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Feeling stuck? Here’s something to help you see the forest instead of the trees


You may have had this happen to you.Lost In The Woods

You decide to join the Bounce community – and get a great ebook in the process – so you fill out the little form on the right that asks for your first name and email.

Not only do you receive the ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs, you inevitably get an email from me asking you to share the biggest struggle you’re facing right now.

I get a variety of responses:

  • Health problems
  • Financial pressures
  • Worry about children and family
  • Indecision about career issues
  • Struggles with mental and emotional health
  • Relationship problems
  • Lack of self-worth, self-confidence, self-compassion
  • Caring for aging parents
  • Dealing with past abuse
  • Grieving the loss of a loved one

I answer all my email and always try to help in whatever small way I can.

Since there are zillions of different struggles that we all face, there are lots of suggestions that I make.

But I find myself asking the writer one question again and again: Read more…

Tunnel vision? 5 ideas to help you see the light


I am the Queen of Tunnel Vision.tunnel vision

Case #1:

I want to find a branch of my bank near where I’m running errands, so I pull into the parking lot of a small shopping mall and consult my smartphone. It gives me an address that seems very close.

I pull out onto the street, make a u-turn to go in the direction I think the bank is, and as I pass by the shopping area where I was parked, I see the bank in the same parking lot.

It was directly behind where I had been parked, but because I was focused on finding the nearest bank, I didn’t look where I already was.

Case #2:

I’m at the gas station and I want to use my fuel rewards/grocery savings card to see if I can get a discount on gas. I shoot my card in and out of the slot quickly, only to see the display tell me that my card isn’t registering.

I know the magnetized stripe on this card has not worked in the grocery store slots, either, and I always have to ask the cashier to scan it for me.

Nonetheless, I continue to pop it in and out of the slot at the gas station, hoping the reader will be different than the ones in the grocery store.

No luck.

I insert the nozzle and start pumping gas at the regular price. I look around idly and my eyes fall again on the gas pump.

This time I see it. About twelve inches to the left of the card-reader slot is a scanner with a sign that has a large arrow pointing to the words, “Scan your fuel rewards card here!”


I was so focused on the card-reader slot and only the card-reader slot, that I was not able to see anything else on that pump.

I rest my case for being the undisputed Queen of Tunnel Vision.

Tunnels make you miss the light

Although these incidents are harmless and give me some amusement at my own expense, they also serve as a good reminder for me to be more aware of my tunnel vision syndrome. If I do it while looking for a bank or pumping gas, it’s quite possible I’ll do the same thing when a much wider perspective is needed.

When a problem arises or one of life’s storms blows in out of nowhere, having an extremely narrow view tends to keep us locked in on one component of it.

For example, when my late partner was diagnosed with cancer, my first reaction was to focus intensely on the cancer itself. What was it? How could we cure it? What were the best things for Ruth to eat? What was the most effective treatment?

These were all good questions to ask, but if I had remained fixated on only the disease itself, I would have missed something very important: the journey that surrounded the disease.

It was Ruth who first gave me the nudge that widened my vision. One day at a bookstore, she held up a book by Lawrence LeShan called Cancer as a Turning Point and said, “I think this is the answer. We should take a spiritual approach to my cancer. We don’t need all of these other medical books.”

That simple shift in focus brought many wonderful experiences to us. With our eyes off the cancer and looking about us, we noticed how many people truly loved us.

We saw the miracles that occurred each day in the ordinary: the flight of birds in the sky, the simple pleasure of friendship, the joy of laughter between us.

There were times when tunnel vision returned. When Ruth became very sick from her treatment, it was hard to focus on anything other than how to get her better. But even then, we learned to allow a simple, loving email from a friend to gently jar us loose from our fixed view and remind us that when life is at its hardest, there is beauty and love on the fringes.

Widening your view

If you’re a member of my Royal Court of Tunnel Vision, here are some ideas on how to broaden your view:

1. Notice when you are in the tunnel.

This takes some practice, but the next time you find yourself stuck on a problem – whether it’s where to put your fuel rewards card or figuring out how you’re going to pay your mortgage next month – stop for a moment. Ask yourself, “Am I entertaining all solutions or am I stuck on just one? Do I need to step back and look around me? How else can I think about this?”

2. Practice looking at things from another vantage point.

I love to read self-help books and I was completely caught off guard a couple of years ago when I decided to read Roger Van Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.

