Friday, December 28, 2007

Helen Luke on "Wisdom"

At the age of ninety, Helen Luke said:

"Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do. Doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in doing it. And the delight is the sense of the sacred."

Although I haven't seen it yet, a 75-minute video called "A Sense of the Sacred: A Portrait of Helen M. Luke" is available from Parabola. Years ago, when I was working as a counselor, I read her book, "The Way of Woman: Awakening the Perennial Feminine." She gave me an understanding of a woman's journey to the "deep feminine" to claim her own power and communicate her message to the world.

I recall reading that Helen asked people who came to her seeking guidance about the deeper significance of their life:

"What kind of story is yours going to be?"

Great question! The kind of question to ask yourself when creating an ethical or spiritual will.

Thank you, Helen, for all the wisdom you shared while you were in this world (and continue to share in the video and in your books).

NOTE: If you prefer to read about Helen Luke instead of watching a video, you may want to read "Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On: The Autobiography and Journals of Helen M. Luke".
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More "Pickles" Wisdom: On Fear (Or Not) of Dying

The Pickles cartoon recently offered another great piece of end-of-life wisdom ....


Another non-medical reason to complete an ethical will that "harvests" the wisdom of the life you have lived!
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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life Lessons: Pathways to Contentment

The older I get, the less concerned I am about "being happy." Now in my mid-60's, being content with my daily life is more important.

What does contentment feel like? What produces contentment in one's life?

Certainly being satisfied with the life I have is a place to start. To just be. To honor "what is" in my life. Not to be thinking I will be content "just as soon as" something (anything?) I desire is achieved, earned, or received.

In their book, "Contentment: A Way to True Happiness", Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl write:

"As modern people, we like to believe that contentment comes from getting what we want. It does not. Contentment grows out of our capacity to mediate our desires with "what is". A basic spiritual principle is learning to accept "what is" instead of insisting that life be a certain way. Life is rarely the way we want it to be, it's just the way it is. This doesn't mean that you should give up or become passive. The art of realizing contentment is an active and dynamic process. You might imagine it as a dance between your wishes and reality, what you want and what you get."

In my experience, contentment never results from my doing or having. Simplifying my life has helped. But there's more to contentment than just simplicity.

Johnson, a world-renowned Jungian analyst, and Ruhl, a psychotherapist, say that "contentment grows out of the circumstances of life as you find it, in the very place where you currently exist." Furthermore, "the more present and aware you are to what is, the greater the possibilities for contentment."

When I feel content, I have a sense of deep satisfaction, an inner calm, a timelessness. My mind is at peace. My ego is silenced. I feel an inner integrity with my life.

Johnson and Ruhl contend that we must first learn to differentiate between our inner and outer lives to realize contentment. That requires us to understand projection.

The co-author's define projection as "the error of attaching an aspect of your inner life onto someone or something on the outside. This way, you do not have to take responsibility for it. In projecting a disowned part of yourself, you endow other people and things with the power to make you blissful or miserable. Then you turn around and praise or blame the person or situation, while all the while you are reacting to an unconscious, inner part of yourself."

I know I'm projecting when my response to a person or situation is out of proportion to reality, highly energized with emotion (my voice changes), or compulsive in nature. People who know me best usually sense my projections of my inner world before I do (because I'm busy projecting my blame or praise onto them!).

But I've gotten better "with age" at recognizing my projections since Gay Hendricks, co-author of "Conscious Loving" and other books, suggested to me in a training to just "assume your life is all projections!" A radical approach? Maybe. I know it has helped me "reel in" my projections sooner and take responsibility for my actions as well as to notice more quickly when others are projecting their life "stuff" onto me.

So it takes a shift in one's level of consciousness to experience contentment at its fullest. Can I say "yes" to all of the content of my life -- the painful, the ordinary, the joyous? What about when discontent arrives (unannounced!) on the doorstep of my day or my bedstead at night? Yes, I need to honor discontent as well. Attempts to control "what is" in my life simply don't work. In Johnson and Ruhl's words: "When you start trying to repair or manipulate 'what is', then you only upset the natural order of the universe."

The co-authors of "Contentment" go on to say that "you cannot acquire contentment like some consumer item but you can awaken to its gifts. It is closer to the truth to say that contentment comes to us by divine grace."

Most often, that's how it feels as contentment comes to me in the form of divinely inspired gifts. All I have to do is be present and aware -- to notice, to accept, and honor the gifts that "what is" brings me each day of my life.
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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life Lessons: "I'm Still Me" - Chuck Jackson's Story

Some of you know Chuck Jackson who I wrote about on my blog awhile back. Yesterday morning on NPR I heard his voice on their StoryCorps segment, telling his story about Alzheimer's in his family and his own experience with the disease.

Here's a link to read and listen to his story: Living With Alzheimers: "I'm Still Me".

I applaud the work Chuck is doing to raise awareness about Alzheimer's and admire him for his courage to speak about his own memory loss experiences.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007

One Simple Question Can Change Your Life

When my partner and I were doing counseling together with couples, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks were our mentors. Their book, Conscious Loving, and a workshop we did with them made a lasting difference in our relationship and guided our work with couples.

Recently, Gay wrote a new book he calls Five Wishes. An article based on the book was published in New Connexion (Nov/Dec 2007). Gay tells a story about a life-changing conversation he had in his 30s that centered on one simple question. Here's a link to the article:

Five Wishes: A Gift That Changed My Life

I encourage you to read it. It may just be the gift that will change your life!
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Saturday, October 27, 2007

More on the Professor's "Last Lecture"

For people who read my post about the "last lecture" of Professor Randy Pausch, a follow-up article about reactions to it was published in Jeff Zaslow's column in The Wall Street Journal:

Moving On

If you'd like to see the complete lecture, here's a link to a video:

Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Professor Pausch was also featured on a recent Oprah show dealing with "Confronting Death". I enjoyed his interview with Dr. Mahmet Oz and appreciated Oprah's willingness to do a show on death and dying.

All well-worth reading and viewing to remind us to live every day fully in the spirit of love and caring.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Leadership Legacies: "The Starbucks Experience"

Along with personal life legacies, I enjoy learning about the leadership legacies of individuals in organizations as well as the legacies of organizations themselves. My interest in organizational legacies (and love of great coffee) lead me to the book, "The Starbucks Experience" by Joseph A. Michelli.

While I most often go to my locally-owned coffee shops (Barry's Deli is my favorite), whenever I'm traveling, I'm glad there's usually a Starbucks nearby to provide my morning cup of coffee. I've always had good experiences at the Starbucks I've visited and appreciated reading about their "secrets of success" in Michelli's book.

Starbucks "5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary" include:

1. Make It Your Own
2. Everything Matters
3. Surprise and Delight
4. Embrace Resistance
5. Leave Your Mark

These principles can be applied in most any organization or business in my view. "Make It Your Own" brings the talents and unique personality of every employee to life in the workplace. I'm sure that if all the businesses I've worked for over the years would have diligently practiced "Everything Matters", the business world would be very different today (and the Enron meltdown wouldn't have happened).

