Renewing Self

Change-Making at Solstice— How the Light Gets In


This post is a reprint from December 2016

Building Connection, Creating Community, Holding Presence

Now, on the shortest day of the year, with even northern California cold enough to wear hats, scarves, and gloves, I'm reflecting on the seeming polarities like light and dark, love and fear, that have swung us back and forth over our political and personal landscapes this past year. For me, the experience has been like standing on rock cliffs, being battered and splintered by an ongoing series of huge waves under the low-hanging clouds of a storm.

One such wave was the result of the presidential election in the United States. For myself and the majority of the electorate there is now the fear of having a president, a Congress, and a Supreme Court that will actively work against what we hold dear for our society— a healthy environment, health care access for all, up-to-date public education, and fundamental equal rights for all— so that we may have work and build lives in connection with our authentic desires, our relationships, and our world.

At such times, it seems that there are only the polarities of storm or calm, vitriol or caring, hate or love, dark or light. When people are able to stand steady in the heart of the storm, grounded in awareness of the connectedness of life, there are ways to bring oppositional forces into calm and wholeness. And it is in this place of wholeness and connection that positive change can emerge.

Recently, for example, I heard the story about the brilliant poet, songwriter, and singer, Leonard Cohen, who just died this year, and how he quelled a riot at the 1970 Isle of Wight rock concert in England. I was there, too, one of 600,000 in the passionate, free-flowing audience, many of whom were upset about political, economic, and social injustices of that time, including the Vietnam War. However, since the concert went on day and night, I seemed to have slept through Cohen's 4 AM performance on the last night of the festival that followed a literally blazing Jimi Hendrix set.

This was what I missed. Apparently, on that dark, rainy night, the audience was cold and restive and trashed the stage. Cohen, awoken at 2 AM after Hendrix played, was only bothered because the organizers couldn't locate a piano and organ for his musicians. "I'll come out when you find them," he said, and did, two hours later. As film reviewer Mike Springer wrote, "Perhaps the most moving moment [was] at the beginning, when Cohen [brought] the massive crowd together by asking a favor: 'Can I ask each of you to light a match, so I can see where you all are?'" In this way, he gathered that huge group of disparate, upset people in a cold, damp, inhospitable place into one whole, and soothed them into listening with his calm and deeply centered presence.

Fast forward to 2008, to Leonard Cohen's concert in London at a time of world-wide economic depression. I was very moved by what he said before performing his famous song, "Anthem," to the people in his audience. Again, he brought them together by speaking to their feelings of fear, anger, and upset with lovingkindness— "Thank you so much, friends. We're so privileged to gather in moments like this when so much of the world is plunged in darkness and chaos."

And then he sang:

"So ring the bells

that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything,

That's how the light gets in."

In our lives, it's not so imperative to seek perfection as to embrace our wholeness.  This includes our stormy encounters, as well as the thin band of light we see on the horizon. When we put our attention on this light, we can see it radiating outward, reflected on the waves of the sea, reaching and opening our hearts.

So try this— when you find yourself in a difficult work situation, relationship, or political landscape, focus on whatever you can that is beautiful or inspiring in the midst of that challenge. Find that crack where the light gets in, whether it's a compassionate glance from a colleague, a memory of a loving moment, or a song that opens your heart. In this way, allow the change you long to make begin from within.

As poet and inspirational speaker, Mark Nepo, wrote in his book, The One Life We're Given: "When we can keep breaking through what has hardened and keep what is alive soft, the cracks turned into openings fill us with an undying light." In this season's darkest days, may we celebrate the beauty of the light and love within us as we move forward into the challenges and changes of the new year.

An Oasis in Time — What Is It to Make Time to Savor and Transform Your Life?

Do you long to have a way of taking a satisfying, daylong weekly "time out of time" from your busy life?  

Are you wondering if this is even possible?  

Have you tried taking a day off from work at the end of a busy week— and enjoyed it so much that you wanted to do it again— but never did?

If having a way to disconnect from an over-busy, over-technologized, incredibly hectic way of managing a life filled to the brim with work, family, friends, fitness, social activities (and probably no time for yourself) is important to you, you will want to read and take to heart the wonderful new book by my colleague, Marilyn Paul, PhD, An Oasis in Time— How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.

