A Fresh Start

january- a clean slate

Out with the old and in with the new – I love my January rituals of purging and cleansing and clearing out what doesn’t serve me any more.

Out goes the eggnog, the peppermint bark the chocolate santas; packed away are the fragrant green boughs and jingle bells and mistletoe…

Ok I admit it, I’m a bit somber as I stow away the wine bottles and crème de liqueur.

But I don’t stop at the kitchen. I clean out all my sock drawers and make a big pile of clothes for Goodwill; I even pack up a few great reads to send to my mom.

And when I’m finished there is a sense of calm and dare I say it – smugness!

But that doesn’t last long. As soon as my outside is cleaned up and put away, I turn my gaze inward and realize there’s some junk in there too….

Here’s some old resentment, a couple of grievances, maybe a few lingering blames or “it’s not fair” left over from the  past year as well – and I begin to take stock and realize if I want a truly fresh start, I’ve got some work still left to do.


Resentment is like the rust that blocks the pipes from delivering clean fresh water. It’s the sludge in the bottom of the coffee cup that makes it taste so bitter, the block that keeps us from moving forward with joy and gratitude, and authentic connection. It keeps us fearful and mistrusting and disconnected….

And underneath resentment lies hurt and sadness, but we don’t always get down to those because we let resentment and judgment and blame sit on top, keeping us from really getting down to the difficult stuff that lies deep within us

So how to begin? It’s certainly easier with the socks, and treats and holiday decorations….

According to Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong – it starts with rumbling with our feelings.

You must explore what lies underneath the resentment. Is it fear of trusting again? Is it sadness or grief that someone we loved disappointed us? Is it hurt that we weren’t understood or seen for who we really are? The answers to these questions allow us to move forward – once we can diagnose the pain, we can begin to heal the hurt.

The next step is to take a look at  the stories we are telling ourselves about the situation; what are we making up about the people involved?

Maybe we’re saying that they really don’t care about us, that they are broken and spiteful and that they meant to do us harm?

When we do a reality check about those stories, we can see how much is made up and how much is based on truth. Often when people hurt us they didn’t intend to do it. Perhaps they were busy with their own agenda and “missed” ours, or they were too caught up trying to make things OK for themselves and missed the chance to see things from our perspective. Mind you, I’m not saying that these realizations or observations take away the IMPACT of the hurt, but it provides us with a context to begin the process of forgiving and letting go.


I know that’s a big ask, and not an easy thing to accomplish, but I have found it to be transformational in my own “letting go” process.

Finally, we need to  take a look at what our part in the struggle was. That doesn’t mean taking the blame or beating ourselves up, it just means shifting ourselves out of the victim mode and into the driver’s seat to see what we can learn to move forward. It’s about learning the lesson in every struggle, and figuring out what boundaries need to be in place and what we can do differently next time.

Examining what happened in each situation enables us to choose a new response next time. It allows us to let go of the past with new resolve and a new vision for the future. And once it’s done – we are left with a clean slate to begin the new year!

Here’s to Fresh Starts and Clean Beginnings!

Welcoming the New Year With Intention

being with what is

I began 2016 as I began 2015 – with a yoga practice.

Last New Years was my inaugural foray into this ancient art. My theme for last year was self-care so I joined a group of healthy-looking souls and did my best to keep up with the stretches and reaches, the contortions and down dogs. What impressed me the most was the BREATHING – talk about opening your heart and mind – WOW! What a gulp of oxygen will do for a body! But the best part was the soothing voice that led us. An enlightened soul entreating us to “let go” to “be you on your mat” “to do whatever is available to you”.

This was a whole new way of thinking and being for me. Who knew my soul needed to hear this soft compassionate voice encouraging me to “just be me”? My heart felt soothed – I could feel my muscles letting go – my mind leaving the “worried thinking” and constant buzz of have to’s. But also opening to the encouraging word of potential; our teacher told us we all have the potential to stand on our heads, to do a back bend, the splits- but we don’t have to. We can do what is right for us at this time and place…

I loved the permission to JUST BE WITH WHAT IS.

Now, I’m in the business of compassion. I offer it up on a regular basis in my practice as a marriage and family therapist, so this concept was not new to me. What I didn’t realize was how much I needed a heaping helping of it for myself. I had no idea how profound the impact of hearing this soft and accepting voice would have on my sense of calm and well-being. It was like receiving water in a parched desert. You know that feeling when you didn’t realize how thirsty you were until you started drinking that cool glass of water, or how tired you were until you crawled into your cozy bed at night, or how hungry you were until you smelled the chicken soup simmering on the stove. My soul began to crave the yoga mat, the soft light, the stretch and strength, the sweat and breath, the soothing voice of acceptance.

