Diane Gottlieb writes open-hearted stories about people in pain who choose to grow.

Hope, Devotion, and a Short Interview

I wrote a blog post about hope in May 2022, when I was feeling deeply the anger and divisiveness in our country and world. Who knew I’d feel the need to revisit the post two years later?


Friends … Until (very) recently, I’ve felt like I’ve been walking a tightrope.


I wanted to stay informed but didn’t want to be bombarded with terrible, triggering news.

I wanted to support friends and writers on social media but didn’t want to go down the many rabbit holes of negativity.


I DIDN’T want to lose hope.

And I certainly DIDN’T want to add to the bad vibes that seem to be everywhere I look.

It turns out, that where I was looking was the key! I’d been looking in all the wrong places!


A Call to Action!


I no longer spend much time with my inbox, which has been taken over by “breaking news” emails, political “updates,” analyses of world events. Less time also clicking and scrolling through social media.

I spend more time outdoors, saying hi to the birds and the lizards, nodding to the trees.

More time with friends.

More time reading and writing—poems, no less!

I find so much healing in poetry.

And there’s one poet that I turn to, always, when I’m feeling hope-less and in need of a boost: Mary Oliver. I turn to one of her poems in particular: “The Summer Day”


Her simple questions, “Who made the world? / Who made the swan and the black bear / Who made the grasshopper?” lead me back to faith.


When she says, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention …” she leads me back to wonder and to the appreciation of mystery.


And when she asks, “… what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” I hear a call to action.


I think I hear that call more clearly now than even just ten years ago. Oh, Mary Oliver, forgive me because I’ve made my own little edit to the poem: What is it you plan to do / with what’s left of your one wild and precious life?


That clock is ticking, folks!!! And we can choose to hear the sound as a beautiful motivator!


Pay Attention!


I turn back to the words of Mary Oliver: “I do know how to pay attention.”

My goodness! Did she ever!

But here’s a secret: We all know how to pay attention!

Some of us are just out of practice and/or are paying attention to things not worthy of our precious time!

In answer to Ms. Oliver, I don’t know “exactly” what prayer is either. But the word “devotion” comes to mind.

Attention. It is a form of devotion. When we give our attention to something that resonates with our hearts and our very being, I believe we are engaged in a powerful form of prayer. Attention. Devotion. The sacred in the every day.

I think of my bold and brilliant friend Jeanne M. Stafford who is devoting her days—and her attention—to what she calls “the devotion factor” (also the name of her forthcoming book: The Devotion Factor, 8 Ways to Win the War on Distraction). (Here’s an interview we did together a few years ago.) Jeanne and I have spent hours discussing the power of directing attention to the things that nourish us, that speak to our souls–and keeping the distractors out! Jeanne is also a communication guru–she is a master at helping people cut through blocks that prevent them from truly listening to others and then helps them build bridges to greater understanding.  I just love her bio: “Jeanne M. Stafford, Leadership Advisor and Collaboration Specialist arms her clients and audiences with the tools to take action on what’s important to them. After spending 20 years in the political space and the past 15 working with international clients, she discovered the one common ingredient in all success is unbridled devotion.”

Those last two words: Unbridled devotion!

I LOVE the sound of that!

Devotion set free!!

Devotion as action!

But … devotion to what?


I Have an Experiment for Us All to Try


You may have a cause that speaks to you—there certainly are many in our beautiful, troubled world.

You may have a passion or a deep interest that is calling your name—whether that’s learning to belly dance, make origami birds, or study the Book of Genesis (that’s been one of my latest endeavors)!

But what if—and this is the scariest possibility (the one that most often drives us to our phones)—we do not feel a calling or a passion in any direction?

