only that, I have Teal standing by in the ethers, guiding me as I go.
Can I teach again? Can I share my work once more, and this time keep my feet on the ground and my heart open to the world?

Yes, yes. A thousand times yes! I know I can. For with each person we heal, Teal and I live our life purposes just a little more completely.

This is what feels right and true.

And so it must be.




10 Ways to Stop Being ‘Insanely Busy’

Today’s episode is all about taking a break from the grind, whether that’s a much needed lunch break of the 10-month sabbatical my guest managed to take. Rest has been proven again and again to increase our well-being dramatically … and yet, we don’t do it.
Here’s a reprint of my post popular article on this subject. I’m running it while I’m on a vacation in France getting my own rest. I hope you find it valuable!

If you’re like many of us, you work 50-60 hours in an office. Or you take work home, work on weekends — and try to juggle the rest of life as well. It gets overwhelming, doesn’t it?
That plus the ever present demands of children, ageing parents, and community sends us over the edge. No wonder we get mired in self-talk about the impossibility of work-life balance. But here’s the thing …
 Would you unplug if you could?

Often we get lulled into thinking we have no choice. We believe we have to overwork in order to succeed, in order to be viable. We believe we have to suffer to be whole.
For one week why not try some of these unplugging ideas as an experiment in self-care? You’ll find out exactly how willing you are to stop being so busy. And you may just find your way back to greater peace.
1. Begin to breathe. Take five minutes at the start of each day – before you even reach for your phone. Sit up, get comfortable, and simply breathe with your eyes closed. Follow your breath in and out. Just observe it. Let your mind go crazy but keep coming back to your breath. Do this every day for one week, and then notice. Are you starting to feel calmer?

2. Forgive those who anger you. Easier said than done, perhaps. Take at least thirty minutes of quiet time on a lunch hour to write out all of your resentments towards a particular person. Write it all down. Eventually, you will get to the end. And there you will naturally find forgiveness – which feels so much better. (If you think you don’t have 30 minutes, what can you change so you actually do that have that time? Reminder: We all deserve an hour off at lunch.)

3. Acknowledge yourself. When is the last time you tuned into your inner conversation about yourself? It’s there – trust me. Consider adding some kind words or a little pep talk each day when you’re taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Picking a regular time seems to help.

4. Take back lunch. If you work through lunch, stop immediately. You need this break. Really! Allow yourself to shut your door and relax. Bring your lunch to work and find something fun to do with this precious hour. Read a juicy novel. Knit. Take a walk. Bring an instrument and consider starting an office jam session. (I once witnessed this in an award winning Swedish ad agency!) This step, alone, could start a small revolution … and such truly alternative ‘brain breaks’ have been proven to increase overall effectiveness in work.

5. Turn off the ringer and all notifications on your phone. Let your phone fade into the background. Check it sporadically … you can do it! You’ll find you become more present, more relaxed. And far more inspired. If your boss demands you keep it on, simply smile and keep setting that firm, polite boundary. This is restorative time that allows you to work more efficiently in the afternoon.

6. Turn off your phone at lunch. Just try this for one week, even if it feels incredibly uncomfortable. You will find that what once seemed incredibly important isn’t so crucial now. And so balance returns.

7. Start to walk places – or ride a bike. This is a good one if you can’t make time to exercise. If your daily commute is filled with traffic, get around it hopping on a bike. If that’s not practical, outfit your bike with a basket or panniers and do your errands this way. Or carry a small backpack and walk. The natural endorphins you’ll experience may make this irresistible.

8. Take a nap. Insane right? Au contraire. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap will leave you far more alert and better able to perform, without grogginess. Try to find a place at work to curl up – read a great book called Take a Nap; Change Your Life  for inspiration.

9. Find a buddy. Making changes in old habits and mindsets requires support. Find at least one good pal you can call as you travel new roads. Check in each day by phone or email on how this slowing, calming process is working for you.

10. Ask yourself what you need … then provide it. So often we put ourselves last in the rush to please others and get ahead. But our needs never stop. Get in the habit of asking yourself several times per day what you need. Take the first answer you get, even if you don’t like it. It’s okay … you really can trust yourself to know the truth.

Remember, you were designed to be whole and complete — without overwork or stress of any kind. And you can get back to that sweet place by simply allowing yourself to unfold a little.

Please feel free to listen to my podcast, Before the Afterlife, where I interviewed Linda Claire Puig about How to Go On a Magical Sabbatical, See the World and Change Your Life.

Also, please share with me your own ideas about how you avoid being ‘insanely busy’.

I’d love to hear from you,






How I Gave Up My Home and Found Freedom

NOTE: This essay was first published just after I moved in with the woman who is now my wife. I wrote it in May, 2015, and I think it’s a perfect reflection on what my life was like then … still, quiet, and waiting to begin again.

I just moved again. Only this time … I’ve finally come home.

Since my daughter died and my one-time life fell apart in 2012, my undulating path has led me ever forward.

Again and again I’ve been called to up-level who I am, what I do … and even where I live. Challenges have abounded. Wild waters have had to be crossed. Yet I have persisted. And now, finally, I am thriving.

Oddly, I followed the path that Teal, herself, followed just before her death. Here’s how it went.

A few months prior to Teal’s death I gave up my apartment in San Francisco and moved in with a lover. The relationship ended shortly after I arrived … and so I found myself without a home. A nester by nature, I always held having no home as certain death. This was literally my worst fear as a small child.

Yet somehow, this time I rose above it and did something radical.

I dumped my stuff in storage, packed a few lean bags and went off to find myself.

“Nice,” said Teal approvingly. She, herself, had just landed in an apartment after six months of couch surfing with friends, preceded by six months of backpacking around the world. “I don’t really need a home,” she explained lightly.

At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Completely.

Home is our tether to who we are – which for me was a rigid identity, forged in the crucible of a dysfunctional childhood. But now I was being called to let go and head for the unknown.

In fact, in my homeless state, I was searching for the supreme ideal that formed every moment of Teal’s life: freedom.

So it was that I wandered here and there.