"Surprise and Delight" inspires creativity and real caring about individual customers and fellow employees. No doubt, the political arena (and occupants of the White House) would be transformed by practicing "Embrace Resistance." And "Leave Your Mark" is all about the legacy every organization and individual leaves for future generations of people living on planet Earth.

Leaders at Starbucks have also provided a structure for employees ("partners") which they call the "Five Ways of Being":

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved
This structure encourages people to be creative (no "scripted" approach to customer service) and to bring their own personality into providing service to customers. To reinforce the concept of "Five Ways of Being", Starbucks gives their partners a pamphlet called the Green Apron Book which offers ideas on how to personalize relationships with customers.

Michelli's book is an enjoyable read even if you have little interest in business management or organizational legacies. It is filled with heart-warming stories about ways Starbucks partners have surprised and delighted customers (and each other). I was especially touched by the story of a store partner who shared her $87 million lottery winnings equally with everyone on her team (they had contributed $1 each to the ticket she bought).

If you only read one business book this year (or ever), I highly recommend "The Starbucks Experience". Take it along to read at your favorite coffee shop. And you may want to give the "Five Ways of Being" a try at your workplace ... or wherever you are in your life.
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Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Professor's Ethical Will: His "Last Lecture"

In last Thursday's Wall Street Journal (Sept. 20, 2007), Jeffrey Zaslow wrote an interesting (and touching) story he titled, "A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime." It was about a 46-year old professor's "last lecture" to 400 colleagues and students (he has pancreatic cancer and is expected to live a few months).

Zaslow notes that a number of colleges have started "Last Lecture Series" in which top professors are "asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks." He says the question for audiences to consider is:

"What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?"

Sounds like one of the essential questions we address in crafting an ethical will. I find it encouraging that such questions are being asked on college campuses and that professors are sharing their personal life legacies with their students. Perhaps, it will inspire young people (and older adults) to begin considering their life legacies at an earlier age. It may bring about important changes in their lives as well as have an impact on future generations of people who inhabit this beautiful world.

Professor Pausch used images on a large screen as he talked about his life which Zaslow described as a "rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life". Here's a link to the story which contains a video essay by the Jeff Zaslow about Professor Randy Pausch's last lecture:

The article is well-worth the 5-minutes (or less) it will take you to read it.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Life Lessons: Who will care for you?

Most people don't think about who will care for them if their health is compromised by illness, accident, or a degenerative disease. I certainly didn't -- not until my heart gave me a "wake-up call" nearly ten years ago. Since then, I've learned more about healthcare and how people are cared for in America than I ever really wanted to know.

Reading Gail Sheehy's story "Why We Must Help Caregivers" in Parade magazine this month reminded me of an op-ed I wrote nearly three years ago on the subject. From what Sheehy had to say about how little has changed since then to support family caregivers, I thought my "old" words bear repeating today.

"Every day in our community, family members are providing many hours of essential care to loved ones who are chronically ill, disabled, or elderly. All too often, they are doing this difficult, emotionally and physically draining work alone.

Even when these family caregivers – most of whom are women who also work outside the home – get some help from their children, friends, or neighbors, the care demands can be relentless. Day after day, their loved ones need dressing, toileting, feeding, medication assistance, doctor visits, and much more when Alzheimer’s and other dementias are involved.

Most people don’t know -- and our politicians in Washington D.C. rarely acknowledge -- that family caregivers provide nearly 87% of all homecare services in the U.S. That amounts to over $350 billion worth of “free” caregiving services each year – more than was spent on all of Medicare in 2002 – according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Today, over 44.5 million adults in America are doing caregiving for a family member, 27 million of whom provide at least 20 hours of care each week according to an AARP study.

Over 66% of the care needs of the elderly are provided solely by family members.

By the year 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that 20% of our population will be over 65 years of age, resulting in a total elderly population of more than 70 million people – representing a 102% increase from the year 2003.

Considering that the fastest growing segment of our population is people over 85 years of age – one-half of whom require help with personal care – even more of the responsibilities for caregiving in the future will fall to family members.

What this means for all Americans is that caregiving concerns have moved from being a private family situation to a societal issue. There is a strong connection between the difficulties families are having with meeting caregiving needs of their loved ones and the fact that our healthcare system was never set up to help people live at home with chronic health conditions.

It has been said that there are four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers. None of us will be excluded.

So what does this mean for residents of Lane County? Most importantly, to realize that there is a large and growing need for community support of the many family caregivers in our midst. Family caregiving is an issue for all of us!

If you haven’t already done so, it is time to begin conversations with friends and colleagues about eldercare experiences in their families. You may be surprised at how many people have been touched by caring for family members and how deeply caring for loved ones affects their daily lives.

It is time to educate yourself about issues involved in caregiving for the elderly and the health risks it places on family caregivers. A great place to start is the website:

You can begin learning about the financial impact eldercare may have on your own family in the future and explore long-term care insurance options available. Medicare does not currently pay for in-home care (and is unlikely to do so in the future) so families shoulder the full financial burden of costs for caring for elders living at home.

You can start familiarizing yourself with local resources for eldercare and senior services. Take a look at Lane County’s many resources at: as well as Call the care providers and get information to help with your planning for family caregiving.

Not to be forgotten, it is time to reach out to family caregivers who live next door or across the street – either by yourself or with your family, friends, or members of your church.

Typically, family caregivers have difficulty asking for help. You can make it easier for them to both ask for and accept help by offering to do something very specific and non-threatening. Offer a ride to church, to bring a dinner once a week, rake the lawn, shop for groceries, or provide some respite time for the caregiver to take a break for themselves. Make a commitment the family caregiver can count on. Set a time and show up to share the care.

Just a little bit of help can make a big difference to someone in your neighborhood. Don’t wait for the holiday season. Give a caregiving family a gift of recognition and thanks for the heroic work they’re doing each day for their loved ones."

LOCAL NOTE: Partners to Improve End-of-Life Care will soon publish a brochure "If Someone You Love Is Seriously Ill ..." with information and resources for family caregivers. It will be distributed to medical offices and other healthcare locations throughout Lane County. Ask for a copy at your doctor's office or request the brochure via e-mail at:
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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Face-to-Face: A Man Speaks About His Alzheimers

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Alzheimers patient activism in response to an article I had read in USA Today. Last week, I met one of the the men quoted in the article, Chuck Jackson. He spoke at our local Senior Professional Information Network about his experience with Early Onset Alzheimers.

Chuck was diagnosed with the disease three years ago at the age of 50. He has what he called the "familial" form of Alzheimers in which his family members have a gene associated with early onset of the disease. Chuck's mother told him about the "family disease" in 1967 (10 of 12 relatives have died from it by age 50!).

In his talk, Chuck shared his story about getting the diagnosis, his physical symptoms, his struggles in finding a support group, and his new role as a spokesman at the Alzheimers Association "Town Hall" meetings around the country. He is on the association's Advisory Board on Early Onset Alzheimers.

