True Heroism is Being Your True Self

To be the hero of your own story takes courage—sometimes more courage than we think we have. But courage is something we’re all born with, even when we don’t think it’s there.

Like the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz, we awaken to our courage when we act from a place deep within us more powerful than fear— a place of love.

Embarking on life review or life story writing requires courage—lots of it, and that’s just the beginning. Completing it and then handing it off to the next generation takes sustained courage.

But what if nobody reads it? What if nobody appreciates it? What if nobody cares?

That’s not for you to worry about. Your payoff is knowing you wrote it down and that your story is there, between two covers, in your own words— and in your own voice—preserved for perpetuity. Someone someday will come upon your story and will be inspired, motivated, guided and perhaps even healed by your story.

You will have done your part. It’s up to the next generation to do theirs. Our faith in humanity, and in life itself, tells us they will be guided by its Light, in their own way.

~

Azim Khamisa showed enormous courage when he first learned of his son’s death in January of 1995. Twenty-two-year-old college student Tariq Khamisa was delivering pizza in San Diego, CA, when he was shot and killed by Tony Hicks, a 14-year-old gang member.

Azim was aware he had a choice. He could give in to the dark emotions of anger and bitterness he was feeling and choose revenge; or he could make another choice. He could choose another path through his grief and pain that would eventually lead to compassion and forgiveness for himself, for his son’s killer, and later, for thousands of others around the world inspired by his story.

Nicholas Gage had anger and revenge in his heart when he quit his job as an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for The New York Times in the early 1980s. At age 41, he moved his wife and three young children from New York City to Athens, Greece, so he could track down those responsible for the murder of his mother Eleni Gatzoyiannis during the Greek civil war in 1948.

His journey that began with the courage it took to face his pain is told in his gripping memoir Eleni. His story ends with his choice of another way to honor his mother’s life than to take the life of the man responsible for her death.

When he finally came face to face with a man named Katis he had despised for 32 years with a fierce intention to kill, he found, at the end, he couldn’t do it. He knew by killing Katis he would ruin the lives of his wife and children.

The cycle of violence that had ripped his birth family apart would continue to plague the next generation, and the next, unless he had the courage, and compassion, to stop it.

“Killing Katis would give me relief from the pain that had filled me for so many years,” he writes in the last paragraph of his book.“But as much as I want that satisfaction, I’ve learned that I can’t do it. My mother’s love, the primary impulse of her life, still binds us together, often surrounding me like a tangible presence. Summoning the hate necessary to kill Katis would sever that bridge connecting us and destroy the part of me that is most like Eleni.”  

Mattie Stepanek lived only 14 years but his messages of courage and compassion continue to inspire people through his books and poetry, including Journey Through Heartsongs. President Jimmy Carter delivered the eulogy at Mattie’s funeral on June 28, 2004.

Mattie was the youngest of four children, each of whom inherited a rare and fatal neuromuscular disease called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. His mother, Jeni, did not know she carried the gene. She was diagnosed as an adult, after all four of the children were born. Mattie’s siblings — Katie, Stevie, and Jamie — all died before age four.

Mattie was grateful for each and every day of his life and lived them all to the fullest in spite of enormous health challenges. He had what his mother called ‘humble pride.’ Shortly before he turned six, Mattie and his mother appeared on the TODAY Show with Katie Couric.

“You started to read, I understand, when you were three years old,” said Ms. Couric. “Last year you read more than 1,000 books. Is that right?”

“Actually, it was 1,250 books,” answered Mattie, who dictated his poetry aloud so his mother could write it out longhand. He said his poetry was inspired by his brothers and sisters who died before him so their messages of love, courage, peace and compassion could go out to the world.

Not everyone has life stories about overcoming tragedy and loss with the heroic courage and compassion required by Azim, Nicholas and Mattie. By listening to the news, we know plenty of everyday heroes are out there—lives caught in poverty and war, families whose homes are destroyed by fire and flood, innocent victims of crime, violence, accident and illness.

Hearing these stories inspires all of us to do what we can to bring peace and compassion to our world. As we all know, peace in our world can only begin with peace in each and every one of us. Life story writing often brings peace, freedom and increased consciousness to people’s lives.

