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You’re Right! Life Changed, Now What To Do About the Holidays?

Sunday, 23. November 2014 5:30

Even with all its merriment, the holiday season can be an emotional rollercoaster for those of us who have experienced a recent life change. Some of us may face uncertainty about where, how and with whom to celebrate due to divorce, illness or a death in the family.iStock_000008261335_Small

It’s pretty easy to conjure up a mental vision of the perfect holiday, complete with loving, smiling faces, big family gatherings and joyful hearts.  And for many of us, that is just not the way it goes. Often it is the image of what we believe we can’t have that causes us to suffer.  We feel deprived, and we get stuck there.

So what to do?

Start by realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect holiday!  Drop the “shoulds” in your vocabulary.   Abandon the “it should be like this, or like that.”  Your holiday will be whatever it is, depending on your circumstances.

Next, try getting really clear about what you are feeling, what you value and what you want from the days you do have.

Here are a few questions to help you focus:

What are you longing for this holiday?

If you are struggling with this question because you can’t get the picture of how it used to be (or how it should be) out of your head, then start looking at it with a magnifying glass.  What was so great about the “olden days?”  Be specific.

For example, if a loved one has died (or left), there’s no way to replace him or her, but what did that person bring you? Was it laughter, comfort, ease?  What is the underlying need that was provided to you in that situation?  Appreciate that, mourn it and allow the longing for it to live in your heart.

And then, (perhaps after a good cry) since the lost loved one(s) can’t be there in real time, get creative. How else might you access comfort, laughter and ease for yourself (and maybe others) on this new holiday?

Your day may not look the way it used to, but if you can cook up some things that you feel good about, why does it matter? Avoiding  “compare despair “may just let you focus on what you do have, and allow you to access your gratitude.

What do the holidays mean to you?

When your situation changes, figuring out what’s important to you about the holidays can be very instructive.  My son and I faced this challenge last year.  We spent a sweet Christmas together hiking and cooking.

He admitted being a bit disappointed at first with the prospect of our day.  To him, holidays had always seemed to be about large family gatherings.   And, since we were far away from our relatives, (and I recently divorced), we weren’t able to replicate the old days, so we had to rethink it.

I shared with him, that to me, the end of year holidays are a time to slow down and appreciate all the love and friendship in  my life and to reconnect with friends.  It is also an opportunity  to take stock of what I have accomplished and what I still long to do.  And, while I often enjoyed the large gatherings, that was never the focal point for me.   That being said, now knowing his perspective, perhaps we could plan a larger celebration next year.

That’s not to say that what I value in my holiday is what anyone else should value. I just want to point out that if you know what makes your holiday meaningful, you have a better opportunity to take charge and create a holiday that comes closer to what you want it to be.

Here are a few ideas along those lines: If you enjoy giving, I am imagining there a million ways to donate time, energy and kindness to those less fortunate than you. That could make a beautiful holiday.  Or, maybe holidays are a great time for you to travel. Since little is happening at work, so why not see the places you keep meaning to visit?  Holiday weeks can also be a great time to catch up on all the projects you never seem to have time to complete during the year.  Or, maybe it’s simply a great time to rest.

In short, the holidays  take on the meaning that you give to them. What ever you choose, my hope is that it will be just right for you.


If you might enjoy some companionship  strategizing about your how to improve your holidays, send me an e-mail at and let’s chat!


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Remembering What Matters

Tuesday, 15. April 2014 18:12

Swallowtail Butterfly share flowersIt’s a year after the Boston Marathon bombings, and as I listen to the stories of those who have lost limbs and loved ones, I find myself deeply moved and weepy.  How lucky am I to have these two legs, these two arms and my loved ones present and accounted for?  And it occurs to me how I often forget to appreciate these simple blessings daily.

What courage it takes to accept and rebuild your life, once something in it has been changed forever – something over which you had absolutely no control.   And yet, I know that many trauma survivors not only survive; they thrive.  They find new meaning and purpose, they love harder, appreciate more and live fully.  On this day of remembering, I am inspired and commit myself to living and loving with the wholeness of my being. I am grateful for the courage of those who have gone before me to show me how, and to help me to never forget that it is the only thing that truly matters.

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Success? What is it?

Tuesday, 25. March 2014 15:24

I happened upon an NPR Ted Talk with Alain de Botton, author of  “Status Anxiety” that truly spoke to me and made me ask myself, am I doing what I love and do I feel successful?