Chuck described the anger he experiences every time he loses some function of daily living. But he noted that he has learned to go through the grief cycle as quickly as he can to avoid becoming bitter about his losses. Too many people with little or no support get stuck in anger and bitterness when they get their diagnosis.

Chuck made a decision to tell his story to everyone who will listen in order to increase awareness and gain more research dollars to find a cure. As he said with great clarity: "I'm not going quietly to my grave like my mother did!" He wants people to know that Azheimers is not a disease of old age (an estimated 500,000 people have early onset with a projection to triple that number in years ahead).

In concluding his talk, Chuck took off his shirt to reveal a purple t-shirt with one word in bold letters across his chest. The word was: VOICE. On the back were the words "Alzheimers Association"

Chuck Jackson is strong, positive voice for educating people about Alzheimers. He encourages us to tell others about it, talk with our political representatives, and to contribute money for research. His concluding words stay with me today as I write: "Don't let them forget us!"

(When I spoke with Chuck after his talk, he gave me a flyer about DASNI (Dementia Advocacy & Support Network International), a non-profit group he's found very helpful. He participates in their twice-daily internet chats in a chat room that helps ease the isolation of dementia and educates participants about living with their disease.) Chuck encouraged me to "spread the word" on my blog about DASNI. Please share this information with people you know. Thanks!

A few days before hearing Chuck Jackson speak, I had planned to write about an excellent article about Alzheimers in our local newspaper. Titled "Many faces of Alzheimer's", Karen McCowan wrote about Lauren Kessler's experience working in an Alzheimers facility -- the story Kessler shares in her recent book, "Dancing with Rose". While I haven't read the book yet, the newspaper article offers an extraordinary look at Alzheimers care and the impact of the disease on individuals and their family members.
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Life Lessons: Your Life's Purpose

For far too many years of my life, I struggled with the question "what is my purpose?", especially in regard to my worklife. I suppose my idealistic Aquarian nature led me to thinking it was important to make a difference with one's life (or maybe it was my Norwegian Lutheran upbringing, tempered by my Gramma Hannah's scolding about "not getting too big for my britches"!)

Whatever it was, I've gotten clearer about "purpose" since passing mid-life and dealing with the prospect of death getting closer (than birth). I like what Wayne Dyer has to say about purpose in his book, The Power of Intention. He says "your purpose is not as much about what you do as it is about how you feel." My own experience affirms Dyer's view:

"You'll feel most on purpose when you're giving your life away by serving others. When you're giving to others, to your planet, and to your Source, you're being purposeful. Whatever it is you choose to do, if you're motivated to be of service to others while being authentically detached from the outcome, you'll feel on purpose, regardless of how much abundance flows back to you."

Dyer goes on to suggest that you "allow yourself to be in the feeling place within you that's unconcerned with such things as vocational choices or doing the things you are destined to do. When you're in the service of others, or extend kindness beyond your own boundaries, you'll feel connected to your Source. You'll feel happy and content, knowing that your doing the right thing."

After all the "seeking" over the years, the words that best describe my life purpose today are:

"I am here to experience the beauty and wonder of life. My tasks are to love, to learn, to serve, and to pass on what I have learned in my life to future generations."

That's enough for me to feel happy and content. Whenever a mood arises (seemingly out of nowhere) or something happening "out there" disturbs my peace of mind, I remind myself of my purpose. All it takes is listening to my heart and returning my thoughts to living on purpose (while, of course, "not getting too big for my britches"!).

What are your thoughts about living your life "on purpose"?

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Writing a "Dying Letter": Elizabeth Edwards Story

A touching story about Elizabeth Edwards in last Saturday's Wall Street Journal (July 21, 2007) told about her writing a "dying letter" to her three children between campaign stops in behalf of her husband John's presidential bid. She calls it a "guide to life" which she started writing prior to her cancer diagnosis.

I would call it her ethical will. In the story, Elizabeth talks about what she has written to advise to her children on church: "We raised you in the Methodist church to give you a foundation, but ultimately you need to re-examine what choice of church is right for you." She also shares that she is teaching her children an important "life lesson: when something bad happens, you don't give in."

I invite you to read the whole story about a courageous woman who continues to live her life to the fullest with incurable cancer -- doing what she thinks is right and making difficult choices -- and preparing for the end of her life by writing what she hopes and dreams for her family.

Here's a link to the article written by Monica Langley:

The Nights and Days Of Elizabeth Edwards -
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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life Lessons: The Power Of Empathy

At all stages of my life I've faced challenges in understanding others, especially my loved ones and others who are part of my everyday life experience. When I worked as a counselor with men and couples, I heard hundreds of stories about how difficult it is for people to connect in meaningful and fulfilling ways.

Much later in my life than I like to admit, I recognized that I've had a "deficiency" I now call E.D.D. (empathy deficit disorder). Not to be confused with A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder), E.D.D. seems to be a widespread malady that I'm sure afflicts more just than men born in the 1940's or earlier. I'd guess that most people living today have the "disorder" or remnants of it, unless their feelings have always been listened to by loved ones and their needs always cared for during their lifetime.

I was surprised to read that even a presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, has recognized the widespread "empathy deficit" in our culture. In a commencement speech in June, he said to the students:

"There's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.

As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. There's no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You'll be free to live in neighborhoods with people who are exactly like yourself, and send your kids to the same schools, and narrow your concerns to what's going in your own little circle.

Not only that - we live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. A culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses."

As I've done since I reached midlife, when I've wanted to learn something that "sticks", I create a class to teach whatever I've been struggling with in my life. Although about 40 years late, I recently taught an introductory class at OASIS which I call "Understanding With Heart: The Power of Empathy".

Much to my surprise and delight, 20 of the 23 people who signed up showed up on a Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. In the audience were 17 women and 3 men -- most of whom were in their 60's and 70's by my age guesstimate. As is usually the case at classes I've done at OASIS, the people were active participants with lots of questions and stories from their own struggles with attempting to be empathic with others.

I started the class by letting people know that I would be sharing my own experiences with empathy in my relationships as well as what I've learned from my loved ones and others, especially from Marshall Rosenberg -- author of Non-Violent Communication -- and Arthur Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham, who wrote The Power of Empathy.

To begin the discussion of empathy, I define empathy as "respectfully understanding what others are experiencing". It is a way of knowing -- knowing what something would be like for the other person. Immediately the question arose regarding how empathy differs from "sympathy".

Empathy is not the same as "sympathy" which is sharing the other person's suffering emotionally. Sympathy is a way of relating -- knowing what something would be like to be the other person. Sympathy is "feeling with" whereas empathy is "feeling into" to understand another person's suffering.

Confusing? Yes, it can be. The best guide I know of is to pause, breath deeply, and focus inward to my heart and "listen" to see how I'm feeling emotionally. Intense emotion = sympathy. A sense of understanding (without intense emotion) = empathy. That seems to work best for me but only when I slow down and really listen to the other person (and my inner self!).

