Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hot Walking

I was in Palm Springs last week visiting my friend Kim. Both of us are committed to our health and fitness and we set a goal to do something physical every day while I was there. The weather had turned pretty hot while I was visiting, so we had to do our activities in the morning to avoid being out in 104 degree heat!

I rode a bicycle for the first time in almost 20 years! It was really fun and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. We rode around paved trails near golf courses, and in so doing avoided traffic, which is one of my big objections to bike riding. The terrain was also pretty flat, which made for easy riding. I was thrilled to have that experience!

Mostly we took walks. Both of us like to walk, and it allows for endless talking! We girls do love to chat! OK...those of you who know me can stop snickering now!

One morning, our talking and coffee drinking delayed our walk until the temperature had climbed pretty high. We took our same long walk that we had on other mornings, but the heat was really intense. Both of us were struggling some with how hot it was, and how warm our drinking water had become along the way.

We were both sweating a lot and feeling very uncomfortable. We then decided to visualize this 'hot walk' as a process of purification and release. We started to visualize that the sweat pouring out of our bodies was carrying with it any and all toxins - physical, mental and emotional. The sweat was simply lifting it up and out of us. We were gracefully releasing all that needed to go! We still felt hot. We were still uncomfortable. We still longed to be home, drink cool water and take a cool shower... but now there was a powerful, positive purpose to our physical discomfort.

I do believe that we can positively engage in any process, no matter how unpleasant, by setting an intention to have it provide a benefit to us and even heal us! In my 'hot walk' I told myself that this process was releasing toxins faster and more effectively than other processes I could undertake. The discomfort of the experience would yield big dividends and spare me other types of releasing work in the future. It made the discomfort more tolerable!

Next time you are faced with something difficult or uncomfortable, see what you can come up with as far as an intention for the purpose it could be serving. Is it teaching you patience? Is it helping you release toxins or pent up emotions? Be creative and open your mind and heart to what might be 'trying' to happen to you in the experience!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Priorities and Perfectionism

If you've read my blog or other articles for any length of time, you know that I learn a tremendous amount from working in my garden. I'm constantly amazed at the life lessons that nature presents me with each and every time I step out to do this work.

I've written about my exploding popper weeds before. These weeds are truly a pain in the backside! They produce little seed pods that explode once they 'ripen.' Their explosion then causes dozens of seeds to shoot in all directions, thus guaranteeing a new crop of the lovely plants to perpetuate themselves... and my battle with them!

Even the 'poppers' are teachers for me - as much as I hate to admit it! I just completed what I call a 'popper pass' in the garden. I went through my entire yard and did nothing but pull poppers. Now is the time to get them out. They aren't 'ripe' yet, and so will not explode when I try to remove them. This is the best time to get them out. I can move faster because they are not 'vulnerable' to exploding when I touch them. Yet, it is very hard for me to leave other weeds in the ground as I extract the poppers! It challenges my perfectionism and my love of order. Nothing feels better to me than to weed a section of the garden and leave it looking weed free and orderly! Leaving weeds of any kind is painful! If I insist on cleaning each area entirely, however, I cannot get all of the poppers out before it's 'seed spewing' time! My choice is to prioritize and remove them before they spread their seeds OR weed each area completely and leave entire sections exposed to popper reinfestation!

One option appeals to my sense of 'completeness' and 'thoroughness' but creates more work for me in the long run. The other option causes me to challenge my perfectionism and 'need' to do things completely, as it teaches me about priorities. That option also makes my life easier in the long run!

Obviously, I choose the second option, because it has so many benefits... an easier life AND it interrupts life long patterns that aren't necessarily healthy!

I'm reminded of something my teacher, Dr. Bruni, used to tell me as I worked to let go of my compulsive perfectionism. He said, "Not everything in your life is worthy of 100% of your effort."

I'll never forget the day he said that to me. I had always given 110% to everything I did. The thought that I could just 'do' something without sinking my soul into it was foreign to me. This powerful idea has been incredibly liberating to me! No longer do I only engage in things that I can do perfectly or completely. I 'dabble' in things now. I can also do things without knowing how successful I'll be! Of course, I can also prioritize... and put more effort into high priority activities and much less energy into lower priority tasks. Sometimes it's enough to just barely do something or to do something part way when I can't do it 'all the way.'

I once worked with a counseling client who was a recovering alcoholic. He told me about a project he did to build some flower boxes. He became frustrated with himself when the boxes weren't exactly straight and he proceeded to destroy them in a fit of rage. He couldn't see anything worthy in them because they weren't perfect. One of the things I asked him to do, as we talked about this, was to tell me 3 good things about those flower boxes. I remember the wonder in his eyes when he said, "Well, I guess they would have held the flowers anyway." Indeed. They didn't need to be perfect in order to hold the flowers.

When we can't except less than perfection, in our self or in others, we harm ourselves and those around us. Learning what to give 100% of our effort to, and which things we can just 'let slide' is one of the most important lessons we learn inn this life! Doing things for different reasons, and allowing different levels of 'quality' depending on those reasons is part of the art of living life well.

I wish you a life of balance, priorities and freedom from the tyranny of perfectionism!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recharging Your Battery

I have a neat little music playing device called a Zune. For those of you who don't know, it's like an IPOD. I enjoy loading up my Zune with various types of music and then listening to it when I hike, workout or garden. My original Zune died a couple months ago, so I recently treated myself to a smaller, lighter version of the Zune. The battery lasts longer than it did on my old model, and I can enjoy about 8 hours of listening on one charge.

I tend to be a pretty disciplined 'charger' of my electronic devices. My cell phone, blue tooth headset, camera battery and my hand held computer all have their various charging needs, so I have my routines and keep everything operational with a fair amount of ease.

My new Zune is so much more convenient (due to it's smaller/lighter size) that I've been using it more than I did my old one.

I was very disappointed this past weekend when I set out to work in my garden for a couple hours, only to have my Zune die on me 30 minutes in to my weeding!

It's true that I also enjoy gardening in the quiet, and listening to the birds and so, that is what I ended up doing on this day. I got to thinking about letting my battery die and contemplated the lessons contained within this experience.

First off, if we use something beyond the length of it's battery life, the object will stop functioning properly. Nothing can keep working when it's battery is drained of energy. It simply can't continue to work without power. As I mentioned, normally, I am very consistent about recharging my devices, but this 'new' device was something I wasn't used to keeping charged properly. It snuck up on me - and I was caught unprepared when I wanted to use it. It didn't have 'the juice' to provide me with what I wanted and needed from it.

We operate much the same as a battery powered device. We require certain inputs to refuel our own batteries. Good food, water, sleep, relaxation and companionship are all things that recharge our batteries. If we neglect any or all of these things, we don't function fully in our lives. We simply can't. If our battery dies, we run out of gas and can't do all that is ours to do.

It is important to have good, solid routines of self care that recharge our batteries consistently. If we do, we live fuller, richer and more satisfying lives. If we neglect those needs, we don't feel up to the task of living our moments with enthusiasm and energy.

