Feeling Stuck? Three Practices to Try.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people talk about feeling stuck. They feel thwarted by a force that is keeping them where they are, without any forward movement. Most of us have experienced this feeling—it's like being caught in an eddy, a place of calm on the side of the river with a perfect view of the water flowing past us in the direction we want to go. We can feel disheartened, lost, and alone at times like this.

If I’ve learned anything in life, I’ve learned that I’m the one who usually gets myself into those eddys and I’m the one who can get me out of them.

There’s three key practices I adopt to get back into the flow.

First, I remember to be my own Witness. By that I mean that I watch myself and listen to myself as if I were someone else. It’s a great lesson in letting go of one’s ego. My Witness is fairly objective. She acts like a tour guide of my psyche, pointing everything out to me.

So, what does she point out? The two other practices I use to both get me stuck and get me back into the flow. . .

She points out when I’m acting like a Victim. When I feel stuck, I suffer from the “woe is me” syndrome, like the world is out to get me. I feel out of control and powerless, like I can't do anything right. I can twist anything to validate that I am a victim of life.

My Witness also points out and brings attention to my Inner Gremlins—those pesky voices in my head that try to keep me from succeeding. Are they putting me down because of fear? Safety? Security? Probably one or all of those in any given moment, but my Gremlins are the ones who are telling me I should be scared. I should play it safe. I should stick with what I know. When they are talking to me, they sound perfectly reasonable. So I succumb to fear. I do that which I’ve done before, a gazillion times. I don’t stretch myself beyond my usual.

When I listen my Inner Victim or my Gremlins, I become vigilant in finding situations and opportunities to validate what they are telling me—totally unconsciously, of course, but I catch myself seeking out validation that I suck. See, I didn’t get an endorsement because I suck. See, I didn’t get that client because I suck. See, I can’t learn something new because I’m too old. You get the idea.

I read recently that, during the course of a day, we have about 60,000 thoughts and 90% of those thoughts—54,000 thoughts—are negative. It’s those darned Gremlins and my Inner Victim that has a lion’s share of my thoughts.

In order to stop believing them and maneuver out of the eddy and back into the flow of life, I tell myself a few things. First I tell myself that I am powerful and I have choices. I—not my Inner Victim—am in control of my life. I am not a victim, I am a victor! I am at choice every minute of every day. Even when I’m doing something I think I “have to” or “should” do, I remind myself that I am making the choice to do it. Even when I’m doing something that keeps me stuck, I remind myself that I am making the choice to do it. Often, just the awareness is enough to help me make a better or different choice.

After I lost my leg in an auto accident 37 years ago, taking baby steps was how I learned to walk again. It’s how I learned to ski on one leg. It’s how I learned to rock climb and backpack. Baby Steps. I am a firm believer in taking baby steps. Each step is a mini-triumph, a sweet success, an awesome accomplishment. My fear, safety and security Gremlins appreciate my baby steps, too. When I break down any desired change into baby steps, they have time to adjust to any new normal I throw them.

We all find ourselves in the eddy sometimes, watching the life we want flow right past us. What changes are you trying to make? How do you feel like life thwarts your attempts? What would happen if you compassionately witnessed your thoughts? Believed that you are powerful and at choice? What if you took baby steps to make this change happen?

Better Than Nothing

My son is a singer, a deep bass singer. He’s also a senior in high school, so this year has been about finding a college for him to attend next year – a college that won’t break the bank. Luke applied to five places and was asked to audition at three of them; one in our hometown, one in Boston, and one in Indiana. After his auditions, after he was accepted into all three schools, we were told that we’d hear about any scholarships by April 3rd.

By the end of March, we had heard from two schools and were waiting to hear from Indiana University, Luke’s first choice. He desperately wants to go there; their music school, Jacobs School of Music, is the biggest in the country and one of the most renowned.

Luke’s teachers have all been encouraging. “Don’t worry,” they said, “You’re certain to get a scholarship.” This buoyed us and made us hopeful.

During the last week of March, we scampered to the mailbox each day with bated breath. Luke kept refreshing his email inbox. No word from Indiana.

