Stressed Out

We live in a crazy, busy, and chaotic world. We also live in an abundant, nurturing and rich world. What we expect to see, is what we see. If we expect to see something different, we then see that. All of these world conditions exist, and many we can create. What do I mean? That our lives are a combination of what happens around us, which we have no control over, and what our reactions are, which we do have control over. Think of a traffic jam: there is the traffic jam, then how we react to that traffic jam. Being able to manage parts of our lives to invite calm, joy and lightness can be done.

We know that high levels of stress can contribute to most major illnesses and risk factors for them, like heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, weight gain, sleeplessness, and the list goes on. We also know stress is a naturally occurring phenomenon for protection in our DNA. When a caveman met up with any unknown it was generally life or death. Very little of our unknowns are life or death: the darkness has no saber tooth tigers waiting for us. We are still surrounded by unknowns and they still can trigger anxiety and stress, but we have to evolve to manage the triggers differently if we don’t want to live with chronic stress, burnout and depression.

Being able to stop and identify what is going on in our bodies when we do not feel well is our first step of finding what triggered our stress. I notice where stress articulates itself in my body: is my stomach flippy, am I wearing my shoulders like earrings? Turns out walking around looking like Nixon with my shoulders around my ears is a sign I am stressed. We all carry stress in different places: some folks clench their fists, while others have lower back pain. I always find it interesting how our bodies are reflective in poetic ways of what we feel. Those whose shoulders jack up to their ears might feel like the weight of the world or their world is on them. Those with stomach problems feel gutted or carved out, lower back pain can be someone who feels unsupported, balling our fists means we are readying for a fight. Our mental state is connected to our physical state: always the somatic ties of body to mind and soul.

Once we have identified the first signs of stress in our bodies we can trace it back to the triggers. What caused my reaction? What just happened in the last minute, hour, or day that I can trace back to the person, the feeling, the situation that started me feeling stressed? This is about pulling that thread of conversation, of action that brought us from feeling okey-dokey to uh-oh. As an example, I am in a hurry and I hit a traffic jam, my blood pressure goes up, I am feeling my stomach go wonky and my shoulders are at ear level. I take notice of what I am feeling; I identify those feelings as feeling overwhelmed and powerless in that moment. I make note of what I’m feeling and then later I can reflect back to other times I was stressed: were these themes there? Or were there other themes? Do I see patterns to what triggers my stress? Do I see patterns to how I react to the stress? I start to think like a researcher, like an anthropologist studying me. I try to be neutral and curious and look at what is happening without judgment.

Knowledge is power. The act of identifying our patterns and triggers, then maybe the whys of those feelings, help us to look for ways to minimize our stress. Minimizing our stress comes in many forms but the root of each lives within our locus of control. Going back to the traffic jam example, I start with the knowledge that traffic tends to make me feel overwhelmed and powerless. Then I begin with solving the lowest and simplest form of the physical problem here. Can I remove myself from this stimulus, the traffic? Can I be flexible with my schedule to minimize the times I am in traffic jams? That can lead me to tweak my schedule, the route I take, public transportation, etc. If I cannot remove myself from this traffic, can I come at this problem another way? If I am stuck with the traffic, how can I make it better? If I am struck in the car for commutes, what can I do to make that trip more enjoyable? I then can look at how I am seeing this “stuck” time in the car and take my feelings of powerlessness and create some choices for myself. Can I make my trip better with audio books, music, pod casts, ride sharing with others, learn a language, daydreaming etc.? I can choose to see this traffic jam as a time for me time, quiet time, learning time. I cannot control what happens outside of my car but my choices in my behavior and how I use my time I can control. Long-term I can find a different and more permanent solution perhaps if this is a huge part of the anxiety and stress in my life.

I step-by-step problem-solve by thinking critically about the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of my stress triggers, and I can also bring in friends who do this well and chat over wine, coffee or tequila. I can also pull apart the mental aspects of what stresses me. For example what expectations I had for this event, person, job, that were not met. Stress from expectations we had for something or someone is a huge stressor. Having expectations can be the building blocks for stress if we are not careful. Being flexible with what we expect helps as does communicating our expectations. Knowing our expectations are just our thoughts about what we would like to happen or what we see happening doesn’t make it so. It just makes us frustrated nobody is following what we scripted in our head. Crazy is as crazy does, especially if we have not shared that script. When those expectations are communicated and create real-life feedback and data, they are built on reality. Sometimes we need to invite in friends, counselors or life coaches to problem-solve some of these triggers and their roots. Asking for help is one sign of wisdom, so feel free to get your wisdom on.

The last place I go to in this process is what tools and practices can I use to invite in clarity, balance and wellness to my life? There is nothing I will tell you here you don’t already know. Things like taking me time, meditation, gratitude practices, journaling, exercise, healthy eating, and strong social network, doing things that we are passionate about. All of these and many other things work. The trick is you have to do them. You have to make it your wellness a priority in your life. A hammer is a tool made of a chunk of metal and wood or plastic, it does nothing. When we choose to pick it up and use it to hang a picture we have a result. If we choose to use it to build a tiny house in our backyard or make beautiful furniture we then start to master a tool through repeated use. We then derive pleasure from that tool and in our lives because of our mastery of it and what it brings to us. Picking one small tool, a practice, to help manage our daily stress though the above list moves us toward being an active agent of change in our life. We own how we spend our days, in what frame of mind we do that, and that in return ripples out and splashes back. What we think and do have resonance with not only our world but for everyone. The abundant, crazy, nurturing, busy, rich and chaotic world waits. What are you going to do about it?

Below is my list of questions that I use to help lead me to finding ways to reduce stress. They are by no means complete or foolproof but they are a start. I hope they help!

