Winter Solstice Celebrates Darkness and Light


Photo credit: Ben White,

Photo credit: Ben White,

I never paid attention to any of the Solstice events when I was growing up. I just knew that in the Summer, the sun stayed out later so we could play longer, and in the Winter months, we somehow adjusted to the darkness.

Now that I am older and wiser, I have discovered that the Winter Solstice isn’t just about being the year’s shortest day and extended darkness. It’s about light, in the fact that the date, December 21, represents a season of the beginning of more light, adding about a minute each day or two to our evening light, leading us towards Spring. Does that help you to feel more hopeful? Visit the Sunrise Sunset website to see the daily calendar for your city.

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, which often includes shopping for that perfect gift, planning the perfect family meal, or baking favorite holiday treats, the Solstice is a perfect time to simply be in nature. When you feel like things are spinning out of control right before the holidays, take a moment to return to the rhythm of nature to clear your head.

The natural world offers its own timelessness that you can get lost in, observing subtle changes in the weather, listening to the sounds of nature, or experiencing the smallest change, like feeling the breeze touching your face.

If your body is feeling lethargic from too much good food or mounds of sugary sweets, put on your walking shoes, go out into a local park or nature preserve, and take a stroll. Not only will it make you feel better physically, it will melt away any emotional unrest. You will feel much better equipped to handle anything that comes your way at holiday socials or family events.

One Idea, One Collaboration: The Voice Heard ‘Round the World

Dr. Deanna Attai, Alicia Staley and Jody Schoger

(L-R): Dr. Deanna Attai, Alicia Staley and Jody Schoger

It’s easy to second guess yourself, to doubt if your idea will work, if anyone will be interested or even care. Sometimes you need a little faith.

I first met Jody in college through a mutual friend. We were all public relations majors at Kent State University. Right away I noticed – and appreciated – her intelligence and refreshing sense of humor. We would see each other on campus, at parties or other events. I never really knew her well, rather, I kept up to date on what was happening in her life through our mutual friend.

After college, Jody and her husband moved a few times, and they finally landed in the Houston area while I remained in Ohio. About a decade ago, we reconnected through LinkedIn. Every once in a while we would share an email or private message to stay in touch. I am so very appreciative of social media, because it allows us to remain current with our network of contacts.

Four years ago, when I knew I was traveling to Houston for business, I contacted Jody to see if we could meet for coffee. We met at the airport a few hours before my plane’s departure. I can honestly say, of all the years I knew Jody, that one conversation was the best we ever shared because we were focused on each other, with no distractions. That’s when she shared with me what she was doing with her life.

As a breast cancer survivor (Jody was in remission when we met for coffee), she began looking at social media as a way to reach other survivors. Through Twitter, Jody connected with Alicia Staley, another breast cancer survivor, who became a collaborator. On July 4, 2011, they hosted their first live tweet chat for breast cancer survivors. That initial tweet chat has grown into a standing weekly chat, helping survivors around the world. Soon, Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast cancer surgeon, would join in on the conversations as co-moderator. The three created a dynamic team, which resulted in The Breast Cancer Social Media (BCSM) community; #BCSM on Twitter. The BCSM community is comprised of patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, and advocates. While you are celebrating Fourth of July festivities, take a moment to celebrate BCSM’s fifth anniversary on that day!

Here’s the one big idea: To use social media to reach breast cancer survivors with evidence-based education and support. As a public relations professional and gifted writer, Jody began researching and writing articles of interest to women and men who were going through the experiences of surgery, treatment, or remission. Beyond the weekly Tweet chats, BCSM developed into an amazing online community, reminding breast cancer survivors that they were not alone and that their voices were being heard. Jody and her colleagues delivered presentations at medical conferences.

Shortly after we met for that cup of coffee, Jody’s cancer returned. Through it all, she continued to write, post, and share valuable information and anecdotal content about the disease. Her battle with cancer finally ended on May 18. She is now at peace. USA Today contributor Liz Szabo captured Jody’s essence in a beautiful tribute.

What a tremendous gift Jody gave to women and men around the globe. Her legacy of education and support lives on. Because of BCSM, breast cancer survivors receive comprehensive information and the love and support they need to manage the disease. And it all began with one question, one idea, that led to a collaborative, caring online community that is transforming lives.