I don’t know what possessed me to read it since it wasn’t technically “self-help,” but I’m forever glad for that possession because it has turned out to be an invaluable asset. Through games, puzzles, and stories, it teaches you to look at life from a different angle.

I had innumerable “Oh, I get it!” experiences that not only made me see how very narrowly focused I was, but also gave me tools and ideas about how to widen my approach to everything from word puzzles to life problems.

If you can’t read the book, practice opening your viewpoint with these activities:

–        When you’re in your car at a stoplight, look around you rather than at your smartphone or radio. See what is next to you on either side and then look all the way behind you.

–        Try a few crossword puzzles. Crossword clues are intentionally designed to fool you by using words that usually mean one thing but can mean another. For example, the answer to the clue, “Render powerless?” is unplug. The answer to the clue, “Pain in the rear” is backseat driver. Get it?

3. Ask others for help.

When we are in the tunnel, it’s easy to think that it makes up our entire world. All we see and know is the dark, curved walls around us.

Maybe we need a little light to help us see that we’re in a tunnel, not in the real world. A friend can do that for us. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm ideas and solutions for the problem you’re facing. The old saying, “Two heads are better than one” is quite true in this case.

4. Look where you already are.

Sometimes we have what we need around us and we can’t see it. Just like when I was sitting in my car but never saw the bank right behind me because I was too focused on my smartphone.

Take a deep breath and look around you. Is there someone who can help you navigate this storm in life? Have you made it through darkness before and can use those same skills and attitude now? Is there still faith within you that there is a light at the end of this tunnel?

5. See if there is something on the fringe you are missing.

Just as Ruth and I found beauty and love on the fringes of her cancer, see what you can find around your problem. The only thing you’ll find in a tunnel is darkness.

Look for the light, my friend, look for the light.


How about you? Are you a member of my Royal Court of Tunnel Vision? What helps you to expand your view?

Let me know in the comments below!

How to unhook from negative thoughts


Which of the following sounds better to you?self talking

A. “I go to this job because there’s no way anyone would hire me somewhere else.”

B. “I go to this job so I don’t have to put up with my husband hassling me about money all the time.”

C. “I go to this job because it helps me contribute to society, enjoy connections, and create community.”

Option C is obviously the most appealing choice. That’s because it’s based on values: contributing to society, enjoying connections, and creating community.

Much like a compass gives direction to travelers, values are the principles that we use to guide our lives.

Or do we? In my last post, I shared how easily I slipped back into old habits, and despite how much I value connection and community—which I find through interacting with you—I let a month go by before continuing our conversation about experiencing a richer, more meaningful life through aligning our behavior more closely with our values.

Slipping back into old habits is one way that we sometimes get away from value-based living. There are two more ways that we’re going to look at in this post and the next: getting hooked by our negative thoughts and getting hooked by our painful feelings. First up: negative thoughts. Read more…

Old man resilience: "Let's ride motorcycles."

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This was meant to be a commercial, but it’s oh-so-much-more. Check out the resilience of these old men as they decide to live life rather than avoid death.

Resilience: "Sometimes life hands you a new normal."


I asked Rebecca Phillips to follow up on my last post by telling her own story of the day that forever changed her life.Amtrak_crash

 The crash                                                                   

Twelve years ago, I thought my life was over.  Certainly, life as I had known it was over.  What had befallen my family was worse than any tragedy I could have imagined at the time: my mother, father, sister, and close family friend, off on a cross-country trip, had been killed in a train crash.

I remember it like it was yesterday: the phone jangled us awake at 4:30 a.m., a good hour earlier than my alarm was set.  Bill answered: “Hello? Oh, no! Thanks. Bye.”  He said, “That was your sister. Your parents’ train has derailed.” He turned on the television to CNN, where we saw the wreckage.  The night before, Train 59, the City of New Orleans, had encountered a semi-truck on the crossing near Bourbonnais, IL.  The truck made it through the crossing, but the train struck the trailer, which was loaded with re-bar.  The re-bar acted like ball bearings on the tracks, causing the two-engine train to leave the track, strike a siding car, and accordion into a fiery mess.  At the time, nobody knew how many were injured or killed, but as soon as I saw the TV, I knew.  I knew in my heart they were gone.


