Archive for July, 2012

Claim your resilient self

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

What is your “go-to” quality that has seen you through numerous life storms? That characteristic trait of yours that shines through, even in the most challenging of times?

This week Inner Gardeners reflected on this question over a potluck dinner and came up with words like “creativity,” “humor,” “determination,” and “confidence.” Some expressed surprise that, not until being asked this question, did they give themselves credit for the strengths that come into play in their lives again and again.

Do you remember life storms for the difficulties they caused? Or do you recognize how you’ve grown because of them? You are who you are today because of what you’ve faced and what you’ve learned as a result.

During this season of summer, marked by unexpected and sometimes unwelcome events, as well as the beauty and bounty of all that is growing, reflect on your lifetime of stormy weather. Use these questions as prompts for journaling:

  • What comes to mind when you think of the life storms you have faced? Pick two, three or more and briefly describe them.
  • What images do you recall as you witness yourself enduring the storm and eventually moving beyond it?
  • If you were describing yourself in third person, what words would you use to capture the strengths that allowed you to not only survive the storm, but also grow because of it?
  • How do those words feel when you apply them to yourself?
  • Pick one or two that best fits who you were then and who you continue to be.
  • Claim these attributes by posting the word or words in a place you will see every day.

Know that you can trust your resilient self, regardless of what may be happening around you.

Life’s storms: The loss of a husband…one year later

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

One year after her husband’s death, Polly Flug still flies the American flag on holidays. “Ron was a veteran of the Vietnam war, and I think of him a lot,” Polly says.

Picturing him in concrete ways is one way Polly has allowed herself to grieve. “I try to remember how much joy and happiness we had and be grateful for the time we had together,” Polly says, “but I was (am) very sad. Nearly every day of this year of firsts I have had tears.”

Polly describes with gratitude all the ways people have helped her. “Our couple friends still include me, although I’m not part of a couple anymore. Friends prayed for me, sent me cards throughout the year of firsts, called me and said encouraging things to me on Facebook.

“Although I try not to burden others with my grief, my family and friends always listen and care for me,” she says. “My grown children have been wonderful, although they’re mourning the loss of their dad. When I have moments with tears or sadness, people don’t try to talk me out of my grief, they just listen.”

Yet Polly acknowledges that it’s not easy to experience loss fully in today’s world. “When corporate America allows five days’ bereavement leave for the loss of a spouse, child or parent, that means business as usual after five days. Unfortunately for the person who is grieving, it will never be business as usual, at least not in the same way,” she says.

What counsel does she have for people in similar situations? “A person who has suffered a loss MUST allow himself/herself to grieve, even if he/she must ‘carry on’ at work. The grieving person should take the time to think about the loss, to remember the good times, and never, ever be ashamed or apologize for tears.”

As you journal this week, consider how Polly’s story resonates with you. Do you have losses you have not fully allowed yourself to grieve? Are there ways to recall and celebrate the good times associated with the person or life you lost? How can you be a compassionate listener for others experiencing loss?





The nature of grief

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

If a life storm, however dramatic or subtle, has left you feeling sad, frightened, or lonely, ask yourself: “Have I given myself time to grieve?”

Too often, the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure.” We don’t know how to grieve or express the loss we’re feeling.

In traditional societies, rituals provided a community setting for grieving. People wailed, shaved their heads, wore special dress or engaged in ritual dance. In our society, expressions of grief may produce awkward silences or well-meaning comments like “You look great!” “You’re sure handling this well.” “Your loved one is so lucky to have you for support.”

Without support, the person who has experienced the loss attempts to “get on with life,” rather than mourn the person or the life they’ve known. Suppressed grief can lead to illness, depression and isolation.

Grief is a natural response to loss. “It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away,” according to, an online resource for people facing health challenges. “The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief.”

Although experts have identified predictable stages of grief, more recently they have acknowledged that each person grieves differently. How you grieve depends on your personality, life experience, and the nature of the loss.

Know that there is no right or wrong way to express your loss or no timetable for this process of grieving to unfold. If you need assistance, seek professional help, join a support group, find consolation in your faith, and/or turn to friends and family members.

