Coping with Grief and Loss

We’ve all experienced grief and loss and most certainly will again. They can be tricky times to navigate. Is there a way to cope well or are we destined to suffer? I suffered terribly when my mother died – for years. I suffered very little with my dad’s death. What was the difference? I’m beginning to see.

Today, my most adored friend lies in a hospital bed with her life in the balance. Two weeks ago, she was walking around in her typically vibrant manner. The next day, after surgery, she had a horrible stroke. Today, she may be nearing death. Needless to say, I am grieving.

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As I grieve, I notice something important, something helpful. I notice that grief itself is clear and clean. I notice that it is not a problem. When I let it be, it moves through me. Quite surprisingly, I don’t find it particularly difficult - deeply sad, yes, but not so horribly difficult as I had always thought grief to be. It’s not difficult, that is, until a stressful thought enters my mind that I feel compelled to follow. The pull is strong! The rabbit hole is deep with frightening twists and turns.

Here is how it goes: I feel the raw sadness. It is rich and pure. I shed tears, sobs even. There is no problem here. Then a thought pops up – Why did she choose that dangerous surgery? Why didn’t someone stop her? Why did I put off traveling to see her before now? She’s so young and vibrant! Why her? It’s not fair! If I attach to any one of those thoughts, I begin to spin an agonizing story. I become overwhelmed. I suffer greatly. Now, the grief is no longer something that is clear and healing. It becomes much more than grief. It becomes a terrible storm of pain.

I’m beginning to see that when grief is left alone and simply felt, it is not a problem. It’s not even particularly burdensome, but once we buy into the stressful thoughts that arise, we begin to suffer as we stitch one stressful thought together with another. It’s terrible. It’s frightening. It’s agonizing.

I can watch all this happen. There is that small space between the raw grief and the stressful thoughts. If I catch myself in the space between, then I can quietly observe the thoughts or I can identify with them and fling myself down that scary rabbit hole.

“Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” I see it clearly right now. I do not have to suffer. As I drop the stories about what might have been, should have been, could have been, and accept what is, I’m left with the clean, raw emotions that will move through me in time. In time.

I can weep. I can mourn. I can stay present. There is nothing to fix, only something to allow. This understanding is life changing. We can learn to recognize that space between grief and stressful thoughts. We can practice paying attention and staying present. When we are present, we can see clearly what is needed in that moment, if anything.

Please understand, I know what it’s like to be lost in the tall grasses of grief. I do not take your grief and loss lightly. I do not minimize the pain those of you have felt when you’ve lost a loved one. I’m only suggesting that there is a difference between pain and suffering. I’m suggesting that grief is natural and wants to move through us. I’m suggesting that as we leave the stressful thoughts alone, the grief is free to come and go. I also understand that there will be times when we find ourselves deep in the frightening rabbit hole. At those times, all we can do is ride it out and give ourselves grace and compassion. These terrible, agonizing times shall pass, too, eventually.

A client of mine lost his wife a couple of years ago. She was young. He kept saying it wasn’t meant to be this way. This was not the future he believed would be his. He was suffering terribly. At some point, I assured him that this was always going to be his future, he just didn’t know it. It was never going to be anyway but this way. I did not say this to him in the first many months because he needed to be heard, he needed to cry, he needed to be exactly where he was with the grief. Then came the day that he was ready to hear this and it changed him. He saw something for himself that created a shift in him. He realized that it was true, this was always how it was going to be. Something in him relaxed. He cried but it was a peaceful, open, and healing cry. He dropped his story about how things should have been for him and his wife. He came to acceptance in that moment. Yes, he continued to go in and out of his stories about how things should have been, but he also begin to move forward with his life. He began finding joy again. He began to feel his resilience. He began to live the life that was before him now. It is beautiful to watch someone find their way through such loss.