This particular quote from de Botton summed up the heart of the matter:

“So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions because it’s bad enough not getting what you want; but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along. So by all means, success – yes. But let’s accept the strangeness of some of our ideas. Let’s probe away at our notions of success. Let’s make sure our ideas of success are truly our own.”

I am hoping that you are making your life and your success your own.  You can listen to  the original interview with  Alain de Botton on NPR  and read more about my personal journey toward “success” at  The Project U. blog.

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Because Each of Us Matters

Tuesday, 19. November 2013 15:02

Swallowtail Butterfly share flowersHave you ever thought about who makes up your “we”? Is it your family, your partner, your political party, or your work associates?  Or maybe it’s the human race, or all the creatures of the earth?  Perhaps your answer changes depending on the issue at stake.

The way you navigate between the needs of I, you and we in your life can be tricky. How do you meet your needs and the needs of others when they compete? For example, if your “I “ almost always comes second to your service to others in your life, how does that feel for you?  Alternatively, how does it feel if you almost always seek to meet your own needs before considering the needs of others?

Say these definitions to yourself:

Loving only you is self-less;

Loving only me is selfish and

Loving me and you is self–full.

And these:

Each of us is responsible for meeting our own needs; and

Your needs and my needs matter equally, not more or less.

How was that for you?

I find it empowering to know that our needs matter equally and that I can trust you to take care of yourself. It means I can care about others (you and we) in my life without abandoning me. It enhances my respect for both of us.

I can always choose to consider our needs together in my solution set.  That’s not an obligation, it’s a choice, and that encourages me to discover creative solutions that solve problems in ways that benefit more of us.

In this context, one of my favorite questions is this:

“What choices bring more love and abundance to me, to you and to us?”

Finding your way to meet the needs of I, with you and we, may fill a lifetime.  Hopefully, each of us seeks a balance that not only nurtures us, but also allows us to contribute to our community and to our world in meaningful ways.   Because each of us matters – and how we live this consciousness makes all the difference.




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If You Loved Me You Would….

Wednesday, 13. November 2013 22:36

Have you ever said those words?  Or heard those words?  How did it feel?
I’ve heard them, and thought them, and neither one felt good.  Underneath the words, there was a demand.


Like many of us, I’ve been betrayed, disappointed, verbally and emotionally abused, misunderstood, unseen and disrespected by people who vowed they loved me even while speaking and acting in ways that might be interpreted as terribly unkind.  And I still believe  those people loved me.

In their bodies, in their hearts, in their minds, they felt that inexplicable warmth that opened their heart with a longing for connection that only love can answer.  They loved me viscerally – and perhaps, I loved them too.

But that is not important, because feeling an emotion does not require the participation of the other person.  In fact, their love had little to do with me.  I may have been the stimulus, but the feelings lived in them.  WHAT? Well, think about it.  If I could cause someone to love me, Clive Owen and I would have been an item long ago.

The point I am trying to make is that for the most part, the love we feel is generated inside of ourselves, by ourselves.  We feel it in our own hearts and minds, whether or not the other person loves us back, or is even still alive.

The most beautiful time is when that feeling happens at the same time with someone else and the two of you can say, “We are in love with each other.” Or, perhaps in the case of a parent, or a friend, we simply say we love each other.

What sweetness!

And then it gets tricky.  What happens when one of us wants or needs something different from the other person in the relationship?  How do you resolve it?

When you utter the words, “If you loved me you would _____________________,” (either silently to yourself, or aloud to the other) – love is transformed from a feeling inside of yourself to a contract with a physical manifestation.  And how that contract gets navigated can empower the relationship or destroy it.

The contract is usually not about love itself, but about other needs we may have that helps us to feel loved.  For example, one partner may need a great deal of companionship while the other needs solitude; perhaps one is very sexually driven, and the other prefers cuddling.  Perhaps one is very communicative while the other is not.  Do these people love each other less because they each have different needs?  This is where we get very confused in relationships and often where things fall apart. When we forget to talk these issues out, we often begin to have negative thoughts about what and why our loved one is doing what they do.  Our relationships become burdened by heavy baggage filled with miscommunication and misunderstanding.

I believe that when two people who care for one another can openly, honestly and kindly work through their needs together, there is more potential for a love relationship that works. We often make a lot of assumptions about what our loved one should do for us and vice versa and we have may have unexpressed expectations about how the other should behave.  Is that loving, or is that judgment?

