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watercolor painting

A Time To Heal (watercolor and ink by Barbie Dallmann)

When I was a senior in high school, I broke my left knee playing flamingo football–boys against the girls. After six weeks on crutches, my leg wrapped in plaster from thigh-top to toe-tips, the day came for cast removal. I vividly recall my first glimpse of the leg. I say, “the leg” because it really didn’t resemble MY leg. The leg was shriveled, dirty, and hairy! But even worse than how it looked, was how poorly it functioned. The knee didn’t bend, and it couldn’t hold any weight whatsoever. It was a useless, pitiful little thing, just hanging there with no cast to protect it.

After weeks of physical therapy and excruciatingly painful exercises, I was able to take my first tentative steps without crutches. It was over a year before I could attempt running and even longer before I could operate the clutch pedal of our extended bed International Harvester pick-up truck.

Now, over 40 years later, there are still times my knee “acts up.” It’s not particularly fond of steep, downhill descents on rocky trails. For the most part, though, I go through life, walking three or four miles a day without giving it much thought. I climb stairs, ride bicycles, and easily deploy a clutch pedal. Once healed, it’s hard to remember the process of recovery: limitations, pain, frustration, and wanting to give up.

I think the same is true for healing emotional wounds. For a little while, it’s okay to wrap ourselves in protective armor while the worst of the injury heals. But the longer we wait, the more we atrophy and the harder it is to return to normal. And it’s no more realistic to expect instant emotional recovery than it is to remove a cast one day and plan to run a marathon the next.

Sometimes the recovery period feels worse than the initial injury, and certainly some wounds are worse than others. The more traumatic the injury, the longer the recovery period.

Ultimately, I believe in the wisdom of the body and heart when it comes to healing. If we take our bruised egos out of the picture, surrender to the reality of the situation, release whatever needs to be forgiven, and listen to the small, still voice within, we will heal. Healing–both physical and emotional–calls for patience, kindness, self-compassion, and self-love. Lots and lots and LOTS of self-love. And maybe a trusted friend or two to lean on while you’re learning to walk again.

 

 

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20150418_082154-2(Originally Posted May 11, 2010)

In March 1993 two bad things happened: (1) My kindergarten age son’s favorite riverside play area, “Magic Island,” was flooded, and when the waters receded, the area was covered in garbage. (2) Someone shot the windows out of my car, which was parked right in front of my house.

I was so angry about my car. I didn’t even bother with feeling worried or scared. Natural fighter that I am, I went directly into rage. Adrenaline was pumping through my body, and my heart was beating through my chest. I was shaking all over, ready to find the culprit and pound the crap out of him! That was my first reaction.

Through the inner roar that demanded revenge, I managed to hear a small, quiet voice: “You have a choice. You don’t have to respond with violence. You can choose peace instead of this.” I listened, but I didn’t know what to do with all that “violent energy” surging through my body. I NEEDED to hit somebody!

Then I remembered the playground, and it occurred to me that I could use my surplus energy to pick up garbage. I thought, “I’ll just pick up as much as it takes to get rid of this emotional super charge.” And so I grabbed a box of garbage bags and loaded my son and his friend into our truck, and we headed for Magic Island.

All I can say is that it took a long, LONG time to dissipate the energy. In fact, I filled over 20 giant garbage bags as full as I could get them. Add to that the work the boys did, and we pretty much cleaned up the flood’s footprint from Magic Island. When it was over, I was so tired and so happy. I had turned my violent rage into something useful and helpful and hopeful.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The next morning while driving to work, the Mayor noticed the change on Magic Island and called the Parks Director to thank him. Of course, the Parks Director knew nothing about it. Enter the local press with the front-page newspaper headline: “Mayor wants do-gooders to come clean.” My best friend in Illinois turned us in. I had shared the story with her, and she’s the one who ended up calling the Mayor’s office to tell the tale. A couple of weeks later, the my son, his friend, and I received a Mayor’s Award for Community Spirit.