Steps to Identify and Manage Stress

Step 1- Questions I ask myself for identifying stress in my body

  • Think back to the last time I was stressed: How did my body feel?
  • Where in my body do I first feel unwell?
  • Where do I carry my stress in my body at the end of a busy day?
  • What do I notice is different in my body after a massage, walk on beach, relaxing day?

Step 2- Questions I ask myself to identify what triggers stress for me.

  • What events, situations, feelings do I see that triggers my stress?
  • Do I see patterns to my stress triggers?
  • I am most stressed when I feel _______________
  • ____________________ always stresses me out
  • The last time someone asked me if I was stressed where was I and what was I doing?

Step 3 – Questions I ask myself to eliminate or minimize my identified stress triggers

  • What resources can I identify to help me, e.g. therapist, friends, coaches, books?
  • How can I minimize my stress triggers I have identified with critical thinking skills, problem solving techniques and resources?
  • Can I remove the stress triggers?
  • If I cannot remove the stress triggers can I improve the situation to make it more bearable?
  • What three things can I do under my control to make this situation more bearable?
  • What part do I play in setting these triggers up?
  • Can I adjust my thinking and expectations around the triggers?
  • What two small things in my thinking or behavior can I adjust to make things better?
  • Is there something I need to let go of that does not serve me around this trigger?

Step 4 Questions I ask myself to invite in clarity, balance and wellness and the action items attached

  • What tools or practices can I bring in to invite in clarity, balance and wellness?
  • What resource do I have to help me create wellness?
  • Make a list of five to ten things that make me feel good and the date the last time I did it
  • What is one thing I can add monthly/weekly /daily to my schedule that makes me feel strong?
  • What is one thing I can remove from my life that drains me?
  • What is one thing I can do daily to make me feel calm?
  • What three practices in wellness do I most want to cultivate? e.g., exercise, mediation, me time,
  • What is one tiny step for one or all of these things I could do this week?
  • What class, app, coach, friend will help me with my journey to less stress?
  • In what ways do I show that my priority is my mental, physical and emotional wellness?
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Posted in Change, choices, curiosity, foundation of change, Gratitude, Happiness, humor, intent, Joy, Learning, Manifestation, mind shifts, Stress, Stressed Out, truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Connect the Dots

The phrase “connect the dots” can mean anything: from a game of tic-tac-toe, to running our tongues over hard pastel-colored sugar lumps on what looks like receipt paper strips, to drawing meaning from a sequences of events. All are good things, and in this instance I will not be talking about the game or the candy, but oh we know how I can go on about candy!

Looking back at our lives it is easier to connect the dots, to look at our actions, patterns and trajectory of choice and fate after some time has passed. I believe we have a few fixed dots on our path, like destiny points if you will. They are set in stone; we can get there the easy way or the hard way, that part us up to us. If you have never seen the movie Sliding Doors, they do a good job of laying out this premise of destiny points though, they don’t call them that: just points we land on in our lives no matter what choices we make, at least that was my take-away.

I believe we have some fixed points or destiny dots in our path.  I was curious if I could look back and identify some of those destiny dots thus far. I was also curious about what I see as defining moments. Defining moments are events or people that change the trajectory of our lives and leave us forever changed. Generally they lead us toward those fixed points or destiny dots to get us on our path.  These defining moments can be large or small but like a pinball game when I hit them I shot off in another direction. It was something I learned or did that made me fundamentally different, so different in fact that I would always see the world and myself differently again. Kind of a “genie out of the bottle thing”.

I took my journal and a giant cup of tea and started from childhood and slowly stepped forward. I have to say it might have been easier to start from today and go backward but lordy I have never done anything the easy way so why start now. I don’t think it matters which way you go but I think it is important to take a look regardless. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking at decades of what appeared to be meandering on the surface brought out patterns I had not seen before. What once appeared to be capricious was indeed a larger pattern and I saw themes emerge out of what felt like chaos. Why chaos? I have had at least six different careers over five states in 35 plus years and counting. I have three degrees in very different disciplines: communications / radio and TV production, electronics and circuit design, and counseling.

Pulling my lens back and seeing the longer story arch was fascinating, comforting and educational.  I highly recommend this exercise in self-reflection. I got a deeper appreciation for my journey, my learning, my fabulous mistakes and resilience. I also got a deep appreciation for those who played their part in my life, both good and bad. It gave me comfort in seeing this pattern emerge that was unknown to me. It revealed a path that had focus when there felt like none, and meaning when I sometimes felt that I was lost and flailing.  I could see I was held up with nothing but faith, intuition, and an itch to move in a certain direction regardless of what appeared on the surface to be best for me.

I had a student come up to me after class not too long ago. I had been talking about making choices on how to live and not to letting those life choices be made by inaction or other people. I had shared that, a month after receiving tenure as a school counselor I gave notice to move from NY to CA, a place that had terrible statistics for school counselors, and this was at the start of a recession. I did it none–the–less. The student found it inspiring that I followed my gut, my passion. And with patience, grace and a lot of faith, I landed in a job and a place I loved like no other. I also landed a life I would not have seen coming, ever, ever, ever… I advocate that sometimes we just have to be brave and jump. I told her I could be a cautionary tale for some in how I lived my life, but she told me it gave her license to think bigger, be braver, and trust herself more. That is always good.

So I invite you to step back and take a look at your destiny dots, things that make you think, “ah so this is what all those random acts lead me to.” Go back and look at those defining moments, the events, people and things that left you forever changed and see if they move you to or away from the fixed dots of destiny. Look at the long game. The longer learnings, where you had to be beaten over the head over and over with the same life lesson until you learned it. Those can be hard to look at, but what shines through are the grace, humility, tenaciousness and resolve we possess in the face of change, challenge and cheap candy. Go ahead and connect the dots and see where it takes you.

