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!!



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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