I see now that the difference in my experience between my mother’s death and my father’s death were the thoughts that I stitched together and returned to repeatedly. I had a terrible story about mama’s death and I suffered it. I had acceptance about my father’s death and I didn’t suffer. Of course I wept and grieved, but I did not suffer. I believe that it is quite possible to grieve without suffering as we drop the sticky stories that would consume us.

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Today, I will grieve my dear friend with as much presence as I can, allowing the stressful stories to move through as they will. It’s an important day for her. If you are so inclined, would you mind taking a moment to think of her? Send her some healing energy? Some love? Pray for her? I would be deeply grateful.


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on grief, I’m opening up one session on my calendar this next week for the first person who responds, at no charge. Contact Me

How to Deal with Stressful Thoughts

I awake from a gentle, peaceful sleep. Within a split second, swoosh!, a jumble of thoughts fills my mind. Another split second, and the peaceful sleep is gone. I start stitching thoughts together, weaving a rather dramatic story about my impending day.  

I begin a stressful dialogue with myself. “Our guests are going to be disappointed that it’s raining on their vacation. I feel responsible somehow. I’ve got to make sure they have a good time. I don’t want them to be disappointed. I resent them for making me feel responsible! No, I’m making me feel responsible for something that I can’t control. What’s wrong with me that I do that?  It’s crazy! I really should be working, not goofing off with family.” I continue the stressful dialogue, going down the rabbit hole of discontent all because of a little rain.

I fall for the dramatic story. Now I’m living the story. I regard the story I’ve created as reality. I give the story my full attention and energy. It takes on a life of its own. I am at its mercy and I feel the heaviness.

I remain ensconced until I become conscious of what I’m doing. In that moment, I’m able to see the stressful story for what it is. Made up. Once I wake up to what I’m doing, I no longer completely identify with it. There is a little space between the story and me. Now, I can breathe a tad easier. I can take the story less seriously and less personally. As I release my grasp on the story, it begins to release its hold on me.

Like clouds dissipating after a storm, the story begins to evaporate. The occasional stressful thought kicks up, trying to gain momentum, but dies down quickly as I simply observe it and leave it alone. I’m free now to go about my day, letting it unfold moment to moment.

Viktor Frankl, who was a holocaust survivor and had every reason to despair, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” There is a space. In that space, we can choose to follow the stressful thoughts down the rabbit hole or we can disengage from those thoughts and face our day with clarity, whatever it may hold.

This can feel impossible in the beginning as we feel that there is something to fight or solve, but there’s not. Rather, there is something to notice. You could begin to notice how you focus on a particular stressful thought, how you stitch stressful thoughts together forming a stressful dialogue, and how that becomes an unconscious habit. Noticing it makes the habit conscious. Once conscious, you can see the space. Now you have a choice to follow the stressful thoughts or let them dissipate in their own time.

Even still, there are times I become aware of that space, that moment of choice, and I go down the rabbit hole anyway. At those times, all I can do is ride it out and give myself some grace and compassion. I’m learning. I’m imperfect. It’s OK. I’m waking up. You’re waking up, too. You could have a bit more compassion for yourself.


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on stressful thoughts, I’m opening up one session on my calendar this next week for the first person who responds, at no charge. Contact Me


For When You Are Falling Apart

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”  Pema Chodron

I’ve been sitting with this quote for a while, returning to it repeatedly throughout the week. It has such resonance. It reflects the story of my life perfectly. Coming together. Falling apart. Coming together. Falling apart. Yours, too?

I read Pema’s words differently today than I did when I first heard them many years ago. I’m learning not to take the “falling apart” so seriously and personally. I’m learning that the “falling apart” is not bad news. I’m learning that I don’t have to create some grand meaning about it, analyze it for weeks (or years!), or spin a stressful story about it. I can just let the emotions of it move through me in their own time, like storm clouds moving across the sky.

Pema says that the healing comes from letting there be room for it all. I don’t have to be so afraid of the grief or even the misery. Relief and joy will come once again. Eventually. Always.