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Joy

I have spent some time thinking about what happy feels like versus joyful. They feel different. I believe they come from different places, and our ability to increase them in our lives might be done differently as well. Noticing where and how they occur in my life was the first step to understanding the components, factors and juju involved.

Happy is good. I think happy is something that happens based on my response to external factors and how I choose to see them. My choice in how I see them is based on my biases, expectations and internal rules of the road. What I mean is those factors help grow or inhibit my happiness. An ability to see the silver linings, see set-backs as opportunities for growth or learning instead of a perceived failure, are some of those factors. The sense of play that can be teased out of almost any situation and grow a culture in it with friends and family is another component. Like attracts like, so if I only see rude people, or misery, it is a reflection of where I am in life, and if I see humor and kindness more than anything then I am reflecting that. This does not mean that I dismiss the ugly things that happen but I look to the learning, the action towards helping, the meaning and move toward the solution and underlying causes rather than focus solely on the problem.

Happiness feels more external in my response and reaction to the world, with how I focus my lenses in life. I can grow it by my actions, by my gratitude and practices. Things like exercise, meditation, naps, time with friends and being alone to play and reflect help cultivate the happy gene. One major factor science shows us is time in nature, even 20-30 minutes a week in nature, helps alleviate stress and enforce well-being. All of these factors and components we choose to build in our lives help us to cultivate happiness.

Let’s break this down more in the practical sense:  Make a list of five things you love to do. They can be small like taking a nap, or larger like travel, it doesn’t matter just make note. Then next to each thing write when was the last time you did it, and if you have to estimate it do that. Then notice how often you invite things in your life that make you happy. Notice if you make time for things you have passion for. Look at the reasons you have not made time, created space. Even risked looking foolish to try something you haven’t done in years. Don’t judge just notice, and then decide what one small thing you can do this week. Then plan when, put it in your calendar, tell someone so you are accountable or better yet invite them along. Then go do it. Then do another, and another… as a practice it take motion, emotion and reflection and repeating the cycle.

So what about joy? Joy feels very different to me. Joy wells up from inside like a huge warm wave of love, being one with the world, of appreciation and feeling whole. It is a soul connection and an inside job for sure. We in a moment of observation, reflection or happenstance are swept away in emotion that brings tears to our eyes. It is connection to source, to light, to love that wells up from our roots and fills us in awe and peace.

Increasing joy has been a tougher nut to crack. I think because a small part of it is driven by the external factors but mostly it feels organic and out of control, a little like a 7th grade science project with a volcano bubbling out on the linoleum floor. It comes from our relationship to ourselves, to self-love and connection. Happy sets the stage for joy; it creates practices that raise our mood, our vibration and wellness. It creates an atmosphere where we notice miracles, great wonders and love all around us. Then we feel joyful, we feel connected.

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

Living from our soul, our light and our love means being willing to look foolish, leaving fear behind, and opening to the world. It is wholehearted living, being vulnerable and willing to suspend judgement and listen. It is lightening our load by dropping expectations, being in the moment and appreciating deeply the gift of life, those around us and opportunities we have. It is about helping others to achieve their dreams and us living ours if only by simple acts of kindness, compassion and play.

So we start with happy and graduate into joyful in our practices. Find ways to let things go, to not judge yourself and others too harshly, find things that make you feel good, loved, successful, peaceful and full of purpose. Make connection to those you love and build moments of laughter and memories. As the holidays are bounding in, be mindful of how you want to spend them. How do you want to be during them, what actions, words and behaviors are going to define you? What are you going to give to this one beautiful life as you go tripping through it? Pay attention, notice, look for the love, laughter and build your joy bank for short days and long nights. Choose love, choose light, choose something decadent or funny or uplifting and bring along everyone around you for the journey. Cheers and make mine a nog!

Posted in Being Open, celebrate, Change, choices, Gratitude, Happiness, Health and Wellness, holidays, intent, Joy, Learning, mind shifts, Play, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Take it Easy

I probably have ten to fifteen conversations about over-thinking with clients, students, co-workers, friends and myself at least weekly. That number might be on the low end really… What does this mean? It means over analyzing everything; living in our heads; editing our action based on what we think others will want, will judge us harshly for; trying to find the “right” answer, path, choice; any and all of the above. We crunch on things over and over: what did that remark, look, tone, gesture mean? We get stuck in loops in our heads playing out scenarios, playing detective, projecting, constructing myths. All that is just fiction, myth and ego— plays all written with fear. Based on these fears we sometimes choose our actions, our beliefs and our lives.

We have control over what we think. Sometimes it does not feel like that, but it is true. We default to revisiting or playing tapes in our heads and we feel compelled to stay there. Instead of listening to what someone is telling us we choose to focus on what they think of us: do they like us? Should we talk? Should we express our needs and wants? We edit our actions based on whether we believe they will be received well. We edit ourselves to fit accepted molds and stereo-types we have seen. We edit ourselves to be liked and loved, to be valued or just not to be shunned. This editing only makes us smaller. It does not make us better, more worthy, more loveable. It creates a persona we put on like a bad ill-fitting coat we don as we walk through life.

Stopping the loop, the crunching on data can be difficult. It takes practice to reach for a better thought, creating a practice of redirecting our thoughts to the present and now, instead of the past or future.  Recognizing we are spiraling and caught in that crazy loop is the first step. Pulling back, knowing we are over-thinking and in our head helps us choose something better.

