Posted by: lornasass | December 27, 2011

A NEW YEAR: LETTING GO AND CREATING SPACE FOR WHAT’S NEW

From Sandy Beach to Mare Island, CA//Photo by Lorna Sass

There is something about the beginning of a new year that beckons loudly for us to start afresh.

Yet, aside from watching the ball drop in Times Square, most of us lack a meaningful ritual for marking the end of one year and the beginning of another.

As a Life Coach, I love creating techniques to help my clients have a vivid experience of moving consciously from one phase of their lives to the next.  Whether it is starting a new year, changing jobs, careers, or locations, I encourage them to identify and leave behind what no longer serves them, creating space for stepping into larger, more expansive lives.

And what better time than the start of a new year to say a formal “goodbye” to what is past, and a welcoming “hello” to the new life adventures ahead. To create a sense of completion around 2011 and a ritual beginning to 2012, I invite you to try this quick and rewarding visualization exercise:

Sit comfortably in a quiet space and imagine the old year as an island you are about to leave.  Before getting on the sailboat that will take you to a new island, think about the stresses and strains and whatever other challenges from this past year you would like to leave behind.  Jot the leave-behind items down on a piece of paper. Carefully burn this paper (in a sink, for example), or tear it into tiny pieces and throw it away.

On another piece of paper, write down the rewarding aspects, acquired wisdom, and other gains of your current life that you’d like to take to the new island.  Hold this paper close to your heart as you imagine embarking on the ship. Imagine the long, smooth journey to the new island taking place overnight while you sleep and deeply rest.

Awaken to see the new island, sunny and magnificent, stretched out before you.  What does it look like? Imagine all of your favorite trees, flowers, and animals on this magical island.

Walk down the ship’s gangplank with your arms wide open to embrace the surprise and delight of this new time and place. Have a good look around.  What adventures and discoveries await you on this island?   What dreams can you make come true here?  Write these down.

Then notice which dream on your list you feel the most passion for.  Which takes priority over all the rest? List the mini-steps it would take to make this dream become a reality in the coming year. Take one step each week until you make this dream come true.

Wishing you all an ease-full, healthy, adventurous, and magic-filled 2012.

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Posted by: lornasass | December 25, 2011

WHY TRAVEL?

Pt. Reyes National Seashore//Photo by Lorna Sass

It seemed like a good idea at the time: leaving my NYC apartment and staying in a house surrounded by vineyards in Sonoma, CA.  That was three or four months ago and the plane tickets were bought.

In the intervening time, I became more and more involved in my NYC life.  In fact, I went from feeling ill at ease in the concrete jungle to falling back in love with the intensity of street life, the vast cultural options, and my daily walks in the Central Park Ramble. 

In the days preceding my departure, I felt like a carrot digging its roots more deeply into the soil.  I resisted packing and the thought of getting myself on an airplane felt alien.  In short, I didn’t want to be the carrot that got dug up.  Why couldn’t I just stay home?

Well, that wasn’t a practical option, so here I am in Sonoma, with an organic vegetable garden in front of the house and all the stuff of someone else’s life inside.  Yesterday we had a delicious lunch from the taco truck in the gas station in Napa.  Last night we feasted on lacinato kale harvested just a few minutes before it hit the pot.  Today we are going to one of my favorite places on earth:  Pt. Reyes National Seashore.  It’s free to get into this magnificent park, giving me the feeling that some things are really right with the world.

There’s no Metropolitan Museum  just a ten-minute walk away, and I have to get into a car to buy a quart of milk.  There are choices, but they are different choices:  Not what museum shall I go to today, but what walk shall I take, what book shall I read?

It’s a different way of living, and it gives me a fresh perspective on my life back home.  Even though I miss the familiar comforts of my own four walls, I’ve decided to spend some time hanging out with the carrots in the front garden, getting a real taste of the soil in this parts.   I wonder if, by the time I leave, I’ll be dug in so deeply that I’ll have trouble yanking myself out of here…

One thing I know for sure.  As I’m getting older, I’m feeling less yankable.  And I’m ever so glad to have built up a storehouse of magnificent memories from visiting places near and far.  These memories have nourished the soil of my life so that when I can travel no longer, I’ll have the strength to dig deeper and deeper roots, knowing that coming home to myself is the biggest and more exciting travel adventure of them all.

Posted by: lornasass | December 15, 2011

YOUR WORDS BECOME YOUR LIFE

Photo by Lorna Sass

The other day a client came to the coaching call breathless, announcing:  “I’m drowning in work.”