Moving on in the class, I invite people to do an "exercise" involving bringing to mind a time when they had difficulty responding empathically to someone who they care deeply about. The participants spend a few minutes writing down answers to five questions. I then I ask them to pair-up and share what they have written. It's a lively experience -- with lots of "buzz" in the room -- and most often, it's a challenge to bring the discussion to close.

The teaching from the experiential exercise focuses on Marshall Rosenberg's model for hearing with empathy. In a nutshell, here's what he proposes we say (which works when I remember to do it!):

When you . . . (describe what you are observing -- seeing and/or hearing) . . .

Are you feeling . . . (describe your "best guess" of what the person may be feeling)?

Because you need . . . (describe your "best guess" of what the person desires or expects) . . .

Would you like me to . . . (clearly describe "possible" actions the person may want)?

Simple? Not when your gut reaction to the person's anger, complaints, or judgments is to get defensive! Slowing down and breathing is essential. It can take time to accurately understand another person's feelings and thoughts. Avoiding snap judgments is a must! Paying attention to your body is crucial as you let the person's story unfold. It takes lots of practice ... and I'm still practicing ... and learning.

Next in the class, we look a empathic listening -- the skills involved and the biggest obstacles. I love what Holley Humphrey says about listening:

"The biggest listening secret is that when people seem to be complaining, they are really poorly expressing their own feelings and needs."

I wish I would always remember that whenever I hear a "complaint" from someone I love!

Humphrey notes that when we agree to be a listener (silently or verbally), it's important not to "grab the spotlight" away from the person we're listening to. She offers "10 Obstacles to Empathic Listening" -- my favorite of which (and the one I've done most often in my life) is to attempt to "fix-it" by giving advice, followed closely by trying to "explain it away". Neither have ever worked ... and never will!

The last portion of the class is devoted to the "dark side" of empathy. Yes, there is a dark expression of empathy. You see it in the everyday manipulators, the hardcore blamers, and -- worst case (and very skillfully) -- in sexual predators.

I share Arthur Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham's "Ten Steps to Protect You Against the Dark Side of Empathy" and share their reminder to:

"Aways keep in mind the fact that empathy is a biological drive that evolved to protect us from danger. Using empathy to deceive or harm others is a perversion of its life-sustaining energy and reflects a weakness rather than a strength. In the end the positive, protective aspects of empathy will always overshadow the dark side."

That's a lot of material to cover in a very short hour and a half class. Hopefully, people take away exactly what they needed to make a positive difference in their lives. And to make their life even more wonderful than when they walked in the door that morning to attend the class!

Empathy offers a powerful path to understanding each other at a deep level. Ultimately, it shows us how to live fully and wholeheartedly with others.

I invite your comments and experience with the power empathy in your life.
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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Life Lessons: The Importance of Arts Education

Reading Dana Gioia's article on "The Impoverishment of American Culture" (Wall Street Journal - July 19, 2007) got me thinking about the importance of arts education in my life. And it got me wondering how to convey the value of arts education to my loved ones and future generations who read my ethical will).

Today, with the decline of arts programs in our public schools, children's arts education now depends primarily on their parent's income. What a dramatic (and sad) state of affairs that the arts have become expendable as public school budgets get cut!

Growing up in western Minnesota in the 50's and 60's, my arts education consisted of participating in school music programs -- marching band (the tuba player), orchestra (tuba again ... with fewer "um-pahs") and choir (plus my Lutheran church choir -- directed by our school band leader who recruited singers from the band). Add to that, a one-time drama stint in a class play as Doc Gibbs in "Our Town". I don't recall any "fine art" classes but must have taken at least one studio art class in high school. My only display of artistic talent was in a "shop class" project where I did an inlay of a deer on a wooden tray.

I became an avid (and lifelong) reader after my 5th grade teacher read us "The Hardy Boys" mysteries in class. My writing highlight was the publication in our local newspaper of my report on our 6th grade class trip to the Ford car manufacturing plant in St. Paul (I still recall writing about "building eight cars per hour" which amazed us all!).

In college, I recall taking an art history class, studying paintings from Old Masters whose work was flashed on a big screen (and having a test requiring identification of the artist!). I also recall that massive tome by Janson, History of Art -- the heaviest (in weight!) book of my college days. I got involved in photography too, doing "artsy" black and white photos after taking a photojournalism class.

Along the way in college, I had an internship as an assistant editor of a national church organization's magazine for men (called "Event") which was at the forefront social changes in the late 60's (yes, there were progressive Lutherans in Minnesota!). In our second issue, I was in charge of getting a story together about Sister Corita Kent and her art -- choosing her art pieces to print in color (a really "big deal" for me and the publication at the time). Other than that, like many college students in those days, my arts education was going to the movies and taking in occasional music performances.

Looking back today at the arts education of my school years, I can see how those early experiences set the stage for a life blessed with many extraordinary (and varied) experiences of music, drama, fine arts, writing of poetry and prose, and reading hundreds (thousands?) of books of both fiction and non-fiction. Today, I can see the "golden thread" of my early arts education that has led me to active involvement with our local arts center and to writing a blog about artists. It even led to recently seeing paintings by Rembrandt and other Old Masters (some of which I must have seen first in that Janson art history tome in college!). Adding to the "thread" was my visit this month to the Salem Art Fair & Festival, a wonderful event with over 200 artists from around the country showing their work in a beautiful wooded urban park setting.

So what did Dana Gioia have to say about arts education that connects to my life and my hopes for future generations? From his review of studies on American civic participation, he notes:

"What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography, or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility."

Gioia goes on to say, "Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world -- equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being -- simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory, and physical senses. These are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories or songs or images."

"Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, 'It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget.' Art awakens, enlarges, refines and restores our humanity."

Couldn't say it any better than that! Thank you, Dana Gioia, for so clearly saying what I have experienced in my life as a result of my arts education. And thank you for your advocacy for a new national consensus that recognizes that "the real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society."

My hope is that my children and grandchildren -- and future generations of Americans -- will value arts education and participate in the arts throughout their lives. If they do, I have no doubt that they will be blessed with many, many, magnificent life experiences!
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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taking Action on Early Alzheimer's: Patient Activism

I've written about Alzheimer's in the past and was pleased to see USA Today feature a story on Tuesday (July 24, 2007) about "early" Alzheimer's patients. Reading about Richard Taylor's experience (and frustrations with the disease) offers a very personal view of one man's situation and the actions he's taking to speak out for people already silenced by the disease:

Patients take action on early Alzheimer's -

The Alzheimer's Association is holding "town meetings" in four cities across the country inviting people to speak out. Locally, our Alzheimer's Chapter has monthly meetings to educate people about the disease. Wherever you live, I encourage you to learn about this disease which afflicts nearly half of all people over 85 (yes, mostly women!).
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Aging & Decision-Making: Mapping Uncharted Territory

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview on the Jefferson Exchange which focused on decision-making as we age. The discussion got me wondering about how my ability to make decisions may change as I get older -- a subject I had never considered before.