How about trying this little experiment?  It’s an exercise in paying attention:




  • Set aside 15 minutes a day (or if that feels like too much, make it 10) to notice—without judgment. Take notes. Do not include any evaluative adjectives (words like good/bad, pretty/ugly … you get the gist!). Just write or notice exactly what you see, smell, hear, taste, or touch.
  • Commit to pay attention to the beauty “hiding” around you. The ant crawling on your kitchen counter—before you squish it (I bet you’ll take it outside instead of squishing it, if you pay it some attention!), the different shades of green on the leaves on the tree outside your window, the smells that grace your senses as you walk past your favorite bakery.
  • Commit to pay attention to your own body—the opening of your heart when you hear happy news, the shallowing of your breath when you’re anxious, the surrender in your bones when you take a long, warm bath.
  • Commit to pay attention to what feeds you—no matter how insignificant that nourishment may feel to you in the moment. Follow it. See where it leads.


Give yourself permission to find meaning in small things.

And pay attention to what stops you from doing any of the above.

Remember, attention is a form of devotion!


“My Whole Instagram Algorithm Changed”


Before we go, I’d love you to read a short interview I did with my dear friend Melissa Greenwood, who provides a moving example of answering a call. When Melissa was feeling stuck and hope-less in the face of current events, she turned that stagnation into action. I hope you enjoy our conversation.


Diane: I’m so excited to speak to you—as always, Melissa—but especially today because you just had an amazing experience I’d love you to share with us. You went to Israel to volunteer.

Melissa: I did.

Diane: Can you tell us how you decided to take the trip?

Melissa: Well, I guess it’s Instagram’s fault. When October 7th happened, and I started following more and more Jewish pages, my whole Instagram algorithm changed. I stopped seeing all the cute puppy dogs. I stopped seeing so many of the Pilates posts—I’m a Pilates teacher, so I follow a lot of Pilates professionals. In their place was a lot of  Jewish content, as well as a lot of anti-Jewish content, which, of course, was very upsetting to me.

I also started getting advertisements from Birthright Israel about an organized service trip that they created after October 7th. So, I clicked on the link, and I learned more about what they were offering.

Diane: I guess Instagram is good for something! I spoke to you before you went, and you were really passionate about going. You needed to go.

What was that all about?


“What Am I Going to Do? I Can Sit Here and Spin, or I Can Do Something”


Melissa: I felt both hopeless and helpless, and it didn’t feel constructive at all. At a certain point, I took social media off my phone altogether. I stopped reading the news. It was just too much. And that was a sentiment that I know a lot of us shared.

I started getting really angry too. And I just felt like, What am I going to do? I can sit here and spin, or I can do something. And it might be small, it might be insignificant, but it’s something. So, I applied to the Israel program. I felt like I had to do it. I felt called to do it.

Diane: I’m really proud of you. It’s not easy to climb out of hopelessness and helplessness and transform them into action.

I think there are only two other times I’ve interviewed people under 50, and they both, I think, were pretty close. You just turned 40.

Melissa: I did, yes.

Diane: But you were the “old lady” on the trip, right?

Melissa: I was. I was the old lady, so to speak.

Diane: What was that like?

Melissa: Well, I look really young, so nobody expected that I was the old one. We have good genes in my family. My grandpa’s 102.5 years old. He had his half-birthday while I was on the trip, and my mom and my husband were over there celebrating with some balloons and cake.

I knew, because the group was for ages 23 to 40, that I was going to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest. I was paired with very young roommates, which I thought was interesting. Either the trip didn’t look at our information carefully and just randomly placed us, or they were making me the room “mom.”


“I Wasn’t So Prepared for How Physical the Experience Was Going to Be”


Diane: You were the chaperone.

Melissa: I did feel like the chaperone when I was text messaging my 23-year-old roommate at 3:00 a.m. “Hey, are you coming home tonight? Are you alive? Please check in.” I’m not a parent, but I worry. I’m a Jewish mother, whether I’m a mother or not, so yeah.

Diane: Tell us what the trip was like.

Melissa: It was a lot different than I expected, I have to say. I knew emotionally it was going to be challenging, and I was prepared for that piece of it because I was already feeling emotionally challenged at home. I knew we were going to see things, like the Nova Music Festival site. That was part of our itinerary. And I knew that just being in Israel, we were going to meet people who, in some way, were connected to all of this because it’s such a small place and everyone knows somebody. The war turned six months old as I was flying there.