The worst of the worst

There are many holes in my memory of that time; I attribute that to the shock of the tragedy.  Several of us flew out to Illinois to deal with the situation there.  The national media pounced on the story and followed it for days.  Suddenly we were on television and on the front page of newspapers.  Details blur together.  What I do remember is the kindness shown to my family and me over and over again, in the village of Bourbonnais and in our home town.

My remaining siblings and I spent weeks cleaning out our family home; it was hard to realize that my parents would never live there again.  The youngest of seven children, I had always relished my role as the baby of the family, I always thought I was the only one aloud to have a Graco FastAction Fold Click Connect stroller, and I had a close relationship with my parents and siblings.  Now, I felt lost.  One-third of my family was gone.  My parents, who had guided me through the hard times in my life, could not help me through this, the worst of the worst.

Well-meaning friends and relatives did not know how to approach me anymore.   Likewise, I didn’t know what to say to them.  No, I wasn’t fine.  I still spent time at the cemetery, looking for some kind of comfort. I still burst into tears at any little thing.  I still felt a terrible weight on my chest, like I couldn’t breathe.  I still didn’t sleep well, and I ate to feed my broken heart.   My grief was exhausting, both mentally and physically.


Sometimes life hands you a new normal

I’ll be first to admit I could not face this journey on my own.  I am forever grateful for my husband’s loving patience and understanding.  I leaned heavily on my sisters, who mothered me in their own ways.  I started a journal.  I prayed and wept all the time.  I spent two years under a therapist’s care, and I used prescription antidepressants.  Still, I had nightmares on a regular basis, I rarely went out of my house, and I wondered if I would ever be normal again.  I felt I was falling apart, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

What I discovered, after I had spent some time on this path, is that sometimes, life hands you a new normal and expects you to deal with it.  Sometimes, you just have to keep moving.  At some point, I realized that my children needed their mother, and my husband needed his wife.  I needed to be needed again.  Slowly, I felt myself come back.  I smiled more often.  I could talk about my parents and sister without dissolving into tears.  I looked less into the past and more into the present.  I vowed to teach my young sons all about the family they lost.  In my newfound feelings of resolve, I found hope.  I was not the same, but I was going to be okay.

All along, my sisters and I had discovered blessings that had come from the tragedy.  Our parents, who had recently celebrated 55 years of marriage, died as they had lived — together.  Our faith assured us they were in Heaven.  Our sister who died was the only one of us who would leave no spouse or children behind.  Beloved friends and family who had lost touch over the years now contacted us because of our loss.  People recounted inspiring stories of love and encouragement – my parents and Wendy had touched so many!


Life is good

I like to say that grief is a great and terrible teacher.  Most of us live our lives as if nothing can touch us.  When death comes to us in some way, we realize how foolish we were.  Suddenly we are faced with despair; the lessons are hard, but they help us grow.  I would not wish this on anyone, but in some ways, I am glad to have gone through it.  I cherish my life and loved ones as never before, and I feel more compassionate toward others.

I believe I am stronger, but at the same time, I am also a little more fearful.  I now know that those things we think will ‘never happen to me’ can, and do happen.   I walked that path, and by the grace of God and the people around me, I made it through.  The grief that would destroy me has instead shaped me into a better person.

My family talks about life in terms of before and after the crash.  Two distinct periods separated by one horrible event.  It was an ugly time, and I really thought I might never recover.  But I did, and I’m here to say that despite its struggles, life is good.




Tragedy, grief, love and joy

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A tale of tragedy, grief, love and joy told in snippets.


Facebook post, February 26, 2011Vergil and Leona Vant

On this day in 1944, my young parents were married. After Dad came home from the war, they were rarely apart. My parents held hands and danced in the kitchen. They approached life with a healthy dose of humor and common sense. After 55 years of living together, they died together.

Happy anniversary in Heaven to Ma and Pa. Always in my heart and in my dreams.

I’ll see you again…



March 1999

“Do you remember Becky Vant?” my mom asked as we chatted on the phone.

“Of course! She was one of my best friends in junior high until she went to that other high school in the district,” I teased. “I haven’t seen her in years. Why do you bring her up?”

“This is just awful,” Mom began, “Becky’s parents and her sister Wendy were all killed in a train accident in Illinois a few days ago.”

“Oh my god . . . what happened?”

“A semi-truck drove onto the tracks and the train crashed into it. No one knows all the details yet.”

“I can’t believe it! I wish I knew where Becky was so I could talk with her.”


