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As I mentioned here, this year I’ll focus on transitions as one of my major themes.  One of my closest friends, Barb Poole, suggested I read “Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by William Bridges.  Barb Poole is an accomplished life and career coach and has not only worked with people in transition, but has had plenty of her own.  And she knows me very well – so I knew it would be a great book for me at this liminal time.

I’ll be referring back to this book often this year, I suspect as it is so rich.  It lays out a map of how transitions work.    As I traverse back and forth over the landscape of endings (the starting point of all transitions, he says), through the no man’s land of the empty of fallow time between, and finally a new beginning I will be quoting this guide to the territory.

One of the most helpful aspects of this book for me was that it normalized what I am feeling these days – which is, mostly, lost.  As someone who has been a hard-charging achiever since, oh, the age of 3 or so, this period of listlessness and lack of direction, while not a first, is, again very uncomfortable.  Bridges reminds me that this is part of the process.

He lays out various predictable points of transitions – from childhood to adulthood via the transitional zone of adolescence, a similar maturation cycle at midlife and as we enter elderhood.  One’s children leaving home.  The death of our parents. And many non age-related transitions familiar to many of us – leaving or losing an important job, the end of a marriage.

I can see why this book has sold over 500,000 copies.  It provides a map for the journey (invaluable!), specific guidelines for the tasks one CAN do to traverse the terrain, and reassurance that the periods in which one is relatively powerless and lost ARE part of the process.

And he contextualizes the process in an important way at the very beginning of the book (page 3):

“To feel as though everything is ‘up in the air,’ as one so often does during times of personal transition, is endurable if it means something – if it is part of a movement towards a desired end.  But if it is not related to some larger and beneficial pattern, it simply becomes distressing.”

The transition I am in now – from ‘householder years’ to ‘wandering sage years’ – from ‘midlife to ‘baby elderhood’ DOES give me a sense of meaning.

Last year I asked my dad what the best year(s) of his life had been to date.  He first replied “well, whatever year you are still alive, I suppose.” But then he got serious and said “actually, the decade you are in now and the one following it {60s and 70s}.  You still have a lot of energy and independence to do things, but life doesn’t rattle you as much – those are good years.”

That’s the meaning I seek – how to make these years – the rest of my years – the best part of my life.

What is the transition YOU are in?  Does it have a sense of meaning to you?  Are you at the ending/the lost part/or the new beginning?  As always, I really want to know!  Post a comment and join the conversation!

Transitions

 

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I’m in a liminal place in several ways – my father recently died, making me officially ‘an orphan’ (that is, my mother had pre-deceased him – I’ve been promoted to the head of the class in terms of mortality); I turned 64 in February and now I’m getting all these Medicare-related things in the mail (oooh! scary!); and I’m planning to retire from corporate nonsense by the end of the year.

So ~~~ Where are the ceremonies?

I mean, when you’re little you look forward to kindergarten graduation so you know little-kid-dom has ended and now you’re a schoolchild.

Then you get grade school graduation – and on to high school! Check!  You’re not a schoolchild – you are a TEENAGER!

For many of us that leads to college, and maybe a wedding. Ah! the Householder/Wage Earner years ensue! You get ceremonies! Presents! Accolades!  it’s very clear – the old order has passed, you are now AN ADULT!

Rituals that say:  The old phase of life has ended, welcome to the new one.

We welcome boys to become men with a bar mitzvah; girls to women with a bat mitzvah.  Christian confirmation is somewhat analogous, but it strikes me that Jews more clearly call out this life transition.

But when we get to midlife we get jokes about sports cars for guys and for the ladies, we have an array of menopausal jokes, products and discussions. But no ceremony.

Then if you’re lucky and make it to my age you’ve got your AARP membership and lots of mail from people wanting to sell you Medicare supplements.  Maybe you get a retirement party if you worked at some company for awhile.  But no ceremony.

I don’t like that.

I have friends who have had croning rituals and that may be where I have to go with this desire.  The earth-based religions speak of the three stages of life as being the maiden, the mother and the crone.  The Hindus talk about the Student, the Householder and the Wandering Sage.  I like the idea of being a Wandering Sage – especially if the wandering includes Italy, Peru and Tibet.