It’s a relationship.  There is interdependence.  It is essential for us to discuss our expectations and to agree on our agreements. For me, the love happens not because we agree, but in how we work together to negotiate ”the terms of the deal.”  Are we open enough, accepting enough, awake enough to express ourselves without blaming or shaming or demanding – while also listening tenderly to the needs of the other?  If so, perhaps we can find creative ways to meet most of our needs satisfactorily (or decide not to!) while holding our selves and our loved ones with care.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to own and to express my own needs.  At the same time, I accept my loved ones as individuals with their own set of needs that are equal to mine. Not more important or less.  And none of us are obligated to, (or even capable of) meeting all the needs of the other!

Yes, I believe in love.  I know that I may feel love, and yet be unable to negotiate a contract that works well enough to support a thriving relationship.  On the other hand, I also believe it is possible to have both.  I’ve learned a new way to speak to, and a new way to listen to those for whom I feel love.  Through the practice of compassionate nonviolent communication, I find I am more skillful at interacting with my loved ones, and for that, I am grateful, and filled with hope.

My wish for you is that you also find a way to successfully embrace the love in your life in a satisfying and sustainable way.  Here’s a list of some books that have helped me on my path, should you find them useful:

The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

Loving What Is, by Byron Katie

I leave you with the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”





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Reconciliation and Healing

Monday, 2. September 2013 13:01

I so loved this post, entitled Reconciliation by blogger and yogi Jennifer Pastiloff. I wanted to share (what was for me) the most resonant piece of the essay.

How does the heart reconcile? Does it?

We move on. We get up and go and come home and pour a glass of wine or not, but we never fully get over things. What does getting over even mean? It sounds like some kind of vengeful expression that they would make a movie out of like Die Hard. Getting Over It Part 7.

I am going to get one over on you. I am getting over. It suggests that there is something underfoot, something to be trampled on and overcome.

My heart does not want to overcome or trample on my losses but rather assimilate them into my life so I can function like a “normal” adult with responsibilities and schedules. Right now, I stay in pajamas and write unless I have to go and teach, and I worry about things like having a girl because how do you even braid hair? I worry about having children. Period.

How do you make a diorama? How do you do algebra? What if I don’t want to watch their soccer practice? 

What is a normal adult? Is there such a thing?

I am a woman of a certain age. (Yes, yes, in comparison, I may be very young. I am sure some of you reading are rolling your eyes and saying, “Girl, you are so young.”) Not in baby-making years. I am not at all. Trust me on this. I am young at heart and maybe young looking, but when it comes to ovaries and eggs, I am meh at best.

Do I need to reconcile all my losses before I bring life into the world? Do I need to do the proverbial getting my sh*t together before I make a move?

(What do I do? Who do I ask?)

I have always fantasized about having someone who would give me answers, which is why it was especially devastating that my father died so young because, although I am sure his answers would be fifty percent bullshit, I would take them as The Word, happily and without question. (I would!)

Here I am a teacher and a leader, and I am still searching for someone to tell me what to do.

As I have written about before, one of the worst things for me is deciding what to eat. Recently, in Bali, I went out to eat with someone who takes my yoga classes, and I couldn’t decide what I wanted. I hemmed and hawed and changed my order. I fretted.

She said something to the effect of I have never seen that side of you.

What side? The pressure I feel to be somebody that always inspires, that always knows what to do and what to order and what to eat. I don’t even know if I want a baby, and I am in my late thirties.

So yes, there is this side of me. The side of me that doesn’t know. Who has lost a lot. Who has anxiety, still, yes. Who, sometimes, doesn’t leave her house and who would prefer to write than do or teach yoga and who tends to take things too personally and drinks too much coffee and gets stuck in the past and novels, too.

I have reconciled those things for the most part (some I’d like to keep). But the questions are looming.

I am not looking for answers necessarily.

I think life exists in the questions.

I am looking to never stop asking the questions. To always look and uncover and dig and smell and retrieve and throw back. If I stop asking the questions, I die.

It may take a while for my body to die, but my mind and soul and all other parts of me will wither away immediately if the questions stop. The heart can never reconcile all of it until it stops beating.

I think that is why that line chokes me up. I know the truth behind it.

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? It doesn’t.

Some turn to legend, some to fact, some to dust, and, the rest, well, the rest you bury inside of you and reach for it when you are drowning, knowing it will be there. And it will.

