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A Fine Wine or a Bitter Brew

When she was a child, Anna lost her only sibling. In mid-life both parents died, she endured a string of miscarriages and then divorce. All this before age 50 could have made for a bitter second half of life. Yet Anna continues to risk her heart for love in a multitude of friendships, an intimate partnership and even with her beloved cat.  Anna is alive, open-hearted and optimistic.


Samantha is resigned to an unhappy marriage with an alcoholic husband. She has  bouts of depression and anxiety that interfere with her sleep and ability to work during the day. Most  of the time she feels helpless, overwhelmed, and lonely.


What makes the difference as to whether a woman will face illness with courage, loss  with resilience and  tragedy with strength? We know that there are many factors—most of which are laid down in childhood experiences or genetics. But exciting recent research tells us that there is more possibility for effecting change than scientific views of nature and nurture had previously revealed.


Our brains have a measure of plasticity, new neuro-pathways can be laid down. What this means is  that we are not  bound by previous experience or habitual thinking, nor are we completely limited by our genes. We can grow, change and even transform who and how we are over a lifetime.


Probably the most important change we can actively make to ensure positive growth in our lives and in our relationships is to mature in our emotional capabilities. To be able to feel, understand, and manage our emotions is an essential skill for human maturation and the development of wisdom.


In her mid-forties, one of my sisters suddenly lost her husband to a stroke. Witnessing her grieve this loss was a beautiful example of emotional wisdom at work. We often checked-in and it was no secret that the days held sadness, grief, fear or anger--wave after wave. Yet she greeted each one like a visitor bearing important information. With respect and openness, she regularly took time with each one of them, being curious about what they had to teach her about herself and about life. Sometimes a wave would come and remind her of some earlier experience that remained unresolved. Certain waves provided a recognition of something about herself she wanted to develop further (like the courage to get on the roof to unblock the gutters that first winter).  It didn’t matter, she welcomed them all like a generous hostess. And, like a hostess enriched by travelers from around the globe, she  grew in her own worldliness.


Emotional wisdom of this sort comes from developing two basic skills: the ability to recognize and find meaning in our  emotions and second, the ability to tolerate and manage the intensity of what we feel. It is reassuring to know that these are skills that can be cultivated. They yield a rich harvest of increased self-confidence, maturity and wisdom. Next month’s article is focused on practical tools for developing those skills.



The journey to wisdom

is fueled by emotions.

How far do you want to go?