Having been through those other transitions, I have to say this one feels just as huge as going to first grade was for me.

  • What’s going to happen?
  • Who will be my friends?
  • Am I brave enough to do this without my Mommy?
  • Are there good snacks there?

Yep.  Pretty much the same.  Oh, I’m more confident on the snacks part than I was then.  But now I wonder also

  • Where will I live?
  • What will I do with all my time?
  • Am I making a difference?

Well, as Cat Stevens sang back in my day “I’m on the road to find out.”  I hope you’ll come along with me as I work on Diane 3.0:  the Crone/Wandering Sage.

How about you?  Do you feel the stages of your life have received appropriate ceremonies and have clearly marked the transitions?  What would you like to have happened?  As always, I really want to know!

Wandering sage...

Wandering sage…

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“Today I am grateful for love over hate, yes over no, the future over the past, hope over fear and WE THE PEOPLE over billionaires, corporations and Super PACs.  VERY VERY VERY grateful!”

That’s what I wrote on FaceBook on November 7.  It’s been a long and often vitriolic election season.  Our country has been so divided.  And, as was true for me in another highly charged time – 1968 and 1972 – it has affected me personally as the political divide in my family has caused pain on both sides.

When I was a child one of my father’s maxims was “if  you  can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” – and after the obvious differences in our family got highlighted with the whole Chik-Fil-A anti-gay-marriage event, my upset has kept me from my blog.

But I woke up on the morning of November 7 after what was, for me, the single best overall election in my lifetime of voting, realizing that I had just participated in a historic event.

The tide has been turned.

The discord isn’t over and there are challenges ahead.

But a very significant change has occurred – we have crossed a threshold and there is no going back.  America, which has been slowly and inexorably changing, crossed a tipping point.  Ward and June Cleaver are dead – the new day has dawned!

The coalition of purported ‘minorities’ are, in fact, the new majority – Latinos, African-Africans, Asians, and single women.

This nation has long been known as a melting pot – and now that reality is the new order.

One of the insightful articles I read (Manchester Guardian? Josh Levs? How I wish I had bookmarked and can’t now find it) said that this election showed that the culture wars of the sixties won.

20 women senators! Our country’s first gay senator!  Gay marriage gets a boost in 4 states – from the PEOPLE, not the courts!

When I was young we dreamed of, longed for, and some worked towards “The Revolution.”  It took 44 years, but it has finally come to pass!

Now comes the work that I personally mapped out for myself at the beginning of this year, and from which I got sorely distracted by divisive politics – Create. Positive. Change

I am very excited about the prospects for America.  I believe in Hope.  I believe in Forward.  I believe in – and embrace – positive change.  Most of all, I embrace “We the People”.  And, as I posted on FaceBook – I am SO energized and ecstatic that We the People won:

“WE THE PEOPLE won – Not the Koch Brothers, Not Addleson, not Citizens United, Not corporations – WE THE PEOPLE.”

God Bless America, land that I love!

From the most re-tweeted tweet ever – victory!

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As you know, my focus for 2012 is “Create Positive Change.” In contemplating how that applied to emotions, I remembered Aristotle’s  “prime mover” – a principle underlying all others. Thinking about various virtues, I asked “and what is underneath that?”  Gratitude.  For instance – I want to cultivate forgiveness.  Where do I start?  With gratitude for what is RIGHT about the situation offending me.

Meister Eckhardt said “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Emmet Fox, in the masterful pamphlet “The Golden Key” suggests that when we are troubled, anxious, fearful, angry, upset that rather than focusing on the cause of our discontent we turn our minds to God.  I think God and gratitude are best friends – when I am grateful I am with God. And when I am consciously hanging out with God, I am always grateful – not just for Her beneficence, but for the awareness of the huge gift life is.

A dear friend died last year, 111 days after being diagnosed with cancer. She was only 46.  Her short, beautiful life reminded me of life’s transience. And to be grateful for each minute.  Each person.  Each experience.  It’s all there to help me be the best me I can be.