I didn’t believe this when I went through a 6-year period of deep darkness and depression. I believed it was permanent. I couldn’t see my way through it. I spun terrible stories of doom. I tried to end it. It did end, but not in the desperate way I planned. It cleared. It cleared. I survived the storm.

When we take our falling apart times terribly seriously, we are seeding the emotional clouds. We do this innocently. The clouds become denser and more intense. There is no room left for the healing. When we leave the thoughts about what’s happening alone, the emotional storms dissipate naturally. There is room. There is nothing we have to do. Just as atmospheric storms naturally come and go, so do emotional storms. That’s just how the human psychological system works. We could leave them alone. We could let them dissipate.

I see Pema’s words as such good news now. We don’t have to fear the falling apart. We don’t have to cling to the coming together. We can make room for all of it.

I dedicate this post to my clients whom I love and for whom I have so much respect. They are doing the brave and daring work of transformation.


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on grief, I’m opening up one session on my calendar this next week for the first person who responds, at no charge to you. Contact Me


What is the Story of You?

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?
— Charles Bukowski

I’ve been thinking about passion, inspiration, talent, and success lately. Since early adulthood, I’ve been told how much potential I have. Growing up, my family had few expectations of me, other than, “Don’t be ugly, Boo” (meaning, you need to act like a nice girl). I got the message that my best avenue for success would be to get married and let a man take care of me. I was told I was a follower, not a leader. I believed it.

I had headaches from the time I was six so my parents didn’t want to pressure me, thinking that expectations would make them worse. Apparently, I had quite a talent for the piano but my parents let me quit after only a couple of years, fearing that it would consume me because I was so gifted (Consume me? What does that even mean??). At the same time, they believed I was slow because I didn’t speak early enough and because I didn’t excel in school. Again, they didn’t want to pressure me.

Did my parents believe all that? Did they really give me all those messages? I doubt it, but, I created a story from their words and actions, nonetheless, and I lived as if it were true. I was gifted musically and athletically but slow intellectually, or so the story goes. They couldn’t encourage my talent too much because it might consume me or might make my headaches worse. They couldn’t expect much intellectually because I was slow and what’s the point? So, I floated along, buying into and keeping alive those stories. I fed them. I went to therapy. I nursed them. I used them as an excuse (innocently) for not mastering much of anything. I got by.

Over the years, I had some success here and there but I kept alive the story that I was slow and that I should avoid things requiring more than a little effort. After all, I wouldn’t want to make myself sick, or consume myself, or make a fool of myself.

I bought the story. I fed the story. I lived the story.

Here’s the thing, it never was anything but a story. A story I took seriously. A story I analyzed for years. A story I judged and agonized over. You see, I didn’t know it was a story. I thought I was those things. I innocently identified with the story and I lived accordingly. I suffered this made up story for decades.

Knowing that it is a story helps my grip loosen. It means that I no longer have to take it so seriously and personally. I no longer have to believe it. I no longer have to act on it. When it rears its ugly head, and it does, I can ignore it and carry on with my day. I can wake up to it and show the story out the door. I may even be able to master a few things.

I want you to know that whatever story you have about you is just a story. Family, friends, religion, and culture do not define you, though you’ve received many messages and stories from them. Some of those messages have been positive and some have been negative. None define you. You are not your story. When we wake up to the truth of that, we are free to get on with it from a place of clarity. We are free to create our lives.


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on who you are really and why it matters, I’m opening up a couple of times on my calendar this week for the first two people who respond, at no charge to you. Contact Me

How To Live In The Present Moment and Why It Matters

When the ocean surges, don’t let me just hear it. Let it splash inside my chest! Rumi

I think of all the times that I have missed experiencing life fully; all the times that life flirts with me, invites me, asks me to dance, and I fail to notice.  It’s hard to notice life’s invitations when we are distracted, overly busy, contracted, worried, or otherwise not present. When we aren’t in the present moment, it’s difficult to see the beauty and goodness that is here now. Even in the darkest moment, there is the possibility of transformation.

