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Don’t Give Up

Has it been four years already? Hooray for the Summer Olympics! I’ve been watching some of the events recently and I think one of my favorite parts is the athlete-focused human interest stories.
One that has really stuck with me this week is the story of Yusra Mardini. She’s an 18 year old Syrian refugee competing in the Women’s 100m butterfly.
ctAnd that’s not the only thing that makes her extraordinary. Last August, she jumped in the freezing cold water of the Aegean Sea and pulled a sinking boat filled with 18 refugees to safety.
I can only imagine what goes through a person’s mind when faced with that kind of challenge. One thing is for sure, she didn’t give up.
Thankfully, she also didn’t jump in the water alone. Her teenage sister Sarah was right there with her.
This got me to thinking about what it’s like to swim for your life when the promise of dry land and safety are so close you can see it. 2ct
What keeps a person going? What would keep me going? I challenge you to ask yourself the same question and see what your heart tells you.
It’s important to remember that life isn’t about overcoming just one obstacle. After one setback or triumph there is another challenge waiting to be conquered. 
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Whatever you’re struggling with right now, I encourage you not to give up. Keep going and you’ll reach the shore.

What A Wonderful World

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
~ John Milton

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
~ Albert Einstein

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
~ W.B. Yeats

aweSomewhere at the intersection of joy, fear, mystery, and insight lies awe, that ineffable response to the amazing world around us. Only recently have scientists taken a look at the sensation; and why it may be key to a more fulfilling life.

Heidi Hammel is paid to gaze at the cosmos. As a senior research scientist for the Space Science Institute, she knows more about the outer planets of our solar system than most people know about what’s in their junk drawers.

Years ago Hammel led the team that was controlling the Hubble Space Telescope when a comet hit Jupiter; it was the first time astronomers watched as two solar system bodies collided.

“I could see these massive dark spots that were literally the size of Earth,” Hammel, 50, says, “and I thought, That’s it! There’s the impact.

Still, the wonder of it all didn’t hit her until she stepped out for a bite to eat. “I ran into an amateur astronomer who had a small telescope set up on the sidewalk,” says Hammel. “I looked through the lens at Jupiter, and I saw the explosions. Something was happening 500 million miles away and I was staring at it on a street corner in Baltimore. I got a hitch in my chest. I was just amazed.”

Actually, she was awed. Overwhelming, surprising, humbling, even a little terrifying, awe is what we feel when faced with something sublime, exceptional, or altogether beyond comprehension.

And as emotions go, it’s among the least understood and most difficult to study. How can science measure the feeling of peering over the Grand Canyon, or holding your newborn for the first time?

Dacher Keltner, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, devotes much of his research to studying awe. In his 2009 book, Born to Be Good, he looks at the emotions beyond the “big six” (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise), believing that more nuanced sensations: compassion, forgiveness, humility, and awe, are what push us beyond self-interest and “wire us for good.”

Cultivating awe, he says, is part of unlocking the truest sense of life’s purpose.

“With awe, it’s not, ‘Wow, that’s a really tall dinosaur,'” he says. “It’s, ‘Wow, there’s something bigger than me.'” And the feeling can become a spur to action; Keltner cites the example of John Muir, the naturalist whose transcendent experiences in the outdoors inspired him to create the Sierra Club.

Scientists say it pays to cultivate more wonder in your life, whether by forwarding heart-swelling news stories or hiking the Grand Canyon.awe2

Now it’s your turn. When was the last time you experienced awe? Opportunities are all around us every day if we just slow down from our busy routines and look. I encourage you to try this for yourself.

Just recently I noticed a beautiful rainbow while driving home from my office and I pulled over in a residential area to take a longer look. I’m so glad I did. As I sat there staring, then smiling, all I could think was, “what an amazing, beautiful, wonderful universe.” Amen.