Jody’s persistent work reminds us of one important message: Don’t ever underestimate the power that you possess…to bring your voice to the world.


Need a Reality Check? Take a Hike!

ParkWalk3816It’s easy to fall into complacency in the material world that we humans have created, spending countless hours in front of our computers working, checking emails, or watching videos, or texting or scrolling on our mobile phones. But that’s not the real world. To me, the real world is the one that existed millions of years before we humans arrived. I’m talking about the natural world, the great outdoors. Get off you electronic devices and take a hike!

March is the time of year when Mother Nature teases us into thinking that there is no more Winter weather in the forecast. Every sunny day reminds us that Spring is just around the corner. Yesterday, Mother Nature gave us a gift here in Northeast Ohio: a sunny, 70-degree day. That doesn’t happen very often in our northern state in March. What did I do? I got out and enjoyed a 3.5 mile hike in the Metroparks with its warm sunshine and fresh air.

An article in the New York Times entitled How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain references a study by Gregory Bratman of Stanford University and his colleagues. Bratman has been researching the health of urban dwellers in recent years. His study reveals the health benefits of the brain by spending time in Nature.

Here’s a challenge for you: For the next week, get out in Nature every day for a minimum of 20 minutes. Walk in your neighborhood (if it is relatively quiet) or a nearby park. Get on your bicycle. If you still have snow, cross country or downhill ski. At the end of the week, see how you feel. Compare how you felt before (tired, anxious, frustrated?) and after (relaxed, relieved, in a better mood?) exercise. Be mindful of the quality of sleep you’re getting. Do you fall asleep faster/easier? (I do when I am more physically active). What is your mental or emotional state when your head hits the pillow each night? Is your mind clearer? Are you ready for sleep? Do you wake up more refreshed? Consider how much more approachable and pleasant you will be with office co-workers when you completely change your environment each day.

Nature provides an abundance of beauty and health benefits to you. Invest the time every day to appreciate a completely different environment in Nature, one that doesn’t judge you, one that accepts you for who you are, and embraces you and says “Welcome home.”

A Simple, Powerful Statement

philosophyDecades ago when I tried to wrap my young mind around Philosophy 101, I struggled to understand its inherent polarities, complexities and of course the never-ending string of thought-provoking questions asked by my professor. At 19, I saw the sky as the sky and that was it. I hadn’t yet explored why the sky existed, how far it extended or if a parallel universe existed. Over the years, I have continued my fascination with the field of philosophy and the brilliant minds who have explored – and continue to explore –  inquiry, knowledge and thought.

In recent years, I have enjoyed the various 21-day meditation series created and hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. They often include the Sanskrit Mantra “So Hum,”  which simply means “I am.”

Such a simple statement, yet within it lies a vast terrain for contemplation and exploration.

In my professional presentations, I often begin with an engaging kick-off activity that asks audience members to think of a word or phrase that best describes who they think they are. Then I ask them to pair up with another person in the room to describe each other with just one word or phrase, always in writing, never spoken. They do several rounds of this, with different partners, before revealing to each other how other people described them. The activity has the same result: Surprise and delight. People come away from the activity feeling validated. Often their perception of self comes close to what other people perceived. Once in a while there are some differences. The activity drives home the point that perception and reality are not always exactly the same.

People’s responses to this activity reinforce the notion that we are conditioned to believe that we must be validated by others to feel whole and complete. The human brain is designed to “name” and categorize every living being, object or experience. We create and attach labels to every thought and the brain stores that information for future retrieval (if retrieved at all).

While this activity has positive, consistent results, it reminds me that when we are truly whole and complete, there is no need to fill in the blank. We are enough as is. We simply say with immense satisfaction and fulfillment, “I am.”

Are you?

Create A Portable “Zen” Space

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe word “Zen” conjures up images of quiet solitude, peacefulness and mindfulness. When we think of a Zen garden, for instance, we imagine a beautiful garden that evokes that solitude and peacefulness, a place where the mind, body and spirit can rest and replenish. The garden becomes an anchor, a place for focused concentration.

When I traveled to Japan for business more than two decades ago, my business associates and I visited some of the most beautiful Zen gardens and temples in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Whenever my head gets too full, I simply mentally return to one of those gardens for inspiration and clarity.