Since that day I have tried many programs and classes – evening hot yoga where the sweat of 30 bodies created a virtual steam bath, restorative yoga where we lay on a cloth log and let our back stretch into positions unlike any I have experienced before, sunrise yoga, late night candle-lit yoga and even cardio-yoga. Each teacher has imparted a few gifts of knowledge, wisdom, technique and affirmation.

And I have become a yoga groupie.

I now belong to 3 different yoga studios. I have my favorite classes and teacher and even bring my mat with me on vacation. The lessons I have learned this year have been many and varied-but they all boil down to this:

We need a place to go to restore and rejuvenate. We need a shelter from the storms of life and a way to center and get grounded. Yoga has been that place for me this year, and I will be forever grateful to my dear friend for introducing me to this practice.

Last week I had the unique privilege of welcoming in the New Year with an awesome yoga class at the base of Seattle’s Iconic Space Needle, in the glass Atrium under the flowing flower creations of Seattle’s own Dale Chihuly.

As we began our practice the sun rose over the horizon bathing us in a pristine and warm light as we held our mountain poses and performed our sun salutations. It was magic.

As we lay in savasana, we set our intentions for our New Year. I was filled with gratitude for this amazing city I live in, for the wonderful community of people I encounter on a daily basis, for my health and physical well-being and for the meaningful work I am privileged to do – as well as this new found practice of not only yoga but of  self-compassion and acceptance.

I’m also inspired by my guru Brené Brown and her new book Rising Strong, and have begun a new series of workshops based on her ground-breaking work on resilience. In it we learn that the secret to living a whole-hearted life is to connect to our values, honor our vulnerability and dare greatly in our personal and professional lives.

As we closed our New Year’s Day yoga practice, our instructor shared this awesome vision with us as that I want to share with you…

Feel all of your experiences of 2015 as the ground beneath you – every good and hard experience was what brought you to this place today; be grateful for them all, for they are the teachers and the lessons that have grown you.

Think of all you have to do and be in 2016 as the air above you – all your dreams for the future, your intentions for your life, your goals and hopes and potential awaits you.

The important point in-between is the capacity and potential of your physical, emotional and spiritual selves – the unique and precious gifts that you have been given. You are the creator of what lies ahead – be mindful of this gift. Be mindful of your potential, your calling and your opportunities…

Set an intention for your life in the New Year and be purposeful as you move forward into the life you have imagined. It awaits…

If you are ready begin the New Year with one of my new Living Brave Programs, set your intention to Dare Greatly – Be You and Be Brave. I’d love to journey with you!

Owning our Stories and Loving Ourselves

what's your story- (2)

Owning our stories and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing we will ever do. More importantly, it frees us to write a new ending….

We are hard-wired for story; it’s built into our survival DNA. It’s the way we make meaning of the world around us.

The stories we tell ourselves have the power to motivate us, transform us and move us to action OR they can limit us, undermine us and close us off to potentials and possibilities.

The stories we tell ourselves are the result of the thousands of interactions and experiences we have had and become the lens through which we interpret the world around us.

The problem is – our “lens” can cloud our interpretation of new events and experiences as they arise. In other words-because our primitive brain is a survival mechanism – its primary objective is to keep us safe, which can skew our interpretation of events and people around us. Our primitive brain sees the outside world as dangerous and people and differences as the enemy, which limits us to new viewpoints and possibilities. Our brain is wired to look for problems and gives “extra-credit” for negative stimuli, and that can lead to misinterpretation.

For example, if we see everyone at work as a potential threat to our safety, we might miss the opportunity to learn something new from them – to consider an alternative reality, a new angle, or another way to view things.

I see this all the time in my work with couples. Each partner becomes so locked into their own story of betrayal or disappointment that they miss the chance to see with compassionate eyes the struggle their partner is going through. They might be convinced that their partner’s over-working is the result of not caring about them when in reality it is driven by the fear that they won’t be able to provide the lifestyle they imagine is expected of them. Or they assume their partner’s lack of interest in sexual intimacy is a result of their interest in someone else- when in reality it is a result of feeling overwhelmed by life’s demands and pressures and more importantly, feeling unappreciated.

Often, in working with individuals, it becomes clear that the stories they tell themselves have limited their ability to achieve their goals. Their “view of self” is inaccurate and over-focused on their inadequacies. Or their fear of failure limits their ability to risk applying for that new job or starting the business they have always wanted to open.