Visit Jennifer’s amazing site here:  To read the post  in its entirety, click here.  




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Healing Our Everyday Addictions

Friday, 30. August 2013 10:05

Aren’t we all addicted to something?  Isn’t an addiction really  just habitual behavior that is difficult to recognize and to change? I came across a piece in Caroline Myss‘s August newsletter that spoke powerfully about our everyday addictions and  the healing process.  I excerpted the second half of her article here.  To read the entire piece, you can sign up for her newsletter on her site, or read it in the archives once it’s posted. Safe journeys and successful healing to you.


Excerpted from Caroline Myss newsletter article


 Are you? Of course you are. Who isn’t? Whatever else you do, do not tell yourself that you are not an addict. You may not be hooked on street drugs or alcohol or any of the obvious substances, but let’s go to the next level – psychic addictions. What about power issues, attention getting tactics, entitlements (endless list of those), manipulation tactics, self-pity (that’s a favorite), lying (another popular addiction), stealing (a nickel or a million dollars – it’s not the amount that makes you a thief), gossip, breaking your word, making excuses for yourself, blaming others for why your life is a mess, – the list is endless. These forms of behavior are character defects, to be sure, but they are also psychic addictions. Why? They are addictions because you automatically rely upon your dark patterns of behavior as a means of survival without a giving these actions a second thought. In general, you do not stop to consider the long-term consequences of a dark action upon others or the entire fabric of your life. Rather, you rationalize your actions by some entitlement – perhaps a wound from your childhood or some injustice done to you at work. Or you tell yourself that you want to avoid hurting others or engaging in conflict. The excuses for deceit are endless but in the end, they are still deceitful actions that you rely upon for safety because you don’t trust the consequences of being truthful. This is classic psychic addiction behavior that allows a person to say, “What did I do? I didn’t mean anything by my actions”. Not taking responsibility for personal actions is yet another flag indicating addictive behavior.

The next questions are, “What are you addictions? How fast are they contributing to the destruction of your health and life, not to mention your psyche and your spirit? And, are you interested in doing anything about any of your addictions?”

When it comes to directing people to heal, I am obviously of the school of mind that it’s tough work and blaming another person for the way you are eventually becomes a weak argument. At some point, if you are serious about healing, you have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and take charge of yourself, regardless of your background, as healing the authority your background has over you is part of the journey itself. You cannot heal an addiction and play the blame game simultaneously. These two ways of thinking X each other out. Having said that, I always tell people that healing does not in any way mean that a person forgets the nightmares of their childhood or youth or even adult years. That’s impossible. The challenge we face in healing is one of repositioning those memories, of not allowing them to have control over the rest of our life. Healing is not about forgetting though it is about forgiving – a subject for another day.

Deciding to leave the world of addiction consciousness begins by making a decision as to whether you want to actually challenge that part of yourself. If you do, if you actually want to break free of a dysfunctional pattern of behavior to which you are addicted, your next step is to identify it. Observe that behavior in you as if it’s not you, as if you’re observing a stranger. Observe what situations seem to activate that pattern. Once identified, you form and act upon a behavioral pattern that is more positive or at least less destructive. Then you have to stick to your new behavior like a duck on a June bug. That’s where the hard work comes in – and it’s really hard. Old ways die hard and that dark little voice in you that always gives you permission to do the weakest thing, to indulge in destructive behavior, to feel sorry for yourself, to blame someone for your life – that’s a powerful voice. It’s actually a reptile in your psyche that needs to be exorcised and it takes effort, lots of effort because whether or not you realize it, you’ve come to rely on that reptile to make your life easy. And it always has. Moreover, you have no idea what, if anything, will replace that reptile once you dismantle that one from your psyche. All you’ll have left is clarity of mind and for so many people, clear thinking is the most frightening level of consciousness in their world. You may need the assistance of a counselor for this type of work, as this is rigorous.

There is nothing simple about taking on an addiction. But then again, there is nothing simple or easy about healing cancer either or about weight loss or about initiating any real act of personal transformation. Of course it’s difficult. How could it not be? Do you think being an addict is easy? Really? Think of all the difficulties your addictions have created for you and add those up. The difference between the challenges initiated through healing and those created through addictions is that addicts don’t care about the mess their behavior creates. They don’t care about the pain their power plays bring to others or how their endless entitlements place demands on the lives of people.