“You’re drowning in work,” I reflected back.

There was a long silence.

Then she said, “Wow, what am I telling myself?  I know that the words I say become my reality.”

She then listed a few more favorite phrases that she often said:

“I’m swamped.”

“I’m deluged with e-mails.”

“I’m always trying to keep my head above water.”

Curious, all these watery images…and familiar statements that I’d often heard passing through my own lips.  The cautionary Sondheim lyric: “Careful the things you say, children will listen…” floated through my mind.

One of the many aspects of coaching I find so rewarding is that I get frequent reminders to examine my own “stuff.”  The moment my client had spoken, I recognized that I often used the “swamped,” “deluged,” and “drowning” metaphors in my own life.  But how could I be drowning on the 7th floor in the middle of Manhattan?  And there’s no water to keep my head above except in the bath tub.  No worries there!

So what can I say to myself that is really true?  What is a water image that will create the kind of ease-full days I want to live?

Here’s what I came up with: Whenever I notice that I’m in fast-forward, swimming against the tide, or otherwise struggling to stay afloat, I’m going to stop, put my hand over my heart, and take some deep breaths.

Then I’m going to imagine myself floating in a warm ocean, saying:   “The water supports me as I flow through my days.”

How about you, dear reader?  What  words will become your life? 

Posted by: lornasass | December 12, 2011

BETTER THAN ZANTAC–SOMETHING TO CHEW ON

Photo courtesy of yoganonymous.org.

What does a person do about heartburn?  Take Zantac, of course.

At least that’s what everyone, including two doctors, suggested.  So I went on the drug and sure enough, I wasn’t aware of any heartburn most of the time.

However, being of a skeptical nature about drugs, I searched the internet and found some very distressing news about the long-term use of Zantac. So after the recommended 14 days, despite the fact that the ENT doc said I could stay on it indefinitely, I decided to quit taking Zantac. 

It’s one thing to use a band-aid to cover an open wound, but the presumption is that the band-aid will come off once the wound is healed.  In my case the “wound” wasn’t healing because as soon as I went off Zantac, the heartburn returned.

I’d already given up coffee, tea, and chocolate (boo-hoo).  I was already taking digestive enzymes with each and a good probiotic every morning. What else was left to do? I diligently researched low-acid diets.  There was so much confusing advice about which foods to avoid, that I gave up in frustration and decided to call my friend and culinary colleague  Annemarie Colbin, author of the groundbreaking Food and Healing, and founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute of Food and Health.

After inquiring about my current diet, here’s what she said:  “Chew your food 35 times and drink a full glass of water after each meal.”

“What,” I thought. “That’s it?”

Dear reader, have you ever tried chewing each mouthful 35 times?  Let me tell you, it is quite an adventure.

First I noticed that it was extremely difficult to remember to chew food that much. My ancient habit had been to throw food down the hatch after mashing it only 2 or 3 times between my teeth.  I also had the bad habit of shoving more food into my mouth before the prior batch was swallowed.  What was the hurry?

I’m now 4 days into the chewing adventure and here’s what else I’ve noticed:

1)  When I’m eating, I find it difficult to just eat.  Give me a book, a computer, company for conversation…

2)  Paying attention to the textures of different foods can be fascinating once you get into it.

3)  When I’m chewing that much, it’s easier to take smaller mouthfuls.

4)  The food  becomes liquified (pre-digested) and slips down the gullet.  I barely have to swallow.  (This liquifying technique is a lot more efficient than using a masticating juicer and there’s no clean-up!)

5)  Sometimes I’m holding my stomach in when I’m eating.  Hmmm…what’s that about?

6)  It takes about 20 minutes to chew a full portion.

7)  There is something very peaceful about actually being there, paying attention when I’m eating.

And guess what?

The heartburn is much improved!

So, dear reader, the lesson I am taking from this story is to be where I am and do what I’m doing, wholeheartedly and with conscious intention. 

Given these conditions, my mind and body have an extraordinary ability to heal.

And it’s always healing to smile, so have a listen to this delightful thirties song about chewing, provided by my Sweetie, Michael Steinman, jazz blogger extraordinaire at Jazz Lives.  Please disregard what the singers are chewing on!

Posted by: lornasass | December 1, 2011

DO TALK TO STRANGERS

Some "strangers" built the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Lorna Sass

Yes, you read it right.

Who ever came up with the idea of teaching children not to talk to strangers?

Trouble is, this advice is based on fear and most people are good.

