Thursday, February 23, 2017


Anger seems to be raging all around us these days. We feel threatened, and we're ready to snap. Again and again, we find ourselves in a fight or flight situation. 

Most animals on the planet respond to a threat by either fighting or fleeing. Ww humans get threatened, too, either physically or psychologically, and usually we use the civilized, modern method of fighting—with rage. Some words slash and wound; other words demean and destroy.  

“If you get angry easily, it may be because the seed of anger in you has been watered frequently over many years, and unfortunately you have allowed it or even encouraged it to be watered.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

Anger helps us prepare for potential danger.  The emotion stimulates adrenaline to alert the brain and arm the body to fight or flee a threatening situation, and that situation can be an assault to our core principles and beliefs. 

Rather than attribute our anger to our fears and vulnerabilities, we blame something else. That denial, justification, or lie disguises what's really bothering us. 

Protecting that vulnerability is a life-and-death matter to the angry person. Therapists assisting in anger management understand what fear means to their patients and do not eliminate the defenses and expose those fears prematurely. 

“Angry people want you to see how powerful they are... loving people want you to see how powerful YOU are.” Chief Red Eagle 

Six Fears (or Vulnerabilities) Anger Can Hide:
1) Anger can cover up hurt. Sometimes it's less threatening to show anger than to show we are hurt, ignored, or devalued. When we feel unlovable due to criticism or rejection, we respond with anger rather than admit our self-doubt.

2) Anger can be used to self-soothe our inner tension. For very sensitive people, any threat, real org imagined, can cause a constant state of insecurity. The release norepinephrine caused by anger numbs physical discomfort. 

3) Anger can hide the fear of emotional intimacy. People attach to one another through anger. Many couples use anger in their communication, relating to one another constantly on that basis.  It's a power struggle, and it's all they know.

4) Anger can hide self-consciousness. Combative or oppositional behavior often stems from being self-conscious and any situation that exacerbates that feeling will bring about an angry response.

5) Anger can hide self-empowerment. Unassertive people often use anger to gain a moment of power in relationships or in work situations.

6) Anger can hide sadness and/or grief. When a loved one divulges his or her own pain, we often resort to anger as a defense.  We are sad and have no ability to express our emotions except through anger. We want to rescue someone and we can't; we feel helpless and get angry.

In his book, Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Ger More Out of Life, Thomas J. Harbin says, “This intense desire to control is an attempt to maintain dignity in spite of low self-regard. Think about it. In addition to keeping everything safe, the exercise of power temporarily boosts angry men's low self-esteem. [...] Like many kings and other powerful people, however, angry men will soon doubt the affection of those they control. They will always wonder if they are "really" loved by family members, or if their family is just acting that way out of fear.” 

What do we do when the motion overtakes us?

Journal!  Writing out your feelings in specific detail gets those hostile, negative, counter-productive thoughts out of our boiling insides and onto the page.

Walk away. Take ten deep breaths. Exercise. Run around the block twice. 

“Whenever you are angry, take a beautiful object in your house and smash it to pieces. The pity you feel for what you have done is silly compared to what you are doing to your mind: taking a sacred moment to be alive and desecrating it by being angry.” 
― Kamand Kojouri

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


There's an art to listening well.

Hmmm, is anyone out there listening? 

I mean, do any of us these days actually stop and really listen to what another person is saying?

We're all guilty of listening only for validation of our own beliefs or for a pause so we can interject our own opinions or personal anecdotes. Eager to be sociable and popular, we grapple to dominate the floor, and it seems we often confuse talking with listening. 

Perhaps the real gift we can give another is to listen more deeply. 

How often do we listen from the heart to discover the true feelings behind the conversation? How often do we hear only a few words before we jump in with a story of our own?

"Oh, I've been through that myself," we say, and then we plunge into a long involved narration centered on ourselves. 

We look for ways to validate ourselves, to express our own views, to offer our beliefs. It's a matter of control. Everyone in any sort of relationship experiences being disregarded, omitted, or overwhelmed in conversation. We experience this at work and at home, with associates and those most dear.  

Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says there are five types of listening.  Does anyone you know use these techniques? Do you?

1 - Ignoring: not really listening at all.
2 - Pretending: humming along while not really following.
3 - Selective listening: hearing what you want to hear.
4 - Attentive listening: paying attention to the words.
5 - Empathic listening: intending to understand what the other is trying to communicate.

Empathic listening, he says "is not about agreeing with the other (showing sympathy). It is about understanding what message the other is trying to convey. It is the only form of true listening."