Take the time to 'plug yourself in' to the things that recharge your batteries... and meet your days fully charged!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Long Haul May Be Longer Than You Think

Anyone who knows me knows that I love inspirational stories and movies. This past weekend, I was virtually in heaven as I watched a film festival on TV that included three of my all time favorites: October Sky, The Rookie and Rudy. All of these movies are based on true stories of people who persevered against incredible odds and achieved amazing accomplishments.

When we watch a movie and see the unfolding drama and eventual success occur in the span of 90 minutes or two hours, sometimes it's easy to forget that the story actually took years and years to come to fruition. We get an encapsulated view of the struggle and the triumph, but it took much longer to play out on life's real stage.

When we are in the midst of our own trials and struggles, I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that some things take a tremendous amount of time to work themselves out. When we consider hanging in for the long haul, we need to realize that the long haul might take a lot longer than we initially think.

I try to get my mind around the fact that many of the people I admire who have achieved seemingly impossible accomplishments didn't know for sure, during the process, that they would actually make it. When we look back on some one's story and already know the ending, it is easy to see why they were so committed to their dreams. We have to remember, however, that when they were actually going through the hardships, they didn't have any guarantee that they would be successful. In fact, conventional wisdom would tell most of these people that they were destined to fail. They had faith and were willing to work hard, but they also had doubts and frustration at various points along their journey.

The key is in hanging in - ESPECIALLY when we feel most frustrated, discouraged or afraid. That's what the people who accomplish truly great things find a way to do. That is what separates those who prevail, from so many who do not.

Whether it's working for a dream or long held goal, or moving through a challenging life crisis or disappointment we need to keep this in mind.

It isn't going to be easy. There is no guarantee of success as we currently define it. The road will get long and we will get tired. We need to keep moving anyway! One breath and one step at a time.

Even if the long haul is longer than we think... it is well worth the journey.

Friday, April 24, 2009

White Flag of Surrender

I was driving home from town the other day and something caught my eye along the edge of the road. I live in a pretty rural area. Our mailboxes are mounted on posts along the street.

As i drove along, I saw a white flag attached to a mailbox. It was on a short little stick.

It caught my eye and I wondered what the heck it was there for. It looked like a white flag of surrender!

Who put it there? Why did they put it there? What did it mean? Did the couple that live there have a fight? Was it an offering of peace and surrender from one of the parties?

As I continued my drive home, I couldn't stop thinking about the white flag. A flag of surrender. I wondered if this was a message for me.

My teacher, Dr. Charles Bruni used to say, "What we resist, persists. What we fight against, grows stronger." He taught me that particularly when it comes to emotions and inner experience, we fight a futile battle if we attempt to resist and suppress what is trying to be expressed. The best way out is through. We have to go through our feelings in order to be free of their influence. We can't just ignore them or pretend that they aren't there. They will just keep pressing on us from the inside. We won't feel right and we won't live right until we face, feel and release our feelings!

A lot of our dark feelings come from resisting our experience. We simply will not accept the reality that we are faced with. Sometimes we spend immense energy pretending that we are not where we are! Denying reality and suppressing our feelings is a recipe for unhappiness and despair.

I think the white flag that day was reminding me of all this. That sometimes in life, things happen that we would not choose... and they are bitterly painful. To simply try to 'wish them away' or 'ignore' how we are feeling does nothing to resolve the situation or move us forward. We need to honor and acknowledge our feelings - fully express them (in appropriate and safe ways) and allow ourselves to heal and move on.

Surrendering to an authentic healing process is the only way to freedom and joy! I think the white flag on the mailbox was my reminder that resistance is only going to cause more suffering. Surrendering to the process of feeling our feelings in order to completely release them is the path to healing and joyful living!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Holding One's Ground

I just returned from a trip to Palm Springs to visit my friend Kim. We had a wonderful time walking, biking, hiking and talking about life.

A couple days ago, I posted some pictures of us in the mountains above Palm Springs. We had taken the Palm Springs tram to get some relief from the heat below and 'shift' our perspective.

We had a very interesting experience on the way up that gave us the opportunity to learn some important things about ourselves.

The Palm Springs tram cars have a rotating floor that moves clockwise. The sides of the car are all glass (to afford a clear view) and stay still as the floor moves. There are small bars on the walls that are meant to allow you to steady yourself, but since they do not move and the floor does, you can't hold on to them continuously because they are always being 'left behind' as the floor carries you away.

The trick to this is to keep your feet planted on the floor and allow yourself to be carried as it moves. Resistance is futile... you are going to move! This allows you to move in a 360 degree circle and see in every direction as you make your way up the mountain.

I had a medium sized back pack with me that I placed on the floor at my feet. My friend, Kim, was to my immediate left. We were standing right in front of the window looking out the window.

As the tram started to move, and the floor began to rotate, I could tell it was a bit disorienting to some of our fellow passengers. Before long a very interesting phenomenon started to occur. People, to varying degrees, began to 'resist' the rotation of the floor. People were sort of 'shuffling' to the right, in the opposite direction that the floor was moving. I believe it was an attempt to keep their view consistent - as a way of orienting themselves. It felt 'unnatural' to rotate without moving, so they were unconsciously trying to 'right' themselves and stay pointed in the direction that they had started out in. Fascinating. There was one lesson there: we don't come easily to changing our perspective. We keep trying to look at things from the same angle and the same vantage point because it feels 'right' and familiar. Even when we are being 'moved' by the tram, or by life itself, we naturally try to stay put!

The woman to Kim's left seemed to have a special challenge in this area. She almost immediately squeezed Kim out of her spot, and displaced her to an inner part of the tram car. Now this woman was standing right next to me. My backpack hadn't moved and was sitting on the floor to the left of my feet. It had been right between Kim and I when we started.

Now, this woman started leaning backwards into me. She was holding on to the bars on the window/wall and as she rotated away from it, her arm would be stretched out IN FRONT OF MY FACE, with her body leaning onto my body, until she finally released her death grip and repositioned it in front of herself, only to repeat the process. She was literally lying on me at times.

I heard her remark to her husband that it 'felt like' she was leaning backwards. She WAS leaning backwards - directly against me, and continued to push on me as she tried to move into my space. At one point, she actually put her right foot OVER my backpack so she was straddling it!

I knew that she was 'unconsciously' moving against the rotation of the floor. She had displaced Kim. She would have moved me out of the way too... if I'd let her.

I decided to hold my ground. I had a right to be there. I was 'going with the flow' and moving with the floor (as I was supposed to be). There was a small child to my right, and I was also a little worried that if I yielded to this unconscious lady, that she might hurt this kid by moving on top of him in her oblivion.

I stood still. My feet never moved from the spot where they started. My bag was at my feet for the entire tram trip - exactly where I had placed it when I entered the tram.

This woman was PUSHING HARD on me at times. She seemed to be getting 'annoyed' with me... like I was doing something wrong. I heard her say something in a snotty tone to her husband, "I"ll tell you later!" she snapped. I knew she was talking about me.