The best part, though, was the follow-up newspaper article in which I told my story about turning something negative into something positive in order to stop the cycle of violence. For many weeks thereafter, local pastors used the story in Sunday sermons, and something amazing happened as people began spontaneously getting together to pick up garbage all over the city. I’m still amazed by it all!

And so, next time you hear a quiet voice from inside telling you that you have a choice, believe it. We always have choices. We can choose to react out of fear, revenge, or self-righteous anger . . . or we can make choices and take actions that will lift us into a higher place, into a new, more peaceful way of being.

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Ika Rose and the Trees of Kanawha State Forest

Ika Rose and the Trees of Kanawha State Forest

I went hiking today. Just me and Ika Rose. I chose a challenging climb, and took off enthusiastically upward with lots of energy. Before long, however, I was breathing hard and stumbling a bit where a scattering of rocks and tree roots required careful stepping. I became so intent on looking down and deliberately placing each foot, that somehow I lost track of the trail. I suppose I followed the dog, who was following a game trail, which eventually became impassable, at least for a novice hiker like myself.

Can you see the blaze on the big tree? How about the one behind it?

Can you see the blaze on the big tree? How about the one behind it?

I couldn’t get oriented just looking around, so I went back down the hill until I was sure I had found the trail, turned around again, and resumed climbing. I worried I would repeat my mistake and found myself wishing there were signs to guide me. That’s when I remembered that this was a blazed trail. I just needed to purposefully look up and search for the markings on the trees. Funny how easy they are to see when you’re looking for them and how they totally disappear when you’re not.

It made me think about my latest professional journey: creating and planning my first Daring Way™ weekend retreat. I started out enthusiastic about the challenge. I tackled the tasks with lots of energy, doing a lot of time-consuming preparation and marketing. I started to focus on the details a bit too much and got bogged down in the process. I started wishing for “a sign” to lead the way.

Actually, there had been several indicators (aka, “signs”), but I hadn’t paid much attention. I was busy placing one foot in front of the other.

What is it in me that refuses to read the signs until I get lost?

I always think I know where I’m going.

I always think I know . . . .

I always think . . . .

When does listening occur to me? When does it seem appropriate to ask for guidance? At what point do I give myself permission to admit I’ve never done this before, and simply walk back down the hill and start again, this time paying attention to the signs?

But enough about my all-too-human foibles. I’ve decided to read the signs and reschedule the retreat. As I try again, I’m going to “look up” and search intently for the signs to guide my way.

A vivid blaze

A vivid blaze

Close-up of a hard-to-see blaze

Close-up of a hard-to-see blaze

In the woods, the signs are often hard to recognize. Sometimes the yellow paint is vivid and discernible from yards away, but other times, it’s overgrown with moss or eroded by the elements. What I noticed during today’s walk, however, was that the signs ARE there and are quite unmistakable when recognized.

So it seems in life. When I look for signs, I find them. When I listen to my heart, it’s much easier to discern their messages.

And much like today’s hike that ended where it began about 90 minutes later … my spiritual journey isn’t about doing everything perfectly, and it isn’t even about “arriving,” it’s about exercising my spiritual muscles, enjoying the journey, and occasionally remembering to read the signs before I get too lost.

The signs are there! (By the way, did you see the blaze on the tree in the very first photo? They disappear when you aren't looking for them.)

The signs are there! (By the way, did you see the blaze on the tree in the very first photo? They disappear when you aren’t looking for them.)

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Front Cover of Book

The cover of my first published book. To learn more, click here.

 

I’m happy that my book is finished, published, and ready to sell. In fact, I sold several copies last week from a casual mention on Facebook. Truthfully, though, I’m more excited about using my book than I am about selling my book.

Let me explain. Creating a Life You Love is predominantly a workbook; it’s intended to be a tool for increasing self-confidence and joy. Yes, I wrote a few chapters of supportive material, but like any good tool, the real power comes from using it, not from reading about how it works.