I wasn’t so prepared for how physical the experience was going to be. And I’m a Pilates teacher, so I’m very active. But when I was in the mud, really down and dirty, suddenly I felt old, and I was like, Oh, so this is why there’s an age limit!

We were planting tomatoes and cucumbers and weeding at a moshav, which is similar to a kibbutz, except the workers don’t live there. One moshav was in the Gaza Envelope, which is very close to the border–so much so that we could hear and feel the reverberation of bombs on the other side.

I’ve literally never even gardened, although that’s probably very embarrassing to my mother, who has an amazing garden and who had a garden program at the high school, where she was a Home Ec teacher. But my God, it’s really hard work. I had no idea. There was a lot of kneeling and squatting. And I definitely felt old. My knees and my back. Oh my gosh, it’s physical!


“I Thought to Myself, This Looks Like a Dead Model Convention”


Diane: Tell us what it was like at Nova.

Melissa: It’s interesting because they’ve created a Nova exhibit, which is currently in New York. So a lot of the artifacts are at the NY exhibit now. The burned cars, for example. All of that has been removed from the site, but that didn’t change the fact that we were on hallowed ground. There are photos everywhere of the people who died. Mini-memorials to all of the people. This is terrible, but I thought to myself, This looks like a dead model convention. Such young, beautiful people is really what they were, and their lives were just snuffed out.

I was able to hear some survivors from Nova speak in LA before the trip, and these kids are just so broken, and they’ll never be the same. How could they be?

Diane: Did you go to Hostage Square in Tel Aviv?

Melissa: We did. And that was another place that, again, you knew was going to be so hard. We heard from this amazingly poised 26-year-old woman, Noa Reuveni. She was best friends with a young man of the same age, Ziv Berman, who was kidnapped by Hamas from the Kfar Aza Kibbutz, along with his twin brother, Gali. Noa was a Pilates teacher (like me) and a student prior to October 7th but quit her job and has dropped out of college for the time being. This is her full-time gig now–educating people and trying to get her friend and his twin back. It’s unimaginable.


“I Went to a Coffee Shop and Posted a Proof-of-Life Selfie”


Diane: What would you say were some takeaways of the trip?

Melissa: The resilience of the Jewish spirit is unmatched and so remarkable. The last night of our trip was the night that Iran sent all those drones and missiles into Israel. Of course, everyone back home was panicking for us. But truthfully, I didn’t feel scared at all–just tired because I was texting and calling and alerting people via social media that I was fine and very much alive. I spent the night in the hotel’s bomb shelter as a precaution. The morning after, I kind of poked my head out, and things were business as usual on the streets. Everything was open. I went to a coffee shop and posted a proof-of-life selfie.

This is what Israelis regularly live through–sirens, before the Iron Dome does its thing, and the constant threat to life. And yet, when those sirens stop, and people are allowed to go back out, they do. They proceed, happy to be out in the world, drinking their coffee and smoking their cigarettes on the cafe patio. It’s pretty astonishing. Meanwhile, I feel like here in the US, I’m just spinning and sad and angry. Their attitude is different. It’s better. Admirable.

They’re used to being hated. For us, at least for those in our generation who have never experienced such rampant antisemitism in our lifetimes, it feels like we could really learn a lot from them in terms of their fervor for life.

Mia Shem was a hostage from the Nova Music Festival who is a tattoo artist. The tattoo she got after being released says, “We will dance again.” And that’s the spirit of Israelis in general.


“That Was Part of My Impetus for Going–Not Just to Do Something Meaningful for Myself but Also to Bear Witness in Whatever Way I Could”


Diane: So is there anything else you want to share?

Melissa: I would just urge anyone who hasn’t been to Israel to go there. And truly, truly, truly, I felt safer in Israel than I do in America. People have many different political beliefs there, just like we do here, but it doesn’t matter. They still all agree that they want Israel to survive and thrive, and they want each other to survive. That may not be the case in the rest of the world.