I did announce at one point that I was "being squished" and she shifted back towards her husband.

When our tram finally arrived at the top, and we left the car, we ended up walking up a staircase, right behind my 'friend' from the ride up. She was really IRRITATED and was telling her husband and the rest of her party about this 'RUDE woman' next to her who just kept PUSHING and PUSHING and PUSHING her. This was the woman that pushed Kim out of the way and was laying on me as she resisted the movement of the floor!!

I knew I had done nothing wrong, yet I felt 'bad' that this woman was bad mouthing me and saying that I was rude. I felt like I wanted to defend myself. I had to resist the urge to run up to her and tell her and her friends that I hadn't moved one INCH during the entire trip... and that it was she who was pushing and applying pressure!

Kim and I started talking about this when we sat down to eat lunch. Kim had definitely noticed the woman lying on me throughout the tram ride. I wondered if she had moved to let the woman have her spot (since Kim is local and had been up the tram before). Kim realized that the woman had pushed her out of the way, and that she had just 'moved' to not have to hassle with the conflict. She just yielded to the invasion. I stood my ground, but not without great discomfort. It was also annoying. She definitely detracted from the trip. Standing my ground took a lot of energy, because she was literally leaning on me at times, expecting that the space for her needs would just 'be there.'

Kim and I also talked about how I was feeling 'bad' that this woman didn't like me and was badmouthing me. Somehow I felt bad for not letting her run me over! How crazy is that? I was feeling bad for taking care of myself!!

We began to realize that it was a teaching on boundaries. Both of us have trouble maintaining healthy boundaries in our lives. We tend to let other people have access to us in ways that aren't particularly healthy. We feel bad if we take care of ourselves and say NO to other people. We feel uncomfortable when people are disappointed or annoyed with our self care.

Kim just yielded and allowed her boundary to collapse. I held my boundary, but felt a bit of shame and guilt afterwards when I heard the woman telling her party how rude I was. We each learned some valuable information about ourselves.

On our way back down, Kim and I were in the same configuration, and sure enough, the person to her left started to push on her. Kim was determined to hold her ground and she did! She stood firm as the woman pressed her body into Kim. She claimed her space and didn't budge. She had lived through the discomfort of resisting someones boundary violation!

Sometimes people in our lives don't like it when we start to enforce our boundaries and take care of ourselves. They can't easily accept that we don't give them unlimited space for their own purposes. When we start to hold firm they get annoyed and consider us rude. When we say 'no' where we used to say 'yes' they can get angry! It doesn't mean that we are wrong for the choice we are making. In fact it may mean that we are on the most powerful part of our healing journey!

Learning to hold your ground and tolerate the discomfort of others who would like us to yield to their needs is a powerful and essential part of a healthy human journey!

Stand strong in the face of the pressure and the manipulations around you. Take good care of yourself and always maintain healthy boundaries!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day! It's an opportunity for us to celebrate and appreciate this beautiful planet that we call home.

I'm a big believer in expressing appreciation for gifts in this life. The earth is a gift that all of us share. The physical sustenance it provides, water to drink, shelter, resources to clothe ourselves and so much more!

I have a way of celebrating earth day that I've been doing for many years. I like to do 3 distinct earth day commemorations.

1. I like to participate in some kind of community activity aimed at taking care of the planet and helping other people appreciate it. There are lots of Earth Day organizations that hold community activities. In past years I have worked on park cleanups, planting native plants in open spaces, cleaning invasive species out of greenbelts, etc. It is fun to get together with other people and do something for the good of the planet and the larger community!

2. Next, I like to do something in my immediate location - near my home. Usually this involves picking up litter along the roads closest to where I live. Again - it shows respect and appreciation for the natural environment, and it helps other people to enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape - free of garbage!

3. Finally, I look for one change I can make in my household to reduce my 'footprint' as I travel through life. One year I started using worm composting bins (which is a really neat way to dispose of kitchen scraps and turn them into 'black gold' compost!) Read about worm bin composting here: Cornell University's Worm Bin Composting Site.

Another year I improved my recycling practices (this was a looooong time ago) to reduce the waste stream from the house. Replacing light bulbs with more energy efficient varieties is another great idea! Anything that reduces energy consumption or the waste stream out of the household is a good option!

Every day should be earth day, but on this specific day (or anytime this week or this coming weekend) think about ways that you can celebrate and honor the earth - in your household, your immediate vicinity and the larger community!

Happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Bird's Eye View

I love anything that gets me out of my normal way of viewing life. I recently had the opportunity to go up on the tram in Palm Springs California. This tram ride takes you up into the mountains, to an elevation of 8500 feet. It is typically 40 degrees cooler up there than it is in Palm Springs below. The day I went, it reached 104 degrees in Palm Springs, but was in the mid 60's at the top of the tram route. It was lovely.

Here's a link to their website: Palm Springs Tram

Whenever I have the opportunity to take one of these sorts of trips I'm amazed at how different things look from up high. Things that seem huge from below are minuscule when looked at from far above them. Details are lost, and a grander more comprehensive view is available.

I like to think of physically gaining elevation on a trip like this, as a metaphor for raising our level of thinking about the circumstances and situations in our lives. It can be enormously beneficial to step back and gain a little distance and perspective on situations in our lives that are challenging or perplexing to us. Often patterns emerge when we view things from a distance, or from far above. Sometimes we see things we miss when we are lost in the forest for the trees!

Next time you have the opportunity to go up in an elevator, an airplane, a tall building, or go up in the mountains, let yourself really experience how different 'things below' seem from up there! Invoke that same sense of 'raising your awareness' to new heights in how you view and interpret the happenings in your life! You'll be surprised at what you see!

My friend Kim and I in the mountains above Palm Springs California

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eat the Rainbow

Keeping one's body healthy has a positive affect on all aspects of life. When we are sleeping well, eating well and exercising regularly, we feel better and have ample energy to give to our life experiences.

Sometimes it can feel daunting to try to 'do the right thing' with regards to our bodies, especially when it comes to eating healthily.

I heard a commentator on TV once give a great and simple approach to facilitate an instant improvement in one's diet. He talked about trying to eat as many colors in one meal as possible. I believe the goal he suggested was to eat 7 colors at every meal. This simple suggestion has changed the way I eat!

Sometimes I go a little crazy and try to create salads with as many different colored vegetables as possible! I amuse myself by counting up the ingredients, and racking my brain for one more color to add!

I also come at my meal's 'color assessment' from the opposite direction sometimes, by realizing that my meal is 'monochrome' as in a choice of chicken tortilla soup and cheese bread... which is ALL orange! I try to stay away from monochromatic meals, as a rule. I also monitor a day's food intake and try to make sure that it is balanced overall.

This is a really fun thing to work on with kids too! They enjoy the challenge of 'eating the rainbow.'

