Thursday, December 31, 2015

In the Shadow of the Eve

nature, night, dark


As the eve of a new year approaches, I find myself in a shadow land of memory, reflecting on the accomplishments and the losses of 2015. The losses were heavy. I lost my mother, Natalie, and my younger brother, Joe, this year, only six months apart.


Mentally surviving their deaths to reach another New Year's Eve with my sanity apparently intact, while finishing a degree and dealing with a host of other trials and losses, is an accomplishment of grace made possible by the love and support of some wonderful friends and family and a compassionate counselor.

Yes, a counselor. I put that word in here on purpose. Talking about things can be a huge help in working through grief or other traumatic experiences. Counselor shouldn't be a word whispered behind the hand when no one is looking. It's a resource to help people along when there is a bump in the road of life, just like a mechanic, plumber, dentist or IT tech. When something needs fixing, the smart thing to do is to fix it. Perhaps 2016 will see the fashionable facade of "I don't need any help" fall out of vogue. As one of the proverbs of the rock and roll sages says, we all need somebody to lean on at some time in our lives. But I digress.

Another shadow wraps itself like a shroud around January 31st. It is the anniversary of another loss

In 1995, my brother Nathan died after a brutal battle with AIDS.   He was one of more than 658,500 people in the United States diagnosed with AIDS who have died up to this date. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50,000 people become infected with HIV in the U.S. every year and more than 1 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV at the end of 2012. There were 36.9 million people living with HIV globally at the end of 2014, according to the UNAIDS 2015 fact sheet. Nearly 40 million people, their loved ones and their communities have been affected by HIV. In spite of the heart-wrenching numbers, the World Health Organization says growth of the epidemic is reversing and there is reason to be optimistic in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

When I take time this New Year's Eve to reflect on Nathan's life, it helps me to refocus on one of the core principles I want to live by. Rather than be overcome by heartbreak and tragedy and injustice, I want to overcome those things with compassion, beauty, truth and hope. I want to help the world be better, not badder. Some days I feel more successful about that goal than others. That's why reflection is so important. It brings me back to my purpose when I begin to wander off course in one direction or another. I invite you to visit The Whole Life Journal's sister blog, This Life, to read about Nathan and the lesson his life and death taught me.

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Seven Simple Steps to a Happier 2016

It's that time again. The new year is just around the corner. For many folks, a new year means a new start. It's a time for setting new goals and making resolutions to help meet them. Those resolutions are often centered around physical health and appearance: quitting self destructive habits like smoking, losing weight, starting an exercise program. But there's much more that goes into creating a happy and healthy life. Check out the seven simple steps below to help create a happier  life in 2016. Try just one to add a little more "happy" to the new year, or try all of them for a radical life transformation. 

#1 Do what matters most to you.

Finding what makes you excited to get up in the morning goes a long way toward living a happy life. Determine to let go of the expectations of others and be led by your own passions, gifts and desires. It's not an act of selfishness. You can't give what you don't have. Invest the time to discover your unique gifts and talents and how to incorporate them into a life that fuels your passions, then watch how you are able to positively impact others.

#2 Find your rhythm.

Everything in our world has a rhythm, from our cells to the solar system. People, like all other creatures, function most efficiently when they are following their natural rhythm. Getting adequate sleep on a regular schedule is a great place to start. If something comes up that bumps you out of your routine, don't stress. Just get back to it as quickly as you can. The reward will be a clearer mind, a better mood and more energy to put toward #1.

#3 Cut out clutter.

Clutter can be mentally paralyzing. Tidying up your personal and work space reduces distraction, which is a slow drain on mental energy. It also saves lost time and prevents the unnecessary stress that comes with looking for things you've misplaced in the clutter. Need some help? Check out .

#4 Play.

Our culture here in the United States is very performance oriented. Long hours of work are lauded as virtuous. In the current state of the economy, some folks have to work overtime or multiple jobs to get by. The result is that many people don't take time to play. Play is an important factor in health and happiness. It reduces stress, increases creativity and, when enjoyed with others, strengthens relationship bonds.

#5 Get rid of the leeches.