An Oasis in Time is a deeply compassionate and profoundly felt exploration of the value of the weekly sabbath day— and why it's so important in our over-stressed, modern, professional lives. Just as importantly, this book helps you design, protect, prepare for, and live your own unique sabbath— or "oasis in time."  Finally, Marilyn Paul describes the transformational value of taking a weekly day off that is dedicated to nourishing yourself, your community, and your world — emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

As Paul says about her own life, "Years ago, before I discovered oasis time, I was a hard worker round the clock, or so it seemed to me.  But I was incredibly inefficient.  

I thought I was giving work my all, all the time, but actually I was slowly running out of steam . . .  Next weekend, I told myself, I will get organized, straighten out my priorities, go for a long run, maybe out in nature, and just get back on top of things.  But that next weekend never came."

And what is the cost of delaying finding and keeping your own oasis in time? What's so important about not burning out on the job? According to Paul, "The combination of a stressed immune system and the overuse of technology can lead to another serious outcome: burnout. This one word is so powerful, and yet it hardly captures the deep emotional and spiritual costs of losing one's inner flame."

Taking a whole day off to unplug and put aside your work gives you the chance to shift your life back into your organic circadian rhythm— back into replenishment, health, and connection with what else, and with whom, you love.

Furthermore, "Taking back our time is a subversive act these days. It entails claiming that . . . we can have a good day without achieving anything other than unwinding, slowing down, connecting, and experiencing grace.In other words, you don't make the world a better place by over-working, or over-stressing in other parts of your life seven days a week! By dedicating a day a week to enjoying being in the moment, gladly spending time with those you love, playing with them, having relaxing meals together, talking a long walk, or just reading a book you've saved for a special day, you add to what famed author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks, M.D., calls "living a good and worthwhile life— achieving a sense of peace within oneself." 

Just in case you think taking a whole day off from work each week isn't possible, An Oasis in Time has great tips for helping you shift your perspective, hold your time boundaries, and become a convert to the delights of "slowing down, connecting, and experiencing grace"!

I was particularly fascinated by what this book has to say about the potential of oasis time for transformation in our lives— "Our oasis time offers a chance not only for rest and renewal but also for transformation. This is the unexpected benefit of taking regular time off: The nurturing haven you create each week can become an incubator to support the kind of growth you need to face your greatest challenges. Oasis time, with its uniquely nurturing setting, provides the perfect conditions to prepare us for deeper engagement in life."

In other words, by creating a designated day apart for relaxation and re-connection with what you love and value that you may rush past during a busy week, you're building your inner resources of vitality, emotional resilience, and creativity. You're opening yourself to your fullest potential with ease!

Why Work and Live in Dynamic Balance?

If you’re reading this post during the week, what kind of day did you have?  How many tasks did you attempt or complete?  How many people did you interact with?  What kind of time pressure were you under to get things done?  How much control did you have over your professional and domestic agendas?                                 

And now, check in with your breathing and the sensations in your belly, chest, and throat.  What are you noticing?  Are you at ease in your body?  Or tense, constricted, and pressured around your back, neck, shoulders, eyes, belly?

Recently, I watched a new TV series from England called “Silk”-- the informal name given to English barristers (court lawyers) who attain the prestigious title, Queen’s Counsel (QC), due to their professional success and political acumen-- who are thereby entitled to wear silk gowns in court.  In this series, two barristers, a man and a woman, from the same chamber (law firm) are locked in a cutthroat battle to be nominated as QC.  

The woman’s life, in particular, is a mad dash from one courtroom to another, alternating between flashes of brilliance and forgetfulness, followed by evenings of drinking and politicking with other lawyers and judges, then reading new legal briefs until the early hours.  Only in moments does she come out of her work round to acknowledge support from a colleague or her longing for a child and a whole life that has relational warmth and depth.

Granted that this is an exaggerated scenario, “Silk” speaks to a way of life that is on serious overload re emotional and physical health and life balance.  This is a story I hear often as a coach and somatic therapist from people who overwork and give themselves away on the job-- and as parents, spouses, partners, and parental caretakers.  Trying to live up to other people’s expectations, they lose their connection to their own spirit, passion, and sense of self.