At 1:00 p.m. on April 3rd, I called the Jacobs School of Music financial department and asked if they could tell us if Luke got a scholarship or not.

“Didn’t you receive the letter we sent out the week of March 20th?”

“No, we didn’t.” This doesn’t sound good, I thought.

“Well, according to our records, Luke didn’t receive any scholarships.”

“Nothing?” I asked, shocked. Didn’t everyone say he’s sure to get a scholarship? How could this happen?

“No, I’m afraid not,” she said.

“Do you base this decision on grade point or talent?” I asked.

“These scholarships are based on talent.” How the hell are we going to tell Luke that he didn’t get a scholarship, that his dream has just been crushed?

“You’re free to file an appeal. I’ll email you the form.”

I was crushed. I couldn’t do anymore work, I could only cry.


Luke came home from school about an hour later and immediately opened his email inbox. “What’s this appeal form?” he asked, confused.

“Well, buddy,” I said with tears streaming down my cheeks, “we called Jacobs School of Music today and you didn’t get a scholarship.”

“What!” he said. “That’s not right.” He looked indignant.

“Well, Luke, that’s what the woman in the financial aid department said. Apparently we didn’t get the letter they sent out a few weeks ago.”

“No,” Luke said again. “That’s not right.” He got up from the table, picked up his laptop and retreated to his bedroom. He emerged about an hour later. “Hey, Mom and Dad, I saw a post on Facebook from some guy who said that the Jacobs School of Music had postponed making scholarship decisions for vocal majors until April 7th. “

“Who is this guy?” we asked.

“I guess he’s a clarinet player who applied to Indiana, too.” Luke sounded hopeful, confident and optimistic.

Clearly he wasn’t ready to hear that his dream had been crushed. Clearly he was living in a little denial bubble to protect himself from the harsh truth. I knew better. I talked to a woman in the financial aid department. But who were we to pop that bubble? My husband and I decided to wait it out with him for another five days.

April 7th was during Spring Break so Luke slept in until about noon. He got on his computer right away to check his email.


He kept refreshing the page.


At 2:15 (5:15 in Indiana), I called the financial office again, but they had already closed for the day. See? There it is! No email, no phone call, nothing in the mailbox. He didn’t get a scholarship.

I was thinking about how to talk to Luke about the reality of his situation and how we need to accept the offer from the university in our town. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his laptop open. At 3:00 he said, “Oh, here it is.” Calm. Casual. Like, of course it’s here.

Certainly it wasn’t an email about a scholarship. It was probably a reminder to join their Facebook group or some other such step in the admissions process. I sat down next to Luke to see what this email had to say.

I was stunned. Shocked. It was a scholarship award letter. A significant scholarship. Enough so that he can go to Indiana University!

I asked Luke about his confidence and certainty. “Well, Mom, I knew my audition went well. I knew I did better than nothing.”

They say that the teacher learns from the student. And, I can attest, the parent learns from the child. Luke knew that he warranted a scholarship. Luke didn’t give up on his dream. Luke kept the faith and his confidence didn’t waver.http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-invitation-word-card-envelope-invited-to-party-event-formally-inviting-you-other-special-image32727886 What about you? Is there a situation in your life in which you doubt yourself, your abilities, or your talent? What do you know to be true? Even if this dream doesn’t manifest in the way you want, where can you influence your dream?

Standing Naked on the Mountaintop

My husband and I went to a communal dinner last year and sat next to a very friendly couple. They were about our age – mid-50’s – and, by outward appearance, looked very suburban. As we got to know each other, the woman told me about taking a Vision Quest in New Mexico a year previous. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.” I tried to picture her with a Native American healer as she continued, “It was a perfect combination of inward exploration, relaxation, physical exertion and spirituality.” She radiated peace and joy as she talked. I want that, I thought.

This past March, on my 55th birthday, I reflected on what I want to accomplish this year and this woman’s story re-emerged. I felt the tug of desire to go on a Vision Quest.

For so many reasons, I chose not to pursue this desire, but the main reason is I don’t want to leave my life to find myself. I want to find myself right here, in the middle of this messy, confusing, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating life.