Our lives affect other lives by the ripple effect. We all have at least one timeless or pivotal story about how we learned courage and compassion that led to forgiveness, and how that one experience may have changed our life, and the lives of others around us.

Perhaps this is a story you could write as a priceless gift only you can give to a child or grandchild. This story would be like the parable Jesus told about the merchant in Matthew 13:46 of the Bible who sold all of his worldly goods in order to purchase the ‘pearl of great price,’ a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven.

In addition to courage, life review or life story writing also requires compassion, for self and others. Often, when we look back on our lives, we recall times we wish we had behaved differently. We may feel some guilt or remorse for choices we made that may have hurt someone else. We may still hold some anger or bitterness toward others we’ve never forgiven.

Painful memories keep coming back and avoidance of pain keeps us from accepting pain as part of life, forgiving ourselves and others and then letting the pain go. Writing such stories can begin the healing process. If you still feel stuck in negative emotions while writing your story, writing in a journal first about your thoughts and feelings is an effective way to express your painful emotions so you can better understand how to release them.

In his book, Healing Into Life and Death, Stephen Levine writes a moving account of a woman hospitalized with bone cancer. Her physical and emotional pain were so unbearable she responded to her nurses’s attempts to help her with palpable anger and verbal abuse. She was so bitter toward life and everyone around her that they all avoided her as much as possible.

One night, her pain became so intense that she had no choice but to surrender to it. In doing so, she released years of angry emotions she had allowed to build up inside her.

The woman later said that before her epiphany, she saw the unbearable pain as only ‘her pain.’ Afterward, it became ‘the pain,’ the universal pain that is part of the human experience. She moved from fear and suffering to compassion and caring for others. Her life, and her persona, changed.

When she died some weeks later, she died a healed woman. She wasn’t cured of cancer but she was healed spiritually and emotionally. In those few weeks before her death, her room became a place where nurses would come on their break because it was a room so filled with love.

The lesson this woman learned has been passed on to us as we hear her story. Once we tap into our own innate courage with a willingness to face our personal pain and suffering, we become compassionate toward the pain and suffering of others which leads us to forgiveness. When we touch another’s pain with fear, we feel pity for them, and no one wants to be pitied. When we touch another’s pain with love, this is compassion and compassion leads to healing.

A hero learns from experience that love is stronger than fear. To overcome fear, one must choose between fear and love. Fear is judgment that your story isn’t worth telling, you are not a writer, you have nothing to say and nobody would be interested anyway.

Love is heart energy that fuels an awareness of the preciousness of life—your life—and your desire to leave a legacy of love from all you have learned in your lifetime for generations to come. Your love of life overcomes your fear of not being enough, or being forgotten after you’re gone.

Once you have crossed this threshold from fear to love, your perspective on life softens. You are able to accept what has happened to you as a series of experiences you had to go through to become who you are today. Our thoughts create our reality; therefore, our thoughts about our stories and past experiences help to shape our legacy.

Reflecting on your life experiences and harvesting the wisdom, compassion and understanding gained throughout your life in personal stories preserved for generations to come is called generativity.

Generativity is a term coined by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.”

Erikson is also known for his eight stages of psychosocial development through which a healthy human being should pass from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage, the individual confronts and learns to master new challenges.

These stages of learning include: 0 to 2 years, hope and trust; 2 to 4 years, autonomy and will; 4 to 5 years, initiative and purpose; 5 to 12 years, competence and industry; 13 to 19 years, fidelity and identity; 20 to 24 years, love and intimacy; 25 to 64 years, care and generativity; 65 to death, ego integrity and wisdom.

Drawing on Erikson’s wisdom, John Kotre, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and author of Make It Count: How to Generate a Legacy That Gives Meaning to Your Life, and White Gloves: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory, has created an outline describing the generative process as a lifetime process.

The Generative Process includes . . .

  1. the courage to face the past;
  2. the courage to find one’s unique voice;
  3. the courage to create that which expresses your uniqueness;
  4. discernment to pass on the good of one’s creation and release the bad;
  5. the ability to let go of one’s creation when the time comes;
  6. the acceptance by faith that life is basically good and that nothing is final, not even death.

In his essay titled, Generativity and the Gift of Meaning, he asks, “Will any sizable number of us in the second half of life be able to make the transition from Me to Beyond Me? Will we be able to see our moral status as more than that of bearers of entitlements?”