March 2010

Becky finds me on Facebook. Now Rebecca Phillips, married and with kids of her own, we catch up on the past twenty-five years and then our messages turn to our shared experience of grief.

Becky, I write, my grief after losing Ruth was so much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. How did you ever make it through after the train accident?

Oh, Bobbi, it was so hard, Becky responded. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t work, couldn’t take care of my kids . . . Somehow, between my faith and the love of those around me, I’ve made it this far. But I still think about my parents and Wendy every day.


Facebook post, February 27, 2011

Becky responds after receiving 25 comments on her post

Thank you all. Every day of my life, I become more and more convinced that I am one of the luckiest people around, because I have an amazing family and a phenomenal group of friends. I love your stories and I appreciate all of your generosity and love.

Life is good.   


In loving memory of Vergil, Leona, and Wendy Vant. Your “lucky” daughter and sister continues to teach us that, even after tragedy, life is good.


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I like this little video. It’s a good reminder about keeping perspective.


Being in the moment: Your skein of days

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It is good to have friends who are poets. This is what I told my friend, Eric, after I read a recent email he sent me. Eric is 46 and has had his share of adversity in the last decade, including open heart surgery when he was 39. We have often talked about the importance of staying present and how truly short life is. I asked Eric what his thoughts were about this, especially for those of us who have not had life-threatening illnesses that tend to naturally create the urgency of the moment. So here is guest blogger Eric Bellscheidt on life and being in the moment: 

You said it about this gossamer life, and every day I realize that more and more. But I tend to think it makes the days more precious. I truly do appreciate them more than I did as a young adult, even more than I did a few years ago. And we’re even talking post-heart illness. I don’t think the appreciation is simply a product of maturity or personal experience, but a realization and assessment of what is valuable in life, about what is important and precious, and maybe somewhat of a letting go and acceptance of the mortal beings we are.

I think one of the best ways to realize that every day is a gift is through our connections to life, whether they be interpersonal connections, or a communion with nature, or even a higher being. What you connect with. But it’s not what we believe in so much, but the fact that we simply believe. It’s a dedication. It is the connections that sustain and help us appreciate who we are and what we have. They hold us to this earth, gossamer strands that bind us in this life, to what we love, before we float away . . .

 I also adhere to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks philosophy of life:  Agent D.B. Cooper said every day you have to give yourself a gift, even if it’s simply a cup of good, black coffee.

 My extrapolation of this is to acknowledge the gift. Then eventually you realize that it is not the only gift of the day. A hug, a smile, a sunset. Then it dawns on you that there are more gifts coming to you throughout the day, you just have to be open to them. And finally you understand that once the string of gifts is strong enough it becomes the tapestry of your life.

 Your skein of days.


Eric Bellscheidt is a poet at heart and an editor with Microsoft by day. He is the husband of my oldest friend, Karen, and the father of two daughters. I am proud to call him my friend.

5 ways to be okay with where you are

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After my last blog post, my friend Susan wrote and said, “I liked what you had to say, but what about the corollary of ‘I don’t care where I am, I just don’t want to be here’?” She went on to say that she had gone dancing that night – an activity she usually loves – but had a terrible time because “I brought my ‘I don’t want to be here’ self with me.”

So I have some ideas about this, of course. A great myth propagated by our society – and sometimes my very profession – is that we should feel good all the time. People spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid feeling bad; we don’t like feeling bad and we want to change it. That makes sense, but it’s not very realistic. There are times when we are going to be grouchy or mad or sad or uncomfortable inside our own skins. As the poet William Stafford says,

Look: no one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don’t understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.

So the key is to not resist where you are. Here are five ideas on how to do that:

1. Accept your bad moods and learn from them. We resist the “bad” emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety, and irritability and yet they are just emotions – they are neither good nor bad. What they can do for you, though, is act as a signal that something is amiss for you. Instead of resisting the emotion, go with it and see from where it arises. What new thing can you learn about yourself from your mood?

2. You’re here now, so look around and see what you can learn. Even if you bring your “I don’t want to be here” self to the party, you’re there now anyway. Is there some reason you came to where you are? Is there a person you’re supposed to meet or a lesson to learn about yourself? Take a breath and let go of the idea that you should want to be where you are. The fact is, you’re there so what opportunity is presenting itself to you? Maybe the opportunity is just a chance to learn to be okay with being somewhere you don’t want to be for awhile.