“Don’t let the sounds of your own wheels make you crazy” – Jackson Browne and Glen Frey

The sounds of our own wheels, our own fears, our own thoughts, spin around and around in our heads getting distorted and mythicized. This is the crazy-making process we indulge. Having a bag of tricks to pull tools from to halt over-thinking and stop the chatter is key. Paying attention to the things that self soothe, things that make us feel better, more sane, grounded and lighter. Coming out of obsessive thought is a practice consisting of reaching for a better thought and stopping the flow downward. Of doing instead of thinking. Of letting go and letting God, The Giant Space Monkey, The Void, Chance, or whoever we believe in, take over.

Years ago my sister Chris said to me, “Your head is like a bad neighborhood, you can’t spend too much time there alone. It’s dangerous.” Though she has reported I said that to her we have co-writing credit, like Browne and Frey I guess.  Learning to extract myself from my bad neighborhood of over-thinking and practicing doing it regularly has given me an arsenal of tips, tricks and tools. Most of them work most of the time, sometimes none in the moment but always over time.

Here are a few things I do to try getting my brain unstuck.

  • Take a short walk and only focus on my senses. If I can’t see it, smell it, feel it, taste it, hear it, I can’t think about it. I try to immerse myself in my surroundings.
  • Recognize I am doing over-thinking and take a breath and move onto a better thought.
  • Do something that I have to concentrate on that requires my full attention like cooking, painting, writing, Pilates.
  • Call someone who makes me laugh.
  • Watch or read a comfort movie or book that helps me shift my perspective for the better.

Things I don’t do because they exacerbate the voices or my crazy are equally important

  • Journal, it seems in the moment to give more voice to the voices in my head and gives them a bigger stage to obsess on.
  • Drink alcohol, it is a depressant and just grows monsters
  • Sit still
  • Eat
  • Call someone and go over and over and over whatever I am obsessing about for the billionth time
  • Look at “evidence” in old journals, emails, photos, social media, etc…
  • Looking backward or forward is bad, bad, bad in this instance

I do my best to remember this is a practice, a process and a way of choosing to be in the world. By stepping away from my mental monsters and behaviors of over-thinking, editing, and justifying I can break the negative flow. It is taking steps toward doing, being and playing more. It is not letting the sound of my own wheels make me crazy and learning to just take it easy.

Posted in Change, choices, Fear, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, intent, mind shifts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rebels

A client was looking at her dating life and asked, “Why do women date bad boys, or rebels?” I took a breath and said, “It is easier to date a rebel than be one.” I didn’t miss a beat to her question and her reaction to my answer was to bolt upright on the sofa, her mouth formed a little O and she rapidly blinked and nodded as though she was sending Morse code. It seemed I hit home. I think dating the “bad boy or bad girl” goes across the board for the sexes. We know opposites attract but I am not sure they sustain, unless there are common core values between partners.

I think that we sometimes seek out people that appear to be exotic, bold, and dangerous; they do things we would want to do but are afraid of doing. They are outspoken, brave, reckless, careless, passionate and full of life. All the things we have on our To Be List’s. Many folks instead live vicariously through others in a pale substitute for living. Finding our sense of self, our confidence leads to our own voice, and subsequently our own rebel within. I believe it is our calling to be authentically who we are, in all we are both shadow and light. That wholeness and humility comes forward to celebrate for this small time and space we are here. Not editing who we are but embracing all of it, the good, the bad and the crazy.

I have lived an unconventional life in many ways, some being that I have had many careers, lived in lots of places, never married nor had children. I dance to the beat of a different drummer, badly at times but it is my dance and I own it. I own it in all its herky, jerky movements, the fits and starts with staccato transitions and prat falls all leading to self-satisfied stillness in my weirdness and freedom. I like who I am. It was hard won over hellish years of wandering in search of what lie within. When younger I was looking for that sense of self outside, in the faces of the men I loved, the friends I connected with and the challenges that I chose.

As most folks of a certain age can attest to, we find love, happiness, fulfillment, kindness within. In fact most things in life are an inside job. We cannot give others what we don’t give to ourselves.  We also cannot get to our rebel voice, our sense of true self, without stopping, reflecting, feeling and fully living in the moment. We cannot get to our rebel, ourselves, without making a massive amount of mistakes, and having one embarrassing moment after another. We find the things we feared most not only don’t kill us but were so much smaller then they appeared. Not unlike side mirrors on a car, a distortion we have been warned about yet never really fully process in real time. As one of my editors told me “fear is such a bullshitter.”

Leaning into your rebel self, finding passion, purpose and play on a daily basis creates a wonderful life. So how do you start? You start by getting to know who you are, not who you have cultivated to fit into the life you think you should lead, or the partner you think your significant other wants, or the person who you believe society has asked you to be. You take time and really get to know what you like and don’t like, what feels good and what feels shitty. You unplug from social media and social circles that dictate what we should do and instead create space for you to flex your true self muscles. Though it may feel weird and shaky, like a foal taking its first steps that is just fine. That is what new feels like. Just try it on your own, mess up, try again and learn from what it feels like. Don’t think too much: your brain can hinder this process in a big way. This is something we have to feel our way to, not think our way to. We become an anthropologist or detective in our own lives. We use those internal tuning forks in our gut and chest that pull us towards the things that resonate. Then leave the things that don’t resonate and don’t judge. Just make note. Just notice.

The first step is just about noticing, being present, letting go of fear or letting it lapse just a little. Letting go of the fiction of perfect and normal is key.  Come on, would you sit next to someone who was either perfect or normal at a wedding? Hell no!  There is no there, there…. Just steep in what feels good, moves you forward and creates space. Laugh at yourself and give yourself lots of kindness and a massive amount of curiosity about the world and how you move through it. This is called nurturing, creating an environment for you to grow, to thrive and become the force of nature you were born to be and letting your inner rebel out.

