As I pass the standard “mid-life” markers, I find myself laughing more often, more ironically, and with more gusto. Laughing at myself, mostly. No, I don’t think it’s generic old-age loonies; instead I think it’s an accumulation of wisdom overheard in my younger days finally getting through to me. There’s a group of women that visit me, as memories, from time to time. I can still see their faces and hear their conversations on topics that were totally disconnected from my reality at the time. Not anymore. I’m remembering, and I’m listening more closely than ever.

While in college in my early twenties, I taught an aerobics class on weekends at a gym exclusively for women. The proprietress (“Ginny”) was a statuesque former beauty (you could still see it in her bones) somewhere in her seventies. She walked like a model, wore a silver bouffant wig, tons of bangles on her wrists, and kept a bottle of vodka in her personal locker. I liked her, a lot. Most of Ginny’s clients were well past middle age. Some of them were in their eighties. They were a different breed of gym-rat back in the day: always dressed in fashionable gym-wear and always in full makeup, perfumed and wearing jewelry. Perspiration was to be avoided.

These ladies eased-into their “workouts” by having coffee with Ginny when the gym opened, around 7 a.m. on Saturday. When I got there a little before 10, ready to teach my class, Ginny was in high spirits (Coffee Lace, as they say in the south, I always thought.) and usually welcomed me with a bangle-jangling hug and cloud of fragrance. During stretches, the women continued to talk amongst themselves non-stop. After about 20 minutes of low-impact Step, I’d guide them through a mild bit of circuit training. Through which they all talked. I don’t think anyone there (besides myself) ever broke a sweat. That wasn’t what this gym was about.

Menopause. Cheating husbands. Feeling ‘invisible’. Slowing metabolism and weight gain. Sagging body parts and wrinkled skin. It was pretty much the same loop every weekend, and fairly easy for me to tune-out. Not only did I tune them out, but I actually thought “What bizarre conversations they have, and what boring lives these women lead.” I had the total impertinence and smugness to think that their concerns could never in a million years be my own one day.

Turns out, as I laugh at myself these days, I do so in the company of these women — now long-gone, most of them. I remember the 85 year old who always washed her face in ice water and never used any other moisturizer than Crisco (I kid you not). Nowadays, almond, olive, apricot and other oils are “de-rigueur” for skin. Then there was the woman who told me that my metabolism would some day slow to a sluggish crawl; that I wouldn’t be able to snack on nachos at midnight without packing on the pounds. My, my — do tell. Finally, there was the woman who complained that becoming Invisible was the worst part of aging for any woman (she eventually became one of the Red Hat Ladies, which I didn’t “get” at the time, but now I do.)

No question that in Western culture we value youth above all things (next to celebrity and celebrity-athletes). But there’s a time period of ‘limbo’ for women — before our kids start joking about pushing us out in a canoe or leaving us on an ice floe — in which Invisibility is a definite problem. Doctors try to convince us that 20 pounds is ‘normal’ weight gain, post-menopause. The fashion industry follows suit by creating Mom Jeans with Tummy Panels to console us. Eye doctors tell us, “Get ready for cataracts — they’re inevitable!” With the aging process, apparently, comes a whole complement of things we’re to assume we must accept. To my thinking, this is the very definition of the Invisibility that my gym-lady was describing so long ago. “You’re a woman, you’re growing older, your body is going to hell but it’s really ok because no one cares, unless you can compete, which you obviously can’t.” Reinforcing this invisibility is the husband who trades his wife in for a model “with fewer miles on it”. Not just a cliché, but a common reality.

What’s a woman to do, when facing Invisibility? Start wearing a red hat, a crimson lip and leopard stilettos? Commit to a strict Paleo and prep for a 10k? Give up cocktails and chocolate? Resolve to find summer and winter-weights of sweatpants? All women will face versions of these questions, and more, as they age. Speaking as one well-into this phase, I can offer two pieces of advice: the first is that Invisibility has distinct advantages, and becoming older brings a certain wisdom and cunning that comes in really handy, when used correctly.