Healing is a different type of pain. It’s the pain of becoming aware of the power of one’s strength and weakness, of one’s capacity to love or do damage to oneself and to others, and of how the most challenging person to control in life is ultimately yourself.

For those of you who are addicts or are dealing with addicts and need help along the way, let me add that the genius of the Twelve Step Program is that it provides people with an internal value system that touches the spirit without directly being religious or spiritual. The fact that this program provides food for the human spirit is its grace. Likewise, without finding an internal value system that speaks to the human spirit, replacing the shallow needs of the ego, self-serving addictions will continue to consume a person’s psyche. A person will likely continue to want more stuff, becoming terrified of aging, and always think there is something more in life waiting for them somewhere. And that person will be haunted by the fear that every one else will get more stuff then he or she will. Such is the way of the person addicted to the ultimate hell – endless fear.

Personal Work

  • Remember we are all addicts. Observe yourself and what shadow pattern kicks in automatically as your primary safety net and why.
  • What is an alternative behavior? Are you courageous enough to introduce that into your life? Keep in mind that you do not introduce a healthy behavior just once. It has to become part of your lifestyle.
  • Do not look for positive feedback or rewards for any positive changes that you introduce into your life. Any and all changes have only to do with you wanting to be a better person.
  • You may want to find a support person – a counselor or a spiritual director. These are not small changes we are talking about.
  • Finally, I am always one who encourages inner work, reflection, and prayer as a given part of life, but especially when you undertake personal transformation. You need to read inspiring sacred writings. You need to know that becoming clear and empowered is exactly the true meaning of discovering your inner potential.
  • Be blessed on this journey. It’s the only one that keeps getting better.

For more on Caroline Myss, visit her website at




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How To Transform Conflict Into Opportunity

Tuesday, 27. August 2013 21:34

Join us for a Free Teleseminar…

Does the idea of conflict cause you to freeze up or feel anxious? Do you avoid conflict as a result and sell yourself short? Or, do you get so angry and frustrated that you behave in ways you wish you hadn’t?

Imagine how much more flow you might experience if you could handle conflict with calm and ease.

If this sounds appealing to you, our complimentary Transforming Conflict into Opportunity Intro teleseminar will help you to develop the skill to handle difficult situations effectively and with greater confidence.

Register here  for the free 60-Minute Teleseminar and get a recording if you can’t make it to the live session on September 4.

Here’s our little secret, the ability to manage conflict better lives within all of us.  You can learn to access your true self and effectively communicate during challenging times.

To introduce you to how to better solve life’s problems using our collaborative process of internal and external communication, we are offering a complimentary 60 minute teleseminar on September 4th at 4 PM eastern.  In this teleseminar you will learn to identify the basic “keys” to transforming conflict.  FREE REGISTRATION

Meet Your Coaches, Pam and Catherine

Pam Refling
Coach, Mediator, Communication Specialist

Pam Refling became interested in communication and the effects the words we use have on either creating or resolving conflict, after studying Nonviolent Communication with Marshall Rosenberg in 2006. Since  2008, she has mediated for the Community Mediation Center in Bozeman, MT. In 2013 she  became a trainer in the Mediate Your Life program in Boston, MA.  Pam has a mediation, communication and coaching practice, Communication Cues, in Bozeman, MT.

Catherine Saar Career, Wellness and Communication Coach

Catherine Saar
Career, Wellness and Communication Coach

Catherine Saar, founder of The Project Coach, has over over twenty years of experience delivering results as a coach and as a collaborative business leader in highly confrontational settings. Her practice supports business and artistic professionals in their journey to reduce stress, find clarity and to create a life they dream of.  Catherine received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University in Economics and Communication and her MBA from UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management. More

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Thursday, 14. February 2013 13:25

Happy February – a lovely quote by author Kobi Yamada touched me today:

Believe in your dreams.

Believe in today.

Believe that you are loved.

Believe that you make a difference.

Believe we can build a better world.

Believe when others might not.

Believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Believe that you might be that light for someone else.

Believe that the best is yet to be.

Believe in each other.

Believe in yourself.

I believe in you.

– Kobi Yamada

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Holiday Embrace

Monday, 24. December 2012 13:35

“This is not a letter but my arms about you for a brief moment.”

Katherine Mansfield


Happy Holidays and best wishes that you may both embrace yourself and others in the coming year.

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