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.

Media Fasting Keeps Overactive, Multitasking Minds Healthy

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

The sound of ocean waves lulls me to sleep as I nap on the beach of Assateague Island, Maryland. That’s how much of my vacation was spent last week. Assateague is a magical place, with miles of walkable beaches, stunning sunrises, and wild horses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience that soothing sound rather than listening to the chatter in my head? Always brimming with ideas, thinking of tasks to get done, staying connected, and if I’m lucky, planning to go more places.

Last week, I didn’t post my usual weekly blog because I was on vacation. I didn’t take a computer with me. I didn’t read any emails. I didn’t return any calls. All of my clients knew I was on vacation, as did my friends and family. For the frequent robo-calls I usually receive, I didn’t miss hearing their impersonal, electronic voices.

It felt so freeing, to wake up every morning without a To Do List staring at me, without having to check to see if I received any texts. Honestly, I felt like I was living back in the Twentieth Century. It was such a liberating feeling!

My media fast lasted exactly one week – Sunday through Saturday. Gone was my daily routine of turning on my computer, checking email and social media posts. Guess what? I didn’t miss any of it. Instead, my new daily routine consisted of waking up earlier, watching the sunrise, walking the beach and collecting sea shells. Then came the coffee and breakfast. And later, seafood, of course. The day simply unfolded. No checklists. No stress.

My priorities completely shifted. Usually my leisure time takes a back seat to work priorities. It was a nice change of pace to do exactly the opposite. My leisure time needs came first.

My husband and I returned from our vacation relaxed and refreshed. I doubt that we would have had the same result if we had remained completely plugged in throughout the week.

If you’re not sure if a media fast could work for you, think about its potential positive effects on your health. One study suggests that reducing the amount of light emitted from electronic devices before bedtime could result in a better night’s sleep. That means don’t view your computer, your mobile device or television right before retiring. Try this and see how you sleep.

Even when you’re not vacationing, you can still enjoy a mini media fast. Consider starting on a weekend with, say, an hour at first, then expand to two or three hours, and perhaps a full day without media. You could also choose to fast from just one source of connection, like Facebook or your favorite online news source, like MSNBC. Notice how you feel after fasting. You may experience feeling more connected…to yourself and the people around you.

The Value of Daily Affirmations

Al Franken as Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live, circa 1990s

Professionals who lead successful lives have a secret weapon at their fingertips: Daily affirmations. These short, meaningful statements support who you are, how you behave, and the goals you pursue. They keep you focused on moving ahead.

Even Stuart Smalley, the adorable character created by Al Franken* for Saturday Night Live  back in the early 1990s, had a great positive affirmation that he said to himself in the mirror every day: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me!” Just thinking about it makes me smile.

With positive affirmations, you choose messages that perfectly meet your needs. If you want to lead a calming life, that can become one of your daily affirmations. If you want to land a specific job, or earn a certain salary, those can become affirmations as well.

Eugene Burger, an internationally known professional magician and former theology professor, repeats this phrase to himself every morning as he showers: “I give myself permission to be powerful today.” Say that phrase to yourself several times right now. How do you feel? You can create different messages for yourself by inserting a different word in place of powerful. “I give myself permission to be…(generous, caring, respectful, knowledgeable, brilliant, helpful, resourceful)…today.” Before you know it, through positive daily affirmations you will live more of the life that you desire.

Another great affirmation that boots your self-esteem is this: “I am a unique package, filled with plusses and minuses, and the package is good.” This phrase speaks to our humanness because it is true, we all have plusses and minuses, and we have to accept and love ourselves, even the imperfections.

One final word about daily affirmations. If you have never recited affirmations, it can feel awkward at first. It can feel foreign or artificial. As you choose affirmations to suit your needs, and you begin reciting them every day, you will notice a gradual lifting of your spirits. Before you know it, you will feel more powerful or brilliant, generous, knowledgeable, caring, helpful, and resourceful.