Posted in Change, choices, curiosity, Faith, Fear, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, Learning, mind shifts, rebel, truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Practical Magic

When I was small I believed in magic. All kinds of magic, like fairies, spells, witches, dragons (which we know from the Game of Thrones are real), spirits and ghosts, pixies (but not the band). I believed there was more to life than met the eye, and with that adventures in faraway lands that were not yet mapped. I still hold true to those beliefs and have been readying myself for a journey to one of those lands that is not yet mapped. In order to tell this tale I think I need to go back and start with the purple frog first to make sense of nonsense.

When I was around six or seven years old I was very much focused on magic, not just the Disney stuff we saw on the World of Disney on Sunday nights but real magic. Real magic was what I wanted to acquire, some practical magic skill sets to help me be successful in life. Success at that age was making sure I could find my mother’s hiding spot for the “good” cookies, control of the TV for when The Mike Douglas Show or The Monkeys were on, and getting a horse of my own on our suburban quarter acre lot on Long Island. My logical progression for learning magic was creating something out of nothing, which lead to hundreds of hours of me trying to manifest a purple frog in my hand every time I sat on the toilet.

Yea I can hear you, “Really, the toilet? Do need to know about this?” No you don’t, but you don’t need to know about waist trainers and Kim Kardashian, which filters work best for what on Instagram, or the jingle for Nationwide Insurance commercial, but you do ….

The bathroom practice of prestidigitation was a necessity: I was not only practicing as I sat but the toilet was the touchstone (for lack of a better phrase) to try to make my purple frog appear. It was the small private space of the bathroom that mattered most for my work. Our house felt close: a jumble of arms and legs, mouths going, hair flipping and doors kicking people.  There were my three growing sisters, my parents, who held a certain amount of gravitas, and my generously proportioned grandmother; we can call her the anchor.  It was crowded. The bathroom was the only room that I did not share for any period of time, so it was a natural laboratory. As to the frog, green would have been good but for some reason my frog had to be purple. The rationale was to prove that the appearance and its purpleness were nothing short of spectacular magic of the highest order. Not that I was doing much magic at the lowest order or any for that matter. I thought that if you are going to pull a frog from thin air, it can’t be harder to make it purple. I still stand by that logic, really it is flawless.

I never did get my purple frog. The practice morphed and faded into other desires, other practices of the improbable and impractical over time. In junior high there was a stoner bully, yes an oxymoron but what can I tell you? Things played out in a junior high lunchroom where anything unappetizing and unlikely can thrive. This girl picked on me every time I was in there. She was tougher than me, which was not difficult: though I was tall, I was quiet and shy, not smart enough for a nerd just beige enough to stay out of the fray. I was safe until something about me made it through this chick’s lunchtime buzz and she started busting my chops, as we said in the day. At one point I got up my nerve and warned her off. She wanted to know why she shouldn’t mess with me, and before I knew it I told her I was a witch. Not only was she high, but she was not the sharpest knife in the cafeteria. I am also an excellent liar, or was in the day.  She was in awe and I gave her examples of all things witchy, which I garnered from every TV show and movie I ever saw (and there were many), not just beloved Bewitched but Bell Book and Candle and beyond. My white lie was enough to give me space to eat lunch, avoid attack and build an odd bond and alliance with a different crowd. It turns out telling people you have magic powers creates the end result of having magic powers. I didn’t get beat up or harassed which was what I wanted magic for.

Years later I lay in bed after an argument with my boyfriend, thinking he is a pain in my ass and I need to get out of NYC.  At the time I was fixing the first Mac’s from Apple, this little renegade computer company. I was sick of the city and I strongly wanted to be audacious and independent. My dream in that moment was to leave the city, work at the support center Apple had in North Carolina, and to buy myself a big-ass red truck. I smiled at that dream; it calmed me so I could fall asleep and promptly forgot all about it. I didn’t have a license or drive at the time; I had only been fixing computers for about six months. Women, especially Long Island girls, didn’t drive trucks in those days and I never lived anywhere but New York State. It was just the boldest thing I could conjure and it felt good, hence the sleep. The next day the boyfriend said nice things, I said nice things, and we dysfunctioned-junctioned down the road.

Flash forward five or six years later, when I remembered that dream, that audacious “I’ll show you” dream.  I was stunned, as I remembered it out of the blue. I was stunned because I was driving a big red truck on my way to work at Apple as a tech support engineer. I had not thought twice after the moment of inception that the perfect future of audacity would come to its fruition. I was not focused on making it happen; I merely was more approachable to my future as it sidled up to me.

The long road was that the boyfriend and I moved to California outside of Tahoe National Forest and built a cabin. Lions, tigers and bears, oh my, but those adventures are another story. I was still fighting with him after moving when I remembered a friend from the now-closed NC Apple Call Center, now moved to a new one in CA, said to call him if I ever wanted a job. I did, I got it, I needed to drive something, got a deal on a year-old/new red truck on the Nissan lot, and the rest is history. The bad boyfriend was there for the beginning of the move but long gone by the end. It seems I didn’t have to focus on or practice daily much less on the toilet for the magic of prestidigitation to work. To master manifestation, I just had to dance in the direction of the music. Dance on the edge, dance into the fear and the unknown.

As the years go by I have seen this over and over. I have done this over and over and almost always didn’t know what was at the end of the journey, the lands we cannot see with the eye and the parts of us that are unmapped. It is magic when we trust, we move forward and inward with a prayer on our lips, and smile in our hearts and fear nipping at our heels. So my view these days is at the last mapped land of these past nine years in San Diego, of Spirit Work, of Teaching, Coaching, Fitness and Health…. I feel a pull to parts unknown again, stronger and stronger over the past year or so… that doesn’t always mean moving but it does mean crazy change and transformation. Where I go next I do not know, I do know I am scared as usual, I am excited of course but the journey and lands unknown are calling and it’s time to dance.