Helpful Tips & Holiday Reflections

This year, as in the past  five years, I was fortunate to spend a week at Christmastime with my children, Charles, Louise, plus Louise’s husband, Darrell, in the “Hawaii of Canada,” Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. It is an exquisite island with a temperate climate, clean air, and a view of the snow-covered Olympic Mountain Range from across the Pacific Ocean. Horse drawn carriages decorated for Christmas moved through the narrow streets and thousands of  small white lights outlined the government buildings making them look like Gingerbread houses. These lights were reflected in the water of the inner harbor. It is quite a sight to behold! 2012 Christmas at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC

My children always think of some special things for us to do when I visit. This year Darrell was able to get tickets for all of us to see “A Christmas Carol” at the Belfry Theater. This unusual theater was renovated from an old church and is intimate and charming. We ate at some special restaurants like Il Terrazzo and the Oak Bay Marina, but my favorite meal was the Christmas buffet at The Empress Hotel on Christmas Day. The turkey with dressing, and truffles were outstanding!

As I reflect on why this Christmas was so special, it was the love and connection I felt from my family. Relationships during the holidays can be very difficult. My family and I have worked hard on not criticizing or judging but coming from a place of acceptance and love. Also we have learned to be open to any helpful suggestions that any of us might offer to another…..just like a mirror reflecting back what one can’t see in themselves. Our feedback is given gently, and always with compassion and love.

So three helpful tips I can share with you as to how to keep harmony all year long with your loved ones:

1.  Do not judge others.

2.  THINK before you say or do anything that might be hurtful to someone else.

3.  Try to understand where the other person is coming from.

Did your Christmas go as expected? What can you share with us? What would you have done differently?

Share some memories this Christmas

I can hardly believe that the holidays are here again! I always think of my family when I think of holidays. It seems only a few days ago that I was planning to go to Victoria, Canada where both my children, Charles and Louise live. I will be returning again for the Christmas holidays. I always look forward to being together with them and their friends.

There are songs about the holidays like “There’s no place like home for the holidays” or “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…” These songs are joyous with connotations of love, togetherness, connectedness, and happiness. And that is truly what this time of the year is all about.

When I was in undergraduate school at Salem College, I remember how I couldn’t wait for my last class to end so I could drive to Monroe in my Pontiac Tempest. I would always be packed and ready to go. As I drove from Winston-Salem, NC to Monroe, NC I could see the corn stalks in shocks and the barren fields readied for winter.  Most of the vibrant colored leaves had fallen, so there were only bare trees leaves stripped by a cold wind. But I was always so excited to be going home.

My parents were always anxiously awaiting my arrival. My father worked and my mom was a housewife. She usually greeted me first, and then when my dad arrived I could see the relief in his eyes that I was safely home. As I entered our home I could smell wonderful aromatic odors of some of my favorite foods being prepared. Of course my mom would have baked one of her wonderful pound cakes. I would dash up the stairs to my old bedroom. I was home!!!

What can you do this year to make your family feel loved…to create happy memories for your loved ones? Too often the holidays can be a time of negative emotions, arguments, gossip, and selfishness and too much to do with too little time to do it. Maybe the emphasis is on the wrong values. You know the greatest gift is love. Show your loved ones that you love them in simple ways. Ask them about how they are…spend time with them helps them feel important and loved. Help with the many chores of the holidays…help with preparing the meals, planning the activities. Give lots of sincere compliments and many hugs.

This year my family is giving donations to several charities instead of expensive gifts. There are so many people, especially children in the world who don’t have even clean water…much less any food. There are animals that are treated poorly. The holidays are about LOVE. How can you show your love? How can you teach your family unselfishness? You always receive such wonderful feelings back when you share and give to others. Why not make these holidays different from last year?

So another year has gone by and I realize that my family and I are truly blessed. This year we will give thanks that we can all be together once more with thanksgiving and grateful hearts to celebrate that we live in a country at peace and we have people in our lives who love us.

Christmas 2008, Victoria BC / with my children – Charles & Louise

Lifelong Lessons on Learning to Love

I can’t believe that Monday was the Fourth of July! I’m still taking stock of all the moments of reflection and learning that manifested for me in June.

Some of what I learned feels important, so I’ve decided to mention it here in my blog.

There were many opportunities for celebration this June: Summer Solstice, a Lunar Eclipse, and Father’s Day.

Father’s Day?

In fact, yes. Father’s Day. This year the third Sunday in June gave me pause, but it wasn’t always the case.