According to Jim Lehr, Director of the Human Performance Institute, “Telling ourselves stories provides structure and direction as we navigate life’s challenges and opportunities, and helps us interpret our goals and skills. Stories make sense of chaos; they organize our many divergent experiences into a coherent thread; they shape our entire reality. And yet,far too many of our stories are dysfunctional, in need of serious editing.”

What stories do you tell yourself that hold you back from living the life you dreamed of?

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes:

“Owning our stories and loving ourselves in the midst of them is the bravest thing you will ever do”

…and further it allows us to write a new ending. When we are willing to take a risk, or look at the part we played in our failures or disappointments to setbacks, we are provided the opportunity to write a new chapter. When we fall victim to letting others define us or our past mistakes determine the course of our future – we miss the chance to create a more powerful reality.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the gap between your “VISION STORY FOR 2016 and where are you now?
  2. What are the chapters you need to work on to create a new future ending for living the life you desire???
  3. What stories do you need to quit telling yourself to accomplish your goals and dreams??

IF you’d like to write a new story for yourself in the New Year join me for my new Living Brave Programs in 2016!

Here’s to new beginnings and bold endings!!



A return to hope

solstice benge blog title

As the Winter Solstice has arrived, it is a time to consider yin and yang, darkness and light – and the exquisite balance that exists between all things. After weeks of shortening days, we have been affected in a number of ways by the scarcity of light and the growing darkness. Though we may have experienced sadness or slowness as a result of this winter season, we must also remember that the darkness is necessary in order to experience light.

Many of us gather with our friends, family and loved ones, and no matter what tradition we observe for this holiday season, we begin to create our own light – the light of the love we feel for those we care the most about. It’s also a time for remembering those we love that are not with us- those who are separated from us by miles or death or simply the loss of relationship.


There can be no growth without the journey – it is in the darkness of winter that the seeds, resting deep within the earth, are summoning their strength to emerge in the spring. The Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the beauty of the dark, as well as a renewed hope for the future.

“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land. . . . All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose.”

–John Matthews

Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr give voice to the feelings of Solstice in The Circle of Life:

“There is a tendency to want to hurry from autumn to spring, to avoid the long dark days that winter brings. Many people do not like constant days bereft of light and months filled with colder temperatures. They struggle with the bleakness of land and the emptiness of trees. Their eyes and hearts seek color. Their spirits tire of tasting the endless gray skies. There is great rejoicing in the thought that light and warmth will soon be filling more and more of each new day.


“But winter darkness has a positive side to it. As we gather to celebrate the first turn from winter to spring, we are invited to recognize and honor the beauty in the often unwanted season of winter. Let us invite our hearts to be glad for the courage winter proclaims. Let us be grateful for the wisdom winter brings in teaching us about the need for withdrawal as an essential part of renewal. Let us also encourage our spirits as Earth prepares to come forth from this time of withdrawal into a season filled with light.


“The winter solstice celebrates the return of hope to our land as our planet experiences the first slow turn toward greater daylight. Soon we will welcome the return of the sun and the coming of springtime. As we do so, let us remember and embrace the positive, enriching aspects of winter’s darkness. Pause now to sit in silence in the darkness of this space. Let this space be a safe enclosure of creative gestation for you.”

Here are some practices and activities that may facilitate celebration of this time of darkness and light:

Letting go, deeply

Sometimes we struggle with hanging on to anger, fear, sadness – darkness – from day to day, so it can be helpful to establish a ritual of release to take place at the closing of each day. This gives us the opportunity to have a fresh start with each morning light, uncluttered by the events and emotions of the past (though we give our deepest gratitude to everything in our lives, good and bad). Here’s how:

Choose two containers – these may be small or large, glass or plastic or wood. Gather a pile of small objects – pebbles, grains of rice, marbles – again, whatever resonates with you. Place them in one of the containers.

Each night, you will take one of the objects from your full jar.

The object represents your day. Imbue it with your day that you just lived. What happened today? How do you feel? Think about the hours and minutes you’ve been given, and the intention you’ve set for them.

Then, say aloud, with the object on your palm:

This is my day.
It was perfect in its imperfection.
I thank this day for being.
And I let go of it, fully, and release it to rest for what tomorrow will bring


Forest Bath

Trees are healers. A walk in the winter forest is a wonderful way to quiet your soul and connect to your deepest truth. A walk in the forest is recognized by the Japanese government as a means of improving quality of life. It is called “shinrin-yoku”, which means forest bathing.