Leeches, those things that suck energy, time or resources without any real benefit, can drain the happiness right out life. They may be co-workers who don't carry their weight and expect you to pick up the slack, friends who are constantly in need and don't reciprocate or projects that don't yield any benefits. Leeches can turn happiness into frustration and resentment. Limit the drain by eliminating the leeches. Better yet, get in the habit of not allowing them to latch onto your life in the first place.

#6 Don't overcommit.

Sometimes people over commit because they are uncomfortable saying no or have a strong need to please others. For some, it has become a habit, a default mode of living. Over committed people are often exhausted, stressed and frustrated and often don't enjoy the activities they've committed themselves to. Pruning back commitments leaves more energy for happiness to bloom.

#7 Manage your digital life.

Technology can be a terrific tool or a terrible tyrant. Without boundaries, it can take over life, crowding out important things. Learn to manage technology in order to keep life in balance. A simple but effective way to get started might be to use the "do not disturb" function on your cell phone or deciding to keep digital devices turned off during meal times. 

Do you have tips you'd like to share about creating a happier new year? Share them in the comments section below!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Wishes

However you may choose to celebrate the holidays,  may the best part of your day not be the presents but the presence of your loved ones. Have a blessed holiday!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Eve Message from Space

Earthrise from Moon, NASA, Apollo 8, Public Domain image

I was going to post a link to my latest article in The Appalachian Voice today, but it seemed out of season, and I decided to save it for a Throwback Thursday post after the holiday. I was wondering what to post instead, when I stumbled across a link to this video of a Christmas Eve message from space on my Twitter feed. It's definitely a Throwback Thursday post: I was only two years old when this message was broadcast. We won't talk about how many years ago that was, but the date of the image is available, if you want to do the math.

Whenever I view a video from space, I'm struck by the absurdity of some of things we strive for and fight about. A Christmas Eve message probably isn't the best time to bring up divisive issues, so I'll just leave this thought:

One planet, one people, one lifetime.

Wishing everyone peace and joy during this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Midwinter Greetings

The holiday season is well underway. In the free, multi-cultural society of the United States, there is a veritable smorgasbord of holidays to choose from. Some are celebrated, or at least acknowledged, by the masses, others are more obscure. Some of the observations and celebrations include: Thanksgiving, Diwali, Human Rights Day, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Humbug Day, Christmas, Milad un Nabi, New Year and World Peace Meditation Day. A Google search about each one yields interesting reading that underscores the rich and diverse traditions of a nation that proudly claims itself to be a melting pot of humanity.

Today marks the Winter Solstice, also called Midwinter. It stands apart from the other observations of the season in that it is an astronomical event, as well as a cultural and religious celebration. There are two solstices in the solar year: Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice. The Winter Solstice occurs in December and marks the shortest day and longest night of the solar year, while the Summer Solstice happens in June and marks the longest day and the shortest night.

Between each of the solstices there is an equinox. The Spring Equinox takes place in March and the Fall Equinox in September. Both mark days and nights of equal length. All of these events happen as a part of the solar year that comprises the Earth's journey around the Sun. Each hemisphere experiences the solstices and their accompanying seasons at opposite times of the year. The December solstice is the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the continuance of the cycle of seasons on our home planet. To look at it another way, it is the astronomical new year.

In some traditions, the solstices and equinoxes are important waymarks in the agricultural calendar. In fact, The Twelve Days of Christmas may have originally been a blending of the Scandinavian Yule festival and the practice in some regions of slaughtering cattle, and other animals used for food, in the winter time. Animals that couldn't be fed off the farms during the cold, winter months were butchered and a community feast followed.

The solstices also mark important days in some religious traditions. Because it is the turning point in the length of days, daytime ceases to become shorter and light begins to linger longer. In pagan traditions, this marked the time of the rebirth of the sun. Because of this, solstice celebrations often include bonfires or candles to represent the triumph of light over darkness.

The solstices are naturally occurring events that can serve to remind humanity of a common bond shared by all: this home called Earth and the dependence of each one upon it. Perhaps taking a few moments to observe this event and its significance would make room for considering the fragile balance on which life on this planet depends and the interconnectedness of all its inhabitants.

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