My second piece of advice is to know — or learn — what feels right to you (body weight, fitness level, diet, makeup — clothing- accessories) and jump on that, with all you’ve got. Challenge doctors, dentists, stylists, nutrition and fitness “experts” if or when their suggestions clash with your own inner knowing. Learn to flow with aging according to your own rhythm and sense of well-being. I don’t have a red hat, but I do have a very dramatic, femme fatale black cloche with an iridescent peacock feather perched jauntily on one side. I don’t wear it that often because, when I do, the ‘drama’ of the hat attracts a lot of attention and questions about where I bought it. Sometimes I enjoy that, but sometimes I enjoy being invisible.

Without thinking about it, consider the word ‘Surrender’ and notice how it feels:  the associations and connotations of the word. Does ‘surrender’ feel calm, even blissful? Or, does it bring feelings and visions of being overcome:  powerless and defeated? Surrender definitely implies giving-in to something; the end of a struggle of some kind; relenting; relaxing resistance; allowing something else to transpire.

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Depending upon the opposing ‘forces’ that cause us to re-think our resistance, Surrender can in fact be heavenly. “Surrendering to Love,” for example. For many people, though, the idea of surrendering feels like giving-up; doing something that feels unnatural and maybe even scary. So it was when I began to release lifelong habits that no longer suit or serve me.

For most of my adult life I’ve been goal, and action-oriented. I was clear about my professional path early on, and driven to achieve in my accumulation of degrees, credentials, certificates and opportunities for advancement. A friend of mine recently remarked (we were discussing my doctoral program) “How ambitious you are! At your age!” My response – ignoring the urge to call-out ‘ageism’ by someone actually older than me – was casual:  “Oh, all I’m doing is just living life.” Right?  But then I began thinking about his words. It’s common for those closest to me to complain that I rarely “sit still” (not true); that I “over-do it” in the achievement realm (define, ‘over-doing it’, please). A teammate recently told me, “You do too much” (translation he confided: you make the rest of us look bad!).

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I began considering my action-oriented life and allowed alternatives to seep into my current ways of thinking. Is ‘taking action’ always necessary? Clearly not. Non-stop action, as I’m sure many Readers know, is, among other things, a recipe for exhaustion. With day-to-day interactions — if someone close to us does something really offensive and obviously meant to cause hurt, is immediate action required? Not always. But how does one, whose entire life has been about Doing, slow down and surrender to Not Doing? It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve discovered how amazing and wonderful it can be. I started by realizing that the word Surrender has super-powers, if we allow it to expand past negative moments in our memories (“Surrender your passport!” being one of the worst in mine:  our PanAm flight was forced down, into Iran, many years ago, passports seized).

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Surrendering to all that is beautiful, restful, nurturing and peaceful in Life means letting-go of control (an ongoing theme in my world). Surrendering to Whatever Is, and Will Be means that Trust becomes a guiding influence in Life. Trust: that one’s best efforts will be enough. Trust: that in the midst of chaos, there is Harmony (time spent in Nature and with animals is my proof). Action’s still a governing principle in my life and always will be; but I’ve reached a truce with Surrender by accepting that, at the end of the day, it’s On My Side.

Organizational Psychology consultants and coaches don’t have an exclusive ‘lock’ on what makes individuals and groups successful in a work setting. OPs learn and train in a variety of disciplines, including systems theory and the huge and complex field of individual and group psychology. Their conclusions and ultimate practices are evidence-based:  what appears to be effective, according to research and evaluation.

courtesy, wilsonquarterly.com

The concerns of most companies still revolve around The Bottom Line (profits), incorporating emergent needs such as  sustainability and global reach into the mix. Consultants and coaches (those who’re formally trained, by the way, not the Life Coach you might see advertising on YouTube) can analyze and create detailed recommendations relative to every aspect of an organization’s goals. But the human psychology behind success remains, at its core, really pretty simple. The research is clear:  people who are Happy generally feel and experience ‘success’ in their pursuits (personal or work related).  But people who may think of themselves as ‘successful’, or who may be regarded as such by others, are not always Happy. Readers may be thinking, Who Cares? Stay with me…

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The need to feel Happy is a fundamentally-human condition. It’s almost autonomic, in that we go about pursuing Happiness almost without thinking about it.  It’s certainly tied to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:  being happy for some might be as basic as a full belly and safe place to sleep; or, it might be the Corner Office and a boost in an already-six-figure income. Organizational Psychology researchers, however, have reason (and research to back it up) to believe that Happiness has slightly less to do with external conditions or outcomes and much more to do with our internal wellbeing.