Which brings us back to where we started—with the courage and heart to begin the work only you can do by passing on the stories of how you learned compassion, forgiveness, resilience, resourcefulness and commitment in the sacred school of life.

Depending on your age, you might also write stories about how you learned each one of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development as you moved through them. Stories about how you learned or discovered hope and trust, autonomy and will, competence, fidelity, love and wisdom— would make a wonderful gift for loved ones of all ages. The younger ones will be inspired and motivated to learn them, too, and the older ones may be motivated to begin writing, as well.

Good luck and God bless! You can and will do it!

Journaling From Grief to Gratitude

To love is to know loss and suffering, both normal and necessary human emotions we all experience sooner or later, in one way or another, as we move through life.

Grief is the deep anguish, pain, sorrow and sadness we feel physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually when someone we love has died, or when a marriage ends, a job is lost, when illness or accident occurs and takes away our health, or disaster strikes and we lose our happiness, our home, our livelihood, our hopes and our dreams.

One thing that cannot be taken from us is our freedom to choose how we think about whatever has changed our life that will help us adapt and adjust to a new reality.

Yet, it’s important to remember that grief is transitory, it is not our destiny. Grief is not forever unless we allow it to be. Love is forever and grief is what we go through that transforms us into a more loving, forgiving and compassionate human being.

Once our hearts get broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries. —Fred J. Epstein, M.D.

For some, grief feels like a dark tunnel that has no end, no emergency escape doors except for things we sometimes grasp onto to ease the pain, such as drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, hoarding, TV, pop culture and “entertainment”, worry, busy-ness and bitterness. These escape doors only lead to more pain, loss and suffering.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For though art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

—Psalm 23

The walk through grief is a one-way walk through darkness and despair. But you are never alone. You must believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. You must also believe with all your heart that a safety light is always available to show the way. It’s called your higher self, your spiritual self or your True Self. It’s not outside of you, it’s within you, always has been, always will be. It is your gift from God, the creator and sustainer of life. But you must know it’s there, acknowledge it and spill out your thoughts, feelings and emotions to it for deep healing to occur.

Many writers, teachers and spiritual leaders have defined and explained this dual identity we humans have in many different ways. One of the easiest and most effective ways to think about it is You = your ego self, your human self, that part of you that makes you unique from all the other humans in the world, and vulnerable to pain and suffering; and True Self = your soul, spiritual or sacred self, that timeless and eternal part of you that has always existed and always will exist as an essential part of this Universe.

My mother always said to me, “Be your own best friend.” So that’s how I have come to regard these two parts of me—the wise elder or “best friend” part of me (True Self) and the spontaneous, sometimes fragile, sensitive, unpredictable part of me that feels pain and feels anguish (Ego Self). My religious faith and beliefs support me in this journey because I know that no matter what, I am loved unconditionally by the loving God that created me, just as all of us are—no matter what.

If you are in deep despair at this moment, one thing you can do to help ease the pain and begin the process of healing is to think of something that makes you smile— one person, one experience, one memory. Replace negative thoughts and memories with positive thoughts or memories. If that person is the loved one who has passed on, remembering all the ways that person touched your life with love and caring may help you begin to heal.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. —Dr. Seuss

Whoever you are, whatever your life experience has been, you have everything within yourself to come out the other end of loss and suffering as a stronger, more loving, more compassionate person. You were perfectly made and you are perfectly loved but you must do your part to bring all these intrinsic gifts of yours into fruition.

One thing people in grief discover that is most upsetting and confusing is when others—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, expect you to “get over it” and move on in your life. They offer, with good intention, a “cookie-cutter” solution to your suffering that simply doesn’t work for you. They tell you the story of their loss and grief to perhaps soften yours, but they don’t (or have the capacity to) listen to your story. When we are in grief, telling our story to a compassionate and wise listener is essential.

There are several reasons for this. We all suffer but we suffer differently. No two grief experiences are exactly the same. Another reason is that most people are afraid of death, dying and loss themselves so they don’t know what to say or do when someone close to them experiences death and loss.