The beauty of a portable Zen space is that you always have it and can retrieve it as you take one deep breath. If you feel like you are rushing through the day, or your adrenaline is pumping because you are nervous or agitated, do this simple exercise:

With both hands held in front of you, at eye level, palms facing toward you, fingertips touching your thumb, eyes closed, slowly take in a deep belly breath. As you begin to exhale, make an extended sound, “Oh-m-m-m-m,” using up all of your breath while moving your hands down toward your lap to create an invisible curtain in front of you. By the time your hands reach your lap, you will be out of air and sound. It will clear your mind and help you to focus. Inhale and repeat if you need to. If you prefer, you can eliminate the audible “Ohm” sound and simply think the sound as you exhale.

One final question for you: What are the specific benefits that mental clarity could bring to you? List at least a dozen benefits to you.


E is for Energize Yourself

Part 7 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

Cradle of lightHave you ever felt like you could not take one step further, do one more task, because you didn’t have the energy to do it? Part of living a balanced life is knowing when to listen to your body when it is hinting – or screaming – that you need to take a break and recharge yourself.

How you get your energy has a lot to do with your psychological type. The work of noted Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and later the mother-daughter team Catharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, co-creators of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) revealed that we humans get our energy in two different ways. Extraverts who are more outgoing and talkative get their energy from other people and being out in the world. In fact, if they go for a day or two without contact with other people, they feel like they are missing something. Conversely, introverts who tend to be more solitary or isolated re-energize themselves by not being around other people as much. Instead, they choose to find a quiet place for reflection, reading, contemplation or meditation. Introverts are the ones who will frequently say “I’m peopled out and I need some peace and quiet.”

What is the source of your energy? How to you re-energize yourself when you are running on empty? You will know if you are an introvert or extravert by identifying where your energy comes from.

For extraverts, when you need to re-energize, you may throw a party, invite a friend or friends to dinner, take a vacation that includes group activities, like taking a cruise or tour. For introverts, when you need to re-energize, you may take a quiet walk on the beach in the early morning, schedule a self-organized retreat or enjoy a relaxing massage (with no conversation from the massotherapist, of course).

I know what you’re thinking. What if… What if the person you live with, work with or are best friends with is the exact opposite of you? This requires meeting each other halfway and finding a mutually acceptable way to co-exist. Extraverts are the true energizer bunnies. They can go on and on forever. They may not understand why an introvert wants to go back to the room to get freshened up or even take a nap. It’s up to you – whether extravert or introvert – to educate your pals, co-workers and co-habitants what you need to feel balanced. In the end, you will feel better and your friends will be glad you opened up the conversation on the topic.

Have you encountered moments in your life when you had to use lots of energy from your reserves? You were moving into a new house (and became “Super Cleaner Person” for the weekend). You assisted a loved one who was going through the loss of a loved one (and you turned into a 24/7 service person, doing everything from cooking and cleaning to consoling and even running errands). When you got through that period of time, you said to yourself in amazement, “How did I do that?” or “I don’t know where that energy came from…I just did it.” When these experiences come into your life, what moves you through that space and time is intentional energy focus. You are focused on making it through that period by doing whatever it takes. You can adopt this mindset and become more intentional about how you are using your energy each day.

How you move your energy affects your sense of well-being. Every living thing possesses energy or “chi” as it’s called in Eastern traditions. Depending on how you are living your life, your energy is either flowing or is blocked. When your energy is flowing, you feel alive, at peace, connected and everything you do feels almost effortless. You’re “in the groove” of life. On the other hand, when your energy is blocked, you can feel out of balance, conflicted, anxious or frustrated. For every step you take forward, you feel like you are taking ten backwards. Nothing in your life has a rhythm or flow to it. When you recognize this, you can focus on unblocking the barriers and get your energy flowing again. A popular way to move energy through the body is through frequent yoga practice. You don’t have to be an advanced yoga practitioner to obtain health benefits from this ancient tradition. Begin as you would any course – as a beginner – and gradually work your way towards proficiency. An excellent source for helpful articles on yoga and energy work is the Yoga Journal. You may also turn to professionals in your area who are certified to do energy work to help you unblock those barriers.

When you encounter obstacles or barriers that interrupt your energy flow, take the time to ask yourself “What do I need to do to re-energize myself?” and “How can I give my mind, body and spirit the energy needed so that I can prolong my sense of well-being?” Listen to your body. It’s always right.