How to take a forest bath: Find a forest. Walk. Breathe. Listen to the silence and cleanse your thoughts from worry and despair. Then listen for that still quiet voice that is your inner wisdom- let that guide you.


–adapted from Lucia Journal, issue #1 (Inspiration)

Morning Pages

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

–from Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

What are the practices you use to bring clarity and calm to your winter storms and to prepare for what the future will bring?


If only I could…

courage (4)

We all have one … that dream, that idea that we can’t seem to quite find a way to imagine into being, that trip that we want to take but never seem to find the money to do so. There is that city we’d like to move to- or business we want to start but can’t figure out how to make it a reality. What about those conversations we need to have but don’t quite get around to, or more importantly- the relationship we need to end OR take the risk of starting…

What gets in your way of taking those risks? Of realizing your goals or dreams? Of living a whole-hearted life based on your deepest values and beliefs.

What if you could learn the how to’s of quieting the critical voice that keeps you small? What if you could learn to dare greatly and rise strong in the face of the inevitable setbacks and roadblocks that get in the way of living the life you imagined? I can help you get closer to that dream.

I’ve spent the last two decades helping people step into their fears and create lives of authentic connections, based on their core values, and stepping with courage into meaningful and purpose-driven lives.  As an Emotion-focused therapist I have walked with hundreds of people through their stories of struggle and pain and eventual growth and healing and joy. As we walked together into those place of fear and hurt and disappointment, what we discovered is that it is exactly in those places of struggle that our courage is tested, our values are formed and our emerging authentic and truth-filled selves are born.

So, What do these people have in common?

What allows them to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome? What are the methods they use to achieve their goals with their integrity intact- leading lives full of love, belonging, creativity and joy.

  1. The first thing they have learned is to lean into their emotions to discover the message they have to deliver– they no longer move away from deep feelings but also don’t allow their feelings to overwhelm or hijack them. They have learned the critical skill of mindfulness- exploring with curiosity and non-judgment allows them to utilize emotions as the critical source of information they are designed to be. It’s the ability to integrate their emotions with their values and beliefs that allows them to use their emotions as guides- our feelings tell us what our deepest needs and longings are and give us the direction to follow our dreams. When we can see feelings as not right or wrong- good or bad- we can use our emotions to give us critical information about how to move forward toward our goals.
  2. People who live whole-heartedly also know what their core values are and they use them to make their decisions big and small as they move forward. The men and women who make choices based on their guiding principles keep fear as a secondary response not a primary one. They move forward with faith in their beliefs not their fears. So the next step is to Define Your Core Values: Are they honesty, integrity and faith; or discipline, hard work & determination? Maybe they are family, love and compassion or intelligence, education and striving for excellence.  Pick your top 3 values and write them in a place you will see them on a daily basis- think of them as your guiding principles when making each and every decision and then discover where that leads you. I promise in a year your life will look different- sometimes really different.
  3. The third thing these people have in common is they practice self-compassion. They have learned to see themselves not as perfect, but as worthy of love and belonging and living their dreams.  When they are afraid they don’t beat themselves up about it – they comfort themselves. They have developed mantras and practice positive self-talk. They engage in soothing rituals of self-care.  They have spiritual practices which keep them grounded- whether that’s meditation or prayer or walks in the woods- they know how to get connected to something bigger than themselves. They see fear as a natural human response that will accompany most unchartered territory. They normalize it and keep from catastrophizing with it.
  4. The final characteristic they have in common is that they develop close relationships and support networks. They have compassionate and caring friends, family member, therapists, coaches and support groups that help them through the rough periods that are bound to come. They aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability to a trusted circle and use these supporters to keep them grounded and on the path toward their goals.

I have learned as much from my clients as they have from me. Together we have walked the dark night of the soul and what we discovered is the tenacity of the human spirit. The strength that comes from walking alongside your fear with your values close at hand, guiding the way into a purpose-driven life. We have discovered what it means to fully show up in our lives- to be brave- to lean into vulnerability and rumble with the challenges that come with living an authentic and daring life.

When I focus on my values of integrity and authenticity, honesty and compassion, I can make decisions based on my courage, not my fear.

I know that those feelings of uncertainty and doubt will sit right alongside me as I move forward in the world- but when I make my choices based on my values and then make the courageous decision to act out of those values- my world comes together – there’s a sense of integration and a settling I feel deep in my core- and I know I’m on the right path.

Click HERE to learn more about Living Brave.

Meet Cynthia Benge

A therapist for over 20 years, I guide people from their own “stuck” places to a life full of adventure, meaning and satisfying relationships.

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