Another reason is that we live in a culture that values instant gratification. Whatever pain you’re experiencing, there’s a pill or panacea—a magic bullet—that will make it all go away—like right now, today. This is pure fantasy—magical thinking—and can be a dangerous one at that.

One of the most effective tools you can use to help you through a time of grief is simple, timeless, affordable, private and effective— journaling. Journaling is the act of writing by hand on paper the thoughts you are thinking and the emotions you are feeling. You allow the thoughts of your mind to move through the emotions in your heart and out through your hand onto paper. There . . . doesn’t that feel better? Try and see. You will be surprised at what you can learn from your True Self to soothe your hurting Ego Self.

The beauty of journaling is that it requires that you are alone, in a private place, at a private time, and you are quiet. You are still. You consciously and intentionally quiet your body and you quiet your mind. Simply set an intention, take several deep “letting go” breaths and begin writing. Set of timer if you wish, but if time isn’t an issue, write until there’s nothing left in your head or heart to write about. Later, when you re-read what you wrote, you will be amazed at the wisdom of your own words, words written not to impress but to express. You will get to know who you are and why you are here—you will awaken to your own sacred autonomy.

Being able to express that which makes us unique is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others. Learning to allow our emotions to be, to honor them, and to express them appropriately is part of what it means to be human and an important stage in our maturing process.

“Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a higher power that is greater than ourselves to do it.” —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Father Knows Best

For those too young to remember, Father Knows Best (fatherknowsbest.com) was a popular TV show from 1954 to 1963, starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt as Mr. and Mrs. James Anderson. Jim and Margaret and their two daughters and a son were portrayed as a typical “all-American family.” I can’t remember exactly when we bought our first television, but it couldn’t have been much earlier than 1954, so Father Knows Best was one of the regular TV programs my two sisters and I grew up with.

Although our father didn’t always know best, our mother tried to make it look as if he did. Those were the days when fathers were the head of the household and most of the mothers we knew were not employed outside of the home. Fathers were the breadwinners, and, at least at our house, our father had the final say on most matters of any importance because he paid the bills. Being the sole owner of his wholesale construction equipment company with nearly 20 employees, Daddy alone was responsible for its success. Anything Mother could do to help him in that essential role, she did with few, albeit occasional, complaints.

As much as I loved, respected and admired my dad, he wasn’t perfect. He had his limits and could become impatient, angry and reactive with words, especially if someone was not living up to his expectations or thwarting his efforts in any way as protector and provider for his family. When I began dating in high school, Daddy eyed every male caller with suspicion and acted aloof and overbearing toward them all. He was an impatient driver and often fumed that there ought to be a law making it illegal for women to get behind the wheel before he could get to work in the morning. “All they have to do is waddle through Lazarus all day and I have to make a living,” he complained to Mother often enough that I can still hear him saying it. We never heard our parents argue and while it seemed ideal at the time, I failed to learn until many years later how to hold my own in a contentious discussion. It took me years to “find my voice” which perhaps explains why I prefer to express my feelings and emotions on paper rather than in speech, even today.

While Daddy wasn’t a strict disciplinarian, we always knew the rules. My two sisters and I were raised in an era when children were to be seen but not heard. We were expected to amuse ourselves when the family went visiting relatives or friends or listen quietly from the sidelines, perhaps coloring or playing a board game, as the adults chatted amongst themselves.

Daddy’s sense of humor was one of his most defining, and for me, appealing qualities. He loved a good joke and he loved to tease. Not everyone appreciated his humor or teasing. When criticized, Daddy’s response was, “You’ll be sorry when they close the lid on my casket.” Daddy’s tongue-in-cheek warning has stayed with me all these years—with positive results. My mother told me I was born with a smile on my face and I plan to die the same way. When they close the lid on my casket, I don’t want anyone—including myself—to be sorry or hold regrets or bitterness about anything. Daddy’s admonition became my mantra—reflect on and learn from the past, envision and plan for the future, but live in the present with awareness, gratitude, love, compassion and forgiveness of self and others. Only by living in the present can we heal the past and shape the future.

When my father died in 1987, he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for at least five years, spending most of that time with no quality of life in nursing homes. Anyone who has watched a loved one deteriorate physically and mentally with Alzheimer’s or any other chronic illness that robs one of his or her personality and autonomy knows what a painful process it is. To helplessly witness my handsome, articulate, well-dressed, trim and dapper dad disappear slowly but surely before our very eyes was excruciatingly painful, for him as well as for our family.