But I still want to have stand-naked-on-the-mountain-top moments this year. I want to push my limits and do things that scare me. It’s important, as I age, that I don’t get too complacent or stuck in a rut. To ensure that doesn’t happen, I decided that my entire 55th year will be my Vision Quest. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “Do something every day that scares you.” Well, I’m not going to stand-naked-on-the-mountain-top every day, but I have committed to creating at least one stand-naked-on-the-mountain-top, scary experience each month of my 55th year – moments that lead me closer to my vision for my future.

Last week I had a surprising stand-naked-on-the-mountain-top moment. I joined my friend at her gym for a “body pump” class. She has talked about how much she loves this class and I was looking for a way to get fit.

The morning of the first class, as I put on my holey stretch pants and torn t-shirt, my stomach felt like a glass of Alka Seltzer. I imagined a bunch of 20-somethings with adorable bubble butts and perky breasts lifting weights in their stretchy workout clothes. I felt so intimidated. Going with my friend certainly helped, but even so, I had a full swarm of butterflies flapping extra hard that morning.

I imagined all the judgments these cute bubble butt gals would have of me for being so out of shape. I assumed there would be inner eye rolls when I had to step back and not do part of an exercise. Walking into that room of 40 people was harder than walking up to a podium to give a speech.

When will I learn? When will I remember that fear of judgments from others is simply a reflection of the judgments I have of myself?

Everyone in that room was there to take care of themselves, not to judge me. They don’t go to the gym so they can see how many people in class they can scorn with judgments. People may have noticed me, but, quite honestly, I’m not that important to them.

And that makes me feel really good.

I made it through the class without throwing up or having to quit ten minutes into the routine. Because of my hip, I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue, but I’m proud of myself for doing the thing that scared me.

In Invitation

What about you? If you were to choose a stand-naked-on-the-mountain-top experience, what would it be?


Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox, the time of year when days and nights are of equal length. The earth teeters on this edge of balance before falling over into increasingly longer days. This is a powerful time to explore balance in our lives. Do we have it and can we sustain it? How does our balance mirror that of the seasons? For years I fought the trend to find balance. What I read and heard about balance felt very static. It seemed as though I had to maintain a stable wheel of life, doling out an equal percentage of my energy to the different wedges: family, work, community, etc. This static view of balance reminds me of balancing rocks. While beautiful, if they are hit from the side or the earth shakes below them, they come crashing down. Balance in my life felt as precarious as those balancing rocks.

Then I ran across some notes from a previous teacher: “Equilibrium is balance in motion.” This shifted my entire focus around the issue of balance. Instead of balance’s static energy, I now strive to attain the homeostatic power of equilibrium. Our lives are constantly moving; nothing remains the same from moment to moment. When I look at the ebb and flow of my life, I see that there’s nothing fixed about it, even when I feel stuck or unmotivated. I see this reflected in the seasons as the days of the year wax into fullness and wane into darkness.

There is a constant subtle shift to each day of the year, just as there is in my life.

However, tweaking my definition of balance isn’t enough. The balance I’m seeking doesn’t come from external factors in my life. Regardless of what the world throws at me, I need to find my balance from within, like the hub of the wheel. If my wheel of life is driven by my core instead of from the rim, then I don’t feel out of control. I carry this sense of balance with me wherever I go. It’s like my inner ear, always adjusting its fluid no matter if I’m standing on my head or lying in bed; I always feel balanced. My inner core has its own equalizer that guides me through each day so that, when I’m connected to it, I don’t come crashing down like the rocks when my position to life changes.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-invitation-word-card-envelope-invited-to-party-event-formally-inviting-you-other-special-image32727886An Invitation

As the days of Spring wax into the fullness of Summer, I invite you to look at Balance in your life. Where does it come from? How precarious or stable does it feel? What needs to change so you have the balance you seek? How do you connect with your core and invite it to guide you through your day? Perhaps when we meet the Earth’s balance again at the Autumnal Equinox, you’ll find yourself having spiraled round to a new understanding of balance in your life.