So in defense against that very small number of people who might do us harm, we learn at a very early age to never talk to strangers.  Then as adults, even though we have judgment and choice, we unthinkingly stick to this constricting habit and miss out on a lot of fun.

I started talking to strangers many years ago when working alone writing cookbooks was driving me a little nuts.  I started out real safe by talking to NYC bus drivers.  They were happy to chat when stopped at red lights, and got to find out what it was like driving a bus all day.  This conversation invariably left me feeling grateful to them for doing the good job they did. I also was reminded of my own good luck–that I had so much more freedom and flexibility in my schedule–not to mention that I didn’t have to sit in a bus for 8 hours and avoid running down J-walkers and taxi cabs that cut me off. 

Recently I started chatting with some Con Ed men and thanked them for keeping the water flowing and the electricity coming into my apartment.  They seemed surprised and amused, and I went on my way feeling grateful that I’m not using a deafening jack-hammer to tear up the streets and working six feet under in all kinds of weather.  It looks like a nasty job, though they always appear good humored and friendly about it.

For years I saw a strange looking person working in the token booth at my local subway stop.  I had occasion to speak to her a few weeks ago when I lost my Metro card and she was so sweet and compassionate that I now stop by and say “hello” whenever I see her.  This brief exchange makes my day so much better.  It wakes me up to my good fortune:  I get to go some place interesting while she continues to sit in the little booth.

On a crowded subway car a few days ago, there was an announcement to “Give your seat to the elderly or infirm.”  I was very pleased to hear this good advice and asked the young man standing next to me what he thought.  After removing one ear bud, he told me:  “I always give up my seat to old people and also to pretty girls.  That’s the way I was brought up.”  We then chatted a little more about his mother and I felt so warmly towards him that by the time I needed to get off, I wanted to give him a hug.  Instead I told him, “I’m really glad to have met you.”

I hope this little blog post will inspire you to speak to strangers and that you’ll let me know what happens by commenting on this post.

What you are likely to learn, as I have through life coaching and on the streets and subways of Manhattan, is that the whole notion of strangers is based on an illusion.  The other is us and we are them.  We are more alike than we are different And we’re in this thing called life together.


Posted by: lornasass | November 30, 2011

BREATHING INTO A NEW DAY

I have discovered a beautiful way to start the day:  by breathing!

This bird picked a smart place to perch. Photo by Lorna Sass

I know this sounds funny–everybody breathes all of the time–but when I look back to the days before I started doing this particular breathing exercise, I realize that I started my day in fast forward, holding my breath.  I’d rush over to the computer and look at my e-mail, postponing my morning meditation and, by the time I settled down to meditate, I was already wound up and distracted.  After my meditation, I’d almost immediately resume a fast-forward pace.  This wasn’t working for me…

For the last few weeks, I’ve been doing things differently.  As soon as I notice a hint of awakeness in the morning, I settle myself on my back and place one hand on my heart and the other on my abdomen (this is extremely comforting in itself). I slowly take in a deep breathe through my nostrils to the count of 4.   I hold my breathe for the same 4 counts and then exhale to 8 counts through my mouth.  During all of this, I hold the tip of my tongue on the ridge in the top of my mouth where the hard palate meets the soft palate.  When I exhale, I press the air out from my abdomen and make a “shushing” sound.

My intention is to do this exercise for 10 minutes, but I usually end up doing 25 to 30.  It is a very delicious, calming, and expansive way to start the day, and I find that I  carry a more gentle rhythm as I move from one thing to the next.

My inspiration for staying in bed when I wake up came from Patricia Ellsberg, who mentioned in an wonderful on-line course I’ve been taking called Awakening Joy, that she starts her day by meditating in bed–sometimes for a full hour.  This idea seemed shocking at first, and then irresistible.  Thanks Patricia!

Posted by: lornasass | November 26, 2011

A NEW POINT OF VIEW=FREEDOM

During my coach’s training, I became keenly aware of how often my point of view (otherwise known as opinion, judgment,  or belief) was very limiting, holding me back from taking pleasure in life. 

Since I have the good fortune to be coaching clients around coming up with more life-affirming points of view, I have daily reminders to do that myself.

Case in point:   When it came to aging, I found myself holding a strong point of view, namely “Getting older sucks.”  I alternated this statement with its twin, “Getting older isn’t for sissies.” 

One day I noticed that buying into these two cliches resulted in frequent lamentations (to myself and to long suffering friends) about my aches and pains.  These lamentations evoked a good deal of fear about my impending death (which is actually likely to be decades off).  All of this negative palaver was exhausting me.