Yet now, when I think of my father, I don’t remember him as he looked in the last years of his life, I remember him as he looked in the 1950s, in the prime of his life as a successful businessman, a loving and devoted husband and father, a dedicated community and church volunteer and leader—handsome, energetic, always smiling and full of vim and vigor. I have no memories of my father ever losing his optimism. The only time I ever saw Daddy cry openly was when my grandmother, his mother, died on Good Friday in 1954. Coming into his own in the upbeat post-World War II era in the U.S., Daddy was an enthusiastic entrepreneur who believed hard work, integrity and persistence were the only keys to success.

I left home in 1966 to be married and eventually moved 500 miles away, so I only saw my parents occasionally, although we kept in close touch by mail and frequent telephone calls. When I was divorced after 14 years of marriage in August of 1980, Daddy, who was already showing signs of dementia, took me to lunch, just the two of us, when I came down to visit him and Mother one weekend that fall. Clearly, he was worried about me, a 37-year-old single mother of two young sons and, for the first time in my life, on my own financially. He asked me what I planned to do to support myself and I told him about my new business, a secretarial service I had started. Daddy listened carefully and then finally said, with tears in his eyes as he reached cross the table to give my hand a reassuring squeeze, “Don’t worry, honey. One of these days you’ll meet a nice man who truly loves you, someone you can depend on. He’ll look after you so you won’t have to worry about anything anymore.” Of course, I acknowledged Daddy’s attempts to lift my spirits with a smile of appreciation, but I knew in my heart of hearts that my life and my destiny were now of my own making.

As things turned out, Daddy was right about my finding a nice man who would truly love me, someone I could depend on. Several years later, I met such a man. We were married in 1989, and have shared a fulfilling life together ever since.

While I have made peace with my past and hold no regrets about how my life has unfolded, I often reflect on my father’s life and my relationship with him. If I could indulge in a bit of wishing (Daddy always said wishing was for women and children—men made things happen), I wish I could have had more adult-to-adult conversations with him so I could ask why he made the decisions he made, how he felt about his life and his choices, where and how he learned his values and if he could do anything differently what those things would be and why. By the time I finally became a self-sustaining, self-aware adult following my divorce, my father was not able to have the kinds of conversations I longed to have with him. Our window of opportunity had closed.

Today, what I am most grateful to my father for is giving me life, for loving our mother as much as he did all the years they were married and for providing financially for our family so my sisters and I could enjoy a near idyllic childhood. Thanks to Daddy’s hard work and determination to succeed, we grew up in a safe and nurturing community where we learned important values such as honesty, integrity, compassion, initiative and responsibility.

Even though he’s been gone physically since 1987, and my mother since 1993, I think of them both every day, and give thanks for their lives that helped to shape mine. This is the reason I value personal history because the stories we hear and tell about those who have helped to shape our lives help us become more conscious about the choices we are making today that shape the lives of the next generation.

It’s true that actions speak louder than words. What we are doing with our lives and in our lives today, how we are spending our time, our money and our energy are all messages we are sending to our children and grandchildren every day, whether we are aware of it or not. What we actually do and how we are as persons, our attitudes, our perceptions, our responses to the changes that continue to come at us with increasing speed have more impact on those coming after us than what we say.

By truly knowing us, by us truly knowing ourselves, our children and grandchildren will become more conscious about their own thoughts, words and choices resulting in better lives for them and for generations to come. Stories help us all live better lives because they help us see and reflect on what worked well in the past and what didn’t.

Do you have a story about your own father and how he helped to shape your life? Perhaps, whether he is still living or not, you need to thank your father for something it has taken you years to appreciate; perhaps you need to forgive your father for something he was not able to give to you or do for you. No parent is perfect but I truly believe every parent does the best they can given the circumstances of their own childhood.

Either way, your father (everyone has one) helped to give you life—the most precious gift of all. Once we become adults, however, the quality and direction of our lives is entirely up to us through the choices we make every hour of every day in our thoughts, words and actions.