3. See how you got there and maybe you won’t have to go there again. So, you’re in a place you don’t want to be. How did you get there? Perhaps you weren’t listening to the voice inside you that was saying, “I really don’t feel like doing this tonight” or “I’ve had bad experiences in the past with this person” or “I know I won’t feel well physically if I eat this thing I’m allergic to” or ______ (fill in the blank.)

4. Don’t waste your energy wishing you were somewhere else. Here’s a really simple example: I used to just hate being stuck in traffic or at a red light when I was running late. I wished really hard that I would be anywhere but where I was. I would get really upset and grip the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white, tense my whole body, grind my teeth, and either silently or out loud curse the person or light that was adding to my lateness. Since I tend to be a late person, this took up a lot of my energy and I would arrive to my destination drained, tired, and cranky.

After years of doing this, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. One was the reality that all of my tension and upset did nothing to influence either the stoplight or other drivers’ behaviors. I was expending all my energy on some sort of magical belief that I could change the situation if I just got uptight enough about it. The other thought that came to me was that lightning had never struck when I was late. Not that I wanted to continue being late all the time, but the truth was that nothing terribly bad had ever happened because of it. Sure, I felt embarrassed or uncomfortable sometimes, but the end of the world as I had anticipated it through my mental and physical gyrations never actually occurred.

Now, instead of wasting my energy, I think two thoughts: “I have no control over that stoplight or the actions of other drivers.” And, “It’s my own fault I’m late. It’s embarrassing, but not the end of the world.”

You can use this same system when you are expending a lot of energy wishing you are somewhere other than where you are right now. If you have no control over where you are, let it go. If you do, do something about it. And ask yourself if it’s really the end of the world to be where you are.

5. It’s okay that you don’t want to be there. Don’t overemphasize how bad it is to not want to be somewhere. Where you are emotionally or physically is probably not the worst place in the world. You don’t have to like it, though, no one says you do. Yesterday, a friend and I were sharing our experiences of deep grieving from several years ago. Neither of us ever wanted to be in that emotional place and we certainly did not like it. But there we were. And what did we do? I didn’t like where I was, but I was there, so sometimes I divided the day up into five minute intervals and thought, “I’ll just get through the next five minutes,” all day long. My friend said she just put one leaden foot in front of the other until she started to move out of that space where she didn’t want to be.

No one promised we would sing; we have decided to moan. And that’s okay.

William Stafford, An Introduction to Some Poems, in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Graywolf Press, 1999.

I'm never lost, I just don't know where I am


The other day I was listening to a radio show on travel. The guest was talking about his career as a travel journalist and the pros and cons of travelling alone. When it came time for listener comments, a man called in and said, “My motto is, ‘I’m never lost, I just don’t know where I am.’”

I turned this over in my mind a few times. I started wishing I had known about that motto when I was grieving and felt utterly lost in a world I no longer recognized. Or when the opposing forces of coming out as a lesbian and my conservative Christian beliefs collided and tossed my self-confidence about like a lawn chair in a hurricane. Or when I was laid off from my job and panicky about how I was going to pay the rent.

If only I’d known that I wasn’t really lost, I just didn’t know where I was. That the experience of not knowing where I was would make me stronger, and that it would open new doors for me as I explored areas I wouldn’t have explored if I hadn’t been unwillingly thrust into them.

Because I didn’t know where I was, I learned that grief doesn’t end, but it does get better. This lesson propelled me to help others who need an anchor when they, too, are feeling lost in their sea of grief.  I can help them to eventually see that they aren’t lost, they just don’t know where they are right now.

Because I didn’t know where I was, I learned that there are many different ways to think about life rather than being locked into one narrow belief system. I was able to grow a healthy respect for different faiths, different viewpoints, and different lifestyles. And I learned that I was more okay than I ever thought I would be when my vision was so constricted.

Because I didn’t know where I was, I took the first job that came along after I was laid off, something outside of my skill set and training. My wild attempt to latch onto stability launched me on a wonderful fifteen-year experience that was rife with discovery: I had leadership skills I never knew about; I was more creative than I had given myself credit for; I found a passion for advocating for the underdog on the margins of society – people who need and want skills to bounce back from adversity.

Not knowing where I am brings color and vitality to my life. The difference between now and those past experiences is that now I can celebrate and anticipate not knowing where I am. Even if it’s uncomfortable, I still know that I’m in a space where I might discover something new about myself right around the next corner.

How has not knowing where you were influenced your life?

Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.