*Now MN Senator Al Franken

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.”

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.


N is for Nourish Your Body, Mind and Spirit

Part 5 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

Public Health Dialogue: mental health and wellbeingOne of the best ways to balance your life is to nourish your body, mind and spirit. Even if you are a selfless person, deriving great joy from serving others, a little selfishness is a necessity to pause and center yourself. You do that by taking care of yourself first – your body, mind and spirit.

Nourish Your Body.  You will often hear an elder say, “Thank goodness I still have my health.” Without your health, you cannot live a full life. Part of that health includes taking care of your body through proper nutrition, hydration, exercise and rest. Take stock of what you put into your body. Healthy dining – and recipes – are readily available and abundant. Most major metropolitan cities and even small towns feature weekly Farmer’s Markets, delivering fresh produce to consumers. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs allow you to purchase a share or half share of a local farmer’s seasonal produce. Farm to table – it doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Now look at what you do to your body. How physically active are you? My father’s generation did everything themselves. They were more physically active completing day-to-day tasks. He mowed the lawn every week. He lived to be almost 88. Today, much physical activity has been delegated to others to do: Laundry, cleaning the house, washing the car, lawn and garden care, interior and exterior home repairs. Back in my Dad’s time, each of those activities brought with it a certain amount of daily physical fitness. Today, that delegation can sometimes mean physical inactivity or complacency.

Last, look at how much rest you need. When you are finished with the day’s activities, are you getting enough sleep? Every person’s needs are slightly different. I learned how to nap when I was in nursery school. The habit of napping carried me through college. It still serves me well today. If you want to know how much sleep your body truly needs, then try this on a weekend: Don’t set the alarm. See how much time your body needs to feel fully refreshed. What new habit will help you to nourish your body?

Nourish Your Mind. Beyond keeping your body physically active, you must also keep your mind alert and active. Keeping your mind active is important to your overall wellbeing, especially as you age. Here are a few of my favorite ways to nourish your mind: Find a quiet place and meditate. Enjoy a stimulating conversation with someone (not just the usual “What did you do this weekend?” question. Discuss deeper issues). Learn something new every day. Activate your right brain (creative thinking, dreaming) and your left brain (problem solving, analyzing). Engage your brain with puzzles and word jumbles. One of my favorite brain health apps is LumosityWhat new habit will help you to nourish your mind?

Nourish Your Spirit. Beyond your human, physical being is your spiritual being, that part of you that puts you in touch with the life force that is bigger than you. Some call it God, Allah, Buddha, The Great Spirit, or simply The Universe. The New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s pushed open the thinking about blending  science and spirituality to create a more unified, holistic way of thinking and being. For me, the connection to my spiritual side comes from time spent away from any usual day-to-day activities that allows me to spend time alone in retreat and quiet reflection. My greatest spiritual companion is nature. A walk in nature helps to anchor me and remind me about what is most important in life. What new habit will help you to nourish your spirit?

When you invest the time in yourself to nourish your body, mind and spirit, you will live a full, well balanced life.

A is for Accept Yourself and Others

Part 4 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

acceptanceAcceptance is one of life’s greatest lessons. Yet in our society we don’t invest the time to understand how it enriches our lives. It can take years or a lifetime to master the fine art of truly accepting yourself and others.

Accept Yourself. This is a tough one. With hundreds of images of society’s definition of “perfection” coming your way each day, it’s easy to get consumed by an unrealistic or even unattainable self-image. The moment of liberation comes when you realize how important it is to not compare yourself to others. They don’t have what you have. You don’t have what they have. There is only one you. No two people on the entire planet are exactly the same. First become aware of yourself, then accept yourself. How do you do that? Tell yourself, “I accept myself for who I am.” “I value myself for who I am.” “I love myself for who I am.” As you say those words, you must feel and know that it is true. Empty words will do nothing for you. They must be filled with true emotion. What else you could do to accept yourself?