Posted in Being Open, Change, Faith, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, Learning, Magic, Manifestation, mind shifts, Practical Magic, truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cluttered

I feel pretty cluttered. I seem to have too much stuff in my head like an attic of someone who tends to save things. A lot of things. Someone who is ancient and fearful with parchment hands and long blue veins running close to the surface.  A person who holds on to things they might need one day, only most of the time those days don’t come. Needless to say, there isn’t a lot of room, not even to turn around and survey what is in those tippy stacks of odd shaped ideas, memories, bits of flick and flack. I understand they are my things, and it’s my attic, and though I am not ancient, there are times I feel it. Not in my bones too much but in my heart, in my head and my eyes.  Sometimes my eyes are the most tired.

I need to lighten, to unpack, and just toss things, both inside and out. I need to find clarity.  As time goes on I seem to like to travel lighter and lighter. I started with my closet and chest of drawers. I thought doing this physically might help the metaphysical, the spiritual and the social-emotional arenas as well. I am someone who cleans out drawers and closets a few times a year, but wanted to go deeper and really peel back the layers of attachment. I started with my pale chiffon pink skirt.  I love it, but only have worn it once. It just does not do either of us justice; the shape and the color, nothing works. It’s okay, but together we are less. I have had it almost 15-20 years which is a crazy amount of time for me to think about. I have almost given it away many times but held on because the silk waistband to the pleated chiffon swirls beneath is just beautiful.  It makes me sad to finally give up on it, but I am guessing it will be someone else’s beautiful soon.

Writing about that skirt makes me wonder how many times I have held onto someone else’s beautiful for too long.  Do I do that with relationships, jobs, ideas, ways of seeing myself that are outdated or untrue? I don’t know, but this is great food for thought. I think since life is one transition after another it is inevitable we hold on too long. Self-assessment and feedback from people and the Universe try to give me tips and bread crumbs to point the way to growth. Then there is ego chiming in and the Bossy Betty in my head, so with the racket in there it can be difficult sorting through what to jettison and what I need to keep.

I worked my way from the closet to the drawers, where every piece of old lingerie, and uncomfortable, complicated or unflattering dresses were pitched in a pile; any kind of fat-sucker-500 or restrictive fancy bullshit was gone in a blink. Impossibly soft old tees were all tried on and only the ones that felt best were kept. The tee-shirts from vacations past were ruthlessly edited. I have pictures I don’t look at for memories, why was I holding on to the tee shirts too? The vintage Apple tee-shirt that is at least 30 years old is now in rotation again for the first time maybe in 28 years. What was I saving it for?

Mid-point as the day heated up, I pulled out two old fans to run as I moved about the apartment, their whir whisking away stale air and kicking up dust.  I stopped after my bedroom closet and chest of drawers to take a breath. My eyes wander down the hall to the closet filled with placemats and table clothes I don’t use anymore, old sheets and napkins, I sigh. I need so little of these things’ I think, shaking my head. In fact I need very little, so maybe that is where I need to focus as I move through my head and my apartment. What do I need?

I understand there is a time I needed to hold on to that pink skirt or tee shirts from trips. Those things represented memories, things that were embedded in the vignettes of my life. The reality is they don’t enhance my days or bring me joy in any way. I rarely see them: I look past them or through them like the ghosts they are. As I get ready to step into August and my birthday month and another fall semester, I plan to take time each weekend and go through a closet, a drawer, under my bed and edit. I also plan on pulling out my journal and looking at what do I really need? What matters to me, who matters to me, and try my best to keep it simple. My wants can come much later; my needs are the focus now. I think it is time for bigger changes for all of us. I want to be more deliberate, a little reckless yet conscious in how I live and what I do with my time and love. What that translates to is not known now but gives me a month, a bunch of giant garbage bags, a journal, some long walks and maybe some champagne for break time, and I think I might have some room in my attic.

Posted in Being Open, Champagne, Change, curiosity, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, intent, mind shifts, Summmer, truth, Uncategorized, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Chasing the Edge

I have noticed I seem to resemble a shark, not in the eating seals or surfer’s way but in the constant motion. I started thinking of it as chasing the edge. What this means to me is I am wildly curious, restless, and continually looking to be better, do better and just scare the crap out of myself on a regular basis. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it is how I have been most of my life. It is like one part of my brain says, “Cool: great job, good money, nice house, just breathe and enjoy”. And I do for a little bit, and then I start to itch, not in the goat-girl three-day marinate way but under my skin, deep in my core. The itch turns to a twitch, then to investigation or research, then to moving on, up, or out to something new. I then land in a new place, an uncomfortable place, feeling awkward and fourteen again with arms and legs akimbo stumbling about at a new edge yet again. The edge is past my comfort zone, knowledge, and feeling of safety all rolled into one, but there is exhilaration too, and a powerful pull.

Sometimes this looked a lot like running from the law. At one point, I lived in five states in ten years. I had friends asking if I was running from something, so I took a long look at that to see but alas it seems that for the most part I was not; I was instead wandering, testing, learning, seeking out, and soaking it all in. I constantly look at my life and evaluate it through being self-reflective, talking to others, studying, and more than I would like taking the train to crazy town. Obsessing is part of this, not a good one but one I work at trying to keep it in check. Though keeping it in check is at times like trying to herd 33 willful kindergarteners on a bus after visiting the Jelly Belly factory, having made their lunch of the free samples.