The more colors you eat, the more variety you are getting in your diet. Americans have notoriously unhealthy eating habits, based in a lot of white flour based products. A turkey sandwich with turkey, white bread and mayonaise is ALL WHITE! Not a great choice. Change out the bread for some dark pumpernickle or whole grain selection, add some lettuce, tomato and red onion and you've taken the 'all white' meal to a 5 color success! Put a little bit of mixed bean salad on the side and you might throw in a few more colors! See how fun this is?

Eating better can be as easy or as hard as we want to make it. If all you did was increase the number of colors you eat on a daily basis, you'd almost be guaranteed to have a healthier diet.

Give it a try and enjoy the process!

Friday, April 17, 2009

In the Face of Disappointment

I'm a big fan of old musicals. The works of Rodgers & Hammerstein are some of my favorites. Thanks, in part, to my mother's love of these shows, I know most of the songs from their musicals. We watched the movies on TV, went to local stage productions of the shows and listened to their soundtracks when I was growing up. In college, I took a course on the 'History of the American Musical Theatre' as one of my liberal arts electives. I was a runner back then and would listen to the assigned musical scores as I did my daily workouts.

One of my favorite of the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, has always been Oklahoma. I love the music and the story. "Aunt Eller" is my favorite character.

On Laurey and Curly's wedding day, tragedy strikes, and Curly is arrested for the murder of Judd Fry. Laurey is distraught and Aunt Eller is trying to comfort her. These immortal words are imprinted in my mind forever,

"You gotta get used to all kinds of things happening to you in life! You gotta be HARDY!" says Aunt Eller.

What part of us thinks that we are going to sail through life without disappointment or hardship? I sometimes think we expect life to easy and feel like we've done something wrong when it turns out to be difficult.

Life is full of 'all kinds of things happening to us' as Aunt Eller said. We need to become 'hardy' in order to roll with the punches and go with the flow. It's all part of life. No one has all good things happen to them, or all bad for that matter. Life is a mixed bag.

With age I think we are given the opportunity to learn to deal with the things that come our way with more grace, patience and dignity. We can learn to 'let things roll off us, like water off a duck's back,' to quote my teacher, Dr. Charles Bruni.

So next time you find yourself rocked by a disappointment or a difficult challenge, remember the message from that sweet little old lady in Oklahoma!

You gotta be HARDY!

Watch and listen to the theme song from the 1955 motion picture OKLAHOMA! here:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Never Too Old

I'm truly inspired by Valerie Bertinelli and her amazing weight loss and transformation. I have to say, that seeing her in that cute green bikini on the cover of People magazine did my heart good! With that "Bikini Body at 48!" headline, I was inspired by the courage she showed to get into that suit and be photographed and filmed! Way to go Valerie!

Since I'm close to Valerie's age, I must say I don't feel that 48 is old! Not by any stretch, but I do know that culturally speaking, appearing in a bikini at 48 isn't something that most of us women would do!

I saw Valerie on Rachel Ray's talk show the other day, and she revealed what she did to get ready for the photo shoot and the filming of the Jenny Craig commercial where she appeared in the bikinis. She was working out 2-3 hours a day for a period of time to get 'that' body. She knows that isn't sustainable, but she is committed to her on going fitness, and even if she doesn't keep those abs of steel, she'll feel and look great.

I personally love that she took on such a challenge and did it! It was a physical challenge that required her to work with her diet and her exercise program. It was also an internal psychological challenge, to overcome the self consciousness of revealing so much of her body to the public and allowing all her 48+ years of life experience to show with no hiding! I think its fabulous!

I still have 3 years to get my bikini body! (Ha ha... that is a joke by the way). It is nice to know that it's possible!

Thank you Valerie! You inspire and encourage me!

Here's a link to People magazine's online article about this:

Valerie Bertinelli Back in Bikini for 49th Birthday!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Life of Choices

I'm sitting in one of my favorite restaurants writing articles. I do this frequently. I love to write in environments where I'm comfortable and where life is happening all around me. OK, I could do without the screaming children... but it's a small price to pay for getting to observe life in action.

I was tempted to order a number of different items for my lunch today. A turkey burger, a chicken pot pie, quiche... the possibilities were endless. I did a bit of indulging earlier this week, because it was my birthday. I ate a lot of things I don't normally allow myself to eat. (Like Eggs Benedict 2 days in a row!) My jeans are fitting a little more snugly than I'd like and I'm aware that I had a little 'spurt' of not making the most healthy choices for my long term well being.

As I contemplated my menu choices today, I thought about that. I believe that our lives are comprised of literally thousands and thousands of choices. Moment by moment we construct our lives with the choices we make.

When it comes to our health, our decisions around diet and exercise are vitally important. When talking about a meal or doing our workout, no one decision is enough to make our break our health. It's what we do over the long haul that will determine our level of health and well being!

Working out for 3 hours one day and not again for a month, isn't as beneficial as working out every day for 20 or 30 minutes.

Eating an indulgent meal now and then will not cause us huge harm, but eating a cheeseburger every day year after year will eventually take it's toll.

As I looked at the menu, I realized that, in general I do pretty well with my food choices but this week I've been a little over the top with high fat and rich foods. It's easy for me to get rolling down that slippery slope and think 'what the heck... I deserve it... right?' All my favorites were sitting there staring at me from the pages of that menu. It would be easy to continue the streak of indulgence.

Today I ordered grilled veggie skewers that came with rice and lightly dressed salad. This one choice does not define my life, but I like to think it is one of the many healthy choices I have made and will make that will cultivate a long and healthy future.

It does no good to beat ourselves up for what we did yesterday. I'm not sorry for my eggs Benedict days! I can, however, get 'back on track' with my eating choices so that I feel my best and have the energy to conduct my full and busy life!

Thinking in terms of small choices made over time takes some of the pressure off! Very few things in life hinge on a single decision (although, some do I know). Most often, we have thousands of chances to make a better choice. Each moment is a new opportunity to make a better choice and step on to a better path!

Happy choice making!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Wandering Time

Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet, in human endeavors, it is rare that we ever go straight from point A to point B in pursuit of our goals and dreams.

We wander. We get lost. We make wrong turns. We backtrack. We go in circles sometimes. And often we just stand still because we don't know where to go.

There is some value in the wandering time. We often don't see that value in the frustration of 'not being there yet.' Yet, there is something happening 'in us' during this time that is essential to our spiritual and personal progression. We are BECOMING something in the time of wandering.

Humans tend to be pretty impatient. We like to get things done and move right along. Yet, as one of my teachers likes to say, we have to respect the reality of the natural cycle of things. We must sow our seeds, then there is a long period of T-I-M-E, then we reap the harvest. It isn't possible to sow the seeds and immediately harvest a crop.

Once the seeds are planted, a lot happens under the ground that we cannot see. To the observer, it might seem that nothing is happening at all. But with water and sunlight, the seeds germinate and sprout, roots are formed, and a plant eventually pushes up through the soil.

If we planted tomato seeds, and don't understand the process, we might be a little perplexed at the little green sprout that pops out of the ground. Hopefully we don't stomp on it screaming, "That's not a tomato! That isn't what I wanted!!"