A few years ago, I experienced a personal breakthrough on a walk in the woods. It was a beautiful day. Walking along the path, I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, and smelled the freshness of the air. I was fully present in the moment, enjoying every step in nature. I became so filled with joy, I said out loud, “I love myself.” I let the words sink in. Then a smile came to my face. I repeated it with even greater emotion, “I love myself.” It was the first time in my life that I had said those words and actually felt and believed them. It was a turning point in my life.

Accept Others. This is another tough one. You can more easily judge others than accept them for who they are. Accepting others is hard work. It requires a bigger heart and more time. You must first understand that you cannot change others. You can only change yourself. This means you must accept other people, warts and all. Some of life’s greatest frustrations happen when you try to repeatedly change anyone else’s bad habits. Once you understand that only they can change themselves, that’s when your real learning begins. What could you do to better accept others?

When I was in my early 20s, a friend of mine smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day. I tried my best to talk to him about the health benefits of not smoking. He listened and admitted that he enjoyed smoking. I had to learn to accept and respect his wishes. A few years later, he proudly announced that he had quit smoking. I immediately realized the lesson: The change was not mine to make. It was his. It wasn’t until he felt the need to quit that allowed him to quit. It was his choice, his decision, not mine. I had no control in the matter. Several decades later, my friend has maintained a healthy lifestyle, smoke-free for all these years, and he goes to the gym five days a week. It was his choice to make.

Acceptance – of yourself and others – requires great focus and an open heart. Here are two questions to ponder:

How could your life change for the better if you began accepting and valuing yourself for who you are and begin celebrating your greatness?

How could your life change for the better if you began accepting and valuing others for who they are and begin celebrating their greatness?

L is for Laugh and Let Go

Part 3 of this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life series.

Laugh. Comic icon Charlie Chaplin said “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I agree. Yet many people can go days, weeks or longer without enjoying a good belly laugh. How about you? How long can you last without laughter? For me, I laugh every day.

If the world around you doesn’t make you laugh naturally (like you aren’t blessed with a hilarious spouse, best friend or co-worker), then create your own laughter.

Medical experts have been researching laughter for decades and have found that laughter is an excellent aerobic exercise. When we laugh, both our heartbeat and our blood pressure rise. After we finish a good laugh, usually while we’re taking a breath and letting out a long sigh, the heartbeat and blood pressure drop even lower. In the psycho-neuro-immunology field (it’s a mouthful, I know), research shows that laughter helps boost the immune system.

In his research, Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California calls the white T cells that fight infection “happy cells” because they increase when the body experiences laughter, happiness and joy. So even if you are having a bad day, if you can manage to laugh, know that your T cells are happy. For information on the health benefits of laughter, visit the websites of the World Laughter Tour, Laughter Yoga International or Laughter Online University and enjoy several simple laughter exercises with a few videos.

Here are a few quick tips to create more humor in your everyday life:

  • Read the comics every morning.
  • Visit a local comedy club often for a night of laughs.
  • Visit top comedy websites to watch hilarious sketches or clips. Two of my favorites are Comedy Central or Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die.

water-drop-pearls-on-green-leaves-thumbLet Go. This can be a tough one: Learning to let go…of the day, the week, bad feelings…anything that physically or psychologically brings you down or makes you feel anxious. Don’t let things bottle up inside of you. Being able to recall specific memories is a cherished part of being human, yet you could become emotionally paralyzed if your memory keeps dredging up old, negative thoughts. Let it go! The past is the past and you can’t do anything to change it. Accept it and move on. Begin today by letting go of any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

The great hatha yoga master Lilias Folan uses a healing breathing practice at the end of each day called Let the Day Go. The practice is done each night to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It allows you to intentionally exhale out the day and any feelings about the day, and inhale fresh, rejuvenating air to clear your mind, put your body at ease and get you ready for the next day.

What can you do each day to laugh and let go?