I spent a memorable month sleeping under the stars at a hot springs filled with gentle, naked Californians. Then I travelled, visiting friends and traveled here and there around the US and Canada. I was subletting a home in a small women’s commune in the wine country when Teal died.

With her death came a new level of surrender. Having a real home now suddenly seemed out of the question. I wanted nothing more than to drift.

I found my way to a small, safe cocoon – a sunny bedroom in Petaluma, a sweet little town north of San Francisco. My housemates were funny, interesting, and forgiving of my frequent need to disappear and cry.

My identity continued to disintegrate.

It began to dawn on me that I was no longer capable of doing the business coaching that had sustained me for the last decade. Really all I could do at this point was drink tea and write, with a long-haired cat tucked by my side. Then my aging, infirm mother died and so I received a modest inheritance.

This time I packed up and moved to Paris for two months. Here I could let go of the last vestiges of the compressed, anxious high achiever I’d become. A room for a mere 20 euros a night landed in my lap. So I walked through Paris every day for hours. I made friends, bought groceries among the Parisians and practiced my French with everyone who would let me. I pretended for a while that Paris was my home.

When I finally came home, I was relaxed, centered, newly grounded. Just as Teal was when she returned from her own wandering travels in Europe and Asia.

At this point, it was sixteen months after Teal’s death. I was ready to emerge … somewhat. But only in the safest and tenderest of ways.

It was at this moment that a kind, loving old friend invited me to live with her. Now I found myself in yet another new town – Sebastopol, known for its hippie bus mindset and chill vibe. Here I found my yogi, a kind and guided soul who introduced me to another of Teal’s loves: goddess spirituality.

Every time I went to Kashi’s studio and practiced the gentle, healing yoga she taught, I felt another part of my heart open and let go. It was here that I became fully, completely surrendered on the path.

In Sebastopol, I set up the tiniest of roots. I rented a small office and created an altar, which I lit with electric candles and strewed with rose petals. Regularly, Teal and the goddesses would drop in and advise me.

For another sixteen months I dissolved back to a new layer of calm, and simple Me-ness. I gave up trying to make money and within a few months a paying gig writing novels came my way. Everything I needed simply kept showing up, again and again.

During this time I stopped striving and as I did, the best thing of all happened: I fell in love.

Now I live with my love, and slowly the foundation of our new life is being built. My storage unit is getting emptier and emptier as I let go of no-longer-needed pieces of my past. And each day we knit ourselves together on the soul path we agreed to an eternity ago.

In my new life, I am finally free. My self-imposed prison is gone. The need to suffer has lifted. The relentless perfectionist has been silenced, and the little girl who lives inside of me has been liberated.

I find myself now with a new and gleaming path ahead, not to mention a home. Every inch of it is informed by my three years of wandering and living like Teal did …

In wonder, grace and curiosity, simply waiting to see what would happen next.

If you want to learn more stories about letting go, you might love my latest podcast, A Master Conversation About Letting Go with Timber Hawkeye. 



Are You a Wounded Decision Maker?

Throughout most of my life, I made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turned out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist. And working there was hell.

At the same time, I ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for. He was fun, engaging and swept every awards show. But I blew off his entreaty.

Because I had no idea what I was doing. Blithely, I assumed I should just go on instincts, so I made a very bad choice.

The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nor did I even know I needed help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I discovered I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection.  I dove headfirst into a love affair with an unstable person.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. But I ignored him.

After all, I always knew the correct answer … right?


Only in the last several years have I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It feels like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. So I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsive overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, and run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from snuffing out my pain with an impulse to buy a painting I couldn’t afford.

In the end, each choice I’ve made has always been mine. But I’ve learned to make them with eyes open and all the options on the table.

In this way, conscious decision-making has saved my bacon many times in recent years.

Here’s the part I really love: this Zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off!

Especially when I regard each decision as an experiment – one that may work beautifully, or, instead, become a ‘learning experience.’

No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

Instead, now I can take my own sweet time. I can decide when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am now married to is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s not interested in seizing every opportunity, but instead, in exploring the potential downsides as well.

She takes her time, and she is teaching me to do so, too’.

At times, it’s still uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush sometimes beckon.

But I stop to reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

The world will not end tomorrow if we don’t act today. We can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly.

If you like this conversation about how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions, you might love my latest podcast with Chel Hamilton. She has a lot to say about overcoming ‘knee-jerkery’.

How to Stop Trying to Get Meditation ‘Right͛’ … and Just Relax

I used to be a really busy meditator. You know the type.

I could barely sit still because I was so busy feeling my divine energy consume my body, moving me this way and that. Or I was constantly opening my eyes, focusing on this timer or that crystal to keep my meditation ‘on track’ and perfect. Or maybe I was working on memorizing some really long, complicated mantra while I meditated.

Who had time to just become empty and still?

I didn’t. I was too busy getting my meditation ‘right’ to actually relax.

But that was before I discovered the true, messy imperfection of meditation. In its simplest state meditation isn’t anything in particular, other than stilling the mind. And that’s hard to do … hence the plethora of meditation tools, apps, props, supports, recordings, mantras, breathing practices and experts. All of which want us to get meditation ‘right’.

But what if there was no right way to meditate?

Only now, nearly 35 years after I began meditating, do I appreciate the value of letting my mind roam as it must. When I notice it, I gently steering it back towards nothingness. That’s all I need to do, it turns out. Just kindly return myself back towards nothing again … and again … and again … and again …

When I do this, and my timer rings at the end of fifteen minutes, I find myself calmer than I was before. I’m refreshed. Ready to move into my day. That’s what meditation does for me, and its benefits are subtle and deep.

I notice, for instance, that I’ve lost my old love for drama. Over time, meditation makes the mind lose its tolerance for chaos and chaotic people. Likewise, you lose your interest in that which grates. Instead, you become remarkably kind to yourself.
Now, when I make a mistake, I find I no longer chide myself. Instead, I remind myself that life is just this really big experiment. If I get it wrong, that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get it right next time … or maybe I won’t.