The plant needs to grow. The plant needs to put on flowers. Those flowers need to be pollinated. The tiny green tomatoes need to set. Then they grow larger and finally, at long last, start to turn red and resemble what we wanted when we placed the seeds in the soil!

That process takes time. If you try to eliminate any of the pieces of the process you will not get your harvest.

Our times of wandering in our lives are much like the process that is occurring in the planted seeds below the ground. It may 'seem' like nothing is happening, but there is an essential process taking place that will eventually get us to where we are going.

Enjoy the wandering time and trust that something vital is occurring throughout it. Soon, you'll be harvesting a crop and enjoying the fruits of your labors!

Monday, April 13, 2009

From the End to the Beginning

It's often impossible to experience a new beginning without first going through the process of ending.

A new baby must leave the comfort and security of the womb in order to emerge into the light and air of it's new world. It can't have both the old and the new experiences at the same time.

In school, children move from one grade to the next. They complete one year's coursework and then progress to the next. Each step builds on the previous one.

A ship has to leave the dock in order to take it's journey and arrive at a distant shore. It can't get to the new shore without leaving the old one behind.

We humans are funny about endings. We don't tend to like them. Even when something needs to end, we often resist. We have anxiety and fear about leaving one place and heading to a new environment. We sometimes try to cling to the old and drag it with us into the new. This rarely works, and often taints the new experience with damaging and destructive remnants of the past.

The crucifixion and resurrection story really gives us an example of what is possible to us when we 'die to the old' and 'allow the new form' to emerge. We can overcome any obstacle or hardship. We can triumph over the greatest of defeats. The key is in letting the old go - even when it is frightening and painful to do so.

There could have been no resurrection without the crucifixion. The crucifixion represents the painful letting go of 'all that we know.' The resurrection shows us that once we allow the old to pass away we can re-emerge as something we couldn't possibly imagine from our old circumstance or perspective.

Humans seek security. Consistency can feel like security. Our true security, however, comes from deeper wells than the circumstances of our outer life. Our security comes from knowing who and what we really are - and knowing that we are far more than the physical bodies or earthly lives that we conduct. All these 'props' help us to learn our spiritual lessons and evolve on our spiritual path. They are not 'the point' of it all. When we allow these 'props' to become too important, and spend too much energy clinging to them, we miss the deeper parts of the journey available to us.

This season of Easter with all it's promise and potential, I encourage us all to embrace our endings. Letting the old pass away to make room for the new is a challenging, but powerful gift we can give ourselves.

I'm spending a little time making a list of the old things that I have let go of (like clothes, old books, relationships, jobs, ideas, etc.) and also jotting down some of the ways that releasing those things have made way for new and better things. It's a great exercise to reinforce the idea that endings and release often lead to experiences that we truly yearn for! Give it a try!

Happy Easter - may you embrace the potential in the new beginnings that are available to you right this very minute!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Easter!

May we all embrace the opportunity to start fresh and live a greater version of the selves we were created to be!

Anything is possible if we know who we REALLY are!


Friday, April 10, 2009

Closing a Cycle

I've been reflecting a great deal these days on the cycles of life and in particular, on endings. We humans struggle with change and endings. We seem to resist the inevitability of impermanence that is part and parcel of the human experience. I loved this writing by Paulo Coelho on "Closing a Cycle." It inspired me to look at life a bit differently. I hope it will do the same for you.

Closing a Cycle
by Paulo Coelho

One always has to know when a stage comes to an end.

If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through. Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?

You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened. You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.

But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister, everyone will be finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

None of us can be in the present and the past at the same time, not even when we try to understand the things that happen to us. What has passed will not return: we cannot for ever be children, late adolescents, sons that feel guilt or rancor towards our parents, lovers who day and night relive an affair with someone who has gone away and has not the least intention of coming back.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.

That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home. Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.

Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them. Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood. Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the “ideal moment.” Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back. Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need. This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life. Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.

Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's Whacking Time Again!

This is one of my favorite times of year in the garden. It's the time when a lot of old dead stuff needs to be cut away. I love this metaphor for life!

I started by cutting back all my perennial grasses. All the dead grass is now resting in my field. I'm hoping that birds will use it in their spring nest building.

Next I moved on to clipping all the dead blossoms from my hydrangea bushes. It is amazing the difference! When I clip away all the dead blossoms from last season, the new buds for this year's growth are much more visible.

I'm working my way through my garden, stripping away all that was damaged or destroyed by the passing of it's season, or the harshness of our winter. There is a lot of old dead stuff that just needs to be cut away!

I do love this metaphor. We humans often cling to old, dead stuff that really needs to be eliminated from our lives... and our minds! We are reluctant to let it go... yet it's time has passed. It is no longer viable or useful. It is just taking up space and drawing attention away from what is real... and what is current.

As I work my way through my garden, stripping away all that is no longer living and useful, I realize that the same process is needed in my thought process and in my inner life. When something is dead... it's time to cut it loose. It doesn't serve any useful purpose to drag it along.

As I cut away the dead parts of my past and my garden, I can see the new life much more clearly. It is inspiring to watch something new and vibrant, emerge from what was dead and dormant!

Happy Spring! Happy pruning!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Treat Your Body As A Temple

There are a couple of people in my life who have really inspired me to take good care of my body.

One of these friends told me a long time ago that he realized as a young man that he needed to 'pay his dues' (by exercising and keeping his body strong) in his youth to have a healthier 'later life.'

Just that simple statement really hit home to me. Often times when I am resisting my daily cardio exercise or my weight lifting workouts, I remember his comment. I get up and go do the workout, thinking that in my 'later life' I will be thankful, even if today it feels like a chore! Of course, even today it will make me feel better, but somehow, thinking about being stronger and healthier down the road increases my incentive!

In a recent email, when we were discussing aging, this friend quoted a song lyric from Jimmy Buffet. The lyric is from "Fruitcakes" which is a really fun song! The line is, "I treat my body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent." (He wasn't saying this to me specifically by the way... we were just discussing the wide variety of ways in which people treat their bodies!)

In just quoting that simple song lyric, my friend, once again, inspired me to get off my butt that particular day and do the cardio workout I was dreading. :)

I want to treat my body like a temple... something sacred and holy. I don't want to abuse it and treat it with disrespect. I did a lot of that in my younger years, so now I want to make up for lost time. I want to treat this body as the sacred vessel that it truly is!

I give thanks to people like my friend who inspire me in this arena. It is an area I have struggled with all my life. When I meet a 'master' I listen to their wisdom.

The little choices we make each and every day... add up to a result that we will live with long in to the future! It isn't about perfection... it's about consistently making good choices more often than we make poor choices!

How are you treating your body? It truly is the temple that houses your soul and your spirit. It deserves respect, love and care!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

45 Gratitudes

Yesterday I spent almost all day walking along the Pacific Ocean, reflecting on the many blessings in my life, as well as the twists and turns that it has taken. I was gifted with an absolutely stunning day - sunny and warm! This is not typical of this time of year on the Washington coast.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am. Even with the various challenges I've experienced in my life, I have led a truly amazing life. I decided to share a list of some of the things I'm grateful for - one for each year that I've been allowed to live on this beautiful planet.