Jeff Golden, the host of the radio show interviewed Ellen Peters, a senior research scientist with Decision Research, who had recently co-authored a journal article about the aging brain and decision-making.

Peters noted that how we think our way through information and how we feel our way through it effect our decision-making. And it depends on the situation which way of processing information works better.

Often, elders feel their way through decisions rather than think harder about them. Peters says "Thinking capacity declines with time. We learn less easily. We process information more slowly." But our emotional way of processing "may show improvements over time. We may tend to feel our way through decisions more when we are older."

Elders can be very intuitively intelligent, using what they have learned experientially throughout their lives to their advantage in making decisions. However, in unfamiliar situations and those dealing with numbers, older people tend to have more difficulty processing information and remembering it.

According to Peters, our memory and speed of processing generally decline with age but intuition remains stable throughout life. So elders rely more on their intuition in decision-making than younger people.

In response to a woman who called-in to the radio interview, Peters noted that "pattern recognition" plays a part in decision-making. She said that "as we get older, we see the forest, not just the trees" -- responding to the overall situation we face, not just the details -- when we need to make a decision.

Commenting about her research in a media story, Peters said "older people who make mistakes have less time and less physical resiliency to compensate for bad decisions than do younger people. Older people are more vulnerable."

"We may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but the old dog may have lots and lots of old tricks that help quite a bit. In some situations, the old dogs may be making better decisions than the pups."

Peters concluded the interview by saying that "deliberate decline is too simple a way to explain decision-making and aging." Our knowledge about the world through life experiences tends to rise over time even as the human brain's ability to process information declines with age.

So there is hope for this "old dog" as I age and make decisions in my life. Depending on the situation, I may even make better choices when I rely on my emotions and past experiences! Now, all I have to do is learn to be more patient with myself in situations where thinking harder about unfamiliar information will produce the best decision.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Elder Storytelling Place - A Time Goes By weblog

One of the blogs I read turned me on to a great new blog (4 months old) that offers a place for elders to share short stories about their life. Wonderful idea! Lots of contributions from elders to read.

If you've got a story to share from your ethical call (or want to start your ethical will by writing a family or personal story), here's the place to start:

The Elder Storytelling Place - A Time Goes By weblog

The woman who started the blog, Ronni Bennett, has been blogging at "Time Goes By ... what it's really like to get older"-- another site worth reading if you're wondering "what it's really like to get older"! Enjoy!
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A Poem for Every Life

I received this beautifully illustrated poem by Linda Ellis from our Hospice Volunteer Coordinator today. Thought it contained the essence of an ethical will:

The Dash Poem

Pass it along to your loved ones and everyone you know who is living a --.
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Charlie's Wisdom: Ethical Imperatives in Life

Yesterday, I read a quote by Charles Gibson, the ABC News anchor, from his recent speech to Union College graduates:

"It sounds old-fashioned, but I will tell you there are ethical imperatives in life.

Respect for others.

If those things are not the bedrocks of your life, you will suffer for their absense in time."

Couldn't agree more, Charlie. Great material for your ethical will (and mine). Thank you for sharing your wisdom with college graduates and all the rest of us.
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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Aging Creatively and Contentedly

At 7:36 a.m., I sat in a comfortable chair at the medical lab awaiting my turn to feel the sting of the needle entering my left arm to fill three viles of blood for tests my doctor had ordered. Sitting in the room with me were 14 other people, all of whom had fasted for at least 12 hours ("nothing except water" the intake person asked everyone as we cued up to the check-in counter). By my best guess, only one of us is younger than 60 years of age -- four men and ten women.

Among my many thoughts at that hour of the morning were: "how long will this take before I can have breakfast?", "will I finish in time to get to my 8:15 a.m. meeting ... and have breakfast too?", and "what does this random group of people getting blood tests say to me about aging?" Not just aging, but aging creatively and positively in the face of life changes that come to most of us the older we get.

With more people living longer than ever before, a growing number of women and men are dealing with issues of their physical health, memory, and daily functioning while living at home alone or with spouses and other family members needing caregiving. As we live into our 80's, Alzheimer's and other diseases become greater threats to our well-being, not to mention the probability of deaths of our loved ones.

Even so, most people I know and elders I've read about view growing old as a meaningful time of life, filled with creative possibilities and enjoyment in spite of the physical and mental challenges of our aging bodies. That positive frame of mind about aging and the practice of life-enhancing activities seem to be the best measures of whether or not we'll live a creative, contented life in our elderhood.

Robert Hill, Ph.D., author of Positive Aging: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals and Consumers, posits that learning four basic actions are vital to growing old with a positive frame of mind:

1. Mobilize your resources: Be selective -- adapt to your aging process -- and optimize choices in use of resources. Regularly practice behaviors you want to remain intact and get support you require to continue them. Find ways to compensate so you can continue doing what you most enjoy doing.

2. Make affirmative lifestyle choices: Understand your values and life goals -- what really matters to you -- then make decisions each day to do whatever affirms who you are and what brings you joy and contentment. Know your best (and blessed) self well and choose to contribute your unique gifts to the world.

3. Cultivate flexibility: Move beyond your habitual patterns of thinking and doing. Recognize that older people are actually better at "thinking outside the box" than younger people! Learn new things and have new experiences. Practice gratitude, forgiveness, and service to others.

4. Emphasize the positives: Discipline yourself to cultivate the positive in your life. Positive thoughts create positive emotions, no matter what physical or mental conditions you may face. Know that growing old is meaningful and worthwhile, regardless of your life circumstances.

I've had an opportunity to meet many people who are living these actions each day. Last month, I started a project consisting of interviewing 50 artists -- one per week over the 50 weeks -- and writing an article for the Springfield Beacon as well as a weekly blog posting about my experience (see: So far, I've met some of the most creative and contented people I've ever met. And most have been people as old or older than myself!

I invite readers to comment on your experiences of aging and ways of growing older creatively ... and with contentment. What are you doing to make each day of your life even more wonderful than it is today?
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

New Life Legacy Wiki: Create Your Own Ethical Will

You may already be familiar with Wikipedia, the collaboratively written encyclopedia on the web. I recently learned about a website that makes it possible for anyone to create their own "wiki" with content of their choice -- so decided to begin a Life Legacy Wiki for people who want to create their own ethical will.

I've started the wiki with content I use in my ethical will introductory talks and four-week class. You can use it as a guide for writing your own ethical will while at the same time collaborating on an archived "wisdom legacy" of everyone who contributes to the project. And you can add pages of content to expand upon what I've included as a starting contribution to the wiki.

I invite you to participate and join in the content-building process at:

Create A Legacy of Your Lifetime

Just click on "Join This Community" in the upper right section of the entry page to register as a contributor.