Directed Journaling—A Tool for Personal Transformation

Directed journaling is spontaneous writing by hand in a personal journal to help awaken your subconscious mind. By first writing your intention, you are better able to focus on what it is you need to clarify: a choice you need to make; a psychological wound you wish to heal; or, how to move through a time of challenge or loss.

Directed journaling is an easy and affordable way to relieve stress and to experience a sense of wellbeing even in difficult times. Directed journaling opens a dialogue between your “ego” self (that part of you that is grieving or in conflict, or “clueless” about some significant situation in your life) and your “wisdom” self (that part of you that has all the answers you are seeking).

Once you begin expressing with feeling and emotion your innermost thoughts on paper and then “listening” to yourself by rereading what you wrote, you will begin to truly “hear” yourself, or feel compassion for yourself, perhaps for the first time. You are then able to move into a place of self-acceptance which enables you to claim responsibility for your own feelings and to make choices that will support your overall well-being. You can begin to act with purpose and integrity in making the changes only you can make, changes that will help you live a more balanced, joyful and fulfilling life—the life you have always dreamed of living.

By focusing your attention on what it is you want to know about yourself while setting a sacred intention before you begin to write, you are able to connect with the expert within—your “wisdom” self—on any issue or concern of importance to you.

Sacred intention, according to cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, PhD, author and lecturer, is the cross-cultural definition of prayer.

Once your intention is stated, and you begin, in faith, to write with that intention, you will be amazed at the wisdom that comes from your mind, through your heart, and out through your hand and onto the page.

Diane Zarafonetis, founder of the first support group in West Michigan for women with breast cancer, always said, “What you can’t express you can’t heal.” Oftentimes, writing from your heart about your feelings and emotions will bring an instant sense of relief from tension and stress.

This healing circle of communication is completed when you re-read what you wrote that began in your thinking mind (“ego” self) and moved through your feeling heart (“wisdom” self). You might want to wait, perhaps a day or two or even longer before you read what you wrote. The effectiveness of journaling “from the heart” to relieve stress and anxiety is well documented in medical literature.

Don’t expect results right away. Remember, your life is a work in progress, just as all human lives are unfolding “one day at a time.” Learning to live in the present, with acceptance of “what is” but knowing that by changing our thoughts we can change the quality and direction of our lives, is the key to true and lasting happiness.

How to Begin

Directed journaling can be done in any space where you can be alone and undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Place your feet on the ground, hands resting comfortably on your knees, sit straight but not rigidly, and notice where you might be holding tension. Relax shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, any place in your body that feels tight.
  • Close your eyes and breathe in deeply, expanding your chest and belly. Hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale slowly and completely. Repeat two or three times and then continue breathing normally.
  • Take a few moments to focus on what it is you want to learn about yourself or the feelings you want to express through writing.
  • Open your eyes and write the date at the top of a blank journal page and then write out your intention in as few words as possible. Examples of what to write include  . . . “I am feeling very confused/sad/disappointed/anxious today because . . . “ or “The reason I continue to procrastinate is because . . . “ or “The ideal job for me is . . . because . . .”    The possibilities are endless depending on what it is you are conflicted about and what you need clarification about.
  • Set the timer for 10 minutes (or longer, if you have more time) and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Stay focused on your stated intention, writing with abandon. In other words, tell it like it is. When the timer goes off, stop writing.
  • Now re-read to yourself what you’ve written from a perspective of compassion for that part of you that is hurting, confused, or “clueless” about an issue of concern to you. Chances are you will learn something about yourself that will enable you to move through whatever you are experiencing with more clarity and confidence.

As you continue to practice the process of self-expression through directed journaling, you will come to realize you already have everything within you to live the life you yearn to live. In time, you will bring your own dreams to reality through renewed self-confidence and you will become the hero of your own unique, precious and one-of-a-kind life story!

Feeling the Freedom of Less is More

Susan and Joanna

My New BFFs—Susan and Joanna of “Simply Organized”

Turning 70 this past May marked a major shift in my perspective on the future. Clearly, I have fewer years ahead of me than behind me; and while I do believe in life after death, I also belief in life before death. Grateful to be in relatively good health with a fair amount of energy, I am determined to live more fully and consciously each day while staying committed to letting go of “things” I no longer need,  wear,  use, or hang onto simply because I can’t bear to “let them go.”