I am deeply grateful...

1. That I was born in a place where I am free to live my life as I choose.

2. For parents who taught me the value of hard work, self sufficiency and how great if feels to earn one's own way in life.

3. For the people in my life who love me and care about me.

4. That I was graced with the presence of McKenzie (my kitty soul mate) for 17 years.

5. To have been raised in a place (the Pacific Northwest) of such immense natural beauty. The mountains, rivers, the sound, the ocean and of course the TREES. I am truly home here!

6. To have overcome my eating disorder, lived to tell the tale, and that I've been able to help other people as a result of overcoming such a serious addiction and all that I learned in that process.

7. For my aptitude with computers, technology and information which has served me so well.

8. That I got to spend 13 days rafting in the grand canyon!

9. That my first international trip to Bali rocked my world and changed my perspective about life deeply and completely.

10. The strength to get up each and every time I've been knocked down.

11. For my trips I've taken with my friends and family - and all the precious memories. Bali, Holy Land, NYC, Florida, Hawaii, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Palm Springs, San Diego, Reno, Vegas, Michigan, Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, Road trip to Memphis, Texas family heritage trip, etc. etc. etc.

12. For inspirational music that brings so much energy and motivation to my life.

13. That my body is healthy and that I have the energy to walk, hike and enjoy physical activities.

14. For Dr. Charles Bruni and the help he gave me on my path of recovery. I owe him my life.

15. For Rev. Jack Boland and the wisdom and truth I learned from listening to him speak and teach. I owe him my life as well.

16. For Lucy, my neighbor when I was growing up, who had a huge impact on the woman I've become.

17. For my fierce determination to see an end to racism, oppression and injustice in this world.

18. That I have a garden where I can get my hands dirty and tend to living things like my Russian farming grandparents.

19. That I've learned to relax and rest once in a while. I'm getting better all the time!

20. For cute shoes that make me feel good when I wear them!

21. For the feeling I get when I'm hiking up a mountain, realizing that it feels good to move!

22. That I have overcome my food addiction enough to really enjoy eating! Frosted vanilla two bite cupcakes! WOW!

23. That I've come through the difficult experiences in my life as a wiser, more compassionate person.

24. For sports cars and driving FAST!

25. That I finally am at peace with the way I look!

26. For beautiful flowers - especially the garden at Hollyhock retreat center on Cortez Island in BC.

27. For all my friends in the middle east, especially in Palestine and Israel. My Palestinian friends, in particular, for their courage and ability to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances.

29. That I'm comfortable with all types of people, from all types of cultures, religious traditions and ethnic groups.

30. That I have been able to witness great acts of courage and conviction in people I admire and respect.

31. That I was able to see a mass migration of birds flying over the sea of Galilee.

32. That I've been able to take 30+ trips to the middle east in my life to date!

33. That I've been able to travel to Indonesia, India, Ireland, England, Russia, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Jordon, Greece and intend to keep on traveling.

34. That I've been able to travel to all but 3 of the states in the US.

35. That my back/hip issue is resolving with lots of physical therapy and core strengthening!

36. For all the sunrises and sunsets I've been lucky enough to witness... over the Ganges River, the Nile, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Mediterranean Ocean, Lake Washington, Elliott Bay, The Pacific Ocean, The Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea... and on and on and on. Wow. What a blessing!

37. For the fact that I've been close to violent events but have always been safe.

38. For the gift of good, deep, restful sleep.

39. That I was able to give up diet coke so many years ago. My health has improved immensely as a result.

40. For the good friends who've been there in tough times... and it great times.

41. That I have had the teachers and inspiration along my path to FACE my self, my demons, my challenges, and move through each and every experience in a way that helps me grow, change and become the person I was born to be.

42. For the gifts of determination, persistence, courage and strength that keep me going even when I'd like to just sit down and quit.

43. For the ability to help others feel better when they feel discouraged and hopeless.

44. For the belief that all things happen for a reason, even the really hard and horrible things.

45. For inspirational quotes that give me the wisdom and motivation I need to keep on keeping on.

And now... it's time for another walk on the beach!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Birthday Beaches

Today is my birthday! It's one of 'those' birthdays... a milestone and a 'biggie,' at least as far as I'm concerned!! I'm at the ocean for a few days to relax and rejuvinate. :)

As I walked on the beach today, I had an interesting encounter.

I have always loved lady bugs. Ever since I was a child, I had a special spot in my heart for them.

Today, as I walked on the beach I spotted a tiny lady bug stuck on it's back in the sand. It was coated with wet sand and salt water. I'm not sure quite how I was able to see it, but once I did, my instincts to save the little creature went into effect!

I flipped the bug over onto it's feet. I put him on a large clam shell I was carrying. He was not doing well for awhile. Then he started 'doing laps' around the edge of the clam shell. As he walked, more sand fell off of him. He looked a little better!

As he continued to do laps, I protected him from gusts of wind that might have knocked him off the shell and back into the wet sand.

He moved more quickly as time went by.

He still had a lot of salt water and sand on him and I worried that it might make it impossible for him to fly.

I got to a fresh water stream, dipped my hands in, and dripped water on him to wash off the sand and salt. He seemed to move even better!

I took him to a bench and set him on it. He walked around and seemed to be looking (and feeling, if I dare say) better! I had to leave him there and return to my lodge. I hoped that he would be ok.

It was another reminder to me of how life can affect us at times. This poor creature was stuck, upside down, coated with sand and salt water. He couldn't right himself. He was doomed.

Sometimes we feel as though was are so stuck, upside down, coated in crud, that we will never get out!

I happened along and helped this lady bug. Often times, we are helped by people and circumstsances that we couldn't possibly expect! A kind word, a smile, or some act more substantial, sets our feet on a different path. A kind stranger, or a good friend, might wash the salt and sand from our eyes so that we can see clearly again. A loved one or professional helper might free us from the muck and mire that paralyzes us and keeps us from flying. Sometimes, we provide that service to others around us. It's part of the dance of life!

Whether you are the bug on it's back (waving it's feet in the air) or the one who happens upon a stuck soul... realize that the process of life is ever changing. If you're the bug... believe that something is there to help you! If you're the person who sees the struggling bug, do what you can to put the bug on it's feet again, then release it to its destiny!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Remodeling is Disruptive

I had a shock yesterday when I went, as I do most every day, to my favorite fast food restaurant. I got out of my car and walked to the door. As I got close, I realized that the entire restaurant had been gutted. It was being remodeled!! The drive through was open, so I drove through to get my precious iced tea. I know everyone who works there, so I asked one of my buddies how long the dining room was going to be out of commission.

The response was 1 month! The dining room would be closed for an entire month! Wow!

I eat at this place a couple times a week. This 'remodeling' project of theirs is going to be very disruptive to my life. And, given how busy the drive through was, I don't believe I'm the only one who will be knocked off balance by the change!