Sometimes, all it takes is an intentional breath to bring us back to this present moment. On Facebook the other day, I found a recommendation that I’ll share with you here. I wish I could credit the author but no name was given. The recommended prescription is said to help prevent anxiety attacks but its benefits go well beyond anxiety and can be helpful in experiencing life more fully and joyfully in the moment.

Here’s the prescription:

  • Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  • Slowly look around you and find:

    • 5 things you can see

    • 4 things you can touch

    • 3 things you can hear

    • 2 things you can smell (that you like)

    • 1 emotion you feel.

“This is called Grounding – it can help when you feel like you’ve gone too far in your head and lost all control of your surroundings.” It’s also a great way to bring yourself back into the present moment when you’re feeling stressed.

The prescription above can be useful in bringing you firmly into the present moment, allowing the storm clouds of past remembering and future imaginings to disperse and clear. You see, we have everything we need in this moment, but not for a future moment. When we fall back into thoughts about our past or reach into the future with our imaginings, we can become anxious and disoriented. We can’t find the answers we need in the past or in the future because the answer only exists in this moment.

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” Eckhart Tolle

Take your time with Tolle’s words. Read them again. There is a great deal of wisdom there. Test it out for yourself and see if you can find the truth in his words. When I feel sad, overwhelmed, or stressed, I can almost always see - when I look - that I am stuck in the past or worried about the future. When I bring myself to the present moment, the murky waters clear and I more easily access my innate wisdom, resourcefulness, and resilience. From that place, I can find my way forward, and so can you.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on how to live in the present moment and how that could benefit you, I’m opening up a couple of times on my calendar this week for the first two people who respond, at no charge to you. We will meet for 60-90 minutes via video chat. Contact Me


Do You Have Too Much On Your Mind?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how much people have on their minds and how stressed people, in general, seem to be. I certainly understand. I notice that the more I have on my mind, the more stressed I feel. When I have a lot on my mind, I don’t sleep well, I worry more, and I feel a general sense of dis-ease and fogginess.

I also notice that the less I have on my mind, the more relaxed I am and the more life seems to flow naturally. When I have less on my mind, I tend to feel more content and little things don’t bother me. I even notice that big things don’t bother me as much. Have you noticed this, too?

It occurs to me that I have some measure of control over how much is on my mind. I don’t mean to say that I can keep thoughts from coming into my mind. Not a chance. I do mean to say that I have some control over whether or not I hold that thought in my mind in a fixed way. “We have a thought and the next moment the thought moves on—unless we hold it in our minds. When we hold thoughts in our mind in a fixed position, we turn thought into form, and into experience (Elsie Spittle).”

When we hold thoughts in our mind in a fixed way, we are going to experience them. That’s just the way the human system works. “The mind works like a virtual reality generator – whatever we think about seems real to us for as long as we're thinking it; the more we think about it, the more real it seems (Michael Neill).”

I had a client say to me today that she realized that she had bought into the thought that she was stuck and so she started to feel stuck. Once she understood that she was feeling her thinking, she was able to recognize that she wasn’t stuck at all! She just felt stuck. Great insight!

That’s how it works. We have thoughts that we buy into and the ones we string together become beliefs that we live by. For example, “I am not as smart as those around me, therefore, I’m inferior and I can’t be successful. There is no point in even trying. I’ll just get by and that’ll be good enough.” That’s a belief I had for decades. The virtual generator of my mind made that belief feel absolutely real and I lived it as if it were real. But it’s not real! It’s made up. Once we understand that we are experiencing our thinking, not what’s happening out there, then our fixed thinking begins to dissolve and we see clearly again.