In my ebook, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, I describea movie called Enchanted April that I absolutely have to see every year for its beautiful depiction of the shift from resigned hopelessness to the richness and wonder of being alive.  It starts with the meeting of two women in post-World War I London on a dreary, stormy day.  Together, they make a radical decision to stop “being good” to everyone else at the cost of feeling “miserable” and depleted themselves.  

I’m talking here about lives out of balance and what happens when too much of yourself is being absorbed in ways that are no longer fruitful in your life.  I’m talking about how we can stay refreshed and renewed-- in dynamic balance-- with work, family life, friendships, creativity, spirituality, and well-being-- forces that shape and energize our lives.

Why are so many of the people I coach seeking balance in their lives, particularly when they’re considering shifting to a new career?  A number of them have worked as almost as strenuously as the woman barrister in “Silk” in their 20’s and 30’s, only to realize in mid-life that they’re missing out, not having a primary relationship or actively participating in their children’s lives or even taking care of their basic health and fitness needs.  In seeking a new way to work, they begin to realize that this is exactly the time for them to evaluate what possibilities are available for creating a more satisfying, holistic quality of life.

Otherwise you will reach the point where, as a doctor in her early 50's-- concerned that her sixty-hour-per-week position was adversely affecting her relationship with her teenage daughter-- told me: “My well is running dry.  I have no more to give out.  I am no longer capable of superhuman exertions!”  This is exactly the risk of working and living without being in a more natural balance.

Now take a little time here to notice and feel the dynamic balance and energy of your own life by considering and responding to these questions:

• What does the rhythm of your life look and feel
like when you’re at ease and not under stress?
Close your eyes and feel your body sensations
and breathing just as you are now.  Now visualize
yourself in a place that is totally relaxing to you.
Again, pay attention to your body sensations and
breathing.  Notice any images that arise as you
visualize and feel yourself coming into more
natural balance in your body, mind, and spirit.     

           • Does your work embody this balanced rhythm in
any way?  If so, how?  If not, why?   

  • What is one step you can choose to take that will
let you incorporate this more balanced rhythm
into your current work situation or your plan for
a new career?  

  • How can making this one change help create more dynamic balance in your whole life?

Remember that even if your life feels profoundly out of balance, yes, you do have a choice in developing a whole life that is more in rhythm with who you really are and wish to be.  In fact, you’ve taken the first step towards positive change if you’re noticing your physical, mental, and emotional discomfort in a state stuckness and imbalance.  Learning to create the balance in your life revitalizes the way you work, feel, and relate with others!

Freeing Time for Living the Way You Really Want!

I’ve been meditating about time for the past couple of days since I gave a coaching consultation to a woman in her 50’s concerned about how to have time for her high-level professional career, her marriage and teenage kids, and stay healthy.  As usual, the big question was, “How do I find enough time?”

In my mind musing, I recalled that as a child, my personal life was divided into family time (meals, chores, holidays, travel), school time (classes, homework) and “free time.”  I loved free time, especially the summer holidays when the hours seemed to stretch out endlessly as I played with friends, lay on the grass watching clouds, biked, and swam.  My father also contributed to my feel for the value of free time, since he firmly believed that a day off from school or work each week (Wednesdays) was a useful break from routines that could stifle creativity.

No, I didn’t get to stay home from school every Wednesday (my full-time working mom had a different point of view), but this rather novel perspective from a parent has helped me learn to prioritize intuitively what’s really important to me through my life.  By doing so, I’ve found that there’s almost always been enough time to live the way I wish, even when that seemed like quite a challenge.  What a paradox!  But such is the power of intention.

There are many excellent systems for learning to manage time incrementally, saving 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there by eliminating wasteful habits and so on.  However, the vital starting place is becoming aware of what’s already in your life and what you want to bring into your life that really matter to you (family, career, friends, creative projects, fitness, time just for you, travel, etc.).  This will help you clarify how you really want your life to be and ultimately, the time you’ll need to make this happen.