And understanding is the key in many situations. We must first "seek to understand" before we can be understood. 

I'm working on improving my own listening skills, and I've learned that there are four things I should not do because they are not only unproductive, but egocentric.  

1 - Evaluate: do not immediately let the other know whether you agree or disagree;
2 - Probe: do not keep asking questions and investigating;
3 - Advise: do not counsel purely based on your personal experiences;
4 - Interpret: do not try to define the motives of the behavior based on your personal experience.

For emphatic listening, seek first to understand.

I evaluate, probe, advise, and interpret all the time! 

In order to change this egocentric, unproductive type of listening into emphatic listening, I should repeat what the other person has said and rephrase the content in my own words. 

When we do this, it demonstrates that we are listening and also understanding what the other is literally saying.  We need to focus on the emotions behind the words and rephrase the content and the feeling. This shows we are listening and understanding the message behind the words. 

Giving someone the feeling that you are truly listening has a great impact on your relationship. Remember falling in love and having a one-on-one conversation with that special person? That undivided attention transformed everything, didn't it?

No matter how intense the relationship, there comes a time when we no long really listen to one another.  

Does anyone really listen to me? Do I really listen with intent to anyone else? We're separated enough in our digital word and relationships are suffering because of it.

Listening? Hard work? 

Yep, like everything else, emphatic listening takes practice. 

Monday, January 9, 2017


A New Year, A New You1

In preparing for the next eight-week session of my journaling workshop, I've been revisiting The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, not only rereading this #1 bestseller, but also listening to the audio version.

In his book, Stephen R. Covey offers appealing guidelines for personal effectivenesses. 

The new year presents us with a perfect opportunity to begin anew. Traditionally, January is the time we decide to diet, exercise more, and be better people overall. If we think about it, however, every single day offers us that same opportunity.

Why not transform ourselves and our reality each day? It's easier said than done, of course, and that's why I offer many ways to approach this challenge.

First of all, change comes from the inside, not the outside. All change begins within. Decision leads to action, but the decision must first be made. Our character consists of our habits in connection with knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge gives us the information we need to know what to do. Skill gives us the ability to do it; and desire is the motivator.

Many of us have already read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but reviewing the seven habits from time to time allows us to evaluate how we're doing and just how effectively we're living our lives.

Habit #1: Be proactive.
Being proactive is assessing the situation and developing a positive response. Change starts from within. Highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through what they can influence instead of always acting to external stressors and forces.

Habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. This means developing a mission statement involving long-term goals based on personal values and principles.

Habit #3: Put first things first. This consists of prioritizing, observing, and evaluating how we spend time and identifying key roles we have in life. How can we make time for each of these roles and be productive? We observe and figure out what matters most to us, evaluate how we spend our time, and set priorities.

Habit #4: Think win-win. When we seek mutually beneficial relationships and agreements, we make a difference not only in our own lives but in the lives of others.

Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This habit is about communication. We spend a lot of time learning to read, write, and speak, but how much time do we spend learning how to listen? When we listen empathically to others, we're better able to see their perspective and understand their feelings and the meaning of what they say. Once we understand at this deeper level, then we can attempt to be understood.

Habit #6: Synergies. Through deeper listening and trustful communication, we're better able to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Habit #7: Sharpen the saw. Continuing to saw away at a tree with a dull blade impedes progress. Sharpening the saw means to take time for renewal through mindful journaling, meditation, and social/emotional/spirit;pal dimensions. Habit #7 is how we refuel.

Considering the 7 habits suggested by Stephen Covey might be a creative and practical approach to becoming a more effective human being in this new year.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


“Do you really want to be happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you've got.” 
― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Nothing is easy Not even TAO. Especially not TAO. Laozi in The Tao Te Ching says that the Tao is not a name of something but the natural order of the Universe and, since the essence of the Universe is evident but cannot be conceptualized in our state of being, we have to become a beginner, blank, a block of wood not yet carved and discover the Tao on our own terms.

P'u (pronounced POO) is literally the "uncarved wood" or "uncarved block."  The metaphor suggests we're born with a personality like an uncarved block of wood.  All that we experience and all we are taught begins to carve away pieces of that original simplicity. Taoists attempt to regain that early sense of unlimited possibility by trying to "unlearn" things until everything becomes a new experience.

We may feel that we must hold fast to a sense of history so that we don't "repeat the mistakes" of our ancestors or at least our own mistakes.  We have an alternative though.  We can use our instincts to make a correct choice in each situation.  And we can do it without an unnecessary burden of past experiences which may or may not be applicable to the new one.