As I face the daunting task of developing and executing a successful marketing plan, I’m beginning to long for some increased self-confidence as well as a bit more joy. To that end, I picked up the book and began with prompt #1, “My Favorite Flowers.” It was easy to zip through numbers one, two, and three (daffodils, crocuses, and lilacs … I do love spring flowers!) But then the listing slowed as I thought hard about limiting my list to five. I wanted just the special ones, the flowers I can always count on to warm my heart and leave me smiling.

I doodled a bit on the page and then observed as some of my favorite flower memories floated into my awareness. There was the peony corsage made for me by my high school boyfriend. I was worried when I heard what he had planned and relieved to find the home-made corsage was actually quite pretty. But before the dance was over, all the petals had dropped down the front of my dress. I was left with a ribbon, greenery, and an empty stem. Too funny!

I remembered fondly the vase of lilacs I placed on the altar for the Blessed Virgin when I attended Catholic grade school. Each student took his or her turn bringing flowers each day in May to honor all of our mothers but Jesus’s mother Mary in particular. So many colorful aromatic flowers!

I closed my eyes and allowed the joy of flowers to wash over me. Wild flowers; spring flowers; flowers cut from our yard; purchased flowers; wedding bouquets; flowers in Moscow, Vienna, and London; the flower fields of Carlsbad; Mother’s Day flowers; Anniversary roses; dandelions; crab apple blossoms; day lilies. The deeper I waded into a lifetime of flower memories, the more joyful I became and the luckier I felt.

When my session with the workbook was over, I went grocery shopping and picked up a bouquet of roses for my office. I painted flowers in art class, and noticed periwinkle blooming in the woods.

If working with one page on one day can fill my heart so completely, can you see why I’m looking forward to completing the next 79 exercises? I didn’t just write the book on Creating a Life You Love, I’m living it!

 

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New Beginnings Painting

“New Beginnings” – Acrylic painting to be auctioned at the Charleston Art Walk April 17 to raise funds for the WV Children’s Advocacy Network

Last year at this time I was insistently resisting the label “artist” (See: I’m not THAT!). This year when I received the “Call to Artists” email, asking for donations of art to be auctioned at a fundraiser for a West Virginia non-profit, I excitedly began thinking about making a contribution. Yesterday I awoke at 4 a.m. having just finished the painting in my dreams.

I picked my way through the dark woods to the cottage and happily assembled my supplies, all the while trying to recall the details of the dream painting. I sketched it out quickly on the back of a things-to-do list, made a few notes, and then started painting. This morning I declared it finished because it brought a smile to my face.

Last year’s agony of creation is gone; today I was so absorbed in the joy of painting, I completely forgot to drink my coffee! Now, that’s seriously absorbed!

In this moment, I’m feeling happy and proud of myself. This past year, I’ve willingly worked through a lot of painful memories and purposefully healed those wounds. I’ve butted up against some major barriers, including “I don’t know what I’m doing!” and “I’m not good enough.” Patience, kindness and self-compassion have gradually reduced the size of the barriers. Although, still big enough to be recognizable, they have gradually become small enough to step over. Finally I find myself in a valley of contentment with feelings of satisfaction, freedom, delight, and whimsy. There is a sacred flow that happens now when I paint. It has become a time of communion with my higher self–a peaceful meditation. Lost in time and space, I become childlike, curious and delighted with the colors and shapes. It isn’t about getting certain results, it’s just about the fun of dabbling.

I long to more regularly feel that sense of freedom that comes from releasing attachment to outcome. I wonder what it would be like to approach every task in my life with playful curiosity and delight. When I think about where I was artistically just five years ago (couldn’t even draw a stick man) to where I am today, it makes me believe anything is possible. Yes, it does require a conscious desire to create something new as well as focused effort, but if it results in more connection, freedom, and joy, then count me in!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

In the fall of 2000, I delivered a 90-minute presentation on the topic of Power Talking at the national convention of Professional Résumé Writers in Las Vegas. I flew out several days early to indulge myself with a side trip of hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and horseback riding to the floor of the canyon. Looking back, I marvel at my adventurous spirit. I’m shocked sometimes at the realization: not only did I do it; I did it alone! It was all part of an ambitious plan birthed from my 1989 New Year’s intention to live my life “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”  (See my 1989 Guidebook: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers).