If our basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and a sense of belongingness (there’s Maslow again) have been assured, Happiness – the pursuit of it – takes a very interesting turn. According to extensive research, three conclusions emerge:  1) Happiness begins in the human heart; 2) Happiness is not overly influenced by such factors as genetics or random events; and 3) Happiness appears to have a set-point, for the majority of people.

There’s very good news for those of us that struggle with negative emotions from time to time. Happiness, the kind I’m talking about here, is in large part the ability to balance positive and negative feelings or emotions. Going overboard in either direction isn’t helpful. Furthermore, negative emotions, as it turns out, actually strengthen happiness by providing contrast (again, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to get ‘stuck’ in gloom).

courtesy, thoughtcatalog

One of the recent areas of Happiness study (targeting stress-related absenteesim) is Work-Life Balance. ‘Balance’ is unique to each individual. It’s something we strive for alone, in that we alone feel and understand our needs, our abilities and our limits, and our desires and aversions. The balance we achieve is up to us:  we flourish in it, or we suffer the adverse effects of neglecting our Inner World (mind, body, spirit). Short bursts of success (e.g., a winning lottery ticket) stimulate our happiness receptors, but are short-lived spikes).

Interestingly, the sense of inner balance that is the foundation of Happiness, turns out to have a “set-point”. A researcher by the name of Ed Diener developed a series of national (in the U.S.) and international studies of tens of thousands of people engaged in a wide variety of professions. Diener found that genuine Happiness is a sense of “subjective well-being”, not a response to external factors. Not only this, but, as we learn and grow through life’s experiences, Diener discovered that we encounter our own Happiness set-point:  the stage at which we often say to ourselves, “It’s time for a new experience (and new challenges)”.

courtesy, travelinphoto

So if deep and long-lasting Happiness is really more about our internal well-being, and so much less about The Chase (fill in the blank:  job, money, material possessions, relationships), then what’s to do? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, since each and every one of us is engaged in our own Balancing Act. What I know for sure is that we can help one another along the way.  Heartfelt gestures, kind words of encouragement, and whatever version of Namaste (The Divine in Me Recognizes and Honors the Divine in You) suits our belief system grace both the giver and the receiver.

Like many people I know, I spend most of my waking hours In My Head. Thinking, planning, analyzing, problem-solving, and integrating all kinds of new information that’s interesting or useful (even some that isn’t, but hey – my mind needs baby-goat videos occasionally).

This month of July, however, I made a vow to myself that I’d give my Heart equal time, when it came to my own personal desires, and relative to my obligations to others. I didn’t realize, when I decided to act in a more heartfelt way toward my Self, how difficult it would be. If this was a diet I was trying to stick to, I’d have blown it daily since day-one:  allowing my ‘appetite’ for over-thinking all things to overrule my best intentions.

For example, why is it so hard to simply be kind to myself? Not criticize, or second-guess; do the things I enjoy first, and handle the chores later? I’ve gotten pretty good at sending loving thoughts to others who’re going through stressful times. But how often do I send my Self encouragement, or take the time to do little things (like wiggle my toes in the grass) that are nurturing? How often do I check-in with my Heart before making a decision that has the power to influence my happiness? My conclusion, as these questions popped up this month, is that my Mind has far too much power and control in my daily life. It’s a bit of a bully, really: louder and stronger than my quiet heart.

Yesterday I had a very strange and wonderful experience. Prepping for an upcoming medical procedure, I was told I needed an ultrasound of my heart. I’d had an EKG before – many years ago: the little black zigs and zags gave me no real awareness, or feeling of connection, to what my heart was doing or why (over-reacting to stress at the time). But yesterday’s ultrasound was a different experience altogether.