Patience, Jackass, Patience

Do you remember that campfire skit, the one where one person plays the master and the other person plays a jackass? They are walking through the desert and the jackass, thirsty as all get out, keeps asking the master, “When are we going to get some water?” and the master intones with the same reply, “Patience, Jackass, patience.” They go on like this until someone in the audience who is tired of the monotony yells, “When are you going to get to the punchline?” and the master yells, “Patience, Jackass, patience.” I’m kind of like that audience member. I want the punchline now. I want to know if my son will get a scholarship to the college of his choice. I want to know if my workshop proposal will be accepted. I want to know what the MRI is going to say (nothing drastic, don’t worry.)

About seven years ago, when it took two years to get a new prosthetic leg made, I learned a lot about patience. Usually legs take about 3 months to make, start to finish. Not for me – not that time. The fact that the whole process took two years was no one’s fault; my residual limb is just hard to fit. My mantra at the time was, “I can’t learn about patience if I get what I want when I want it.”

Patience is a mixture of qualities, really.

When it took so long to get my leg made, I projected into the future, wanting something I didn’t yet have. I also ruminated over the past, yearning for the comfortable legs I had back then. Neither made me happy or content. Patience meant I had to have a healthy dose of staying present to the moment, even when that moment was less than ideal.

Because I was fearful that I wouldn’t get what I wanted, patience meant I had to throw in a huge dollop of trust, trust that life would unfold in the right time and for my highest good.

The Control Queen in me wanted to know what was going to happen, wanted to know what was going wrong with making the leg, wanted to know how to fix it. Two years of this was enlightening. I saw my pattern of wanting to control life. Understandable. I knew what happened when life was out of control, after all. I was completely out of control when my Dad drowned on a fishing trip; I was completely out of control when I was hit by the car. And, making this leg made me feel out of control again. When I really looked at my desire for control, I understood that I had to throw in a healthy dose of acceptance – of where I was, of the process, of life.

Perseverating on my leg-making process made me internally focused. I found that reaching out to others, either by providing a kindness or making time for family or friends, got me out of my isolated, solitary experience and, at the very least, distracted me from my impatient thoughts.

As much as I wanted to whine about the experience, I knew it would make the situation worse, not better. So I added a good measure of self-control into the mix. I whined to my husband. And sometimes to my kids. But other than that, I learned that patience is being uncomfortable without being a big, fat cry-baby.

I could see how I was causing my own suffering: my projections into the future, my fear, my need for control, my self-involved feelings all were aspects of my suffering. Patience is feeling all of that and getting through each day knowing that not only do I have control over those feelings, but that they won’t last forever.

So, I will learn about my son’s college acceptances and possible scholarships all in good time. I will find out if my workshop proposal was accepted – or not. And the MRI results will come when they come.

By staying present to each moment, I can more easily trust and accept all that life offers.


An Invitation

How about you? How does patience – or impatience – show up in your life? What have you learned from patience?


Tomorrow my son Luke and I leave the balmy Pacific Northwest and fly to frigid Boston. We will leave emerging crocuses and budding cherry trees and enter a city with snow a gazillion feet high. My son has an audition at New England Conservatory on Friday, so sightseeing in Boston isn’t the point. The point of this trip is Possibility.

At a time of year when the earth shifts from winter’s torment of cold and dark to spring’s hope of growth and light, my son is looking at the world through a lens of possibility. His future beckons, opportunities are abundant, and he has talent. Sure, we’re freaked out by how much a conservatory costs. Certainly, the competition will be tough. No doubt he has some doubts, but one thing I do know. When we approach the world as if it is conspiring for our greatest good, good things follow. When we do everything we can to make good things happen, they usually do. When we dance with the universe to co-create positive change, then possibilities abound.

Boston is a place full of possibility. In the general Metropolitan Boston area, there are 53 institutions of higher learning. Imagine how many people are attending one of these 53 institutions of higher learning with optimism in their heart, a desire to learn, and an attitude of hope. I can’t wait to be in a city with so many people wanting to emerge, learn, grow, and blossom.

I decided to wear my old leg for this trip. With all the snow, I didn’t want to walk with a leg I hadn’t yet bonded with. So, even though walking on ice is my absolute nemesis, you can picture me walking through Boston, griping Luke’s forearm for support as we navigate our way through this place of hope and expectation as he prepares for his future.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-invitation-word-card-envelope-invited-to-party-event-formally-inviting-you-other-special-image32727886An Invitation

Where do you see possibilities in your life right now?  How are you dancing with the universe to create the future that you want for yourself?