Your feedback about the project is welcomed and ideas for improving the wiki are appreciated.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Jean's Wisdom: "When Love is Not Enough"

A few weeks ago I attended a community talk by Jean Jordan, Ph.D, sponsored by our local Alzheimer's Association chapter. Jean is director of Senior Connections, a group that I've spoken to in the past about ethical wills and personal legacy letters. She is a wise woman who I appreciate and respect -- so when Jean speaks, I listen!

In her talk entitled "When Love is Not Enough", Jean spoke about her own experience with her mother's Alzheimer's disease. Her mother had the disease for the last 19 years of her life -- an impossibly long time for a disease which can progress slowly or very quickly. It is a dynamic disease that challenges most all aspects of a person's life and their family system, especially the primary caregiver, according to Jean.

Today, even though most people I know seldom consider the prospect of getting the disease, Alzheimer's is a growing problem the longer people live. In Oregon today, over 80,000 people are affected by the disease and experts expect that number to grow to over 154,000 in the next 20 years. Nationwide, one quarter of people over seventy-five will be stricken and the number rises to over 50% of people over eighty-five years of age.

Jean reminded us that "all planning is fiction", especially with a disease that can change from day-to-day. Many people make the promise to their parents or spouses to "never, never put you in a nursing home". But none of us can say "I made a promise that included Alzheimer's" and all of the enormous challenges of caring for someone with the disease.

Over 75% of Alzheimer's care takes place in the home today, done by family caregivers with support of professional caregivers (if the family can afford it!). And, most unfortunate for everyone involved, Medicare does not finance long-term care in the home where constant care and vigilance with an Alzheimer's patient can last for years.

Sometimes "love can get us in trouble" according to Jean, especially when we wait too long and the person we love becomes unsafe living at home alone, unsafe when driving, or abusive to their spouses and others. She noted that "taking abuse is never, ever an act of love." Often, "tough love" is the best approach -- one in which you "love the person so much that you'll make the hard decisions" they cannot rationally make for themselves anymore.

Primary caregivers and other family members need to adapt to the changing person with Alzheimer's. Jean noted that "correcting" a person with the disease is not a loving response, nor is neglecting one's own self care. She says "self-care can be the most loving thing you can do for the person you care for". Too often (over 60% of the time when a caregiver has her or his own health issues), the caregiver dies before their loved one with the disease!

In her book "Learning to Speak Alzheimer's", Joanne Koenig Coste outlines five tenets for any person caring for a person with Alzheimer's and other dementia's at home:

"1. Make the Physical Environment Work. Simplify the environment. Accommodate perceptual loss by eliminating distractions.

2. Know That Communication Remains Possible. Remember that the emotion behind failing words is far more important than the words themselves and needs to be validated. Although many losses occur with this disease, assume that the patient can still register feelings that matter.

3. Focus Only on Remaining Skills. Value what abilities remain. Help the patient compensate for any lost abilities without bringing them to his or her attention.

4. Live in the Patient's World. Never question, chastise, or try to reason with the patient. Join her in her current "place" or time, wherever that may be, and find joy with her there.

5. Enrich the Patient's Life. Create moments for success; eliminate possible moments of failure, and praise frequently and with sincerity. Attempt to find humor wherever possible.

These tenets require continuous examination of how the patient thinks, feels, communicates, compensates, and responds to change, emotion, and love."

My own father suffered from dementia and had to live in a care home the last years of his life. Living long-distance from him kept me from having to deal with the issues of his daily care. Thankfully, my brothers and dad's longtime companion who lived closer were there for him.

Dad was a man I had difficulty loving for most of my life after all of the abuse and emotional distance during my childhood with him. Fortunately, I had done my own emotional healing "work" to be able to forgive and love him long before his death.

As I recall my last visit with my dad, he showed no sign of knowing who I was and everything he said was incoherent. I responded to him in the "place and time" where he was as best I could. And I just held him close and repeatedly said, "I love you, Dad". Never before in our lives together had I felt closer to him. Somehow, I experienced joy in our connection that day -- a joy that brings tears to my eyes as I write these words ten years after my father's death.

Thank you, Jean Jordan, for sharing your personal experience of "when love is not enough".

NOTE: On Saturday, June 2, the Alzheimer's Association is holding an all-day conference called "A Meeting of the Minds: The Puzzle - Thinking, Feeling, and Understanding Alzheimer's". Held at the Willamalane Adult Activity Center in Springfield, the conference is open to anyone who wants to learn more about Alzheimer's. Call 345-8392 for more details and to register.
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Monday, May 07, 2007

The Legacy of War: Wisdom for My Loved Ones

As I read about more deaths of American soldiers every day as a result of President Bush's "surge" strategy in Iraq, I'm reminded again and again of the most powerful wisdom I've ever heard about war:

"War in the end is always about betrayal: betrayal of the young by the old, soldiers by politicians, and idealists by cynics."

These words were delivered in a speech by Chris Hedges, author of the 2002 book, "War Is A Force That Gives Life Meaning."

I served in the U.S. Army Reserves during the Vietnam War era. While our unit in Akron, Ohio was never called-up to serve overseas, we were on alert to go to the Kent State University campus on the day students were gunned down by Ohio National Guardsmen -- killing four students and wounding nine others. That was as close as I got to the reality of war in my lifetime. It was close enough.

Much has been written and said about the countless betrayals by politicians and military leaders during the Vietnam War. Now, with the Iraq War, we hear about the betrayal of our wounded soldiers when they come home for treatment. We even hear about a former CIA director betraying everyone in the White House (or vice-versa)!

Thankfully, to give me a "lived" perspective on war, I have an 85-year old friend I meet with for breakfast every week who served (and survived!) all five "theatres" of World War II. He knows about war in ways that none of our country's leaders (who never served) do. And, today, he is at the forefront of our local Veterans for Peace. It is his wisdom about war and peace -- the wisdom of an elder who cares deeply about his beloved country -- that I hope I can convey in the personal legacy I will leave to my sons, grandchildren, and the next generation.

What life experience . . . what legacy of war and peace . . . will you leave for your loved ones?
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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Secret of Long Life (Pickles Wisdom)

In case you missed it, Grandpa shared the secret of long life with his grandson on Saturday (May 5, 2007). Here's a link:


Didn't get this wisdom from my Grandpa's. Did you? What life lessons did your grandfather and grandmothers share with you?

If they're still alive, now is the time to ask them "what experiences did you have that mattered most in how you've lived your life?

Record or videotape their answers. Then make copies and pass them along to the next generation of your family (for listening/viewing) and ask them to pass it along to the next generation ... and the next!
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Thursday, April 19, 2007

What Elders Are For: A Life-Affirming Vision of Aging

I never thought much about "aging" until I worked for an in-home care agency a few years ago. The job brought me into contact with hundreds of seniors in our community. Before that experience, I hadn't seriously considered the implications of growing old while living in our youth-obsessed, death-denying culture.