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As I lay on my side, feeling the sharp nose of the technician’s wand pushing hard under my left breast (I had to tell her to ‘chill’ with the pressure she was exerting), I began watching the screen of the machine that was giving me a startling look at my heart – in real time. OMG. There it was, beating Life through my body, in a firework crackle of red and blue bursts (the arterial and venous blood) according to a divine rhythm. I was completely transfixed by what I saw:  utterly fascinated by the beauty of it; the sheer perfection and wonder of a beating heart; my heart.

I immediately began thinking:  What have I been doing, to help this Center of My Physical Being? All of the “heart healthy” foods:  have I been eating enough? What about “heart-ache”? How silly I’ve been, to allow a single moment of sadness to toss my emotions and “break” my heart. Suddenly, the word Heartfelt took on new meaning, in my quest this month to think less, feel more. Watching the screen, actually seeing how steady and efficient it is, beating-away, despite my frequent disregard for it, my Heart became real in my Mind.

Yes, it’s a crucial physical organ; but it’s also the center – in a way that my Mind is not and could never be – of what keeps me balanced and in-tune with right action. Its beat quiets babies and animals with its reassuring grace. It hums with ease during tranquil moments, and trills with pleasure or with fear when feelings are intense. When — not if — I allow it to speak, my heart is never wrong.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal.

I’ve always been one to pay attention to subtle signs in my daily life. Lately I’ve been seeing pregnant women everywhere. If I wasn’t so far past the nesting-stage of life, I might be concerned:  I can still recall how seeing puppies everyday at one point triggered the menagerie I have now !

I think what I’m seeing and feeling – perhaps how I’m choosing to interpret my senses —  in these (mostly young) women is Optimism. Having taken the leap myself once, I’m inclined to ask (silently, of course), “Are you sure you know what this means?” A tad bit late for that question, but still. Little Thing 1, 2 or 3 will be a lifetime experience, starting with the crapshoot of whose genetic code they’ll have and whether they’ll be pliant, sweet little darlings, or, what feels like a life-long Labor of Love.  Life is never the same after welcoming children into the world. It’s one of the Big Adjustments.

But Nature, in its wisdom, has a plan. In addition to those wonderful hormones that soon blur the memory of labor pains, everything and everyone around Baby takes a backseat, so that Life – for a while, anyway —  is rainbow-hued and harmonious in its rhythm. Without Optimism, we’d never make half of the momentous life decisions that we do. Which is why nurturing it is so helpful, at any age, in any circumstance.

The Irish essayist George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) has always been best-known for his keen observations and acerbic wit. Shaw was the first to write the statement (later modified by Oscar Wilde), “Youth is wasted on the young”. Shaw mused that so very many actions we take in our youthful experience are done blindly, haphazardly, and with a kind of idiotic hope. (Shaw had very existential leanings, along with similar thinkers of his time). Shaw’s fantasy, if I can for a brief minute give my own interpretation, was a wise and experienced mind inside a young, strong body. Yeah:  not going to happen until we all become bionic. Still, I take his point: it would’ve been really nice to know then – in my 20’s, say – what I know now, about Life.

 “Youth may (in more than a few ways, from a curmudgeonly perspective) be wasted on the young”, as Shaw wrote; but Optimism is not the sole property of any age group. Regardless of how many days might be left on the calendar (no one has a lock on that piece of information), feeling like each day is a clean slate, a new opportunity, a fresh “take” is always within reach.

When still an undergraduate, one of my favorite classes was a philosophy course I took as part of my General Ed. The textbook for the class, a ‘gem’ still in my library and well-thumbed, features an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson (another vintage thinker and writer that many others have since gently plagiarized).

R.W. Emerson

Emerson tells us how we can, every day, jump-start our Hope and Optimism. For me, attempting to nurture optimism in my heart gets a boost when I silence my Inner Critic. Here’s a snippet of Emerson’s “meditation” that I  keep by my bedside and usually close my day with:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

So gentle. So patient and understanding. So nurturing. So full of hope and optimism. Now — more than ever — words we need to breathe in, as we exhale our worries.