I was in a reflective mood while hiking a remote trail in Bryce Canyon. Nature does that to me. It opens my mind to the big questions. You know the ones: “Why am I here?” … “Does God exist?” …  “What is the meaning of life?” … “Does anything I do really matter?”

As sometimes happens when hiking alone, I began asking my questions aloud, pleading with The Universe to give me just one solid answer. Is that too much to ask? Really? Just one, incontrovertible straightforward answer. I mean, this is The Universe … all powerful … all knowing … all present. Hello?? Anybody there?

In desperation, I yelled out, “I want an answer … and I want it now!”

Just then there was a sharp turn in the trail and I nearly smacked into a signpost, whose words took my breath away. “STAY ALERT” the bright yellow letters instructed … “READ THE SIGNS.”

Whoa! The message pierced through to my heart. Isn’t it just like The Universe to deliver what we need to know instead of what we demand to know?

This morning at the cottage I found myself asking “What do I need to focus on in 2014? What intention should I pick for the new year?” Silence. And then the impatient shout, “Just tell me! I want to know!”

Then–just like that–I remembered “the sign” that was so meaningful to me 13 years ago. I also remembered the intriguing allure of “omens” in a book I’m currently reading, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. As these rather vague but appealing thoughts were bouncing around my head, I think I actually encountered an omen, but I’m not sure since I don’t really know what an omen looks like. But it felt the way I imagine it feels to see an omen. Silently awed, in the moment, grateful without words for the download of wisdom. Wow!

Happy New Year … Happy New Focus … What do you intend to create in 2014?

As for me, my intention for the next 365 days is to stay alert and read the signs.

Sign from Bryce Canyon

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Gift Card

I’ve heard a lot of people comment that gift cards are “just so impersonal”! Last week I received one from the fourth grade class where I’m a ReadAloud volunteer on Thursday mornings.

It reminds me of when my grandma would slip five dollars into my birthday card. Mom urged me to buy “something special,” something that Grandma herself might buy if she lived closer. After the purchase, I wrote a thank-you note. (Remember those?) I not only said thank you, but I told Grandma specifically how I spent the money as well as the pleasure I received from my gift.

The first year I received a check for Christmas from my dad, I was a little disappointed. He had always been a thoughtful gift giver, and I enjoyed the presents he chose. As he slowed with age, though, it was easier for him to just send a check. He slipped in a note telling me to buy myself something special. So, I began a tradition of carefully choosing a gift I could imagine him buying. That year, I picked out a beautiful pair of gold earrings, and I placed the wrapped present under the tree with a tag that read, “To: Barb … From: Dad.”

On Christmas Eve, I “forgot” what the box contained and opened it with great anticipation. A few days later I sent a thank you note: “Dear Dad, I adore the beautiful gold hoop earrings you sent! I have been wearing them every day since I opened the gift. Thank you so much. I Love You! Barb.”

After his initial confusion over that first thank-you note, Dad came to look forward to finding out what he bought me for Christmas via the thank you notes. And, even now, more than 20 years later, when someone admires those earrings, I say, “Thank you. They were a Christmas gift from my dad.”

Yesterday I used the gift card from the students to buy two books. The thank-you note says, “Thank you so much for the Christmas gift card. Because I enjoy reading to you so much, I used it to buy two books for myself. One is a travel guide to the Big Island of Hawaii. I’m going there this summer, and I want to get the most from my trip by reading about it before I go. The second book is a journal I’m using to write all my ideas about–and wishes for–the trip. Please know I’ll be thinking of you all when I celebrate my 60th Birthday bicycling through Volcanoes National Park on August 14! Books help big dreams come true!! Thanks again for your magical gift. Keep Dreaming! Keep Reading! Love, Ms. Dallmann”

On the inside flap of the books, I have written: “Merry Christmas 2013 from Mrs. Burdette’s Fourth Grade Class at Overbrook Elementary.”

Impersonal? I think not!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas 2013

Making Memories

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