Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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There is a thought. It is.

When is the last time you saw someone talk to the chair on their porch and say, “You shouldn’t be here”? Or, “What’s wrong with you?” Or, “You should be ashamed being here”?Chair

I’ve never seen it.  And if I had, I probably would have thought them a bit crazy.

Most people see and accept the fact that there is a chair on the porch wherever it is. They don’t argue with reality.

And if they like where it is, they leave it. If they they don’t, they do something about it. Like give it to someone else, put it at the curb, or bring it to Goodwill.

We can probably agree that that makes sense.

When it comes to our thoughts, though, we act like a crazy lady: “This thought shouldn’t be here!” “This thought should feel ashamed being here!

We argue with reality. We challenge what we are thinking, even though it is right there in front of us being a thought.

If we fight reality, we can’t spend our energy doing something that might actually be more productive.

I think our lives are easier when we start from the beginning. Accept what is here, whether a chair or a thought. It is. Just that: there is a thought. Then choose what to do about it. Maybe work around it. Maybe change it. Maybe accept it.

One of my favorite clients told me that when her thoughts are too distracting, she writes them on a piece of paper. I think this is brilliant. By writing it down, we manifest in the external world what we experience internally. In writing our thoughts on paper, we create distance between ourselves and our thoughts: here’s what I am thinking, there is the thought.

We can become an observer of our thoughts. Literally: “There is a thought.”

Now we can soften our identification with our thought. And in that softening, we can stop arguing with reality and get on with what we want to do about it.

What do you do when your thoughts come up?


Safe travels David. Thanks for editing!


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My Mother’s Day Ode to aunt Ria

“Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for all you do to help me as a mother, guide and support Maya and Kiran through life.”

I feel touched. Even a bit teary. I’m grateful for her appreciation of my role in her children’s life and of my dedication to help them grow into happy, healthy, self-connected adults.

Foto (1)I never gave birth to a child. I carry sadness and a sense of loss around that. I once thought I would have at least five kids. I imagined us sitting at the dinner table, laughing, talking, playing around. A bit chaotic and noisy, and super fun. An adult household version of Pippi Longstocking.

After I realized this would not happen (and even before that) I decided to direct all my motherly energy and love to the children in my life that I do have: my nieces and nephew, kids of friends, my Dutch foster child, my step daughter. If I can’t be a mom, I can be an aunt, a foster-mom, a nurturing adult in the lives of the children around me. I can reinforce their self-worth, remind them that they matter, and coach their autonomy.

Ria van Wijlen jeugdfoto img878This Mother’s Day I thought of my aunt, tante Ria. She had such love for children. She didn’t give birth to her own children either.

She is my inspiration for how I want to show up for the children around me: respectful, accepting, tolerant, lots of fun, supportive, interested, and engaged in the relationship.

There are many children who don’t get the love, support and acceptance they need. A social worker once told me how difficult it is to address these issues with the parents. The best you can do is to offer the children an alternative relationship. A relationship that conveys that you care about them, respect their experience, and value their needs.  Your actions and respect acknowledge them as autonomous human beings, who are entitled to their own dreams and goals.

I know from experience how valuable such an aunt can be.  I grew up struggling to find support for my sense of emotional safety, acceptance, understanding, support, and belonging.

So this is my ode to my tante Ria.

Thank you for supporting me on my path to self-worth and mattering. You did this over and over againfrom the day I was born to today, and even beyond the bounds of your death.


Safe travels David. Thanks for editing!


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Empathy in the supermarket

“Stop running around. Stay here.”

An irritated look. Something like frustration, exasperation, helplessness.

“Don’t touch that! No, we’re not getting candy.”

COSTCOThe mom in front of me in line gets more and more agitated. I see a frown on her face, her lips tighten.  I hear her voice rise and speed up. She clenches to her cart as if to prevent herself from strangling her 5-year old son. I can almost feel her suffering.

I imagine her kid is bored: He never signed up for shopping. If it was up to him he would just have fun and run around with his friends.

“Stop it!!!”

I turn to her, trying to keep a sense of acceptance and understanding of her frustration, her longing for efficiency and cooperation from her son. With a smile I say,  “He is really excited about everything in the store. I guess it is a challenge to keep him in line when he has this much energy?”

She looks at me with surprise. Then at her son. I am not sure if she ever thought of interpreting his behavior as anything other than annoying. “Yes, he is…” Her furrow disappears. Her mouth relaxes. Her grip softens.

I turn to the boy who got curious what we are talking about. “I bet you see many, many things you’d like to take home, with all that candy around?” He seems surprised, maybe grateful. As if he didn’t expect his behavior to elicit an adult’s curiosity, let alone understanding and acceptance. Perhaps it usually triggers frustration or admonishment. “Yeah!!! I love that chocolate, it’s really good!

His mom and I look at each other with a smile. Almost at the same time, we say, “We love that chocolate too!” We chuckle at our timing. He gets back in line. His mom is ready to check out. They seem more relaxed and open towards each other – I supported reconnection.

I leave the store happy and satisfied.

I could have gotten irritated over the mom’s impatience.

I easily get triggered when I don’t think children get the respect and understanding I think they deserve. I have a big “Children SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD NOT BULLIED!” in my head. This time I transformed my habitual trigger into a change of perspective of both the mom’s and the boy’s behavior. He tried to meet a universal, human need for play or autonomy. She wanted support. Because I was not entangled in their relationship, and I was able to self-connect and transform my own trigger, I could create a new perspective.

My simple offering allowed the mom to see her son in a different way.

A small gift of empathy. It served all of us.


So happy to connect with you David. Thanks for editing!