A New Leg

I am being fitted for a new leg. I hate it.

I hate the process and, after two trial runs with the leg, I hate the leg.

I don’t use the word hate lightly. I save if for special occasions. Like this.

I won’t bore you with the details about how vastly different this leg is from the one I’ve been wearing for five years, about how every movement I make is different because of how different this leg is, about how I have to make new brain pathways in order for this leg to become my new normal, about how my good leg feels like it’s breaking down on me, too.

“Mark, come here!” I demanded one of the first mornings I put on the new leg. “Watch how difficult it is to put this stupid thing on!” I grunted and groaned. “Isn’t this stupid? Doesn’t this suck?” I didn’t give him time to respond. “I hate this!”

Yes, in that moment I was that woman with an extreme need for validation. I needed my husband to see my pain. I appreciated his “Oh, yes, that is terrible.” He has learned not to give needless advice. He has learned that I need tender cooing. “I’m so sorry, honey.” That made it a tiny bit better.

Worst of all is that I’ve written in my newly published book about going through this process and a part of me feels like, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest in the most public of ways,I should be enlightened and chipper. I should skip through the daisies and sunshine on my new leg and be joyful in my acceptance.

But that’s not the case. I’m not enlightened; I’m sad and angry. I’m not chipper; I’m a bitch. I’m not accepting this new leg; I’m resisting it.

The truth of the matter is, just because I wrote about my process of getting fitted for new legs in my book doesn’t mean the process doesn’t still happen. I’ll be getting new legs for the rest of my life. Try as I might to be loving and accepting of the process, I absolutely need to acknowledge and accept my ugly feelings as well. If there’s anything I’ve learned about life, love and happiness it’s that avoiding and denying sadness and anger only makes them bigger.

I have learned how to express my anger more appropriately and, when I do erupt, I apologize more quickly and sincerely. I’ve learned how to sit in a puddle of my tears and not judge myself as weak.

Buck Up and Be Strong has been my unconscious mantra for so long. Being strong is a value I’ve been striving for since I lost my leg.

I’m redefining what it means to be strong. Now I see that strength comes from that vulnerable place in my heart that squeaks to be heard, that begs to be known. Giving voice to that vulnerability makes me feel strong in a whole new way.


An Invitation

What are you resisting? What expectations are you putting on yourself? What would happen if you allowed yourself to feel exactly how you wanted to feel about it?

Tending the Light

The energy is ramping up. Do you feel it? Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you can’t escape the intensity of the hustle and bustle going on all around us. Just going to the grocery store requires extra effort and time during this holiday season. I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who tell me that they are experiencing melancholy, sadness, and unexplained grief right now. “It’s the holidays." they say, "They just seem to bring that out.”

While that may very well be true, it’s not enough for me to leave it at that. I want to know why, in the midst of the joy, we feel sad. I want to know why I can be at a party, happy to be there among friends and yet feel melancholy.

I can’t help but feel that the reason this is happening is because we are going against our nature. The energy we’re all expressing right now is really the opposite of what our bodies and hearts are intended and drawn to do.

Just as the earth is contracting and settling into herself for this dark, cold time of the year, we yearn to do the same. Yet the cultural norm at this time of year is to expand and be out there: Holiday parties, shopping, concerts, shows, celebrating with friends.

Going against our nature, denying what we need for our emotional well-being, has a way of dampening our internal light. I believe that’s part of what’s making us sad – not enough time to be quiet, take stock, soak it in, slow down.

But it’s more than that. The grief that comes up at this time of year, be it for old wounds that haven’t yet healed or for new ones that have recently pierced the heart, is meant to be expressed. And what better time to do that than the quiet time of winter? But we’re not being quiet! We’re running around like the proverbial chicken. The tension this creates can make us cranky, confused, and frustrated.