Journal with these questions, knowing it’s necessary to fully experience your loss before healing can begin:

  • What is the pain I feel?
  • What have I lost?
  • How can I express my pain through words, images, or movement?
  • Who or what will allow me to express this loss freely and without judgment?
  • How can I take care of my health during this time?
  • What is likely to trigger feelings of grief, realizing this is natural?

If you want to help someone who has experienced a recent loss, know that your presence and a simple expression like “I want you to know that I care” can be reassuring. A willingness to listen compassionately and offers of concrete assistance like grocery shopping or childcare also provide meaningful support.

Find inspiring grief resources, including photography, books, e-books, DVD’s, at

Next topic: One woman’s experience with grief one year after her husband’s death.





“Life has been very good to me”

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

You may wish that this moment and this time in your life could last forever. You may feel blessed with meaningful work in the world, loving relationships and a place that is truly home.

Or you may be longing for a new life. Maybe you’re searching for a sense of purpose, a caring community and a place that feels safe and nurturing.

Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.

Regardless, your life will change.

This reality allows you to keep growing and learning. When you welcome change—even the difficult parts—you’re invited to go deeper inside, delving into who you truly are and the gift you are to the world.

Writer P. Susan Buchanan, who contributed the poem below to our Winter book, knows that as well as anyone. Due to an auto accident at age 16, she now lives as a quadriplegic. That accident and a difficult childhood led her on a search for wholeness and well-being. She now says, “Life has been very good to me.”

We featured Susan in our latest Tending Your Garden newsletter. Her poem “Deep Still” from Winter recalls the moment when her life changed dramatically. What have been your defining moments? What have they taught you? In what ways can you say, “Life has been very good to me”?


Deep Still

By P. Susan Buchanan

White-knuckled steering wheel
cold seeping through his hands.
Curses blaze through an icy night
along an uncleared road
over slush-frozen ruts.
Bare patches gleam oily black
in headlights too weak to penetrate the deep night.
Car whips sideways lunging
a wild horse on stiff reins, bucks, frightened.
Hold breath hard, ice seeps along my veins hold tight
hold tight
Crazy hill in a long plunge
we slide out of control.
Gather speed, car slams against deep ruts skitters across black ice.
One last wrench then all is lost all is lost all.

Fly from the road, connect with a telephone pole, flip end over end.
My nerve ends roar back at me no more no more no.

The profundity of stillness settles heavy on my shoulders. Everything is deep still.
Stillness so complete it is everything.
Stillness echoes through that first icy night.

Erie quiet.
Am I alone?
Yes, alone in a new world without a map.
I will be the cartographer of a new landscape. I am me, still.
I will chart a new way back.



How can I survive life’s storms?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

This past week left thousands of people hauling away fallen trees and working to restore power. The storm that swept the Midwest and East claimed 26 lives as well.

Life brings not only damaging acts of nature but also personal storms–illness, job loss, death of a loved one, relationship break-ups and a host of other disappointments and crises. This month, we’ll explore with you how to not only survive such storms, but also how to thrive in the midst of the turmoil they create.

Life is not predictable.

If you’re like most of us, you recall at least one event that changed your life forever. You remember not only the event itself, but what came before and after it.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, I never imagined facing such a disease. Born with spina bifida, I imagined dying from some condition related to that birth defect. This new diagnosis taught me a lot, most importantly that I’m not in control.

It’s not easy surrendering this illusion of control. You like to believe you can plan your life based on what you’ve learned in the past.  When new events don’t jive with this past, you experience shock, disorientation, loss, anger or confusion. Don’t be surprised when a crisis, setback or obstacle prompts a range of feelings.

If you’re facing a life storm or major change now or if you’d like to reflect more deeply on something that has occured in your past, free-write with these questions as starters. If you’re describing a past event, change the tense of the verbs. If you prefer, do visual journaling, drawing or painting in response to one or more of these questions.

  • What happened? Describe in concrete terms the nature of the life storm or change you are facing.  Document not only the event but how you feel about it.
  • What loss have you experienced?
  • How has this event surprised, shocked, disappointed or otherwise altered your life view?
  • How can you care for yourself in the midst of this event? What feels soothing to you?
  • How can you reach out to others who care about you and will listen to you?

Reflecting on this major life situation will open you to insights from within, as well as potential support and guidance from friends, family and professionals. Share your thoughts here, if you’d like to connect with others.

Next topic on our month of discovery and reflection: Life always changes.