The next big question is “How do I create a beginning?”  I suggest you start by giving yourself the gift of some free time.  Sit or walk comfortably in a serene environment and breathe so that you feel the easy movement of your body from within.  Feel that time is endlessly extending itself within you, that you have all the time you need.  From this place, allow yourself to envision the shape, look, and feel of the life you long to be living.  What are you doing?  Who is there with you?  What are you creating?  How strong is your energy?  If you feel anything blocking your experience, continue breathing and just notice any fears, concerns, or images that arise.  Be aware of them, then let them go (you can always come back to them later).  Return to your inner place of spaciousness and be with the vision of your life as would like itWhen you come back from your time out, write down what you wish to remember. 

As the rock and soul group, The Chambers Brothers, sing in their shimmering song, “Time”:  “Now the time has come/ There are things to realize/ The time has come today.”  My question to you is, “What is the work you long to do and the way you want to live that’s worth freeing time for now?”  Once you’re clear about your intention, you can learn how, and get support for, making the time you need to realize your dream.

Creating Spaciousness-- and Finding What You Really Want

During the last week of 2010, I attended a meditation retreat in the countryside of Colorado, much of the time in snowy quietude.  I hadn’t really wanted to travel at that time of the year, since I had things I wanted to do and friends I wanted to be with at home before the new year started.  However, I’d made a promise to myself that I would do this, so I went.

What I found was what I remembered from earlier times creating a similar space for being in a deeper way with myself-- parts of me opened up that had been cramped and lost to view during the year.  My mind felt clear, my energy brighter, and I felt at peace with who I was.  The sense of striving and complexity of my professional and personal lives eased and simplified.  I had a renewed perspective of myself as relaxed into wholeness.

How had I forgotten how vital it is to take time out to renew and remember my true nature?  When I returned, I was very conscious of the sheer amount of distractions and choices required every hour of my waking day.  When I was on retreat, there was only thing to do at a time-- wake, meditate, eat, listen to a teaching, walk, eat, meditate. listen to a teaching, stretch, walk, eat, connect with the group, and sleep.  I remember having the powerful realization during one meditation period that I was very happy, that I felt at ease in my body and filled in my spirit-- and ready for all the possibilities of living fully!

For those of you who have been grappling with the many aspects of creating career and life transitions, busy every minute of the day, dealing with uncertainties and complex choices, I strongly recommend creating a way to feel spaciousness in your lives.  While a vacation getaway is important during the year, you can fashion your own way of taking briefer but potent timeouts daily or weekly from the demands of everyday life.  

Here are some examples from clients of mine that allow them to feel peace within themselves and know what they truly want -- 1) a nature walk by water or by your favorite trees, breathing in the fresh air; 2) a relaxing bath with soothing music; 3) a weekly yoga class with a favorite teacher who helps you open into the spaciousness of your own body; 4) taking time to sit in a favorite place drinking tea from a beautiful cup and just letting your thoughts roll by.

As Tarthang Tulku-- the promoter of the Tibetan Buddhist body-energy exercises called Kum Nye-- wrote:  “We all have had moments or times when we felt particularly alive, when the world seemed fresh and promising, like a flower garden on a bright spring morning . .  . The air pulses with life.  Our bodies feel healthy and energetic, our minds clear and confident . . . Nothing is fixed, and we feel spacious and open.  We act with perfect ease and appropriateness.”

I invite you to plan ways to bring moments and times of spaciousness into your lives so that you will feel the clarity and energy to go forward towards what is really important to you, with work and in the rest of your life.  Just as grace notes in classical music offer a pause in the melody to renew your enjoyment of the whole piece, so creating spaciousness through timeouts for your body and spirit reinvigorates your power to enjoy the unfolding of your whole life.

Join in the Discussion!

  • How have you created spaciousness and timeouts in your life?
  • How has this supported you in finding what you really want for yourself?
  • What are your concerns about creating spaciousness and timeouts in your life?

The Change Crucible -- Taking the Time It Takes

I’m more and more attuned now to the alchemical quality of creating rewarding changes.  As in the alchemists’ hermetically sealed crucible, transitioning successfully from one stage of your life into another requires time apart from daily living-- combined with the initial fire of desire, awareness, and consistent intention-- for the elements of your personal journey to gestate and re-emerge transformed. 

            What I often notice at first with coaching clients wanting to make career or other life changes is a natural wish to make as quick a leap as possible from an unsatisfying place to the start of a new job, a new relationship, a new plan for the future.  Once we begin exploring what they’re really wanting from their lives, however, they begin to notice that their initial goals seem limited-- a way of getting from here to there without noticing the context of their whole lives.