So, I thought I’d just let this go, but my mind kept circling back to it. With me, that means, Time to add my two cents’ worth of commentary.  I’m referring to a recent Instagram ‘flap’ (creating a collective gasp and flurry of chat in our cyber world) over 53-year old model Cindy Crawford’s decision to Post “racy” (her word) photographs online. Nicely done, Cindy. I mean that. The pictures are tasteful, yet undeniably sexy. Crawford’s still a beautiful woman, regardless of how much air-brushing or photo-shopping was done:  The Bones are there.

I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve taken what used to be called “Boudoir Photos”, feeling the urge to capture for all time a fantasy-like beauty and sexuality. Most haven’t posted them online, however. Crawford’s reasoning for doing so – she was vocal and righteously snippy about it – is that she wanted to speak to the fact that women should not feel they have “Sell-By” dates, when it comes to their sexuality. I couldn’t agree more. Especially if they look like Cindy Crawford. In her statement, Crawford implied that the photographs were also sort of a ‘gift’ for her husband. Not going to argue with that either; but there’s a bit of a weird mashup here:  a political statement and a little eye candy for her spouse? On Instagram? You claim to be speaking for me here, Cindy, so I just want to make sure I’m understanding you.

In my view, a woman’s beauty and her sexuality are inextricably intertwined. In using the word ‘sexuality’ I’m not referring to sex, or the ability to conjure sexual feelings in anyone else. Feeling beautiful is something every woman on the planet is entitled to, and she should get to define what that means to her, and for her. But there’s a particular aspect of beauty that all women share, and that is our sexuality. Our sexuality is based, first and foremost, on the simple fact that we were born female. If we choose to embrace this (feel comfortable in our birth gender), our sexuality as females blossoms as we age. Our sexuality originates as a sense of self, a knowledge of self, a celebration of self and the ancient power inherent in being a woman. A woman’s sexuality does not , nor should it, require a male’s attention or validation in order to flourish.

Despite the “Swinging 60’s”, the brief illusion that women could truly celebrate being female in ways that suited their own bodies, minds and spirits, all women have faced a narrowing of the definitions of ‘beauty’ and ‘sexuality’ over time. Yes, faces on glossy magazine covers have become more diverse (a good thing), but many of the images we see – within the pages of the top fashion sellers —  still project a version of femaleness that is unrelatable to most women. There are also plenty of examples (movies, music, social media) guiding us in how we should feel about our sexuality; defining what it means  for us. No wonder that, as women age, many begin to feel what Crawford called out as the “Sell-By” date fears.

I’m cheering for Cindy Crawford and her nude photos, regardless of the reasons they ended up on Instagram. (I’ll be curious to see if the next decade brings a new photo shoot). I’m just longing for the time when an Influencer like Crawford’s proclamation includes a shout-out empowering  all women, of all ages, shapes and sizes. She has a right to do her thing, for as long as she chooses to. I’m just not convinced that the 53 year-old women she’s talking to are the same ones I know.

Sending Love…

My interest in what I call My Tribal DNA has increased over time. Not the popular “Twenty-three-and-Me” kind of sleuthing we can do to determine our cultural lineage. No, I’m referring here to how my sense of Self was formed, based on the experiences sent to me, via the DNA of my ancestors. This is a huge area of scientific study: how things like wars, famine, migration, and exposure to violence and other traumas create changes in our gene pool. In many instances, this is done through words.

It definitely helps, when you’re trying to figure yourself out (focusing on reasons behind the negative stuff, usually) to have a basic idea of who your grandparents and great-grandparents were; where and how they lived; and the events they may have lived through. In a previous Post of mine, “Wait for Me…”, I shared a story about my maternal grandmother (born in 1898) who’d lost 7 siblings to the dominant illness of her time, tuberculosis. There are parallels, nowadays, for this kind of loss. But, other than my granny, I know of no one else in my biological tribe who’s lost seven immediate family members during the formative years of growing up. I can only imagine the deep pain, seeping into the remaining family members, quietly and gradually changing their internal biology. Words of hopelessness, and grief, uttered in hushed tones. Words of frustration and anger shouted to the heavens. “Why?!