So Jewish, not Jewish–it doesn’t matter. Israel is a sacred, holy place to be. And now is as good a time as any to go, especially if you can get involved in some way or want to be a witness. That was part of my impetus for going as well–not just to do something meaningful for myself but also to bear witness in whatever way I could. I felt like these people needed us to do that for them. They needed to tell their stories, and they needed us to listen and to see and to go back to California or New York or Brazil or Italy—there were 51 volunteers from all over the world on our trip—and to report back about what we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears.


Some volunteer opportunities in Israel for all ages:

Over 40 (not subsidized):

* Melissa’s trip (23-40, subsidized):

Teens (subsidized):


Melissa’s bio:

Melissa Greenwood has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She lives with her Canadian husband in LA, where she teaches and sometimes blogs about Pilates, he teaches elementary school, and they both partake in some nightly dark chocolate because #balance. You can find her on Instagram @mrg317 to learn more about her Sherman Oaks, California Pilates home studio (she also teaches classes on Zoom!) or @mrg317_personal to follow her writing life and non-Pilates-related pursuits.

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Tell me how the experiment goes! Please write a comment or send me an email.


See you soon!





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  1. Geri Whitten on July 3, 2024 at 2:15 am


  2. Sandell Morse on July 2, 2024 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for this post, Diane. As you said, it’s so easy to fall into despair these days. These stories are essential.

    • Diane Gottlieb on July 2, 2024 at 7:38 pm

      Thank you, Sandell. The stories and the action–essential!

    • Melissa Rose Greenwood on July 3, 2024 at 1:32 am

      Appreciate you taking the time to read, Sandell!

  3. Stafford Jeanne M. on July 1, 2024 at 12:01 pm

    I loved reading Melissa’s story! She followed her pain and let her heart uncover this powerful trip. The reminder that the Jewish people in Israel live with the sound of sirens and go back to their lives hits me. It hits me because we take so much for granted here in the United States. The outcome of living with such horror is that they honor different points of view and live in conversation with what’s important to them. My prayer is that someday this power transcends all borders and solves the biggest problems they have to solve.

    I’m very fortunate to be featured in the same space with Melissa and once again by YOU.

    • Diane Gottlieb on July 1, 2024 at 12:18 pm

      Jeanne! Honored to share just a smidgen of your trailblazing thoughts and ideas in the post!! (Soooooo can’t wait for the book!!!)
      “My prayer is that someday this power transcends all borders …” This is so very powerful, and my prayer as well.
      Thank you for all you do!!

    • Melissa Rose Greenwood on July 1, 2024 at 4:42 pm

      Oh, Jeanne. What a beautiful comment. Your forthcoming book sounds absolutely amazing.

  4. Debbie Russell on July 1, 2024 at 11:58 am

    Great post, Diane! I was just at a celebration for wildlife refuge volunteers and that very Mary Oliver poem was read to us. I’m fortunate in that I get to do the noticing every day. I immerse myself in my beautiful surroundings and it’s keeping me sane in these very trying times.

    Keep up YOUR good work!


    • Diane Gottlieb on July 1, 2024 at 12:14 pm

      Thata poem, right?!? I know that you are a skilled “noticer” Debbie! I LOVE your daily morning walks and musings on IG! What an example you are to us all of seeing the seemingly small things that make all the difference!!! Thank you!

      • Dorothy Buscemi on July 1, 2024 at 1:27 pm

        As a woman of a particular age, I am so pleased to hear Melissa’s POV! Refreshing and hopefully inspirational. My perspective is to give, give to others, to causes and you will reap what you sow. Goodness and Mercy as the good book says will follow 😊

        • Diane Gottlieb on July 1, 2024 at 1:33 pm

          Thank you so much, Dorothy! And AMEN!!!

        • Melissa Rose Greenwood on July 1, 2024 at 4:44 pm

          Dorothy: happy to be the voice of “youth” over here. Hehe. Thank you so much for reading and for adhering to the Golden Rule. If only we’d all just learned that in kindergarten, I wouldn’t have even been needed in Israel.

    • Melissa Rose Greenwood on July 1, 2024 at 4:42 pm

      So important, Debbie! <3

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