The tree will come down, the wrapping will be tossed, and the cookies will be all eaten, but at the end of this holiday season, our hearts will be clamoring for the quiet time to do our work. That work may be grief work. It may be allowing for the creative stirrings of our next project. It may be time to review the past year and plan for the coming year. Whatever we need to do during the dark of winter, it is in service to the light within us.

To keep myself centered and grounded this month, I light a candle every morning, first thing. This candle serves as a symbol of the light within me, begging for expression, and the light within everyone with whom I will come in contact with that day. It’s a small act and it doesn’t take much time, but it’s impact is huge. Lighting the candle every morning ignites my sense of calm, connection and hope.


An Invitation

 What about you? What is a small thing you can do to be in alignment with your natural desires right now? What can you do in just five minutes to restore your sense of peace?


Why I Volunteer for Hospice

From the moment we are conceived, we are celebrated. Our community wraps us tightly in a blanket of love before we are even born. Baby showers sprinkle love dust over our mother. And after we are born, the weft and weave of our community becomes stronger. On our first birthday, pictures are taken of our frosting-laden face. Each milestone is honored, from getting a tooth to losing a tooth, from starting kindergarten to graduating from high school and then college, from getting a job to getting a promotion to retirement. We celebrate engagements, weddings, and anniversaries. We even honor each other at death by memorializing our loved ones. As a people, we actually put a lot of energy into supporting each other. And why not? Life is worth celebrating. But there’s one hole that I see, a time that many of us avoid, turn our heads, resist. And that is the time before death when people lose their physical function or their mind—sometimes both—as they make the transition from being a sentient being. As the fabric of their life starts to unravel, for some, the fabric of their community does, too.

When I first met my hospice patient, I was nervous. I had little experience spending time with someone who was on their “death bed.” What do I say? How do I act? I wondered before I walked in her door, with a twinge of fear prickling my gut. Suddenly the 32 hours of hospice training seemed insignificant and hollow. I felt totally unprepared. What can I possibly give this woman who knows her death is imminent?

I had been told that due to my patient’s medical condition, she couldn’t talk much without getting fatigued. Though she lived alone, she had people paid to come in and cook and clean for her. So what was I to do with her if I couldn’t cook, clean or talk much?

I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely woman sitting in her easy chair. She reached out her paper-thin-skinned hand to me as a gesture of welcome. As we talked and got to know each other a little bit, her voice trailed off from fatigue. Her eyelids drooped and I could tell our conversation was draining her energy.

It was a hot summer evening and she was wearing a pair of sandal slippers, so I caught sight of her well- trimmed toenails, painted a lovely burgundy. This is a woman who had class. She still tended to small details in her life like her toes.

On my second visit, I knew I could do one of two things. I could talk a lot about my life which would at some point bore the hell out of her, or I could offer to rub her feet. I tentatively asked her if she wanted a foot rub. I wasn’t sure if I was forging into territory that was too intimate for our budding friendship.

Her eyes widened in surprise and delight. “Really?” she asked.  She didn’t hesitate beyond that, she just told me how to re-arrange the furniture so I could clear a spot on the floor near her feet to sit.

This has become our ritual. Even when she moved into a nursing home, I come to give her touch. Sadly, her once beautifully thin, soft, non-calloused feet have become swollen beyond belief. I cannot rub her feet anymore; she can only tolerate feather light touch.

She occasionally complains and whines about the nursing home. I don’t act like I can fix anything. I don’t offer to help because that’s not my role. Believe me, I want to. I want to make her life happy and problem-free. Instead, as I sit and give her touch, I know what my role is. I am there to bear witness to her journey, not dictate where she goes. I am there even when I don’t know what to say. I am there so she knows that her life has value and meaning.

This is an exchange, make no mistake about it. I sit and give the gift of touch and she receives. But her receiving is a gift to me. In it, she allows me to express my compassion, be in the moment, and sit in this place that comes to most of us—that place of transition. I am allowed to celebrate her life, not with balloons, cakes or parties, but in quiet meditation, grateful for that exquisite, simple moment of being alive.

An Invitation

What about you? What do you resist? How do you turn your heart from a stranger or a loved one? Hospice isn’t for everyone, but is there another way you can turn to another with love when you would normally turn away with trepidation or fear?