            To find this wholeness requires giving yourself to the process of feeling the inner heat of transformation in the alchemists’ sealed vessel-- or, what William Bridges, author of Transitions, calls taking time out from our daily life to empty out and go into what is calling you from within.

             As he states, this “neutral zone” is a difficult state to tolerate in our western society because in general we don’t value emptiness, non-productivity, and alone time.  And yet, transitions that lead to deeply satisfying changes require this alone time to watch clouds drift and do nothing much but be with our inevitable discomfort and fear that we don’t even know which way to go.  Finally, however, with time and support for this unexpected experiencing, you develop a new connection with what matters in your inner self.  This is what leads to new directions in your life that are inspiring and productive.

            From a poem I really like, “In Impossible Darkness,” by “spoken-word artist” Kim Rosen, you can feel this powerful theme of alchemical “melting” away from everyday life just before the transformative new beginning: 

. . . Do you remember
what happens
inside a cocoon?
You liquefy.

There in the thick black
of your self-spun womb,
void as the moon before waxing,

you melt . . .

in impossible darkness
the sheer
of wings.

            Are you feeling challenged by a sense of discomfort and confusion as you go through a career or personal transition?  If you’d like validation that this is a normal process that’s worth the time to explore for making rewarding changes in your life, please join me for my upcoming free tele-class, “Career & Life Transitions-- Am I in One?  What Do I Do Now?” on Wednesday, October 6th, at 9 AM Pacific Time.  For further information and to register, please go to

Feeling Rhythm and Renewal for Career Change

As you may have read in my earlier blog posts, my early-summer trip this year to Sweden, The Netherlands, and Germany made me very aware that people can live with more of a sense of spaciousness and time for nurturing relationships, enjoying nature, and fostering personal creativity.  I also know that most people who come to me for coaching around career change also feel the need for work that embodies or allows for opportunity to live fully, within and outside the context of work.

            Wayne Muller writes in his rich and generous book, Sabbath

     “When we live without listening to the timing of things-- when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest, we are on war time, mobilized for battle.  Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing.  But remember:  No living thing lives like this.  There are greater rhythms that govern how life grows. . . To surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies is to savor the secret of life itself.” 

            The image one of my clients holds for his ideal work life is that of himself and others, including children, around a table in a kitchen together, working, cooking, and eating as a community.  At first, he asked me, Is this just a dream?  Can it really happen?”  Now he accepts that this image reflects who he is and the way he intends to live-- and has a career plan with this vision of his work as a central focus. 


1)   What does the natural rhythm of your life look and feel like? 

2) Does your work embody this rhythm?  If so, how?  If not, why? 

3) How do you honor your need for “rest, renewal, and delight” in your busy life?

Career Development & Life in Balance in The Netherlands

This week I’m in The Netherlands, visiting my younger goddaughter, Gabriella, a law student at Oxford University in England, who’s spending a year studying international law at the University of Leiden this year.  It’s wonderful to see how she is broadening her scope as a lawyer-to-be who will probably be working in Europe, engaged in a new culture, making new friends and contacts.  Since she’s still exploring the kind of law practice she’d like to be part of, she’s also busy setting up mini-internships with barristers and judges in London during the summer.

     I’m also enjoying meeting in person for the first time Louise-- one of my favorite people from my certification training with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), which was all done by phone.  It’s so great to get together at last!  I so admire the way Louise brings a very relational quality to her corporate coaching and training business-- and how she is building a wide network of professional contacts to enrich the quality of her work and expand her clientele potential.

      From both my goddaughters and Louise, I also find a wonderful European quality of life in balance.  For one thing, there are so many scheduled holidays in the northern European countries.  Also, people stay connected with their families and share many activities together intergenerationally-- holidays, child care, dinners, and trips.  Even when people are very busy with work, there is a structure in the culture that mandates more time with family.

      In my coaching, I see many people wanting to connect more and build stronger relationships within their families, have more quality time together.  It’s wonderful over here to see that happening more organically.

      What do any of you readers feel about my perception that northern Europeans seem to have a better balance between work and family/personal life?  I’d really enjoying hearing some of your thoughts on this matter.