To me, this is good stewardship of the “stuff” we have accumulated through the years that at one time my husband and I thought essential—at least from our perspective. Besides, someone else might find these things we no longer want or need useful or valuable, and I say, “Great! Take them and enjoy.”

Stories and Stuff —Only the Stories Last Forever

Something you can do to make it easier to let go of things that fall into the category of “no longer needed,” yet you feel an emotional attachment to them, is to take photos of each one and write a story about why these objects mean something to you.

This is exactly what I started doing this morning with Joanna and Susan, two professional organizers from Simply Organized (616-284-1363), a very affordable service I predict will become more and more popular with us “baby boomers.” These delightful young women came to my home to help me begin what seemed a week ago like a daunting, almost overwhelming task. They are energetic, sensitive to my feelings of attachment, and very, very efficient. In one word, they are ultimate professionals.

Joanna snapped photos of me wearing outfits I have had for years to see if they could be altered to look more up-to-date, or if they should go the Salvation Army or Women’s Resource Center. The advantage of having Joanna and Susan helping me is they know all the local resources and references for appropriate homes for all your “stuff.” They even have a connection with a local theater group so a bagful of my old dresses went there.

My dear and astute neighbor came over as well to give me her valued opinions on what looked OK or — not so much. The four of us whipped through six garment bags filled with suits, dresses, skirts, blouses, in just two hours, and had lots of fun and some good laughs doing it.

So now I will write stories about the outfits I was able to let go of because Joanna took a photo of me wearing them. I will put these photos in a little photo book I can easily keep and return to again and again when I’m in the mood for reminiscing. I plan to also do this with furniture and other items that we will eventually find new homes for because we no longer want or need them.

This is not something I expect to accomplish in a few weeks or on a weekend. This is a two -year plan so I will focus on one area of the house at a time. And the best part is knowing that Joanna and Susan are always available to help, encourage and inspire me to continue until I complete my goal in time for my birthday two years from now!

Get real! The validation will follow!

Oprah was asked last year to speak to the 2013 graduates of Harvard University at a time when even Oprah was wondering if she was following the right star. Really? You mean Oprah herself needs what everyone else is looking for in this life?

Oprah said the request to speak at Harvard’s 2013 commencement came “in the very moment when I had stopped succeeding.”

I remember Oprah sharing this timeless truth about the importance of validation when she was wrapping up her legendary talk show on daytime TV. How very cool that she chose to share this nugget of hard won wisdom with this year’s Harvard grads and all the rest of us who caught the item in yesterday’s news.

Elaborating further, Oprah said, “There’s no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

What does this have to do with life-story writing, you ask? Everything, because it’s an easy way to shape your story and then learn from the lesson your story reveals to you. Begin with turning points in your life when you were faced with a major decision that would change the direction of your life and the lives of others, because we don’t live in a vacuum. While it is our story, it’s not all about us. It’s how we use our God-given gifts to serve a greater good. It sounds cliché but tell the truth and the truth will set you free!

Again, I’ll quote Oprah who urged graduates to find their own story, which she described as their true calling or purpose.  “When you find yourself stuck in a hole, that is the story that will get you out.”

And I might add, as long as you are truthful as you tell the story about who you really are and what gives your life purpose and meaning, you will receive validation. Perhaps not from everyone, but from the ones in your life who truly count.

Next week, Deb Moore and I are co-facilitating a four-week workshop at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Aquinas College, Saving and Changing Lives, One Story at a Time.

I’ll be sharing excerpts from each of the two-hour sessions so you can try your hand at writing a story from your own life even if you can’t participate in the class.

Are you a writer?

Do you want to be a writer but don’t know if you have what it takes or where to begin?

Many people tell me they want to be a writer but they don’t think they have anything to say. “Nobody would be interested anyway,” said one of my workshop participants.

Oh, yeah?

Please read and consider the wisdom in both of the following quotes and then ask yourself again if you have something to say . . . then say it, in words, on paper.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Some people write to make a living; others to share their insights or raise questions that will haunt their readers; others yet to understand their very souls. None of these will last. That distinction belongs to those who write only because if they did not write they would burst… These writers give expression to the divine — no matter what they write about. (Anthony DeMello)

Voilà! If you love to write, my friend, you are a writer. Write on!