Hey, wait a minute: Wasn’t I holding an intention to age with grace?

Fortunately, some wise part of me (the ripe, aged part?) noticed that my “getting older sucks” point of view wasn’t serving my intention. 

And an even wiser part of me (the part that understands the benefit and privilege of hanging out for a long time on a bench in Central Park?) got the idea to find a new point of view:  Get curious about the aging process.  Notice what’s happening, do what’s necessary, then read a book, go to the theater, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or hang out some more on a park bench.

In other words, give up lamenting and get back to enjoying all there is. 

So dear reader, that’s my story.

Now I am hoping you’ll be inspired to change your point of view about some belief limiting you.  Try the exercise below and let me know how you do in the comments box. I’d love to hear all about your experience.

Exercise// Coming up with new points of view:  Draw a large tic-tac-toe board (see picture below).  In the center box, write your current limiting point of view. Pay attention to how small it feels to be stuck in that tiny box.  Then stand up, take the paper with you, and walk to another quadrant of the room (or close your eyes and move in your imagination).  Imagine what a friend might say, or tune into your higher wisdom and ask what might be another point of view.  Write this down in the second quadrant.  Take a moment to notice how it feels.

Move to another quadrant and repeat.  Continue repeating until you fill in all (or most) of the boxes. Note that some quadrants have two open sides and some only one. Notice briefly how each one feels.  Which one feels the most free?

Now choose the point of view that you would like to embody moving forward. Remind yourself of this new point of view every morning and picture yourself stepping out of this quadrant into a much larger life.  Go for it!


Posted by: lornasass | November 25, 2011

HAVING A GOOD CRY

Minnie 1990-2009

I was on my way to library, holding a pile of books.  It wasn’t an especially convenient time to have a good cry, but I let myself cry anyway. 

I thought about Bailey and how I’d miss his friendly welcoming nuzzles and I cried some more.  Then I thought of my precious cat Minnie, who died two years ago at 19+ and more tears came.  I held space for myself to cry, just as I do for my coaching clients, remembering how healing it is to cry–our body’s natural way to release pain and loss.

What I learned in my coaching training, and what I’ve seen time and again with my clients, is that if we allow ourselves to feel deeply, eventually the feelings pass. 

I still feel sad about Bailey, and will probably get a little teary the next time I see Wally alone, but it’s a kind of poignant feeling.  The deep pain is gone, leaving me free to celebrate the joyous human experience of sharing our homes with beloved pets.

And wasn’t Minnie a beauty?  Can you believe she was 18+ when this photo was taken?

Posted by: lornasass | November 24, 2011

FINDING TIME

We humans invented clock time and then we became slaves to it.

During their free sample coaching sessions, most people tell me, “I’m really too busy to take on one more thing, even coaching.”

“Soon after you begin life coaching,” I respond,  “time will open up and you will experience your day as spacious.”  There is usually an audible sigh on the other end of the phone.

How does time become more spacious once you dive into the coaching experience?

It all comes down to knowing what you’re meant to do with the precious time you have on earth.  Once you become clear on your life’s purpose and your work mission–two important goals of the first month of coaching–you can more easily create priorities.

The result?  All the time-wasters fall away, leaving you with lots of space and time to relax and have more fun.  Guaranteed!

Clouds Above Haleakala, Maui// Copyright Lorna Sass

30-Second Spaciousness Visualization

Close your eyes, take two deep breaths, and imagine a large clock face slowly dissolving into a cloud floating in a vast blue sky. 

Take some more deep breaths as you watch the cloud gently move out of sight.    Luxuriate in the spaciousness you created in the vast blue sky.  Slowly open your eyes and notice the empty spaces all around you.

Rx:  Repeat this visualization throughout the day whenever you find yourself on fast-forward.

Posted by: lornasass | November 23, 2011

EMBRACING DIFFERENCES

  I saw this photo on the internet and immediately fell in love with it–a case of a picture “speaking” a thousand words.

  A polar bear cuddling with a wolf?  How can it be?

  Every time I look at this photo, I smile and I find myself wondering what the world would be like if we all opened our arms to and then embraced what is unknown and mysterious.

As a coach, I am frequently reminded that we each walk a different path and face our unique set of challenges along the way.  Or, to put it another way, we are all pilgrims in this Earth School heading to destinations known and yet to be discovered.

    How comforting to know and trust that there will be help and a warm embrace along the way, no matter what our gender or the color of our skin.

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