My penchant for chasing the edge does not mean I can’t sit still and just be. I can, but my mind is whirling and it takes a great deal of work for me to slow it down. I have to remind myself that this might be a time to pause, look, listen, and gestate what I have learned and absorbed. It is the hardest part of my process and the most humbling. You would think trying out the new scary stuff, like, uh, standing up on top of the Pilates reformer  for an exercise where your legs are moving in opposite directions on that crazy contraption and praying that you don’t go ass over teakettle taking out that row of the agile unwitting in front of me. Nope, that is humbling, but nowhere to the degree of humbling as looking at your life and knowing something is coming; you are preparing for a new adventure but not knowing for sure. I sometimes have an idea what it could be and maybe what to do next but because of the timing I am just simmering at the edge. It feels like I am waiting for the window to open and the opportunity to appear. I am mulling over things and I am restless; itchy and now living in crazy town as a permanent resident.

I understand the concept of patience. I work very hard at trying to be patient. I also stand in front of the microwave and yell at it to hurry the fuck up. So there is that – I have that going for me too. I also understand I am deeply flawed and just human, which I really, really hate. That whole feeling: my feelings thing, finding balance, resting and being thoughtful all play havoc with a good to-do list. I understand when I can relax into the pause it helps. I also understand given my shark-like nature that giving myself other things to focus on while someone is building that door or window of opportunity helps. It helps me to learn something new, take on other challenges, and keep the 33 kindergarteners in my head hopped up on sugar busy while other parts of me are doing the hard work of growing. The tough part is that growing only happens from the inside out, so sometimes we don’t see it or see evidence of it at first. This can be frustrating and kind of sucky. This type of inside work I am talking about is about being present, seeking answers, growth, and a naked wonder about life. It is a search for clarity and being honest with myself. These elements pull me to the next edge. What I always forget is that I have to be quiet and still to get to those moments, those elements, so I can know what direction the next edge is at…. Drats!

Posted in Being Open, Change, choices, curiosity, Faith, Fear, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, humor, Learning, Listening, mind shifts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer’s Signature

The first summer cocktail I invented came from necessity, as most good things do. My sister, Chris, was visiting some years ago over the summer and we watched Grey Gardens or part of it. She has to this day never made it all the way through the disturbing documentary of the two reclusive formerly upper class women; a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, part of the Bouvier clan. We decided to retire outside after a bit to the back forty, which is a cement pad in back of my apartment building, for some late afternoon sun in beach chairs. In prep, we decided to glam up like the crazy Beale’s in the documentary. So there we were Chris and I sat wearing all the jewelry in my house, red lipstick, dark sunglasses and toasting to life and the absurd with An Evening with Edie, the cocktail I concocted for the evening. Our beach chairs tilted our view to the sunset above the row of trash bins, that moment began a summer ritual and a way to be or see life differently. The ritual of creating a libation each summer and a way to be in being able to look above the rubbish to see something beautiful; both exist in the same landscape but choosing what to focus on is important.

That was five years ago. I have kept the ritual of creating a new libation and a way to be in summer alive and well in my repertoire. The next summer I moved away from working with vodka as I did with An Evening with Edie, a berry version of a Cosmopolitan with a heavier base note and decided on checking out tequila. I wanted something lighter, more refreshing so in turning to tequila I added cucumbers, mint, club soda, and Rose’s lime juice and out came the Flying Nun. Here was my lighter, quirkier way to see what my summer brought, looking at things from above seeing the improbable and the impossible unfold, all good lessons to take forward.

The next summer during conversations with an old friend and former student, they recommended I use PIMM’S. PIMM’s No 1 Cup as it is known,  is popular in England and used to make PIMM’s Cup: a drink that is a staple for Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show, neither of which I have attended. I was up for the challenge: I bought some of this reddish brown, citrus-herby-boozy-hell and started working. I started with ginger beer and then moved to pineapple cider and more crazy concoctions with each shake and stir. What should have been more fun wasn’t and my starter of PIMM’s was not to my taste.  It took weeks and with each revision of the drink I sent the recipe to my friend to try out. They and their friends gave me feedback. I worked hard, it was tough stuff but eventually I paired it with some Limoncello Italian liquor and Italian blood red orange soda, and with a little fresh lime the Bloody Brit was born. I went through at least 3 or 4 total overhauls in trying to work with PIMM’S. What I learned there was not to assume I would always start out at a good spot or a level playing field.  Sometimes I won’t, but I can still get to where I want as long as I use my imagination, tenacity, and of course, have a good cocktail and friends along for the sometimes arduous climb.

The following summer I wanted an easy start and I had a fairly intense interest in moonshine. I would think a sentence like that would have appeared in a whole other type of writing.  The kind of story that Tennessee Williams, Fannie Flag, or Pat Conroy might have written in a coming-of-age tale in South Carolina perhaps?…but I digress. I did a little research and found a cool looking bottle of moonshine with good reviews. What surprised me was how smooth this stuff is…wow! I had some ideas around a slushy style libation and a bad choice of a not-too-ripe watermelon answered the call of duty. I cut up the little bastard and threw his bits in the freezer. I took watermelon, some of the left over Limoncello liquor, berries, Rose’s lime juice, and moonshine and mixed it up in a blender for a freezy-breezy-summery treat. The worst part of the drink was the name I picked, Summer in a Glass. Bland name for a delicious treat; I don’t know why I picked the name but never renamed it when I could and so the name lives.

There are rules to my rituals, traditions, what-ever-the-hell-this-is… I started with some things born out of curiosity, i.e. moonshine, an un-ripened fruit tossed in the freezer out of necessity, and lack of imagination when it came to the name. What Summer in a Glass showed me is with a little curiosity in the beginning helps even things out, and even stupid names and a lack of imagination in the moment can lead to something good in the end.