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter.


That’s the big thing I’ve gotten from meditation. As the hours slip by, day by day, and your tolerance for pure nothingness increases, you can’t help but embrace the now. For that’s really all we have, isn’t it?

Right here, right now, in all of its unvarnished glory.

Mind you, I’m anything but perfect on this count. I find myself planning and strategizing as if I could personally plot out every twist and turn in my future. But I can’t. Wordlessly, meditation reminds me of this truth again and again, without even trying.

But then, sometimes, things happen. Unbidden, sudden insights can drop in when you’re meditating, yet you can’t go looking for them.

Instead, your only job is to relax … and empty your mind … and let go.

In 2010, Teal wrote in her journal about her own meditation practice, and I think this passage sums up this phenomenon nicely. She wrote it while she was backpacking her way through the world, one day at a time. On this particular afternoon, she happened to be in Italy.

On my way back I saw this cemetery … It was white marble and really amazing … overlooking the sea, cliffs, mountains, and towns. So I chose to sit down there and meditate and I got: ‘Go to Thailand, open your heart, open your soul and be.’

“The whole ‘be’ thing really made an impact on me. I realized in life I am never really there. I tend to be thinking about the future or past or something someone said instead of being in the moment, and taking it in for all its beauty. 

After this meditation, I knew I had been transformed because I looked out over the ocean and mountain scene in front of me and I started to cry. I was really able to take it all in and I finally realized how blessed I am to be here, and how many beautiful things there are here.”

When you can finally let go and embrace nothingness, it seems the entire world opens up to you. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Because the finding of serenity, of peace, of true freedom, comes not from getting or seizing anything.

True peace is found only by letting go.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, you might enjoy this week’s podcast with hypnotist Chel Hamilton as she talks about teaching meditation and what it does for the brain. It’s like ‘mind floss’ she says, and I agree. 

You can find the recording here

The Value of a ‘Why Not’ List 

One of the big illusions about life is that somewhere out there … it’s better. Someone other than me is working harder, delighting more readers, and generally looking a lot hotter.

And so, presumably, they are on track to be the so-called winner. Maybe they even get to take home a big stuffed bear.

A part of our brain often gets fixated on how our lives should be … as opposed to how perfectly satisfying and wonderful they are right here and right now.

My friend Jon calls this sad habit ‘shoulding on yourself’.

As in ‘I should be working 50 hours weeks building my empire,’ or  ‘I should have a massive list by now’. And let’s not forget that perennial favorite, ‘I should be ten pounds thinner.’

If you’re like me, you slip into shoulding without even thinking about it. I notice I get particularly should-y when thinking about my work, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. And no matter what’s going on in my life.

I’m thinking about my wedding six months ago. These were the days of wine and roses! Yet my mind was squarely parked on how much work I could cram in before the guests start arriving … purely out of should-i-ness.

But was I actually getting it done? Not really. I was too distracted! I wanted to take a champagne bath, and try on my wedding ring fifteen more times. I want to call all the family and friends who were showing up for the big day.

I wanted to hold my love and look dreamily in her eyes.

Which I would have done … except for that taskmaster, Should, in my head. Silently, she tapped her stick against her hand.

Here’s the supreme irony of it all. We don’t actually get that much done when we are being all ‘shouldy’. We’re much more likely to really rock the results when we let go completely and honor what’s happening here and now.

Jon, who is a very wise soul, reminds me that even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us.

Think about that … even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us.


After all, God’s not standing around, tapping a foot and impatiently waiting for results, right? We’re the ones who do that.

Instead, God, or the Universe, or Spirit (or whomever you recognize that great guiding Force to be), invites us all to let go and slide into the great slipstream of love. Here we flow from one task to the next, effortlessly.

Here we let go and surrender and find our way to whatever would feel right next.

So instead of a ‘To Do’ list, may I humbly suggest a ‘Why Not?’ list.
Why not take a walk and watch the clouds for as long as you want? For if you do, some inspiration will surely descend.

Why not call someone you love and tell them so. Then your heart will expand just a little more greatly.

Or why not take a chance and submit a story to that hot media outlet you’ve been craving because suddenly … it feels right?

That’s flow, baby. I highly recommend inviting it into your life.

When we get ball-and-chained to our To Do lists, there is no room for us to breathe. So we forget the very core of our aliveness. This is how we get so very, very tired. We can’t keep up, and the strategies we’ve invested our time, our money, and our belief in begin to crumble.

This is when the ‘shoulds’ begin in earnest. And rightly so because (gasp!) … we rall behind. And we know in our hearts we will never catch up.

This is how we wind up soundly parked in self-doubt.
Which is exactly where I was when I spoke to my friend Jon. I needed to hear him say that that there is no ‘there’ there. There really is nothing to push towards.
There is only the here and now, one beautiful day at a time.

May you join me in embracing what is, for all of its warts, bumps and obvious gaps. They, too, are God’s will … just as you are.

You have been given a sacred job of simply being, my friend. So the question remains: is that good enough for you?

Me? I say yes!




Do you want to learn more about walking away from the to-do list? Listen to the latest episode of Before the Afterlife, How to Walk Away from the To-Do List – with Jen Riday


The Thirty-Minute Exercise That Helped Me Forgive and Forget

There are people in this life who make me weary.

You know who I mean — the lover who discarded me; the boss who denigrated me. Even the kids who relentlessly bullied me in grade school. For many years, there was an entire cast of characters in my psyche I thought I was done with.

Except that I wasn’t.

They still chimed in from time to time, simply as disembodied voices in my head. And why? Because again and again, I invited them in.

The truth is I longed to let them go. Fie on those bully kids and that impossible-to-please boss. And what about the toxic lover? I longed to get rid of her, too!

How I craved some much-needed space in my head. Once I had it, then all kinds of kind, lovely, nourishing things could grow in my mind instead.

So I decided to set these angry rants free.

A book I was reading at the time suggested it would be as simple as writing a letter to each person I was still resentful with. I would never send the letter, of course, but instead simply write it. And that alone would free up space in my heart.

Okay. Fair enough. At this point, it was three years after the toxic relationship, 31 years after the obnoxious boss, and 46 years after the bully kids … so why not let it all go? I’d had those negative voices in my head far too long already.

I sat down to write each person a letter and a very surprising thing happened. I began with my former lover, a person I felt had done me wrong in many ways. I really let it all hang out as I wrote.

Spiritual bypass was not allowed — I scrawled every last one of my petty, crude, pissy thoughts. I gnashed my teeth on paper. I told her exactly what I thought of her … and then half way down the page, the tone suddenly shifted.

All of the sudden a small awareness of my role in the relationship became clearer. I found myself writing, “Of course, I invited you into this dynamic by being a vacant, pliable victim … so we acted out our little drama just like actors in a play.”

Whoa. Really?

Yes, really. The fact was I was being so nakedly honest gave me no recourse but to be honest about my own responsibility, too. Did she mistreat me? Did she use me? Did she manipulate and control me?

Absolutely! And did I manipulate her right back?

I certainly did.

Every time I was silent and let my former lover abuse or control me, I fed our off-kilter dynamic. Every choice I made that didn’t serve me merely cemented the unhappy lockstep we both found ourselves stuck in.

As I continued to write my letter to her, I discovered what a great thing our break up was. It was actually a great relief when she dumped me. Now I could actually see how critical this relationship was to my personal growth.

As a direct result of that break-up, I found my way into work that helped me become humble again. I learned to live in a far healthier way and found a new, far deeper connection to God.

Out of this work, I also found the truly happy, deeply loving marriage I am now in.

Our greatest teachers often show up as irritants in the path – the rock around which we must flow. The bully kids taught me to protect my most sensitive self, and let her only be seen in ways that are safe and whole.

The obnoxious boss taught me how low my standards were, and how to aim higher with the next job I got – and then the next, and the next after that.

Again and again, life conspires to bring the very best teachers our way, whether we like them or not. I say our souls demand it – for how else can we really grow?

By finally telling the truth, I owned the entire picture of what had happened. Here was my safe forum to truly express myself, and so discover the lessons buried behind the grief. Now I found I truly was ready to let go of the hurt, the pain and the anger.  

At the end of the letter, I was filled with compassion, empathy and even gratitude for this remarkable woman I had once loved. I knew that part of me would even love her for years to come, whether or not we ever spoke again.  

I had been reborn — simply because of one small, thirty-minute exercise.

If you are carrying resentment towards anyone in your life or your past, why not lay your burden down? All that you will lose is the artificial crutch of your resentment.

There is an innate joy that awaits all of us. It lives on the other side of humility, honesty and willingness.

I invite you to write a letter of your own – a letter you never send. For, if nothing else, it will be a supreme act of self care.  
As it turns out, all this letting go of resentments is part of becoming truly happy. If you’d like to find your own innate happiness, listen to our new podcast with happiness expert Andrew Matthews.





The Secret to Relaxing About Life

There is a strange paradox about life. Seldom is the one we are living the life we think we should be living. 

Somehow we can never get quite enough money, or power or titles or sex or adventures or love or anything to truly feel we’ve got our share. Like hungry birds in their nests, our beaks are always open, demanding yet another worm. There is always some better position, some higher level of responsibility, some more exalted realm we think should be ours.

At least, this much has been true for me … until recently.

Not only have I consistently believed throughout my life that I didn’t have ‘enough’, I believed that I wasn’t enough either. I honestly thought that if I got that million dollar book deal/perfect body/perfect … whatever … then I’d finally be whole and complete.

Then I could relax! Then I could be happy! I could stop pushing so hard and endlessly striving. Then, in the eyes of the Universe, Mom, and everyone else I would finally be enough. Or so I thought.

It was only recently, at the ripe old age of 58, that I finally decided to let go of this toxic illusion. This, right here and right now, is the life I’ve been given. And this, right here and right now, is as good as it gets.

What happened was that I was standing in our church singing in one of our annual concert, singing my heart out with my fellow choir singers. There was nothing slick or high visibility about the event. The audience was peppered with families and dotted with unruly kids and crying babies. Heck, we barely had microphones.

And there was nothing slick about my life. My work continues along on a humble path. There is no massive book deal, no high visibility position, none of the things that I’d always imagined would make me happy.

But in that moment as I looked out over the crowd and sang, delivering my gift for that particular moment, I felt intensely bonded to each person sitting there. I could feel the love rising in the room, and the slightly sweaty, restless-child imperfection of all of it at the same time.

It was spectacularly beautiful.

These were my people, I thought to myself, and I am in exactly the right place doing the right thing at the right time. On the other side of the choir, my new wife Rachel was singing in the tenor section. We were experiencing the uplift of the music together, as our choir director beamed his approval.

Simply put, we were one with the audience, with each other and all the good and caring musicians around us.

That’s when I understood, unequivocally, this is as good as it gets.

And that’s when I saw a grand illusion that my long held dream has been. As long as I quantify my life by many book deals, or income hikes, or vacations, or … whatever … I receive, there will probably never be “enough.” Not in this congested, tired little mind.

Furthermore, I will miss the deep and beautiful treasure of the life that’s happening here and now.

I realize now that it’s okay to have dreams and goals as long as they are accompanied by an intense sense of gratitude for what is present now. As long as I don’t reject the reality of the present moment for some cherished illusion in my mind – because that illusion has no substance.

Down here, in the thick of life, only one thing counts and that is tapping into the love that is here and now, in this present moment. And then being grateful as we gaze ahead, ready to be surprised by life.

Wherever you are and may you know that, today, right here and right now, you are enough.





On my Before the Afterlife podcastTony talks about maintaining a zestful life, and what his ‘magic bullet’ is for Emergency Zest as needed… check it out here.
















You can find this episode below, or subscribe with any podcast player.

Here are the links to iTunes and Google Play!



Self Care For Post Menopausal Women

An interesting thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been tangoing with menopause. Everything is different and I do mean everything. Even how I approach exercise and chocolate has changed.

I had to do a radical rewrite on my own self-care playbook. If you’re a woman of a certain age, perhaps you relate?

For one thing, I need copious amounts of self care now more than ever. And I don’t just mean the massages and the pedicures. I mean emotional self-care as well.

The good news is this level of self care actually works. I am happier, healthier and at far greater peace than any other time in my life.

Here are a few of my own road-tested self care favorites.

A dedicated spiritual practice. I used to think If I worked had enough, and pushed hard enough, I would get what I wanted. As I age, I now believe in the power of a guiding force more than ever, and BOY does that make my life flow with far greater joy and ease! The drama has literally disappeared. Like … completely.

I put my practice into motion in a regular way, every day. For me, this means sitting in meditation as soon as I wake up, and reciting a collection of beloved prayers. One is my own version of the metta prayer, from Buddhism.

May I be happy
May I know my true worth
May I know I am lovable
May I love and be loved with ease Focus is a bigger problem than it used to be. I’m not retired and still work quite happily, but sometimes my brain just refuses to play along. I get distracted. I forget stuff. I call a backpack a pancake. That kind of thing.

When I’m working, a web-based app called has been a huge help. There are tracks for sleep, relaxation and focus. I pull up the Focus track, plug in my headphones, and find myself able to work along happily, easily, getting much more done. plays binaural beats behind your choice of ‘cinematic music’, chimes and bowls, or sounds in nature like thunderstorms or beach waves. EEG’s have shown the beats work as effectively as meditation. I agree! Click here for a really good coupon that makes an annual subscription quite reasonable.

Chiropractic, Physical Therapy … and podcasts. When the simple act of waking up in the morning started hurting, I turned to my trusty favorites, a good chiropractor and physical therapy. A regular routine of stretching immediately helped, and I was grateful. But then I was told I had to ‘keep it going’, essentially forever.

My inner child stamped her foot and rebelled. I stopped. Not surprisingly, I started waking up in pain again. Then I found podcasts … a glorious way to stay completely entertained for the chunk of time it takes to do my daily stretches and exercises. Now I feel limber, and I get to learn things at the same time.

Smart phones are a great way to listen to podcasts, and many come in with built in podcast apps. Here are instructions for listening on an iPhone … and for an Android device.  You can listen on a computer as well.

You may even want to listen to my own podcast, Before the AfterlifeIt’s about healing, spiritual guidance and how to be happy before you go.

Flax Seed oil every day. I used to have hot flashes until I started eating my salad every day with a dressing of flax seed oil, lemon and a bit of lemon pepper. Hot flashes be gone! It also does some very nice things for your digestion. Buy your flax seed oil at a health food store, or a good grocery store. It comes packaged in an opaque or dark glass bottle, and must be kept refrigerated. You only need a few teaspoons mixed up fresh every day.

Note — I also sprinkle ground flax seed on my yogurt every morning. It has lignans, which have plant estrogen and antioxidants, and are just plain great for you.

MinChex. One thing I noticed as I hit menopause is that my ambition has completely changed. As I went through a sweeping life transition, I lost interest in a ‘million dollar business’. Now I want lasting love, peace, serenity, authentic work and ease.

And yeah, I still have to get things done. So in order to get a bit fired up, yet remain balanced and serene, I’ve been taking a supplement from Standard Process called MinChex.  It helps support the nervous system, so you can move through your day efficiently, yet without stress. PLEASE NOTE: You must order these through a chiropractor or other health provider.

Superfood Smoothies. One of the great joys of my day is having a ‘milkshake’ made entirely of fruit, veggies, superfoods, and things like coconut milk and coconut water. The twist is I get my recipes from a fantastic cookbook that makes the smoothies taste absolutely delicious – even the green ones, which become very indulgent flavors like Mint Chip. If you avoid sugar, these can become your daily treat. And if you’re like me, you MUST have your treat. It’s sacred!

Limiting alcohol. This suggestion may not be popular to those who love their nightly Chardonnay as much as I did at the end of my first marriage. But there actually is a whole new world on the other side of the nightly cocktail. It includes increased vim and vigor, better sleep and fewer pounds.

It can be a push to get there even if you consider yourself a casual ‘just a glass each night’ drinker, but honestly, the rewards are so worth it. Try it for a month. You may find, like me, that you simply lose interest. I have now found my happy medium in one or two good glasses of wine per week.

Regular ‘me’ time. Even though I recently remarried, I still need my glorious pockets of time alone. Every morning I sit in my own little inner sanctum and tune in to me. What do I need today? Will this be a day to swim or take a hike? Which friend am I feeling moved to call? What issue do I need to call my Congress-people about? And what about that weird dream I had last night? All of it gets addressed when I sit with myself. Journaling figures in, and creative list making, too.

Yeah, I’ve always needed this. But somehow, earlier in life when I was rearing kids and working outside the home, that need receded. Happily … it’s back!

A good night’s sleep. Sounds impossible, right? I know! But lately, my sleep has been coming back. I attribute a lot of that to a wonderful little book I read called ‘Say Good Night to Insomnia‘ by Gregg D. Jacobs. I read this book a few years ago, and had to work with its various suggestions to figure out what worked and what didn’t. My top suggestions are keeping a sleep log, and using Sleep Restraint to retrain your bio-clock. Read my much more extensive blog post on this — 12 Great Drug-Free Solutions to Insomnia.

These are just a few ideas to get you started crafting your own Menopausal Self Care Plan. And do please let me know a few of your own favorite menopausal self-care goodies in the comments below.

Thanks, as ever, for being a part of my life.

What’s on the Other Side of Letting Go? It’s Flow, Baby!

Once you do the hard work of letting go, an interesting thing starts to happen. You find yourself with nothing much to worry about.

There is palpable peace there, if you allow it. All you have to do is tune into the small, quiet frequency that lies just below the hectic pace of everyday life. You know this place … it’s just beyond the to-do lists, and multi-tasking and the worried sense that you’re not doing enough.

It’s that lovely, floaty place you arrive at when you’ve been meditating for a while. You’re calm, clear headed and you have no particular place to get to in that moment.

Instead, you allow yourself, for once, to be in flow.

Now, flow is a very powerful state of Grace. Flow is what brings miracles to your door, unbidden. It’s what allows you to walk down the street and bump into the very person you were just thinking about.

Flow is also the stuff your dreams are made of.

Once you make the break – whatever it may be – and let go of the all-wrong situation you’ve been anxiously clinging to, space in your psyche opens up. Your soul relaxes. Your heart expands.

You may even feel like humming or skipping a little. (Go ahead … it’s actually kind of fun!)

Once you find yourself in flow, each day can take on an organic design of its own, no matter what you are up to. So instead of sitting down to a rigid, even overwhelming list of To-Do’s,throw them out. Instead, just sit quietly at your desk for a moment and feel what your heart wants you to do next, and next, and next.

Then do it. You may notice a certain ease or lightness, or a sudden, remarkable passage of time as you dig in productively.

Even if your beautifully in-flow work occasionally requires you to do something you’d rather not, like attend a tedious meeting, you can still be in flow. Just ask that glorious state of flow to accompany you to the meeting and inform your presence there. Let it move you to contribute in the most beneficial way you can.

Ideas may pop up out of nowhere, and agreements made that are simply easy. Flow is always marked by ease and a marked lack of ‘doing’. Things just show up, again and again, and they are always in harmony with what you want and need.

However, be aware that the state of flow resists certain situations.

If you cling to a job that is 100% wrong for you or a relationship that’s a struggle, flow will disappear the moment you step through that door.

Flow also disappears when you watch it too closely, or cling to it too needily. You can’t shut your eyes, cross your fingers and hope for flow with all your heart. Instead, you must invite it in gently, graciously and without attachment. And then go about your business until it arrives. Only then can it do its magic.

Flow sometimes takes its own sweet time about showing up, which is its privilege. It will come when it, and you, are both ready.

Most of all, the state of flow is marked by desire. Whatever you desire from moment to moment will guide you most effectively to the state of flow. You simply have to be quiet to know what that is … then follow the directions that well up from your heart.

Try it right now. What is it that you desire most right now?

Perhaps a gluten free chocolate fudge tart? Okay, why not? Go get one … and chances are while you’re walking down to the corner to get your tart, you will see something that will inspire a great idea. Or maybe you’ll have a chance encounter with someone you need to meet.

Or maybe you’ll just have an utterly fantastic chocolate moment. Thus becoming prepared more completely for your next moment, and the next one after that.

I invite you to delve into flow and let the rapture of it sweep you away. You will not dissolve, and you will probably be surprised how much you’ll actually accomplish.

This is what life looks like on the other side of all that clinging and grasping that makes us suffer. It’s free, easy and remarkably simple. And yeah … it’s bliss.

Why not give it a try?

Want to learn more about Suzanne’s healing approach to life? Listen to her Before the Afterlife Podcast on iTunes.

How To Stay Calm in the Trump Era

teddy bear on roadI didn’t vote for Donald Trump and I’m scared. I feel vulnerable and shaky … and really uncertain what the future brings. Some days I can barely work because I’m so distracted and worried.

And yet … this is the chaos that often happens before a very big shift in the public consciousness. It’s the breakdown before the breakthrough. But in the meanwhile …

Here are some things we can do to stay calm and be more effective as the chaos unfolds.

We owe it to ourselves and … really, at this point, we owe it to the world at large.

  1. First, go on a news diet. Pull away from the steady, alarming, adrenaline pumping news. Put down the Times app. Turn off the TV. Remember much of the media is on repetitive 12 hour cycles, so once you’ve got the basic news for the day, you can turn away. The world will still go on. Your central nervous system will thank you for it.
  2. Show up and protest. Don’t march because it will necessarily make a Washington sit up and take notice (though reports are that Congress has begun to pay attention.) Do it because it will give you a feeling of control.Actively protesting makes you feel remarkably better. You stop feeling so alone, and you get inspired. Put on your pink hat and march, loudly and often.
  3. Feel your grief and fear. Have you had a good cry yet? Listen … you deserve it. We all do. Let yourself cry and an amazing wave of relief and peace will follow. If Chuck Schumer can do it, so can you.
  4. Remember that every four years there is an election in the US. The current state of duress many of us feel is only going to last so long. Trump can be voted out just like he got voted in. In the end this is a democracy in the US … and so far, it’s been working for more than 240 years.
  5. Think of this as the division before the healing. Nothing brings people together like chaos and stress. Remember the aftermath of 9-11. And take note of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have, together, been doing clean up on Trump’s missteps with foreign leaders. That, alone, is a small miracle. The more our internal conflicts escalate, the more opportunity there is for us to come together.
  6. Meditate … and do a little yoga, too. 5000 years of global practice say they work. Even scientists agree the combo reduces worry, doubt, and increases overall happiness. Consider this an excellent time to begin … even five minutes a day of sitting quietly with eyes closed will help.
  7. Give money to causes directly affected by new policies. Citizen action has proven at times to be more effective than government policy. Give to Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Sierra Club, and other conservation organizations. Join the more than 335,300 people who joined the ACLU in the last week – and donated more than 24 million dollars. Even making a small contribution per month will increase your sense of well-being.
  8. Sign online petitions and letters.,, The Daily Kos and others make it one-click simple to lodge a protest with your elected officials. Getting on the email lists of these organizations will put almost daily petitions into your inbox that you can sign with a simple click. Calling Congress has been proven to be even more effective – and so you will feel that much better after you do. Simply dial 202-224-3121. Here are some handy instructions.
  9. Sleep with a bear. Call it primal … but a teddy bear makes you feel ever so much better. It really will.

Don’t worry, keep breathing. Not only are will the US get through this … we’re going to be a more respectful, awake, conscious country. One that ultimately will prove worthy of respect.

Feel free to add ideas of your own below. After all, we’re all in this together!

Business Self Care Hacks for a Fresh New Year

I don’t know about you, but when a new year begins, I raise my head up, look around, and shake off the old sludge.

And suddenly I  realize my office is full of dog hair, the storage on my phone and my computer are gone, and my passwords are a disorganized mess. Furthermore, my to-do’s are completely out of control.

So I get busy.

I vacuum my office and clean out my inbox. I get dictation software, a better calendar system, and some new electronics. I might even hire a virtual assistant.

And then … just like that … I feel renewed and awake again. I have energy to do things I’d previously avoided like the plague. Which, if you have goals of any kind, is pretty damn critical.

Here are some of the sites and tools that have made my ‘New Year’s Wake Up’ possible.

  1. Gazelle. Trade in your old electronics for slightly used ones at this handy site and save 50%. If you can upgrade your phone, this is the truly affordable – and green – way to do that. Recently I bought a used iPhone 6 Plus for half the retail cost. Aside the fact that it arrived by mail in a brown cardboard box, you’d never know it wasn’t brand new. There’s not a scratch on it.Then I just dropped by my phone service carrier, they switched out the SIM card, and I was good to go. Oh yeah … I also had them wipe my old phone clean, which I then sold to Gazelle for a cool $95 payout.If you’ve been avoiding a phone upgrade because of the expense, here’s your ticket. It also took $22 off my monthly service bill since I no longer am paying off a phone I now own.
  1. 1Password. If you have a document listing your passwords anywhere in your computer, take them out now. Aside from the obvious hacking threat, there is a better, synched solution that works with your smart phone as well. 1Password has been highly reviewed by legions of tech reviewers for years, and rightly so.It’s a simple, elegant solution in which to not only store log ins, but stores critical info like your credit card, passport and so much more it boggles the mind. You can even create safe ‘vaults’ for your staff to access or store important logins they are working with.Furthermore, it works across all your devices so you’ll never fumble for a password again. (P.S. I avoided this task for months because I thought it would take too long to set up. But it took less than an hour and was fun to boot!)
  1. Upwork. There are people out there, around the globe, who want to help you in any number of capacities from personal assistant to marketing to editing and more. Many of them can be found for remarkably reasonable prices on Upwork, formerly known as O Desk.Note: As ever, you will need to carefully vet the folks you hire. I’ve found some of the best team members I’ve ever had thru Upwork. Yet, I’ve also hired a few who didn’t work out so well. Do your due diligence here. Check references, look at portfolios and trust the Upwork rating system. Then give a new VA time to get to know how you like to work. (See Quip, below.)This really is what it takes to get ahead of the massive, ever-expanding to do list in your head.
  1. Asana. I used to organize all my to-do’s on a digital post it that sat in my computer. I’d type up my daily list, email it to my ‘Action Buddy’, then paste the list into my Stickie. Turned out there’s a better way to do this.Asana is free task organizing website that helps you set up tasks lists, calendars and more to share with others … or just track, yourself. The paid version has some nice features including graphics that show how much of various projects you’ve completed each time you log in, which can be remarkably motivating.I especially love going into the calendar and constantly moving tasks from day to day, based on how the day is going and how much I can reasonably get done. To-do guilt be gone!
  1. Quip. This is a really helpful site that helps you track online conversations with assistants. When you email a document with instructions, they get posted in Quip. Then you check an easy little box to indicate you read their response to your notes. And you leave a few remarks of your own.If you have multiple projects you’re getting help on, this is a really clean, efficient way to keep track of who said what and who’s up to date.
  1. TaskRabbit. Perhaps the help you need is more of the ‘go stand in line at the DMV’ variety? No worries, because TaskRabbit’s got your back. This wonderful site provides live, real people to come to your home and do everything from wash up after your dinner party to organize your closets and teach you salsa dancing.I’ve used TaskRabbit a number of times with good results. Workers tend to be resourceful people with all kinds of experience who like working in this ad hoc manner. And really, some of them have been excellent!Here’s how you get those gnarly tasks done, like putting the IKEA table together that’s totally confounded you, or throwing out the old junk you can’t bear to part with. (Do note, TaskRabbit is currently in many but not all major cities.)

There! That should help you get going with a new sense of support and purpose for a fresh, thriving new year.

Don’t forget the biggest truth of all when it comes to self care: You don’t have to do it alone. Ever.

The Eight Secrets of Emotional Self-Care

item-img1You hear a lot about self care out there – the massages, the meditation apps, the healthy walks. The apple a day.

But what about your emotional life? How do you live so your emotions generate less stress and more happiness?

Here are eight simple guidelines I find invaluable as I focus more and more on my own self care. May they serve you well …

1. Honor your emotions. Feel them, listen to them and let them naturally cycle through you. This is one of the wonders of the human organism. We are designed to constantly cleanse our psyches by allowing our emotions to move through us. But first, we have to allow them to do that.

Delaying, ignoring or ‘stuffing’ your feelings does no one any good. (P.S. This does not mean going off and dumping those emotions on someone else, willy-nilly. See # 3 below.)

Reminder: your anger and your fear are here to protect you. So let them do their job.

2. Realize it’s all about you and your mother. We are always processing emotional sludge, most of which we think has nothing to do with us. But actually, all of it has to do with us — and the gigantic filters we have that constantly trigger memories from our past.

When something challenging or even joyful happens, these memories pour through our subconscious. They can make us euphoric, just as they can render us mute with anger when, say, someone snaps at us.

Believe it or not, that oversized, white-hot rage you feel when a car cuts you off is a flicker from your past, albeit a strong one.
You can tell you’re triggered because the event usually does not warrant the huge reaction you have.

Good self-care means gently reminding yourself you are triggered. Then allow your feelings to flow in the quiet of your own private space, until eventually they resolve.

3. Become humble. It’s hard to be a humble human, and yet, when you are, you set yourself free. Humility means you don’t need to be perfect … nor do you need to be right.

In fact, you don’t have to be anything other than just good old you, as you are, right here and right now.

Humility also means everyone else gets to be the equally flawed creatures they are, as you remember we are all in this together.

Ironically, humility insists you give yourself the self-care you need first, so you can then turn your eyes in service to the rest of the world. It means listening with curiosity, then learning.

Always … we are learning as we go.

4. Know (and express) your boundaries. Being clear on your boundaries and setting them in a kind way is a great life skill.
Sometimes we don’t get to do that as kids, so we are learning now as adults. Which is great!

The key is to honor our emotions (see #1 above) and then find the courage to speak up kindly. Requests work well here.

If you feel shy about this, keep this in mind. People often appreciate it when you are clear about your boundaries. Then they don’t have to awkwardly wonder, guess and try to accommodate you anyway.

5. Own your own stuff … and nothing more. Good emotional self-care would include only being responsible for ‘your side of the street’. Take note if you come from an abused background, and you tend to say you’re sorry a lot.

You don’t have to apologize to someone who dumps on you for no good reason, any more than you have to apologize for inclement weather.

That would be someone else’s business … not yours.

By the same token, always be honest when conflicts happen. So if you actually do need to make an apology, you do so.

This is how you find your way back to true ease and freedom –- which is the heart of emotional self-care.

6. Forgive and set yourself free. That sticky pile of resentments you’ve been carrying around is a massive energy suck. Within those upsets is usually a piece of you, also waiting to be forgiven.

The fact is that conflicts are seldom one sided. It takes two people to make a snit. But once your issue forgiveness yourself and the other person … and you own your own part as well … your heart can relax. And your soul can breathe once more.

7. Stay out of harm’s way. Your emotions are always on, like finely tuned radar, reading the people and places all around you, scanning for safety.

So it’s worth noticing when you find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable or even mildly frightened by someone else, or the place you are in. That’s when you may need to leave. Or, if you can’t, simply pull down your ‘invisible shield’. That would be your inner protective armor, which is always at the ready waiting to help.

Also bear in mind that you can still love someone, and even respect them, though you may not want to spend much time with them. (I’m thinking of difficult family members here.)

Above all, be true to yourself. Your guidance system is on for a reason.

8. Be patient with yourself. Did you know that you are a work in progress until the day you die? But then, isn’t the point of life to learn, evolve and grow?

That means you won’t ‘get it right’ the first time, or maybe even the fiftieth. But you might just do it the fifty-first time.

Here is to your tender heart.

If you serve her well, she will most abundantly serve you.

How to Get Along at Dysfunctional Family Get-Togethers (the Buddhist Version)

For many holiday seasons over the past 15 years I’ve published variations on this essay. This year, in honor of the wonderful Buddhist sangha I joined at the East Bay Meditation Center, I’ve crafted this variation.

jizosanta2-500x330Ah, family. We can’t live without them, yet sometimes we can’t really live with them, either. Especially at the holidays, when we are all just a little extra keyed up.

For every ounce of deep, family-bonded joy we feel on the holidays, there’s sure to be at least one moment when we want climb into Aunt Nanny’s coat closet and have a silent scream.

Trouble is, children are watching. Elderly people you see once a year are watching. You really do want to keep it together.

Ah, grasshopper … this is actually a teachable moment. It goes back to the original Buddhist belief that there will be suffering. Not only will there be suffering, you are entirely at choice in how you engage in it. Author and teacher Robert Thurman refers to this phenomenon as ‘changing the channel.”

Changing that channel, of course, can be damn near impossible. So this is when help must be evoked. A prayer can be handy.

Like this one, the Buddhist ‘Extended Compassion Practice’ from the Divine Abodes. It goes like this:

If I cannot be loving in this moment, may I be kind

If I cannot be kind, may I simply notice

If I cannot just notice, may I not cause harm

If I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least amount of harm possible

May I strive to not exile anyone from my heart

I particularly love that last point. Because I really hate it when I exile someone from my heart. It feels just awful … and like all of us, I do exactly that from time to time.

When my mother was still alive, there was always one moment every holiday when she’d be a complete outcast as far as my heart is concerned. I’d be filled with my hurt feelings, or my righteous indignation, or my screaming anxiety that at any moment she might blow up.

It really didn’t matter what happened, or what kind of story I told myself, the pattern was always the same. Show up at home, be genuinely delighted, and fairly delightful as well. But by Day 3, things had shifted. You just knew the fur was going to fly once the drinks got flowing.

Back then the last thing on my mind was whether or not I exiled anyone from my heart. Instead, I was full of my hurt and angry inner monologue, my carefully written story of injustice.

And yet, here – exactly here – is where I needed to be careful. This is exactly where I actually could have asked for help, and so been able to keep my cool.

I could have taken myself away at the appropriate moment, closed the door and meditated for a while.

I could have pulled out a piece of paper and done a little remedial journaling.

I could have asked God for help as I repeated a prayer like the one above again and again.

And most of all, I would have known that exiling anyone from my heart hurts me most of all.

But, of course, I didn’t have access to such good wisdom back in those days. What I had was a pattern of dysfunctional family drama in which I played a key role. Today, however, it’s a different story.

Now I know what to do when I feel myself getting anxious. I take myself away, and figure out what’s causing me upset. I allow myself to have whatever dark feelings I’m having away alone, in a nice safe place. And I give myself some space to have those feelings.

Then I remember that we’re all full of awkwardness, upsets, and the swirl of emotions. And most of the time, we truly do regret our hasty, unskilled remarks. The fact is, we’re all in this leaky lifeboat together, and so we must learn to row it together.

If we can live in a place of self-compassion, and general compassion to all around us, that rowing is going to happen a whole lot more easily. But, of course, that’s what this holiday season is really all about, isn’t it?

When I keep mulling over my feelings, and basting in the juices of righteous indignation, I do nothing more than dull my heart. That helps no one, least of all me.

A companion prayer to the one above puts it this way:

May I strive to not cause myself suffering

May I strive to keep my heart open to the suffering of the world

May I learn to decrease suffering in my own life

May I learn to decrease the suffering of others

This holiday season,  if you are fortunate enough to be with family, may you honor yourself and them as the profound teachers that they are. And may you give them — and yourself — a great big break and a whole lot of love.

Most of all, here’s to your own fragile heart, my friend. May you tend it well.

Happy Holidays.