The experiments of Dr. Masaru Emoto have offered proof, for years now, that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. Emoto’s research has helped me understand how and why I’ve been so incredibly hard on myself for most of my life. I can’t summarize here (do justice to) these amazing studies of how spoken words affect water-crystal formation; hopefully, my Readers are already familiar with Emoto’s research. (If not, it’s really a worthwhile detour). The takeaway for me is that Words Have Extraordinary Power. More than I was ever taught through The Golden Rule; more so than I ever learned in psychology and leadership classes.

Growing up with negative words or too much critical analysis in the family can change a child’s physical chemistry (just as Emoto’s water crystals were affected by words like Love, and Hate). I don’t feel that my family, two or three generations back, were a bunch of mean and dysfunctional nut-jobs. But I can piece together how their conversations– their words and vocal tones – could well have been fearful, angry, sad, stressed and utterly confused. My ancestral family, based on my research, were emotionally-tough people; they had to be, just to be able to survive in times fraught with challenges and unwanted sacrifices. If I’d lost so many children, I’d be a complete “basket-case”. I can only imagine how they were able to get through that.

My strong ambition to achieve; my perfectionism; my self-criticism; my worry and fears; my sense of life being a ‘struggle’ – usually over-exaggerated – is clearly a part of my tribal DNA. I don’t offer this as an excuse, but an explanation for, and a way of understand, a lot of my “issues”. I also think of this imprinting (and its results in my life ) as a reason to try to change this emotional DNA in raising my own child, and through my contacts with other people (and their conversations).

Words don’t just nurture, encourage, diminish or debase on-the-spot (as in the instant-impact of social media). Harsh, or loving, words are also creating generational patterns of attitudes and behaviors across the globe. Bringing about change begins with my own understanding of the power I have to resist those words (The Critic) that cause me to be less than I know I can be. With others in my life (even my pets!), making sure that my words soothe, even when I’m tempted to “go off”, sends a ripple — I believe — of Hope into the world.

When I worked with extremely at-risk adolescents, the vast majority were growing up in emotionally and physically toxic environments. In a formal study I did, it was remarkable (and disheartening) how much yelling and verbal abuse occured daily in their lives. But, I also felt a resilience emanating from many of these kids; a determination to someday live in a way that was vastly different. Despite the verbal messages of, “You’re not smart enough to…” “You’ll never be more than you are right now (pregnant, under-educated and unemployed)”, these young people were already in the process of canceling-out the ability of such words to shape their futures.

Current reality may be very tough; we may be harrassing ourselves constantly with negative messages. If we choose to, however, we can begin to change outcomes by noticing and questioning where this stuff comes from. I remember a short blurb I began seeing in my college Psych classes, about the power of words and the temptation to use them recklessly: Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Helpful? This little check-in can nip sabotaging self-talk right in the bud, before it takes root in our souls. It’s a slow process, but it feels so good when it becomes habit. And it will.

It’s almost summer here in the U.S. I love this season, but every year at this time I regress a little, back into feelings of sadness surrounding my father’s passing. Though I wasn’t his exclusive care-giver, I was with my father every day for seveal months, and felt like I lived at the hospice home where he spent his last 6 days.

As anyone who’s attended a parent (or any beloved person) in decline knows,  ‘the end’ releases a flood of emotions. Beyond the profound grief, I felt cast-adrift from the months-long anchor of being ‘present’ for whatever might be needed. It took me a bit of time to recover my sense of Self and what I needed. When I did, I turned to my ‘answer’ to so many questions in my life, Travel.

The reason why I settled on Sicily started with seeds-planted years prior, when my father and stepmother traveled there, afterwards sharing their photos and reminiscences. It was also definitely a kind of homage to my father. And even though early summer might not be considered the ideal time to travel to Italy and Sicily, that was my available timeframe…

So, I took off on my own:  my first time traveling solo internationally. The initial flight was direct, San Francisco to Naples. As the plane descended over “Napoli”, the early-evening light shrouded Mount Vesuvius in a dreamy, sherbet-colored mix of pale blue and orange. An extraordinary vision. Once in Naples, I was then supposed to then catch shuttle to Sorrento. But due to the delayed Air France flight out of SF (everyone enjoyed first-class meals and unlimited champagne, once we were airborne), I’d missed the shuttle.  My (amazing) travel agent connected me with a private car (yes, I’ll use that company again, no question!) that got me to Sorrento in about 40 minutes:  a hair-raising high speed ride on a glittering, congested freeway that looked like a luminous gold and red snake stretched out along the Bay of Naples.