As I learned more about the lives, living situations, and health concerns of seniors (and aging into my seventh decade on the planet), I "woke up" to begin looking at possible futures for myself and the boomers coming along slightly behind me in age. That boomer "age wave" will double the number of seniors in the U.S. population to over 71.5 million by the year 2030 (no wonder politicians are afraid to deal with making changes to Social Security and Medicare programs!).

Over the past three years, I've had many conversations with people older than I am (the oldest was a delightful 98-year old woman), read several books on aging, created and delivered many talks on elder concerns, and taught life legacy classes. What I've learned from others and from my own experience of aging (so far) is distilled in this brief look at what is means to be an elder ... to live as an elder today and in the years ahead.

In my reading about elderhood, I came across a vision that Barry Barkan of the Live Oak Institute composed over a quarter century ago as "The Live Oak Definition of an Elder":

An elder is a person
Who is still growing,
Still a learner
Still with potential and
Whose life continues to have within it
Promise for and connection to the future.

An elder is still in pursuit of happiness,
Joy and pleasure
And her or his birthright to these
Remains intact.

Moreover, an elder is a person
Who deserves respect
And honor
And whose work it is
To synthesize wisdom from long life experience
And formulate this into
A legacy for future generations.

It seems to me that this definition of elderhood offers a positive, life-affirming vision for everyone to hold while growing older. For my own life and life legacy work with elders, it serves as a inspiring guide (and a blessing) for our years of living as elders in our society.

In his book, "What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World", Dr. William Thomas talks about elderhood as a time of life that comes after adulthood. He says "elders begin to look at the world and live their lives with a much greater emphasis on being rather than doing. They're much more concerned about relationship, emotion, intrinsic satisfaction. They're no longer obsessed with doing and getting and having. Therefore, they can be a voice in our culture and our society that can help us find our way."

So what are the most important functions -- the most important responsibilities -- of an elder? From my discussions with seniors and my reading on the subject, to serve as an elder you need to relax into being the person you came into the world to be and make a contribution in one or more ways by:

Being fully present with people of all ages who you come into contact with each day (listening with care and responding with respect).

Being a steward of community values and the environment (serving and supporting organizations that contribute to the well-being of people and the planet).

Being a sharer of the wisdom "harvested" from your life experience (telling stories about what really matters, rather than filling the air with advice or more "expert" information).

Being a mentor who listens to the genuine concerns of young people, shares authentically from the heart, and helps awaken to their own inner wisdom.

Being a peacemaker -- first with yourself, with your family, your circle of friends, and in the world.

Being a legacy creator who shares your life experience with others and documents your life legacy to hand down to future generations (sharing life lessons, telling family stories, and speaking with authenticity about "life as you've known it").

The elders I know best have chosen to focus their lives on one or more of these "functions" of elderhood. By the way they live their lives, they demonstrate how living with awareness of being in the world-- listening to the voice of your heart -- can make elderhood a wonderfully creative and meaningful time of life, wrinkles and all!

Dr. Thomas concludes that "as our understanding of elderhood and its rightful place in our society grows, the creation and sharing of legacy will come to be seen as an essential part of late life. This is more than an idle wish. Our society needs these legacies, and day by day, grows less and less able to gain access to them."

We can begin to change the current situation by encouraging elders we know to document their life experiences, family stories, and wisdom gained from their many years of living. In whatever form works best for each individual-- written, audio or video -- ask them to share their life story, what has mattered most in their lives, and what their hopes are for future generations.

Honoring our elders means truly being with them, listening to them with care, and taking their wisdom to heart. And, as each of us ages into our elder years, it means taking time to document and share our own life legacy with our loved ones. When we do, we not only make a difference in their lives, we contribute "the message wherefore I am sent into the world" to the future of society.
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Monday, April 16, 2007

Legacy-Building: Sponsor A Small Business in Developing Countries (

Last Tuesday night, I saw a wonderful story on Frontline/World that featured microcredit in developing countries. It showed how allows anyone in the world access to technology for providing loans to the working poor who've created small businesses to support their families.

As noted on their website, "Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back".

What a great idea and great use of internet technology! And what a lasting legacy the co-founders and members of Kiva are leaving to people of the world!

Here's a link to the the Frontline story and video to watch:

FRONTLINE/WORLD . Uganda - A Little Goes a Long Way . Story Synopsis and Video . PBS

I look forward to joining Kiva and making my first loan. If you're already a member or planning to join Kiva's program, I'd appreciate hearing from you.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Living Wisdom: Quoting Henry Drummond

I received a meeting announcement yesterday from our local Parish Health Ministries Network which offered the following quote by Henry Drummond:

"You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love."

Wisdom worth remembering ... and passing along to future generations.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wisdom for Living in Harmony with Yourself and Everyone Else

Last week, I finished reading Byron Katie's latest book, A Thousand Names for Joy, which she co-authored with Stephen Mitchell. Katie is best known for her process of self-inquiry which she calls "The Work", described in her popular book Loving What Is.

When I met Katie a few years ago at a book-signing and demonstration of her work, I felt a sense of joy in her presence and respect for how she worked with people. And I recall having wished that I had known the profound wisdom in her inquiry process during the many years I worked as a counselor with individuals and couples (not to mention for my own emotional healing earlier in my life!).

Her new book focuses on Byron Katie's response to the Tao Te Ching, the great Chinese classic book of wisdom translated so beautifully by Stephen Mitchell in the late 1980's. Each of the 81 brief chapters contains her insights about a statement from the Tao. Also included are three longer dialogue sections illustrating the inquiry process of The Work.

Among the "pearls" in her book are many about our thoughts:

"Every thought is already over. That's grace. No thought: no problem. It's not possible to have a problem without believing a prior thought. To notice this simple truth is the beginning of peace."

"You can't let go of a stressful thought, because you didn't create it in the first place. A thought just appears. You're not doing it. You can't let go of what you have no control over. Once you've questioned the thought, you don't let go of it, it lets go of you. It no longer means what you thought it meant. The world changes, because the mind that projected it has changed. Your whole life changes, and you don't even care, because you realize that you already have everything you need."

"Generosity is our very nature, and when we try to pretend otherwise, when we hold back or give with a motive, it hurts. A motive is just an unquestioned thought. On the other side of our thinking, generosity naturally appears. There's nothing we need to do to achieve it. It's simply what we are."

While I don't intend to make this a book review or treatise on The Work, I'd encourage everyone to use Katie's process to end emotional suffering in their lives by questioning the thoughts that create it. Her four questions and "turnaround" -- a way to experience the opposite of what you believe -- look simple, but they're the most powerful way I've found for dealing with any stressful thoughts. Whenever a thought upsets you, take time to ask:

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?

3. How do you react when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without the thought?

Detailed instructions for the process are included in the Appendix of Katie's book or on her website, I encourage you to try it the next time you're upset about what someone says or does ... or you have troubled thoughts about your life, your relationships, your work, or our country's wars "on terror", "on drugs", "on Iraq". The Work really works!
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Monday, March 19, 2007

Learnings from Pediatric Palliative Care: Life Legacy Questions

At our quarterly Partners to Improve End-of-Life Care meeting this month, I learned about the palliative care and hospice program available for children in our community. Called "Little Stars", it serves children with life-threatening illnesses, focusing on care that enhances quality of life for the child and their family from the point of diagnosis through bereavement.