We have  to start within. And discovering the Tao is connected to journal writing. We don't need to concentrate on the definition of the Tao because this will come to us later quite naturally. Instead, we need to understand that Taoism is more than just a philosophy or a religion. Taoism needs to be understood as a system of belief, attitudes and practices set towards the service and living to a person’s own nature.

The Tao is about healing, not about striving for perfection. Therefore, we can drop expectations. A Taoist lives life without expectations, living fully in the here and now.

In The Tao of Pooh  The Tao of Pooh.  Benjamin Hoff uses Winnie the Pooh as an example of Taoist simplicity.

The book starts with a description of the vinegar tasters, which is a painting portraying the three great eastern thinkers, Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi over a vat of vinegar. Each is tasting the vinegar of "life," Confucius finds it sour, the Buddha finds it bitter, but Laozi, the traditional founder of Taoism, finds it satisfying. Then the story unfolds backing up this analogy.

The true path of understanding Taoism is simply accepting the self, living our lives, and discovering who we are. Since our nature is always changing and yet is always the same, there's no need to try to resolve the various contradictions in life.

Instead we must strive to learn acceptance of our own nature. We must learn how to trust our own intuition, let go of judgments that hold us back, remove conflict and anger from our relationships, and be kind to our selves and pace life to match our essence.

Pooh, of course, is the very epitome of the Uncarved Block. Without arrogance, complexity, and other complications, this silly old bear represents a simple, childlike innocence. Life is filled with joy, acceptance, and fun. Being spontaneous, things work in surprising and serendipitous ways.  As Piglet says in Winnie-the-Pooh, "Pooh hasn't much brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right."

We humans can learn from Pooh. Practicing Taoism is going with the flow of life. Taoism is many things to many people and there are hundreds of variations, some philosophical in nature, others religious. We are each a blend of many truths. The truth taught in Taoism is to embrace life in our actions that support who we are and to live according to our heart or inner moral code or values. 

Quite simply:

Taoism is acceptance of your life.
Taoism is following your breath to find peace.
Taoism is opening up a smile to enable possibility.

By embracing these three concepts, everything else follows in Taoism. Some people start with these three simple ideas. Others take a longer and more circuitous path. There is no wrong way since it’s about experiencing life.

Remember to breathe. Remember only YOU are YOU. Remember to let go and be.

Friday, October 28, 2016


(This Guest Post is by SHEILA ROELL, a vital member of the Sea Country Journal Writing Circle.)


Have you ever wondered about your spot?  Your spot in the world?  Your spot in life?  Your spot in your generation or simply your spot in today’s traffic?  I know I have. How many spots can one person occupy?   Let’s see.   I have a spot in my friendship circles and I have maybe five or six friendship circles.  

Right there are 5 or 6 spots.

Sitting at a traffic light today, I was first at the light.  I wondered who occupied my spot before me. Were they aware of their surroundings?   Did they feel they were first or did they feel “darn, I missed the light and have to stop”.  

I had a spot in class and one day a new person appeared and not having a spot she sat, probably unknowingly, in my spot, my former spot.  So you can lose a spot.  That’s okay – I sat in a new spot and got to know someone else from class.  It was all good.  But then, the new person left abruptly, never to return.  I reclaimed my old spot.  But here’s the thing, if she came back and took my spot again I wouldn’t mind – if only she would stay.  So spots can come and go.

My family spot is big on my list of spots.  As a wife, I am a counterbalance to my husband’s spot.  As a sister I occupy the middle spot.  I am the voice of reason and reassurance to my younger sister and ever so close to my older brother.  My sister-in-law loves and admires me for my world travels.  And has given me the spot of best friend and adopted sister.  

As a stepmother, I’ve gone from a” hands off but I love you too” position to a coveted best friend spot. None of these descriptions fit how I feel about my family spot.  To me I am in the “keep the memories alive spot and that spot wants to hold dear to the old traditions and pull everyone close to me. I am squarely in the “Time is precious – don’t waste it” spot. 

Some like it.  Some don’t.

My career spanned about 43 years and I held many spots.  In the beginning I was the eager, fresh-faced hard worker who didn’t know everything.    In the end I was an accomplished subject matter expert crying for change.  I can’t say I was ever all that comfortable in my work spots.  Instead I was always pushing, striving, and challenging myself and staff to do better, do more, go faster, add value and be first.  Today I am thankful for the opportunities that came my way but frankly I am glad to no longer hold that “meet the deadline or lead the initiative” spot.  I decided to retire and divided my spot between two people.