It began in Sorrento: the feeling of being held in a nurturing embrace that I was so in need of. The sea-salt smell of the air; the warmth of the people; the light filtering through the ubiquitous lemon trees (and real Limoncello); Sorrento’s proximity to Capri (which was a fantasy-like beauty unto itself); all of this jump-started the healing process, getting me ready for Sicily.

The flight from Rome to Sicily was a short hop into the vastly different “vibe” between Italy and Sicily. Everything slowed down. I’d checked-out Lonely Planet beforehand, so my itinerary was set:  Palermo, Taormina (a shimmering jewel of a city tucked into a breathtaking coastline), Messina; little seaside villages called Isola Bella and Cefalu On just the level of exploring a new place, for me, Sicily was totally unique in its beauty, art, food, relics and social atmosphere. And in terms of the indescribable calm and peace it let me borrow for a week, it was – and remains – a very special experience that restored my health and my heart.

As any Sicilian will tell you, Sicily is proudly distinct from Italy. As a traveler, I don’t think of the two as being in competition with each other; but I will say that, if your goal is to bask in a slower, super-savory, southern-Mediterranean experience that lets you just be lazy and indulgent, Sicily will prove lovingly unforgettable.

Taormina, Sicily

Yesterday I was out running errands – not the fun kind, but out doing ‘essentials’. I had Sirius on as a distraction. The politics of these days are nothing, if not ‘distracting’! Anyway, it took me almost two hours to finish up what I had to do, and in that time, in between pundits discussing the spin-cycle we’re in until at least 2020, I noticed a different kind of insistent messaging assaulting my brain.

When I was fresh out of college and not yet employed as the teacher I would soon become, I took a summer job working as a sales rep for a rock station (I feel old, just saying that). I actually did pretty well in the role, and was fascinated by my learning about how station ratings are dependent upon ratios of advertisements and music; the difference between “drive time” and “quitting time” ( we called it Happy Hour); and how messaging that is repeated so often as to be crazy-making, is actually extremely effective in shaping consumer behavior (purchase habits).

Back to my errands. The advertisement that stuck in my mind (good work, Sirius) repeated itself three times in less than two hours, which is a lot, for a 60-second ad. It featured a female voice-over and the message was half-praise, half warning, which is a super- effective advert tactic. The lead-in was, “Good news:  you’re taking such good care of your body that it’s going to outlast your brain!” (My own paraphrasing, by the way, but the overall gist is accurate). Being the visual person I am, I saw myself on a tennis court, strong and fit…not realizing that I don’t play tennis until a ball smacked me in the head. As you would expect, the message was designed to make me feel that I needed to forget about my errands and make a beeline for the nearest pharmacy before my brain did any more deteriorating.

I wouldn’t give these commericals any thought at all, if there wasn’t such a proliferation of them. They all begin with, “Research shows…”, which many people I’m sure are tempted to accept as Truth. Brain health, bone health, gut health, stability issues, digestive issues. I can hear and see that companies are creating and marketing products, based on the fact that people are living longer and better lives; and this fact needs to be addressed, they think, with medication. “If you don’t have it yet, you’re in line for it, trust us.”

 Back when certain congressional hearings dominated an entire news day, I had the television on in the background while I did some writing and housework. Nearly every “break” was punctuated by an advert for a medicine thought to be needed by “older adults”. By the end of the day, not only was I saturated and disgusted by the hearings, but I realized that the product messaging had invaded my brain and I found myself actually thinking…Is all this s*** (the symptoms and actual ailments) inevitable??

I’m trailblazing here, and maybe I’m alone, but I don’t think so. I don’t take medication and don’t like taking it even when I absolutely have to. I exercise every day and try to do the hydration and clean-food things. The last time I saw my doctor (whom I truly love), he laughed as he said, “It’s a good thing I’m retiring – people like you are about to put me out of business!” (A compliment to my age and relative health). I thought so. We are a healthier group, mid-life, than ever before. But companies know that this has us feeling just a wee bit insecure, as in, “I wonder how long I can make this last?”

