Monday, December 27, 2010

Let Go of Recession Depression & Live a Juicy, Joyful Life

What is the difference between lemons and lemonade? Water and sugar: sweetness. For many Americans, life has been nothing but lemons for a long, long time. The United States has experienced quite a sour decade, and the sting in the back of the throat lingers on and on. The 90s saw a balanced budget, the rise of the Internet, secretaries cashing in multi-million-dollar stock options, and a time of peace. By contrast, the past 10 years were dominated by Bush politics, 9/11, unrelenting wars and a crippling recession that seems never-ending.

Are you looking ahead to the next decade with a bag of lemons in your hands? Millions are out of work, small towns are filled with empty store fronts, most of our retirement accounts are trashed, and our government cannot pass simple legislation without taking it to the Supreme Court. The United States needs to create a new lemonade stand to sell to the world -- and fast. Our nation was able to rise out of the depression by focusing on our ingenuity, inventive gifts, infrastructure and faith.

When life deals you lemons, it is easy to become a "sourpuss" and retreat. Yet, there are those who seem to have bags of sugar in their back pockets, and can whip a batch of lemonade out of a pile or rocks for the world to share. These people are rare gifts. I believe Arianna Huffington is one of these people. I believe our President is one, too.

Linda Joy is another. Feeling depressed? Spend about five minutes with this woman, and she will teach you how to make not only the best lemonade, but inspire the creation of an entire franchise of lemonade stands. Joy is the publisher of Inspired Living Publishing, and author of "A Juicy Joyful Life: Inspiration from Women Who Found the Sweetness in Everyday Life," a collection of stories from everyday folks from Main Street who managed to take adversity and transform it into a gift.

Joy had her share of lemons this year, and had every reason to run under the covers and hide her head. In 2010 her family experienced two tragic deaths, it was no longer feasible to continue her longstanding print magazine, and her husband totaled his truck in a car accident last week before our scheduled interview.

Yet Joy cheerfully tracked me down two days later, said her hubby was OK, and she has to look forward because she is "in the inspiration business." She walks her talk like few I have ever met. This former Entrepreneur of the Year for the state of Massachusetts is no stranger to change. In this same year, Joy reinvented an online magazine called Aspire, started Inspired Living Publishing to offer writers a chance to be published for free, put out her first book, and brought it to bestseller status on Amazon -- in less than nine months, it was the "#1 hot new release" in self-esteem and in spirituality.

"Hey, I'm a former welfare mom who dropped out of high school," said Joy dryly. "Your past does not define you! We can all live a life of joy no matter what comes at you if we release the past, labels and constant negative self talk."

Joy feels passionately that everyone has an important story to tell and is collecting essays for her second book, due out this fall. Stories of overcoming adversity are her specialty - from those who would have never dreamed of seeing their words in print. "We never know how one person's story will impact another," said Joy. "It is what keeps me going."

One of my favorite stories in the book was written by Sue Landis, who had a very successful life as a career business woman in London and decided to take a 180-degree turn in her mid-thirties. Always dreaming of becoming a professional athlete, she explored various options and decided to become a professional polo player -- even though she had never played the game! In one short year, she not only mastered the sport but assembled a top-notch team that won a national championship.

How have you been longing to create a juicy, joyful life? In preparation for the New Year, use this time to open up the cedar trunk of dreams; shake a few out and try them on. Go on -- no one will know! What is your heart's desire? What have you always wanted to create, become, achieve? How does it feel to take a single baby step in the shoes of dreams? Do you still believe in miracles, in magic -- in Santa? When we lose our ability to give ourselves an outrageously tantalizing vision, life becomes dull, stressful and frustrating.

I asked Joy how for recommendations on how to get our cranky, depressed selves into some of this inspirational frame of mind for the coming New Year. Below is her visualization exercise just for the HuffPost community. Come on, let's do this together: make space to talk to your inner wisdom.

First find a quiet place, and light an intention candle. Ask your deepest self, "When I look at 2010 as a successful year, what made is successful?"

After that, follow up with, "When I look at the parts of 2010 that were not as successful, what would I have changed?" Notice your reaction to both questions. The assumption began that 2010 was a successful year -- did it change your retrieval process?

Now, look forward into 2011. Ask yourself the following question: "If I could envision the year I'd like to create, what is the first thing that comes to mind?"

Be sure to pay attention to the very first flicker of an image or voice that arrives in your consciousness, as that is usually a divining rod to the soul, and the answer to follow. Maybe it is an unexpected answer, like more time with the spouse, or learning how to dance.

Once this image has come to mind, thank yourself for the recognition. So often our lives are filled with the "woulds" and "shoulds" of life, so the inner voices of destiny rarely are given the microphone and center stage. Acknowledge whatever vision has come to mind, and let it make you smile!

The final step is about Intention. Ask yourself, "What are two steps that I will commit to take around this thought in the month of January?"

Again, nothing radical; just two simple steps. Close the visualization with words of gratitude for this burgeoning intention, and blow out your candle. That's it!