C is for Connect

Part  6 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine ChapelThe age-old question, “Why am I here?” can be answered with one simple response: To connect…with all living beings. Balance can be found by exploring the external world around you and also the internal world through your thinking and self-expression. The value of deep connection with all living beings ranks among the top pleasures in my life. Sharing a stimulating conversation with a good friend. Serving a family member in need of support. Snuggling with a loyal pet. Here are four ways that you can connect with the world:

Connect to Others. When you connect with others on a deep – not a superficial – level, it helps you to see the world from a broader perspective. Some of my longtime relationships began with a chance meeting which led to an open conversation. I am the person I am today because of the hundreds of people I have met on my life’s journey. Whether they were strangers whom I met on an airplane or people who I met at a business event, there was a magic moment in time and space that we shared in deep conversation. Who is waiting to share a similar moment with you?

Connect Others to Each Other. Some people are born matchmakers who love to introduce people to each other. They see some commonality that the two people share, like the same profession, personal interest or hobby. When you connect people to each other, it positions you as someone who cares about others’ interests, not just your own. The best part of bringing people together is to see what comes of that connection. Were other introductions made? Was a job position filled? Or did a lifelong friendship begin? To think…it all started with you thinking of how certain people needed to meet each other. Who can you connect to each other?

Connect to Nature. If you spend most of your days indoors, take the time – even if it’s just five minutes – to get outside and “get back to nature” as the saying goes. You may live in the concrete jungle, yet, it is not your natural state. Nature naturally strips away any manmade facade and presents itself in its simplest form of beauty. Whether enjoying a simple act like feeling the breeze on your skin or experiencing a moment of spectacular beauty like a double rainbow, from simple to sublime, nature anchors you in the present moment. It reminds you how awe-inspiring nature is. How can you connect with nature each day?

Connect to Yourself. “I feel so disconnected from my life” is a frequent comment made by people trying to keep up with life’s hectic pace. Is that even possible to be disconnected from your own life when you are the one who’s living it? What you feel is a lack of control over what is happening in your life. How do you change that and feel more connected? Invest the time in yourself every day, even if it’s taking just five to ten minutes, to reflect on where you are and what you need right now. When you take the time to connect to yourself, it will help to keep your life in balance. How can you find that deeper connection to yourself?

Imagine that you are interviewing yourself. What reflective questions would you ask yourself? Here are a few starters:

How am I feeling right now?

What is causing me to feel that way?

What would I have to do to feel like I am more in control of my life?

What’s taking up too much time in my life right now that keeps me out of balance?

What type of support network do I need to help me with smaller tasks that eat up too much of my time?

What minor adjustments could I make to feel more in control and balanced in my life?

Now that you are getting the hang of it, add some of your own questions and have that conversation with yourself. You may experience some mini revelations that could lead you closer to living a balanced life.


Remembering Mattie Stepanek


Ten years ago this week, America lost a young hero, Mattie Stepanek. His name may not be widely recognized, yet, his poetry and his passion for life touched the hearts of young and old alike. Mattie Stepanek achieved more in his short life – just 13 years – than most do in a lifetime.

I first discovered the poetry of Mattie Stepanek while standing in a bookstore in 2001. A table near the front door was filled with dozens of copies of a featured book entitled Heartsongs. It was the cover’s whimsical design and vibrant colors that captured my attention. I opened to the first page of the book. Greeting me was a photograph of the author, Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, along with his biography. I began reading his heartwarming story. In this book of poetry, I selected and read several poems. As I read his story, I learned that Mattie was born with a rare disease, Dysautonomic Mytichondrial Myopathy, which interrupts the body’s automatic functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It also causes muscle weakness.

Mattie began writing poetry at the age of three. From an early age, he accepted his disease, even though he required a ventilator, regular blood transfusions, medicine, therapy, leg braces and eventually a specially designed power wheelchair. As a prolific author of several New York Times best sellers, he appeared on all of the major television networks (yes, he appeared on Oprah), cable and radio stations and was featured in most major print publications.

His message was simple: Love life and love one another. Despite a life-threatening disease, he joyously embraced life and treasured each day. The disease claimed the lives of Mattie’s three older siblings and then in 2004, it claimed his life. He wrote seven books and created several audio recordings. He regarded himself as a peacemaker because he truly cared about the global community.