Remodeling is messy. There was dust and debris everywhere when I looked into the dining room. It bore no resemblance to the place I frequent. It looked like a disaster area!

That's what it looks like when a major change or transformation is taking place. It looks like destruction and mayhem have taken over.

Eventually there will be a beautiful new dining room there. It will be updated and wonderful, I'm sure! But it sure doesn't look pleasant now!

That's the way change often happens. The process itself can be frightening and unnerving. When we are in the middle of some sort of transition, the old is gone and the new hasn't fully emerged yet. It can cause anxiety to live without the old, while the new is being created.

I think God remodels our lives and our worlds when we are in need of radical change. A minor, cosmetic alteration just won't do. The old needs to be ripped out and discarded and something new gets 'installed.'

As I watch the process in my restaurant, I'm going to notice how awful it looks during the transition and watch it come back together as time passes. I'll use it as an example of just how frightening the remodeling can sometimes be when the bedrock of our life is remodeled. In the end... it can, and most likely, will be beautiful! Just give it time!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Appreciating the Current Condition

Spring is here. April has started, and yet the rain continues to pour from our Seattle sky. There was actually snow in the rain this morning. It's still cold and dark!

The following quote has particular meaning to me today:

"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring." ~ George Santayana

I love this quote! Being 'attached' to a particular 'state' is a recipe for pain and distress! I love the idea that we need to embrace the 'process' rather than a particular experience or state in order to find fulfillment and happiness.

I was once riding a Washington state ferry with a friend. We were standing outside in the wind. I was very cold and started to complain to my friend. My friend said, "You know, you need to learn to appreciate ALL sensations, including the sensation of being cold!"

This was a revelation to me! Who would think that we actually need to learn to 'appreciate' ALL experiences, even the tough and challenging ones!

It's 'easy' to appreciate being warm and toasty on a cold day. It's not so easy to learn to appreciate being cold! If we can do this, however, what a difference that would make in our experience of life!

Learning to appreciate the process, rather than being attached to a particular outcome or state, is a key to experiencing peace and contentment in life!

Let's be content and at peace! I wish that for us all!!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What Breaks the Internal Barriers?

When President Obama was elected, I had this wonderful sense that a major barrier had been broken in our world. Sometimes, all we need is ceiling to be broken by one person, and then the world changes dramatically. What was impossible... is now possible. Roger Bannister and the 4 minute mile is a great example! Once a barrier is broken, people see the once IMPOSSIBLE occurrence as now POSSIBLE.

I love this article that I'm sharing! The world is changing. These ads are both reflective of a change in the dominant paradigm... and they are the same time causative. They show us the world as it COULD and SHOULD be.

We are changing...every day! For that... I am eternally grateful!

Here is the link: More TV Ads Project Images of Racial Harmony

Full text below:

More TV Ads Project Images of Racial Harmony
By TODD LEWAN, Ap National Writer
Sun Mar 1, 3:13 pm ET

Ever see an inner-city schoolyard filled with white, Asian and black teens shooting hoops? Or middle-aged white and Latino men swigging beer and watching the Super Bowl on their black neighbor's couch? Or Asians and Latinos dancing the night away in a hip-hop club?

All it takes is a television.

Yes, that mesmerizing mass purveyor of aspiration, desire and self-awareness regularly airs commercials these days that show Americans of different races and ethnicities interacting in integrated schools, country clubs, workplaces and homes, bonded by their love of the products they consume.

Think about one of Pepsi's newest spots, "Refresh Anthem," which debuted during the Super Bowl. The ad, which features Bob Dylan and hip-hop producer, is a collage of images from the '60s and today that celebrate generations past and present.

Whites and blacks are shown returning from war, surfing, skateboarding, dancing and waving American flags at political rallies, while a boyish Dylan and a present-day take turns singing the Dylan classic, "Forever Young," each in his signature style.

Or, take the latest hit spot from E TRADE, which stars the E TRADE Baby, a 9-month-old white boy, and his newest buddy — a black infant who, from his own highchair, agrees with the wisdom of online investing even in a down economy.

Ads like these are part of a subtle, yet increasingly visible strategy that marketers refer to as "visual diversity" — commercials that enable advertisers to connect with wider audiences while conveying a message that corporate America is not just "in touch," racially speaking, but inclusive.

It wasn't always like this. For much of the past century, "minorities were either invisible in mainstream media, or handed negative roles that generally had them in a subservient position," says Jerome Williams, a professor of advertising and African-American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

"Today, you're starting to see a juxtaposition of blacks and whites together, doing the things people do ... Now, advertisers are not in a position of pushing social justice. But to the extent that they can put whites and blacks together in situations, I think that's a good thing."

These "multiculti" ads may be evidence of the vitality of assimilation, America's distinctive, master trend. To advertisers, though, they're simply smart business — a recognition of a new cultural mainstream that prizes diversity, a recognition that we are fast approaching a day when the predominant hue in America will no longer be white.

"Going forward, all advertising is going to be multicultural by definition, because in most states, majority ethnic populations will no longer exist," says Danny Allen, managing director at SENSIS, an ad agency in Los Angeles that specializes in reaching multicultural audiences through digital and online media.

Just as the Obama campaign sensed the nation's desire to reconcile its racial problems, he adds, "advertisers are also tapping into that same yearning, particularly among younger Americans, to put racial divisions behind us and move forward in a more unified way."

And yet, some critics wonder if depicting America as a racial nirvana today may have an unintended downside — that of airbrushing out of the public consciousness the economic and social chasms that still separate whites, blacks and Latinos.

Even on Madison Avenue, which is generating the inclusive messages, recent studies find few nonwhites in decision-making and creative positions within the advertising industry itself.

Are multiculti ads, then, an accurate barometer of our racial progress, a showcase of our hopes in that direction — or a reminder of how far we still have to go?


In the days when Aunt Jemima appeared on boxes of pancake mix as a servile "Mammy" character — a plump, smiling African-American woman in a checkered apron and a kerchief — advertisers aimed largely for the so-called "general market," code for white consumers, rather than smaller, satellite "ethnic" markets.

Whites still hold most of the economic clout in the United States — 85.5 percent of the nation's annual buying power of $10 trillion, according to a 2007 study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

In recent years, though, marketers have been revising old assumptions and campaigns in anticipation of profound shifts in the nation's demographics, and in reaction to changes already under way in what the Selig Center describes as "The Multicultural Economy."

They note that:

_African-American buying power has risen from $318 billion in 1990 to $845 billion in 2007 — a 166 percent gain. Whites' buying power rose 124 percent during that period.

_The combined buying power of African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans was $1.4 trillion in 2007, a gain of 201 percent since 1990. Meanwhile, the economic clout of Latinos rose by 307 percent, to $862 billion, over that span.

_The number of black-owned companies rose 45 percent from 1997 to 2002 — 4 1/2 times faster than the national average — and their receipts grew slightly faster than all others. Native American-owned businesses increased by 67 percent, Asian firms 24 percent, Latino companies 31 percent.