Everyone needs a lemonade maker in their life. Do you have one? Who inspires you to reach higher, live outrageously and shake you out of your recession depression? Be sure to send them words of gratitude, and make this week a juicy one as we close the decade together. Tell me your dreams for 2011 in comment in the box below.


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I look forward to sharing the launch of my new company, Gather Central, on Jan. 1, and offering my "Virtual Cafe" of engaging community conversations with many authors and experts I have had the privilege to meet over the years. No boring lectures here! Expect to receive gifts, share powerful experiences with others around the world and get involved. Your voice matters, and we want to hear your story!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Splendor and the Struggle of Holiday Gatherings

'Tis the season once again. The menorahs are being lit, the radio stations are running 24/7 Christmas music and the season of parties is just ramping up. Front porches have zoomed from the pumpkins to scarecrows to the holiday wreaths in record time. With the upcoming buzz of office holiday parties, neighborhood cookie swaps and extended family celebrations, how do we juggle the joys of gathering with the struggles?

Humans are not that much different from squirrels, I have come to believe. In my neck of the woods, squirrels at this time of year are truly insane. They scramble around collecting the last acorns and nuts to shove in their nests (far more than they can ever eat), make mad bomber dashes across the street just missing a passing tire, and chatter at each other from tree branches like clucking hens.

Modern humans are not much different during December. Instead of preparing our cellars with food for the winter, we take that "nesting energy" and use it to race from store to store and come home with bags of gifts, bottles of wine, sweet treats and more decorations for the house. We look forward to the excitement of getting together, yet we also feel burned out by the over-stimulation.

Let's explore that collective tension here. We have a longing to gather together in the winter via ancient rituals like the solstice, Hanukkah and Christmas. The people of most cultures share a love of lighting candles, singing songs, spending time with our friends and family, acknowledging our faith and our blessings and gifting one another in various ways.

This desire is fundamental to our internal balance and wellness. Human beings are wired for community and clan-style gatherings. Think of one of your favorite memories in life -- what is it about? Most of our cherished memories are of the times we spent with people we love, and not the things we accomplished or purchased.

Sometimes the struggle of the holidays is balancing our inner picture with reality. Our memories of perfect holidays past may be pretty fuzzy and devoid of the pre-dinner fights, whining over gifts or burned crowned roast that we all know are classic year after year. Despite the stresses of the moment, most people reflect on the season with fondness and often forget the petty stresses that seem so important right now.

The secret to holiday madness is to remember that it is about cherishing and not about charging. It is about sharing and not about giving. Sometimes the silly expectations we set up for having the perfect house, perfect outfit, perfect gift or perfect meal usurp the original intention, and the magic of the moment is lost in anger, tension, frustration or sadness.

This season, adopt a "go with the flow" attitude, and remember that what makes a truly satisfying gathering or memorable gift is your ability to be present. Everyone is happier, and magic can flow out of unplanned moments. The economic fallout has left everyone with less money to spend, but does this have to ruin the holiday? Only if material gifts were all that mattered. We don't have to store our nests with iPads and diamond watches but with love, support and happy memories gathered around a tree a table or a candle flame.

It is known that general anxiety and stress can be remedied by the release of oxytocin, a hormone that is fast becoming the hot shot of neuroscience. Once thought to be relegated to lactating women, oxytocin plays a much larger role in increasing our sense of altruism, connections to other people and even a sense of trusting our government. Think of that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when imagining a perfect "Norman Rockwell" moment -- that is oxytocin flowing through your veins, and it is a powerful healer.

It has been found that oxytocin helps to counter-balance the affect of stress in our bodies. However, oxytocin is not released unless we are together, or unless it is triggered by nurturing images and memories. Think of the genius! When we are stressed out, we often turn to our partners, our family or friends to help us by taking a walk, talking it out or doing something fun to take our minds off of it. Instinctively we understand that we need contact with others to keep ourselves sane.

Gathering with others has a tension of splendor and struggle. Just know that. We want to go to the office party, and then we come home disenchanted. It happens. The pressures to hit the mall, keep up with the Joneses and complete our to-do list amplifies this time of year, making it harder for that gentle oxytocin to flow. How do we create a season of peace?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on the moments. Let's face it: the holidays are stressful. No doubt about it. Traffic jams, irritated people, lines, pushing and shoving -- the whole shebang. Focus on the sweet old lady bagging your sweater or the soft hand holding yours while you pick out a tree -- keep those safe.
  • Don't do too much. Be realistic with your time, budget and energy. If a holiday fundraiser auction is stressing out the wallet, make a polite excuse and stay home with cozy jammies and old TV reruns.
  • Make time to be with others you love. If all your obligations are for work, create some time to have a gathering with the people who make you happy. Share some wine, food and a few laughs.
  • Make time to be with yourself. As the season darkens, the time for being internal, quiet and reflective begins. Take some time for long bubble baths, journaling, meditation and inspirational reading.

As always, I love to hear from you, my friends here at The Huffington Post. Our online conversations are oxytocin starters for me! I appreciate those of you who stop by week after week and count you as my blessings this year! Feel free to drop a note below and let us know how you are balancing the season. Cheers!