Like palliative care and hospice for adults, pediatric palliative care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team that addresses the physical, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual healing of the child. It can be provided concurrent with life-prolonging care or as a main focus of care -- neither hastening nor postponing death. This type of care assists the child and family in making decisions about care during whatever remaining time they may have.

One of the handouts provided by the presenter offered a list of "questions to ask children and families to elicit palliative care goals" (from The Hospice of Florida Suncoast). Among the 20 questions were several that I thought were appropriate for use in creating an ethical or spiritual will (some of which I've edited slightly):

  • What are the most important relationships in your life?
  • What is most important to your family?
  • What are things that bring you joy and comfort?
  • What are you proud of? What are your greatest achievements?
  • What do you want to accomplish or do?
  • What activities such as music, art, reading, massage, or touch provide peace or comfort to you?
  • What do you wish you could still do?
  • What spiritual or religious practices bring you comfort?
  • What are you hopeful about?
  • What are your concerns for the future?
  • How and where do you want to live for the rest of your life?
  • Is spiritual peace important to you? What would help you achieve spiritual peace?
The remaining questions in the palliative care assessment focus primarily on issues about a child's illness -- their knowledge about it, treatments, pain control, and other concerns they may have.

While hospice care is covered by Medicare and most other insurance today, unfortunately, palliative care for both children and adults remains mostly "not covered" by insurers in the U.S. Some states have made progress in getting palliative care coverage for people but funding of these vital health care programs remain unresolved.

For more information on "Palliative Care for Children" an abstract and article is available from the journal, Pediatrics. My hope is that palliative care will become an essential (and funded!) part of our health care system in the future.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

A Mother's Gift: A Cherished Cassette

Among the many blessings I receive from giving public talks about life legacies is the stories people tell me about their own family legacy experiences. Yesterday, after speaking on a panel of people who work with seniors in our community, a woman came up to me and shared a wonderful story about her mother.

She told me that her mother had made a cassette tape of songs she had created as she drove long-haul eighteen wheelers across the country. The cassette was a most cherished "legacy" that her daughter often listened to, especially at times when she felt like her memory of her mother's voice was fading. As she shared the titles of her mother's songs -- "Trucking with Grandma", "Bright Eyes" and others, her eye's teared up as she spoke.

She told me that, at the age of 50, her mother had gone to trucking school so she could drive eighteen-wheelers with her husband. "Being left at home after being newly married was not part of the deal!", her mother had said to her new husband. So, without hesitation she had packed up and moved across the country to go to school and begin her new career. Then for over 15 years, as a truck-driving couple, they traveled through every state in the U.S. and Canada before retiring. She loved her life on the road!

After her mother's death from cancer in her mid-70's, her daughter had CD's of the cassette made for other members of her family -- all of her brothers and sisters (seven of them) -- who loved being able to hear their mother's voice again (listening to her "songs from the road" . . . a mother's lasting gift to her children).

Have you recorded or videotaped yourself telling stories about your life . . . telling stories about ancestors that you're the last one in your family to remember . . . reciting your favorite poems . . . or singing your own songs? Chances are, whatever you choose to do, that tape will become your loved ones' most cherished legacies of your life after you're gone.
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Friday, March 02, 2007

The Way I See It # 83: A Woman's Truth

The Oregonian had a front page story this week (February 28, 2007) that featured the wisdom of a 38-year old woman -- Tiana Tozer -- who wrote the following words in response to how people look at her in her wheelchair.

The Way I See It # 83

They told you that beauty is in the
eye of the beholder. What they
failed to tell you is that it is best
seen with the eyes closed. What
you look like isn't important. What
is important is who you are inside
and the choices you are making in
your life.

Her words appear on the side of a Starbucks coffee cup! Tom Hallman Jr., the reporter who wrote the story about Tiana began the article by saying, "A girl raised in a culture that idolizes Britney, Paris and Lindsay wouldn't understand the quote. Sure, it's a bit cliche, a cousin to an old chestnut that everyone spouts but few girls believe. But if a girl's lucky, a woman will explain the truth behind the 51 words on the side of the cardboard coffee cup."

Great message. Great story (sorry I couldn't find a link to it for you). What it says to me about life legacies is summed up in Tiana's truth -- "what is important is who you are inside and the choices you are making in your life." I hope that is a message that my granddaughter, grandson, and sons will take into their hearts ... and live throughout their lives.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Seven Questions to Explore in Your Ethical Will: "Who am I?"

I'm always looking for new questions for people to use for self-exploration in my classes on creating ethical or spiritual wills. In reading Deepak Chopra's new book, Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, I found seven questions he poses are necessary for knowing "Who am I?":

1. What is your story? Your story is more than just a list of the events in your life. It's about your self-image, how you see yourself, what shaped your mind, which memories imprinted themselves on you. Taken altogether, your story tells you where you are in the cycle of life.

2. What are your expectations? Expectations are seeds. Once planted, they manifest into those things we gain from life, or lose. When you become aware of your own expectations, you discover the unspoken limits you have set on yourself. There is a huge difference between those who expect great things and those who don't.

3. What is your purpose? This is the meaning you are trying to find. Purpose runs deeper than the superficial things we hope to get, which mostly center on money, possessions, status, and comfort. If you know your purpose, you know the deeper project to which your life is dedicated.

4. What is your destination? This is about fulfillment. Human goals are endless; they unfold, not like a road that has an end but like a river that flows to join the sea, merging with ever larger possibilities. If you know your destination, you can envision your highest fulfillment.

5. What is your path? Having identified your purpose and your destination, there must be a way to get there. "Path" has been adopted as a spiritual term, but in fact everyone, spiritual or not, follows certain ways to get where they want to go.

6. Who are your adversaries? Forward motion is never without obstacles. On your path you will find yourself blocked. At times the adversary is external, but if you examine yourself deeply, you will find it is always internal as well.

7. Who are your allies? We all bring others with us on our journey. Just as your adversaries did, you may identify these allies as external, but they only reflect your own inner strength, just as an opponent reflects your inner vulnerability."

Chopra goes on to say that "what we know right now is immediate and personal: how we feel, what we want, whom we love. And that's enough. The decisions we make determine how life proceeds. We don't go through life simply making good choices and bad ones. We go through life making who we are. Choice is the hand that shapes the raw clay of a person."

What choices have you made in your life that have shaped the "raw clay" to become the person you are? Who are you making as a result of your life choices?

I encourage you to answer the "Seven Questions" and, if you're interested in how scientific discoveries and the wisdom traditions provide a map to the afterlife, read Chopra's book. It's a fascinating look at how your expectations, beliefs, and level of awareness in the "here and now" can shape what happens after you die.
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