_The black population grew 27 percent from 1990 to 2007, compared to 15 percent for whites and 21 percent overall. And the percentage of multiracial citizens, though just 1.6 percent of America's 302 million people, is swelling at 10 times the rate of white population growth.

If current trends continue, demographers say, nonwhites will be in the majority in America by 2042 — a prospect not lost on advertisers, says Melanie Shreffler, editor of Marketing to the Emerging Majorities, an industry newsletter.

Marketers "aren't turning out multicultural ads for the good of society," says Shreffler. "They recognize there is money involved. If you skip out on a group that is going to be half the population by 2042 — good heavens, who are you marketing to?"

Which, perhaps, explains a couple of other current ads: A black-and-white commercial produced by Spike Lee for Gatorade Mission G features close-ups of white, black and multiracial athletes, staring straight into the camera to tell viewers about heart, hustle and soul; a spot promoting has two famously bankrupt celebrity pitchmen of different races, Ed McMahon and rap artist MC Hammer, explaining how easy it is to liquidate gold cufflinks, golf clubs and the like.

Karl Carter, chief executive of the Atlanta marketing agency GTM Inc. (Guerrilla Tactics Media), calls this the "Benetton Approach" since it echoes a 1980s campaign by United Colors of Benetton that pictured interracial close-ups, such as a white woman and a black woman hugging an Asian baby.

Such ads often depict, Carter says, "a bunch of different races playing along, side by side, Kumbaya."

The ads may play well now, but Carter wonders how long they will be effective — particularly as America "beiges" and race becomes less essential to how individuals self-identify. Over the long run, advertisers would do better, he says, to focus on a cultural approach with versatile images and campaigns easily adapted to highly individualized tastes. Put another way: How do hip-hoppers feel? What are the common desires of surfers, or skateboarders, or kayakers?

"With young people who've grown up biracially or surrounded by different cultures and races, it's more about what connects them."

Pepsi appears to have digested the message. Though its "Refresh Everything" ads include people of multiple races, "We're targeting anyone who embodies optimism and the spirit of youth," says Nicole Bradley, a Pepsi spokeswoman. "It's more about a mind-set than a demographic."

In these times, multiculturalism is cool — and likely to get cooler, says Sonya Grier, a marketing professor at American University who is studying how consumers of different races respond to multicultural ads and "ethnically neutral" models in ads.

The Obama presidency, in her view, will have enormous impact on the industries that set out to mold our desires at a subconscious level.

"Advertising has to reflect reality, to some degree," she says. "So, now that the president is African-American, I think companies that were once afraid to put members of multiple ethnic groups in their ads might see a chance here to go ahead and take a risk, or even see it as necessary."


Four men in suits and ties are eating in a Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar when they see a pretty white woman enter.

"We're going to send her a plate of bacon," says the black member of the group.

His white colleague suggests a cheese omelet. No, an English muffin would be more proper, advises an older, white friend. How about a hot cinnamon roll, asks a fourth man, who looks multiethnic.

"Cinnamon roll?" the black man asks, incredulously. "That's something you send your sister. I'm going to send her some bacon." He hands a plate of bacon to a waitress, who delivers it to the young woman — "Compliments of those guys."

"Ohhh," the woman exclaims, uncomfortably, and with an awkward smile and a sheepish shrug, holds up what she really wants for breakfast: "Yogurt?"

This 2008 spot is clever not only for its humor, but because it gingerly tests one of several racial boundaries most advertisers are still loath to cross: The presentation of interracial courting or romance.

"It's still one of the three taboos in the industry," says Williams, the University of Texas advertising professor.

Each semester, he hands a Valentine's Day ad to his students that depicts a black man presenting flowers to a white woman in a romantic setting. Most of his students don't see anything wrong with it.

However, he adds, "When I ask them to take it home to show their parents and grandparents, the reaction I get is still, 'We're not quite ready for that yet.'"

Other no-nos?

There aren't many ads depicting multiracial families or biracial couples interacting normally at home, whether having supper or watching a movie. And in ads that depict professional settings, people of color rarely appear in charge — as CEOs, say, giving presentations to their board of directors.

"Every now and then you see something that bucks the trend," says Williams. "But when you do content analyses of ads, you are astounded by how much stereotypes are still part of the advertising we all digest."

One reason that racial distortions persist may be the relatively low numbers of blacks in the $31 billion advertising industry, and a dearth of blacks in positions of power.

A report released in January by the Madison Avenue Project, a coalition of legal, civil rights and ad industry leaders, found dramatic levels of bias in the industry, with African-American professionals lagging in pay, hiring, promotions and assignments.

Some findings:

_Black college graduates earn 80 cents for every dollar made by their equally qualified, white counterparts, and salaries of $100,000 are disproportionately less likely for African-American managers and professionals.

_Sixteen percent of large advertising firms employ no black managers or professionals; in the overall labor market, 7 percent of companies are without blacks in those positions.

_Blacks are only 62 percent as likely as whites to work in the powerful "creative" and "client contact" functions.

Numbers are not the only reason black voices go unheard as ads are made. Says Grier, the marketing professor at American University: "I often have former classmates and MBA students who are in brand-marketing or advertising-related functions call me and say, "My company showed an ad, I thought it was stereotypical, but I was the only one in the room and did not know how to bring it up.'"

Despite their flaws, it would be hard to argue that the multicultural messages of today aren't vastly more dignified and realistic in their portrayal of minorities than those that appeared a few decades ago.

And yet, might today's ads also be implanting false assumptions that our race problems have been fixed, that all Americans are living comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyles in racially harmonious settings?

Charles Gallagher, chair and professor of the sociology department at La Salle University, worries about just this.

"If you were to come down from another planet and watch TV, you'd think that all of these human beings share a lot of intimacy, regardless of the way they look," Gallagher says. "But the reality is, people of different races don't share social space like that."

An ad showing Latinos and Asians eating potato chips at a softball game or whites and blacks sporting pricey watches while dining out can, he says, "hide the fact that poverty disproportionately affects certain groups."

Indeed, African-Americans' median income is just 61 percent that of whites, and blacks are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed, government figures show. Whites 65 or older receive 25 times as much income from retirement investments as elderly blacks, and poverty rates for black children are 2 1/2 times higher than for whites.

About 80 percent of whites live in neighborhoods in which 95 percent of their neighbors are also white, and census data shows 90 percent of the neighborhoods that were predominantly or exclusively black in 1990 remained that way a decade later.

"My students always say to me, 'Isn't it better to have these ads? It's kind of a fake-it-'til-you-make-it kind of thing,'" Gallagher says. "The problem with that, I tell them, is that distortions and false impressions never do anyone any good."

Shreffler, the ad industry newsletter editor, says marketers aren't sociologists and in the end green — not black or white or brown — is often the most important color.

"Advertising is aspirational," she adds. "It's who we want to be, a lifestyle we want — not always who we are."