The other night I was out to dinner with some friends. We each had some thinking about our server. I thought she was sweet and pleasant though a tad distracted. One friend thought she was doing a poor job but wasn’t too bothered by it. Another thought she was horrible, didn’t want to tip, and was quite agitated by the whole scene. The last one didn’t seem to give her any thought at all. Not one of us actually experienced the woman. We experienced our thinking about the woman. The ones in our group who had the most thinking about her being a bad server had very unpleasant dining experiences. The rest of us didn’t.

Chantel Burns says, “Our feelings are like a temporary weather system moving through us. We don’t have to take our thoughts or feelings seriously just as we don’t have to take a cloudy day seriously.” This understanding has been a game changer for me. I believed that I had to take every thought and feeling seriously. Talk about drama! Now I realize that thought is simply moving through me and I can choose to fix on it or not. When I don’t take it so seriously and personally, it’s free to move along in its own time. I’m much calmer, more content, and I have more clarity as a result.

Thought is a gift. It’s how we create our lives. The thoughts we fix upon become our experience. If we fix on the negative, we’ll experience negative. If we fix on the positive, we’ll experience positive. Yes, this is true even in extremely difficult and challenging situations. There are countless people who know this: Viktor Frankl who survived the holocaust, Helen Keller who was blind and deaf, Stephen Hawking who lost all muscle control and the ability to speak, and many more. We think of these people as extraordinary, but they are no more extraordinary than you and I. They simply did not fix on the thoughts that said they were doomed. Instead, they returned to the clear blue sky of their essential selves and allowed the discouraging weather system to move along.

You and I can do the same. Once we understand how our mind works, we are free to allow stressful thoughts to move on through us. We no longer have to judge, analyze, control, or manage them. They are not us. They are the temporary weather system. We are the clear blue sky of clarity and wellbeing.


If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on how to have less on your mind so that you experience more clarity, peace, and wellbeing, I’m opening up a couple of times on my calendar this week for the first two people who respond, at no charge to you. Contact Me


Who Am I Really?

Have you heard the story of the golden Buddha? It’s the true story of a Buddha statue made of pure gold. The gold statue was covered over with plaster to prevent it from being stolen during an invasion. The war went on so long that the Buddha was forgotten. Two hundred years later, the statue crashed to the ground and the plaster broke off revealing its true identity. Gold, pure gold. In 2013, it was estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.

You and I are like the golden Buddha. Our true identity is pure gold. As we grow up, we are plastered with layers of ideas, beliefs, constructs, expectations, projections, and more. We are told what we should and should not do, who we should and should not be, and how we must and must not live. We lose the true sense of ourselves when we are still very young. We begin to see the world and ourselves through the stories we’ve constructed or been taught. “Love is what we’re born with. Fear is what we learn (Marianne Williamson).”

I had a story about myself that I was slow. I believed that story for decades. I believed that everyone around me was smarter. I was embarrassed and ashamed. All too often, I wouldn’t speak up out of fear of being “discovered”. I thought my degrees and certifications would make me feel smarter but they didn’t. I felt like a fraud.

I had a story that I was broken. As a result, I struggled with shame for most of my life. I simply couldn’t measure up to what was expected of me and to what I expected of myself. I tried to live the story of what I believed this culture, my family, my church, and my friends expected me to be but I couldn’t do it. I was miserable. Depression and anxiety were my companions.

Plaster piled upon plaster covered my true essence. When I crashed to the ground in my break-down break-through almost 20 years ago, I saw gold in the cracks. I couldn’t believe it! Why had no one told me? And yet, there were a few folks here and there who did tell me, who did see. I simply couldn’t hear them through the thick plaster stories.

I believe we have two misunderstandings that trip us up in life. One, we don’t know who we truly are. We attempt to live our lives from the outside in, that is to say, we are constantly looking outside of ourselves for happiness, peace, and wellbeing when all of it resides within us. We don’t understand that we are born with love, that our essence is gold, that we are divinity, star stuff.  