In church matters, I have a spot.  It’s somewhere in the back where the unaccomplished sit.  I care and I have faith when necessary.  I even pray.  My day hasn’t come yet when I will struggle against the injustices of the world or in my family.  Oh, I know it’s coming, and I will be moving forward towards the front, at some point.  

Right now, I am content to sit in the back.

The other day, I sat in a restaurant, in a foreign land, eating foreign food.  I was all alone.  I wasn’t journaling.  I sat still and tried to soak up the experience.  The people around me spoke Arabic, Hindi or English.  For the most part, I couldn’t understand what was being said.  I could only tell if the person was happy, excited or serious.  Music played but no one seemed to hear it.  The Souk Marketers hawked their wares but were mostly ignored.  Part of the game I guess.  Lots of people were physically present but engrossed in their IPhone or IPads. Apple would be so pleased.  These people missed the foreigner occupying a spot in their midst who had trouble ordering lunch.  

Too bad, it was a good show.

One of my newer spots is in a class for journalers, memoirists and writers.  Wow!  This is an exciting spot.  Full of promise.  I haven’t delivered much yet but am confident I will.  You see I am surrounded by people who were once like me, in my spot – beginners.  They are showing me the way.

I think I have too many spots to count.  Plus I lose a few and gain a few all the time so I am beginning to think that counting them is dumb.  See how my spot shifted from earlier in this writing?  Even when a spot is gone from my life forever, it is still a part of me, of my experience and it was important to me at the time, if only for a moment. It’s in the fabric of who I am.
Now, I look in the mirror and see a variety of spots.  Are they all good?  Do I stand ready to change a few or add a new one? 

You bet I do.   A spot seems to be like an inert mark on the continuum of life but upon a closer look I see the beginnings and ends of all the chapters in my existence. 

Finally, I see your spot in my life and know I am glad you are there.  Thank you for this opportunity to be in this special spot – the spotlight.

 Sheila A. Roell

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Loving-kindness focuses on our feelings of goodwill and kindness toward ourselves and others. Research shows that when we concentrate on compassion for ourselves, it has benefits that include feelings of well-being, relief from physical and mental illness, and more optimal living.

Studies show the many benefits of loving-kindness.

In one study, after only seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation, love, contentment, joy, gratitude, and hope increased. These positive emotions increased mindfulness, decreased symptoms of illness, and helped establish life purpose, and this, of course, led to greater overall satisfaction in life.

In another study of patients with low back pain, loving-kindness meditation decreased migraines and chronic pain as well as decreased anger and psychological distress. Still other research has shown a decrease in depression, as well as, negative symptoms in PTSD sufferers and those with schizophrenia disorders.

So why not try it? It costs nothing and takes very little time. After all, the brain is shaped by our activities. Practicing loving-kindness meditation can help activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy & emotional intelligence.

Loving-kindness meditation seems to enhance positive interpersonal attitudes as well as emotions, increases compassion and empathy, and decreases our bias towards others and perhaps one of the most important results is that this concentration on self compassion curbs all that self-criticism we deal with constantly. 

Even for those who want nothing to do with meditation, Loving-kindness meditation is simple and quick—15 minutes—and brings results. 

How to do it:

All you have to do is quiet down, sit in a comfortable position, and focus on your intention as you recite aloud or in the mind traditional phrases that center on your own well-being.  You might even do it as you drift off to sleep at night. It's a ritual that can become a beneficial habit.

May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.

How easy is that? This is self-compassion. This is nurturing our inner child. This is parenting ourseles the best way we can: protecting and loving and wishing the best for ourselves.

Practicing this meditation will eventually increase your sense of loving-kindness. Be patient. Be kind. Be gentle. This is worth the effort because it can open you to infinite possibilities as you create your own loving-kindness phrases. Once you've managed to develop a song sense of loving-kindness in regards to yourself, you can extend your compassionate thoughts to others. 

May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.

Let the image and feelings you have for your friend or benefactor support the meditation. Whether the image or feelings are clear or not doesn't matter really matter since these images are in constant change.  Simply continue to plant the seeds of loving wishes, no matter what arises.

Expressing gratitude to our friends and supporters is fairly easy. The difficult part is loving ourselves first. Haven't we heard it said over and over that in order to love others, we must first love ourselves. Loving kindness is a way to do that.