I keep his poetry books on my bedroom nightstand, ready to be picked up and read any time I need to listen to Mattie’s words of hope, love and joy. To learn more about Mattie’s legacy and the continuing work of his mother, Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D., and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, visit Be sure to sign the petition by July 17, 2014 to officially create a Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peace Day.

“Peace is possible…it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” Mattie J.T. Stepanek


Respect Nature

water-drop-pearls-on-green-leaves-thumbAs you celebrate Earth Week this week, take a moment to pause and respect nature. Let it inspire you. Nature provides abundant experiences. A wide, expansive sky. Varying cloud formations. A spectacular sunrise. A glowing sunset. Majestic mountains. Roaring oceans. Tranquil lakes. Rushing rivers. Tall trees. Fragrant flowers. Take the time to see, hear, feel, smell, taste and experience what is around you. Nature plays an important role in helping you lead a balanced life.

How do you respect nature? Perhaps it’s the biodegradable packaging made of corn that you buy for the office. Or the eco-friendly detergents you use. Or the simple act of using compost to enrich your garden soil. Or using repurposed wood in a new project. Or reducing the number of plastic garbage bags you fill each week. To me, one of the most important ways to respect nature is to leave as much of the natural environment undisturbed and in tact. Ask yourself, “How do I, or can I, respect nature?”

A colleague of mine recently commented, “I need to take the time to stop and smell the roses.” He was well aware that he needed a break from his busy work schedule. I smiled and reminded him that the roses will be in bloom in June.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about nature:

What is your relationship with nature? How often do you take the time to enjoy it?

How can you incorporate more of nature into your life?

What are your favorite outdoor activities? Do you prefer to hike alone or take a walk in the park with a friend?

When you are working inside, how often do you stop to look outside a window, or take a five-minute break to walk outside, just to clear your mind?

Happy Earth Week. Now get out there!


The Value of Vacation

14068931-beach-and-tropical-seaStop what you are doing. Take a breath. Imagine that you are sitting in front of the ocean. Its vastness stretches as far as the eye can see. The sky is a clear blue with a few wisps of clouds. The horizon between water and sky blends almost seamlessly. The sun warms your body. The breeze is light and refreshing.You don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. There is no business suit to wear. No meetings to attend. No urgent phone calls to make. This is not a normal day for you. No, you are not dreaming. You are on vacation. You are living in the moment.

“I haven’t taken a vacation in a long time” you say? Why is that? Is it because you are too busy, too important or “the only person who could get the work done” to take off some time? Everyone is expendable to a certain point, and that even includes you. Whether you take off one day, two weeks or one month, build vacation into your annual calendar. You will clear your mind, function much better, and the people around you – both at work and at home – will be happier as a result.

In case you have forgotten, let me remind you of the benefits of vacation time:

Vacation provides a change of scenery. When you change what you’re looking at, it opens up your mind to see things differently. It shifts your perspective. Instead of seeing the same things, you will see something new and fresh.

Vacation introduces new experiences. Whether you travel to a new destination or return to the same place every so often, new experiences will be waiting for you. A new restaurant to try. A new beach to discover. A new museum to visit. A new trail to hike. Be open to those new experiences.

Vacation reacquaints you with yourself. Sometimes you lose yourself in work and forget who you are underneath it all. When you strip away the business suit and shoes, and let your bare feet feel the warmth of the sand or the coolness of the ocean’s water, you rediscover a side of you that you may have forgotten.

Vacation introduces you to new people and other beings. You meet interesting people on planes, boats and trains, in airports, at retail shops or tourist destinations. Some of my most memorable encounters happened while vacationing. I met Silver Hans on a train in Germany. I met a village elder, Kaki, in Bali. I met a wild horse with no name on Assateague Island, Maryland.

Why does it take a vacation to remind you that there is tremendous value taking off that time? Take out a pen and paper. Write “This year I am vacationing in…” Fill in the blank with one or several destinations. Select a time. Book it. Enjoy your vacation!

Right now, I am sitting by the pool in the Florida Keys, admiring a picture perfect day, soaking up the sounds, sunshine and positive energy, and sending this important message to you. I am having a wonderful time. How about you?