Secondly, we don’t understand that we are living in the feeling of our thinking. That is to say, we experience our story about what’s happening out there rather than what’s actually out there. Think about it a moment. Why is it that you can line up 100 people and give them the exact same scenario and each person will have a different experience of it? I have a different experience of the same situation from day to day! One day the driver who cuts me off is a jerk. The next day, I feel sad for them or I barely notice it at all. What changed? My story about it. When your story (thinking) changes, your feelings and experience change.

You could think of stressful or exponential thinking (the story you spin) as the plaster that covers your true essence. You are not your thinking. You are the golden Buddha. You are priceless. You are not broken. Thoughts come and go. They change constantly, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly but they always change.

What would it mean to you to understand who you truly are? What would it mean to you to understand that you are not broken? What would it mean to you to understand that what you seek—clarity, happiness, peace, and wellbeing—already resides within you?

I know how far fetched that can seem in times of sheer darkness. How impossible it feels. I do understand. I’ve been in that hopeless place. To the very brink. Even sheer darkness and hopelessness shift and change. It is not who you are. It is not who you are.

Behind the plaster of stressful thinking and spinning stories, lies your true essence. You are the golden Buddha. Look in that direction until you come home to yourself. There you will find what you seek.


If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on who you are really and why it matters, I’m opening up a couple of times on my calendar this week for the first two people who respond, at no charge to you. Contact Me

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When You Feel Hopeless

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well (Julian of Norwich).”

We were out on our boat this weekend surrounded by rain storms. It was dark and furious. We didn’t know whether we should make a run for the marina or wait it out. We decided to wait it out and wade to shore on the little uninhabited island if the lightning got bad. The storm was headed right for us, but it never made it to us. It came from the east and split to the north and south of us heading west. We had no more than a few drops of rain and got front row seats to a beautiful storm.

You see, we simply can’t predict how things are going to be. We imagine our future, but it is always only imagined. We cannot possibly know how something will unfold, even when the storm looks like it is headed straight for us. We were certain that we were going to get the full fury of the storm but what seemed certain to us never came to pass.

Watching the storm, I thought of all the folks who are worried about their future, who see dark clouds bearing down upon them, who are living in the feeling of an imagined future. Living the fear again and again. Despairing. Hopeless. My heart breaks. I understand.

It has been a devastating, and, for many, frightening time here in the USA these past couple of weeks, regardless of which side of the political divide one finds oneself. Fear, ridicule, desperation, confusion, hopelessness, and divisiveness have sunk into our very soul, it seems. Many are afraid of what the future may bring. It’s tempting to believe that the brewing storm will consume us.

I’m reminded of the Chinese parable about a farmer and his son. This is how I remember the story: The farmer owned a beautiful stallion who helped earn money for the family. One day, the stallion ran away. The villagers said, “What terrible luck to lose your prized horse!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” After a time, the stallion returned with a herd of mares. The villagers said, “What wonderful luck to have all those mares!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” The farmer’s son began to train the mares. He was thrown from one of them and broke his leg. The villagers cried, “What terrible luck!” The farmer said, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” A few days later, soldiers came through town recruiting all the able-bodied boys for war. The farmer’s boy was not recruited because of his broken leg. The villagers exclaimed, “What great luck! Your boy is spared!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not, we’ll see.”

Maybe so. Maybe not. We’ll see.

I began this blog with words from Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” She wrote these words after losing almost everyone she loved to plague and almost dying herself. She was quite young, yet she discovered the truth of her words. She knew that many storms never reach us, and even when they do, we are resilient and resourceful.

We are resilient and resourceful. “We are created for the reality of this moment (Jamie Smart).”

To those of you who are frightened, discouraged, hopeless, hurt, and angry, I see you. I love you. I leave you with these words from John Lennon, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”


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If this blog post resonates with you or if you’d like to explore a new perspective on overcoming hopelessness, I’m opening up a couple of times on my calendar this week for the first two people who respond, at no cost to you. Contact Me