This leads me to this summer: year five of this tradition. I looked at what I had in my house and chose what I wanted to work with. I had a sparkling rose wine I like and that sounded like a good base. I never look to see what professional bartenders are mixing. I just try stuff based on what I have, what might taste good or if someone offers up an interesting idea i.e. hello-goodbye PIMM’S. This year I went back to vodka as it was still on the shelf from An Evening with Eddie and thought it might go with the rose wine as well as other things. I started to mix away on Memorial Day weekend with diligence. I am writing this the weekend after and I can say I am pretty close to what I want. There is a martini start, as in stirred not shaken, for cranberry vodka(the vodka from An Evening with Edie wasn’t quite right), some of that leftover bottle of Lemoncello swirled around ice and poured straight up in a cold glass, and finished off with the sparkling rose wine along with a few frozen blackberries. I think some Chambord might appear but so far no. I could switch out for the limon liquor. I try not to buy too much for these concoctions, and the cranberry vodka was an unseen purchase. Though as I started to work as a mixologist in the supreme amateur status, I can honestly say, “I wanted it, I really wanted it,” and gave in.

This year was simple yet complicated, each piece, every component really had to make the whole better, no digressions. I wanted it clear, shades of pink, effervescent and refreshing, just like I wanted my summer. I learned that sometimes simple things take a lot of tweaking, thought, and work; little things matter when it comes to clarity. That it takes focus in seeing the rosy side. That levity and light are sometimes added after the fact. I named it after a scene in a great old movie “Steel Magnolias” for two reasons: the first is a scene in the beauty parlor when Julia Roberts is asked what her wedding colors are and her mother played by Sally Fields says, “Pink and pink.” Julia Roberts comes back with, that pink is her signature color and these are two of the most beautiful shades of pink, blush and bashful. I was working with pink and shades of it and that line always comes to mind when I think pink. The second reason is that, like the movie title implies, these beauties are as strong as steel, and their beauty can be deceptive. My summer cocktail is pink, clear, and effervescent: pretty, albeit deceptive in that it is all alcohol and packs a punch. I am not sure what that means for my summer other than it might look pretty and there may be hidden depths, beauty, strength, and craftsmanship ahead. Cheers!

Posted in celebrate, Creativity, curiosity, drinking, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, mind shifts, Play, Summmer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What I remember

I have been thinking of a story my sister, Chris, reminded me of the last time we spoke.  I had forgotten it completely but it seems not to the level of her remembering. Years ago we were having a conversation about the book Beach Music by Pat Conroy. A favorite read for both of us and a beautifully crafted book for a myriad of reasons. During that conversation Chris was trying to remember who played the main character in the movie based on the book. I said, “Nobody it was never a movie.” She was emphatic that not only was it a movie but we went and saw it together. She then pulled out her phone and went searching for the movie and the actor she was trying to remember.  What she found was that it had indeed never been a movie so her memory of seeing it and seeing it with me was fiction. She had not only cast the movie in her head but produced, directed and released it. Then of course was the memory of us seeing it together and the details that went with that set of events. She was stunned, especially since all the memories were so rich in detail.

So what does this mean, besides Chris has a vivid imagination and rich inner life? It means we create stories about things we believe, events, people and well everything. We then hold them as fact, as lines in the sand, as ways to live, as whatever we need that story to be. I don’t see this as good or bad unless we don’t understand that it is our nature to do this. It is part of our nature to find meaning, or look for understanding in the chaos around us. So yes memories can be benign and fun like in Beach Music being a movie or they can hold us prisoner. How would that look? Maybe we remember a conversation with a parent where we were shamed, or being rejected by a lover, a teacher who told us we were stupid. Perhaps we got left out of parties, or passed over for a promotion we thought was ours. These things we can make up stories about, embellish, or misinterpret to fit a narrative in how we define ourselves. Then it becomes dangerous.

Voltaire said “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”  Being certain our “stories or memories’” are wholly true, pure fact, might be a dicey bet, not unlike eating gas station hot dogs. I am not advising throwing out our stories or memories or carving them in stone. I just have been thinking about what stories I use to define myself and which ones no longer serve the life I live now and who I have become. What did I invent or massage over the years to fit my narratives of self? What ones have you invented? I think just noticing where our stories come up, what we use them for and what we are certain about could be interesting.

The times I am certain of something is when I have been the least open. This is true especially when it has been around painful memories, or stories. The times when I have not invited in the pink elephant of doubt to the table in the moment, and not after the moment in the retelling sets me up for a greater fiction. Knowing I was wholly in the right in a fight or even in a disagreement where I felt justified in my action is particularly dangerous ground. Hindsight usually shows me I was generally partly culpable or responsible for things going south and other times much more. So building my life on memories, stories of what may or may not have happened seems like a less stable foundation. Perhaps instead just considering them part of the fabric of my life not fact or fiction but stories that illustrate who I have been and what has mattered to me over time might be truer and more beneficial.

In adapting this approach I am not stuck in the realness, the point of order but rather in the spirit of the tale and what it gave me in its inception and life. That does not mean there is not truth in our stories, and there can be fact as well. Both exist in those stories but treating all of the memories as gospel is where we run into ego. So maybe we need to think more of our closely held beliefs about ourselves and others as mutable, flexible and try to be more open about inviting in doubt.  Try to remember with the lenses of kindness, compassion and humor what is painful, playful and purposeful. The certainty we want may leave us too rigid for the long run and we might miss the best of our stories and others stories. By relinquishing certainty to invite in a little doubt, we garner the opportunity to see a movie that never existed but should have and we had a hell of a time seeing it.

Posted in Being Open, choices, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, humor, Listening, mind shifts, truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments