Do This Simple Trick To Elevate Your Mood

What a glorious day, friends! Hope the light is finding you. For over two decades I was a professional portrait photographer. I specialized in family and children’s portraiture. One of the things that set me apart and kept me in business was an ability to put people at ease. I learned some of my best tricks from a master: Marriott Smith. Presidents and movie stars posed for him. Together, we once photographed Bill and Hillary Clinton when Bill was first running for high office. That was memorable. But there’s something else that stands out in my mind even more vividly. He taught me to make people blink.

“It gets rid of that deer in the headlights look folks tend to get when they’re in front of a camera,” he said.

I’ve learned it does more than that.  A blink re-focuses our attention. It re-sets our brains. Science estimates that we blink far more often than we need to to keep our eyes lubricated. We blink 1,200 times per hour or 28,800 times per day. Your brain knows what it’s doing when it engages your occipital lobes. Try it if you don’t believe me. Blink right now. On purpose. Longer than you might. And with meaning.

It’s like a windshield wiper swipe over whatever you’re fixed on at the moment. Your problems don’t vanish, but your view becomes clearer. You’re able to think cleaner.

Yesterday was a brutal day for me. I was in a rare, dark mood. Maybe it was the weather. Last week temps here hit above 80 degrees. Yesterday brought a blizzard. Maybe it’s because I’m editing a novel that is so real to me the characters’ problems weigh me down. Or maybe it’s just life. You know. It delivers “those days” for no apparent reason.

My friend, Karla, picked me up around 7 p.m. She let me gripe for a good ten minutes before she pulled into a parking lot with THIS view in front of us. I blinked and suddenly everything changed. Darkness lifted. The neurotransmitters in my brain altered their distribution. I got out and snapped this photo with my phone, and instead of grumpy, I became grateful. I became aware that a return to winter can be a majestic thing. And whatever troubles had seemed so big, were dwarfed when confronted with genuine grandeur.

So, next time you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, or frustrated, try closing your eyes and letting the darkness come. Then open your eyes to welcome the light back. It works when you’re tired. It works in the middle of an argument. It’s a simple readjustment, but I promise that it works—all in the blink of an eye.

I’m Celebrating Mother’s Day Differently This Year

I must love and trust you all because I’m sharing something that’s sacred to me: a portrait of my mother. It is, after all, that time of year to honor those who gave us birth and those who’ve given us life. (think about that for a sec, will ya?)  I’ve always loathed Mother’s Day because I leave church as wilted as the little pink geranium passed out to the mothers in the congregation. I never measure up to the standard preached from the pulpit. I never will.

This year I’m in a mind to turn the whole thing upside down. Mother’s Day is no longer about my kids honoring me. It’s about honoring the women who have mothered me. They are legion. My own mother was my world when I was growing up. She was an alcoholic, so my childhood was mapped with all kinds of experiences: good and anything but good. Mom was gone long before I became a teenager, leaving me an orphan, someone in dire need of mothering.

John Updike believed, “It’s easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are in front of you.” I spent most of my life assuring myself Mom was a wonderful mother because to say anything less would be disloyal to her memory. But then I went to therapy. That’s where I learned I could still be loyal, still love Mom, and still tell the truth. That’s when I saw my mother as something more than a woman who had given birth. She was a woman with a past, a woman with dreams that came true and disappointments that devastated her. She had relationships. She had talents. She had secrets and desires. She had addictions and she had breakthroughs. My mother’s wild side led her to a long-term friendship with Judy Garland, a fur coat from Howard Hughes, and a catastrophic plunge from the top of a building.

Being able to admit that Mom wasn’t anywhere near perfect brought me blissful freedom. If I could love her—flaws and all—I could love my very imperfect self. That set me free to love others, and to celebrate the phenomenal mothers my daughters have become.

We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.

That means this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating unconventionally. I honor women who have never even given birth, but still they’ve mothered brilliantly. I honor the mothers who cry real tears, not over the messes they’ve had to clean up, but over the messes they’ve made for others to clean up. I honor the bruised, broken, battle-scarred women who are still in the fight. I honor the ones with the guts to present themselves genuinely. I honor those who sew and bake from the home front and those who march on the front lines. I honor those with stellar faith and those who admit God is foreign to them. I honor all their shapes and sizes. I dance in happy circles at the rainbow of their cultures and varying skin colors. Oh, how blessed am to be encircled by so many different women who mother.

This year let’s focus on miracles instead of mistakes. Let’s lavish love. Forgiveness. Joy. Let’s let go of the judgment and the self-criticism and simply celebrate that we’re partners with the Giver of life. That puts us, not on a pedestal where we can fall, but at an elevation where we can see clearly: we’re all in this together doing our best.

My friends, I love you. I love you because you try. I love you because you dare. I love you because you give it all you’ve got. I’m thinking of my friend whose child is incarcerated. I’m thinking of my friend who sings lullabies to the world’s babies. I’m thinking of my friend whose only daughter died this month, and another whose son is in his last days of cancer. I’m thinking of my friend whose child hasn’t spoken to her in a year. I’m thinking of my friend who desperately wants to bear a child, but can’t. I’m thinking of aunties, grandmothers, and an abundance of friends. I’m missing my own Mom. A lot. Maybe because I’ve matured enough to ache for a sit-down with her to discover who she really was: “How’d you get that scar? Why are you scared of the dark? What’s life like from your viewpoint, Mom?”

If you’re blessed to still have your mom available, please get curious about who she is as a person, not just a mom. Get to know her and to appreciate her for more than the resources she offers.

No judgment, no justifying, just loving. Celebrate those people who’ve managed to love you when you weren’t so easy to love. And do me a favor…please release the stranglehold you’ve held on your own throat. Inhale. Exhale. There. That’s better.

Now have a safe, memorable, peaceful weekend, celebrating love. Isn’t that what this day’s really all about?

What Your Inner Voice Has To Say

One night last year darkness refused to fall. I was on a bucket list adventure to Alaska and it was my first experience with daylight at midnight. Water sparkled like it was made of melted blue diamonds. That’s our forty-ninth state for you—brush-stroked a bazillion shades of blue. We’d been driving around, me with my camera clicking at wonder after wonder. But now every part of me was exhausted. I nestled the camera in my lap, laid my head back and shut my eyes for the duration of the ride back to camp.

Sometime later a voice inside my head commanded, “Open your eyes and see!”

I opened my eyes and saw only the road in front of us.

“Look and see!” the voice insisted.

I looked and saw a whale breaching right next to our little truck. A wonder indeed, one I would have missed if I’d ignored my internal instructor like I so often had.

Yes, I’ve heard voices. That doesn’t make me crazy; it makes me human.  Gandhi, who forged India’s independence from Britain through non-violence, relied on an inner voice for guidance. Carl Jung received advice from a source he deemed “neurosis,” yet his unseen guardian seemed “almost physically real” someone he referred to as a “guru.” You can call them auditory hallucinations, but they aren’t. Joan of Arc, Beethoven, William Blake, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Charles Dickens, are just a few people who’ve admitted to experiencing voices. We’re not always talking about audible voices either. We’re talking nudges, sensations, melodies to musicians, equations to scientists, and clarity to the confused. We’re talking inspiration from a source that isn’t seen.

Bottom line: We all came equipped with an internal gauge to guide and inspire us. Inspiration is ours when we tap into the Source that often manifests through voices. The more we recognize the various voices that speak to us, the more likely we are to stay safe, learn more, recall with keener accuracy and be inspired. In research for my brain book I talked with people who’ve been awakened at night by voices guiding them, kept safe from harm by voices urging them to move out of harm’s way, or informed by unseen sources of information they could have not have known.

I’ve learned that there are both benevolent and malevolent voices. The ones that remind us of our past mistakes and make us doubt ourselves are usually the shrillest and loudest. Unfortunately, they get the lion’s share of attention. Maybe the best piece of advice I’ve come across is this: Listen to the kindest, softest voice you hear because that’s the one you can trust.

For most of my life I’ve entertained voices I haven’t even been aware of—yet I’ve believed them, especially when they’ve been critical. But I’m learning to recognize and attend to the circus that goes on inside my own head. Now I want to pay attention to the whispers Ralph Waldo Emerson declared “affirmations of the soul.”

This one little practice has changed my life, and I want that experience for you, too. Heeding your inner voice might not reward you with a breaching whale, but I promise you a whale of an opportunity if you’ll silence all the voices that tell you who you are not, and learn to listen to the voice that reminds you who you really are. It’s the one that will bring peace, security, and love. So my wish for you today is that you’ll clear out the clutter in your own mind and trust your truest voice—your own.

The Blessed Life of the Un-Damned

The photo is of my son, Collin, flying over Lake Powell, doing something he’d never done. I hope you can feel the joy and excitement and life in this shot and that those emotions never leave you.

When I was a girl I tagged behind my grandpa as he irrigated a budding grain field. To my horror, he mercilessly whacked at weeds that I thought were pretty. He flung rocks out of furrows like they were mortal enemies. I watched him in wonder as he wielded his shovel. Then he stopped and explained to me how precious irrigation water had to reach all the way to the end of every furrow in order to nourish every little spout of grain. If not, the crop would wither beneath the sun’s scorch.

He then knelt and showed me how a single weed or rock “damned” the flow of life-giving water.

That’s when I realized that damned literally means: to be stopped from progressing.

Being damned is the worst feeling in my world. It’s harsher than fear or even rejection. And here’s the kicker I’ve discovered—damnation is self-inflicted. God doesn’t damn me. Satan doesn’t damn me. You don’t damn me. I do that all by myself. I do it by accepting life’s roadblocks as something that I can’t get over or go around. I do it by embracing my doubts as truths. I do it when I let fear freeze me in my tracks. I do it by staying stuck in my own muck.

Trust me, I’m not saying life doesn’t stop us. Disappointments bludgeon us. Trials thwart us. Health problems hobble us. I’ve been showered with my share, but I’m weary from the weight of damnation. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not progressing. I want to move forward and I want that for any of you who feel like you’ve been stuck too. So, here’s what I’ve learned in this journey:

  • Give yourself credit for all you’ve accomplished. You’re still breathing. Consider all the things you’ve learned in the past year. Reflect on the relationships you’ve built and the ones you’ve repaired. Think of the service you’ve rendered. The places you’ve explored. The work you’ve accomplished. Don’t discount your desires to do better. They matter. Nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back hard enough to jolt you into giving yourself credit where credit is due. Stop demeaning your own accomplishments!
  • Quit comparing yourself to anyone else. They haven’t lived your life. They don’t dwell in your physical body. Don’t let unforgiveness, or resentment or envy corrode your own happiness when you see that your Facebook friend just danced with penguins in Antarctica. It doesn’t matter that someone else got a promotion or the graduate degree that you so desperately want. Focus first on you. Move toward your goals and don’t get distracted by someone else’s success. When we learn to celebrate the accomplishments of others (especially those we don’t believe deserve all the good things that come their way) life has a way of paving the path for our own successes. What’s the saying? Success isn’t the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success!
  • Don’t you dare give up. Excuses are like feet: we all have ‘em and they all stink! Lack of resources like time, health, money are only excuses. People get what they prioritize. Don’t worry about pace as much as progress. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you’ll get there. Love yourself along the way and savor the experiences along the journey. Learn to look for the good in every situation. Your end goal or destination isn’t nearly as important as the person you become along the route to get there.

I ramble when I get excited. I’m excited. I’m releasing myself. Forgiving myself. Finally moving forward as a risk-taker and an opportunity-maker. There’s wonder in not knowing how my best-laid plans will either come to fruition or come apart. That’s life, but staying stuck isn’t living, is it? So let’s get out there, by small steps or giant leaps, into a world I believe we agreed to enter to experience everything we possibly can cram into a lifetime. The love. The beauty. The truth. The faith. The mysteries. The stories. Oh, the stories! And stories, dear friends, are not cobbled with words as much as they are with freedom. Freedom to choose, to move, to feel, to learn and to grow. So let’s remove the weeds and rocks and clods that clog us from receiving our allotment of life. Let’s un-damn ourselves and help each other to be about the business of fully living!