Want to get into the gratitude groove?  Here’s a few ideas:

  • Go sign up at the Go Gratitude movement site
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal.  I like to write down 1-10 things for which I’m grateful each night.  Use Alice Walker as an inspiration and thank God for the color purple.  Or macadamia nuts.  Or a day at work in which your co-worker did ZERO annoying things (alright, she had the day off, but still..).  Be creative. I have thanked God for things like regular garbage pickup, fish tacos, my sisters and brother – really, there are a zillion things you can be thankful for.
  • Say thank you more.  Praise is a form of gratitude.  I told the bagger at the grocery store that she did a really great job and her smile made me happy the rest of the day – double win!
  • Write your gratitude.  On Facebook?  Pick a friend a day and write on their wall some of the things you love about them.   Did a business ‘do right by you’?  Go to their website or their Facebook and say good things about them.
  • Smile.  Just smiling seems to change your attitude, outlook and the way your day goes.
  • Read The Happiness Project blog.  No, it’s not specifically about gratitude.  But happiness and gratitude are cousins, for sure.

I’ll close with a quote from Eileen Caddy, one of the co-founders of Findhorn

“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.”

 

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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By about this time in December – the Sagittarian time of excess in all we do (shopping, spending, socializing, busy-ing ~ more, more, more!) I begin to long for the Capricornian austerities of January.  As I buy one more thing, eat one more outrageous food, prepare for one more social event, I am glad for the cyclical nature of life, knowing that it will soon enough be balanced by more simplicity.

I used to think that it would be nice if things were more spread out – if the bright lights of December were dimmed just a bit so that January wouldn’t be so cold and dark.  However, it seems that there is something that draws us inexorably towards these extremes.

I’m seeing it now as I revel in unemployment after a very long stretch of working with hardly any time off.  It’s odd this world of being an IT contractor and the oddness is just this same cyclical nature of things – lots of money followed by none, no time off followed by an ocean of it.

And just as I begin to long for January before Christmas has even arrived, so too there comes a time in my longed-for time off when I’m eager to get back to work.  I’m not there yet this time around (this being the start of week two of the longed-for time off) but I’m quite aware that it will come and so I don’t try to grasp these precious days of indolence, rather just to enjoy them.

What I know is this:  I can trust the process.  I can “be here now” as Ram Dass instructed.  Ecclesiastes had this right – “to every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Be with the busy-ness, the surfeit, the calories, the credit cards.  But more importantly – be with the people you love, the fellowship, the connection, the magic and the wonder.  It’s a moment in time – savor it all.

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I’m not much of a stuff person.  I don’t have children. And I don’t do a whole lot for the holidays.  So I have only a 4 insights on making holidays meaningful in the gifts we give.

1. Give time or experiences instead of stuff.  We treat stuff like it’s very precious, time like it’s endless. Actually, the opposite is true. We swim in an ocean of stuff and we have droplets of time.  Give some of yours – either via paying for experiences (tickets to go to a sports event together, dinner and a play, etc.) or just meaningful time together (stroll through an art museum, an evening by the fire with candles and a bottle of wine).

2. Buy local.  Do you like having employed neighbors and friends?  Enjoy diversity of stores and ‘stuff’?  Unless you prefer the monotonous predictability of Big Box stores and unemployment, vote with your wallet.  I did the bulk of my shopping yesterday at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago – independently owned for 31 years and still in business because of people who vote with their wallets (got some great ‘stuff’ too).

3. Support artists.  Okay, I guess I have three tips after all!  I LOVE supporting independent artists.  During the summer I go to art fairs and buy holiday gifts there.  I ordered a music CD from an artist whose work I LOVE for a close friend.  Have you been to a concert you enjoyed?  Step to the back of the hall and buy a CD and put it on your “gifts I’m gonna give shelf.”  See some photos for sale at your local independent coffee shop?  Buy one for you and one to give away.  Support artists!

4. Donate.  On my last Big Girl Birthday I asked for donations to Heifer International – one of my favorite gifts to give or receive (what could be more cool than affording life and a living to others!).  I also like kiva gift certifcates (to give or get).  Make a difference – donate in someone’s name.

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