My answer to that question is this:  it’ll last a helluva lot longer if we don’t pay attention to the Reaper brain-washing from media. I can’t totally avoid hearing the ads, without giving up the media services I enjoy; but I can, and do, talk back to them. In my opinion, we all should.

Recently I was consoling a close friend of mine (who also happens to be my re-married ex-husband), about the aging process. He’d gotten some disappointing news during his annual medical check-up: his prostate gland was doing what it often does as men age. As I tried to patiently listen to this information (and multi-tasked, I’ll admit), my “ex” (who claims he can’t talk about these things with his new wife) then went into a litany of additional physical complaints, his body now “falling apart”. His list ended with the question, “What’s the point?” That took my attention away from folding laundry, and we spoke a little bit about his feelings of depression. It’s funny that now, as an ex-wife, I actually have more and better conversations with him than ever before and seem to hold a more tender place in his heart. Another topic, for another Post. At least he was able to share his feelings, difficult for many men.

A little over one week later, my ex-husband called me again: his nephew (his sister’s only child), a man in his 40’s, had just shot and killed himself. My ex-husband phoned me because a) I’d known the man who died somewhat peripherally — he was always a quiet loner, and b) I myself am a childhood Survivor of Suicide. My mother took her own life in her 40’s, when I was around 10 years old. It’s still a pretty vivid memory for me, and something that I deal with off and on, as I reflect on how this event impacted my progress into adulthood.

In the headlines this past year were at least two notable “Deaths by Suicide”. (One of my professional colleagues justifiably corrected me when I commented on the famed chef who ‘killed himself’). Of course, suicides are sadly uncommon in our country, especially among vulnerable populations. The majority of these don’t earn Media recognition. In my field of study and careers, I’ve had a lot of classes and trainings, and even provided interventions to people at this level of despair. Still, when it happens, and you’re called upon to provide personal or professional support, the unanswerable question from Survivors is “Why ??”

Someone once described Suicide / Death by Suicide as “…a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” My mother’s issues were poor health and emotional despair stemming from a host of disappointments. My ex-husband’s nephew, so I was told, was suffering from a work injury and had been unable to find suitable work for many months. No one can truly feel whatever the source of pain is, nor judge whether or not suffering is ‘temporary’. To the depressed mind, even a day of profound hopelessness can be an eternity.

But, as much as I — especially as a Survivor of Suicide — want to understand and embrace the very real feelings and circumstances that drive someone to end their own life (I’m excluding the terminally-ill, as I think and write), I am more concerned about Survivors left behind. Taking one’s own life has also been described pejoratively as “…an act of selfishness”, which — in addition to religious views on the subject — has done much to stigmatize suicide. The lens of becoming older, however, has changed my perspective on the topic I have so much personal knowledge of: I relate less to the person in pain, and much more to the wives, husbands, children, friends, intimate partners and even pets that are left behind. The suffering ends for the person whose life is now over; but it usually never ends for the living who must somehow carry on. I’m not sure if this statistic has increased, decreased, or stayed the same, but when I first began studying the effects of mothers /fathers who had ‘suicided’, impacting the lives of their children, researchers claimed that suicidal ideation increased 40% for childhood survivors of adult deaths. Even without full-on ideation, suicide creates barriers and emotional struggles for children, with Trust Issues, Fear of Abandonment, Over-attachment, Lack of attachment, Guilt, and a host of other negatives hindering the ability to thrive.

But those who’ve chosen Death by Suicide are well-past the point of feeling concern about how the living might, or might not, adjust to losing someone this way. My message, now, is really for (and was delivered tactfully, I hope, to my ex-husband) those who feel the deep sadness that allows the mind to consider this option. Many people find sharing long-term depression and the darkest of thoughts with others impossible. But, consider the alternative: surrendering to the Pit of Despair ( I had to insert some “Princess Bride” humor, to avoid ending on a totally maudlin note), ensuring that those who love you may never be able to fully avoid the Pit themselves, as a result of your actions. How much better to…see a doctor, find a good therapist; confide in a trusted friend and let them be by your side in your recovery. Look up, look around, see the lives that would be diminished by your absence.