My own father died over 40 years ago, and growing up in Monroe, NC, my family celebrations were limited to children’s birthdays and Christian holidays.

Therefore most of my ideas about Father’s Day were shaped by greeting card commercials. And the affectionate families in those TV scenes always seemed more like a Hollywood romance than any household I’d ever known.

Father’s Day was just another summer weekend as far as I was concerned. I associated it with the end of a school year and the beginning of vacation time. Most years I probably didn’t notice the day at all.

So I will always remember the first Father’s Day that would shape my experience forever.

Sunday, June 19th, 1966. On this special Father’s Day, my husband, Charles, and I had a 6-month-old baby boy. So this time the occasion was just one more opportunity to celebrate the beautiful life we’d created together, and more importantly: to notice with unspoken trepidation that our lives had irrevocably changed.

Having a son transformed almost everything about our experience as a couple, and in more ways than we knew how to manage. We were so young and so very naïve. I had incorrectly assumed that adding my new role as a mother to my existing role as a wife would be an easy and seamless transition for myself and for my husband. To say that we were mistaken would be a polite understatement and I think our young son sensed our anxiety, which manifested for him physically as months of painful colic.

The three of us did not know how to communicate our needs to each another and I often found myself crying right along with my baby boy. I feel certain that our first Father’s Day was a stressful sleep-deprived occasion. And I feel equally certain that neither my husband nor I discussed this fact with each other.

I can say for myself that I was too afraid of what he might think of me. Wasn’t everything supposed to be perfect? What was wrong with me?

My husband and I had been together 7 years, 4 of them as husband and wife. And we were crazy about each other. I loved my husband, Charles, as much as I knew how to love someone. We met in college on a blind date and I never looked back. Our adventures together during our twenties, when it was just the two of us, are to this day some of the best times of my life. Those memories are treasures.

We intentionally decided to wait before having children. We were married in June after our college graduations and were both eager to build our home, start our careers, and explore the world together. And so we did. Those early years that we took for ourselves were a tremendous gift we gave each other.

And on Father’s Day in 1966 I felt doubly blessed with another gift, being the mother to our young son. The birth of my son, Charles IV, completely changed my experience of what it meant to love another human being. I felt safe to love unconditionally my helpless newborn in part, I think, because he was completely and totally dependent on me and I liked feeling needed in that way. I liked it so much in fact that I focused all of my energy and attention on his care and well being. On the one hand, I thought that’s what I was “supposed” to do, and on the other hand… I had fallen in love with motherhood and I didn’t realize that there was room in my heart for much else.

It has taken me 44 years to realize that on Father’s Day in 1966 while I was celebrating my new son, what I wish I had also been celebrating was my beloved husband.

I now know that I have an enormous capacity for loving and for allowing myself to be loved. What gave me pause on Father’s Day this past June was when I realized that now, after all these years, I am still quietly celebrating my beautiful son, and I’m also quietly honoring his father (even though we’ve been divorced almost 30 years).

What I realized upon reflection during Father’s Day of this year was how profoundly I’d underestimated my heart’s capacity to love. I also noticed that it’s never too late for experiencing love in all its unexpected forms. I feel grateful for this noticing and for all of my heart’s connections, even the quiet ones I keep to myself.

I used to wish that things in my life had taken a different path. Yet sitting here today, I wouldn’t trade my life and all of its lessons for anything.

In my new book, Reaching for Your New Life: Healthy Recovery from Divorce, I share in more detail the lessons I learned during my marriage, divorce and the 30 year journey that has brought me here today. I have never been happier and I hope the lessons I’ve learned might comfort and inspire someone else.

For anyone who is a new mother or a long-time parent: I encourage you to celebrate your husband every chance you get, don’t wait until Father’s Day. Raising a child with a partner you love is a gift every day. If your relationship has ended or is struggling, I believe the best thing is to keep moving forward. Every experience is an opportunity for learning and that includes learning new ways to love.

I plan to explore and enjoy new and different ways of finding love for as long as I live. I know now that there is room in my heart for each and every one of you.

~ Dr. Sara

My son, Charles IV, with his father, Charles III

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