Spirit

As the holidays are rushing by and through us like a December wind, I want to once again make a plea for you all to stop, or just pause and take a breath. Drink some nog or champagne and look around at your life. Look at those you love, even when they leave dishes in the sink when there is a perfectly good dishwasher right there. Those who make you laugh and make you cry. Yea those guys, the family you were born to, the family you choose and the trusted friends who know your brand of crazy. Stop and look at what you have achieved in relationships, through both difficult and joyous times over the years. Celebrate it all and revel in the fellowship that is connection to others and the rollercoaster ride that comes with our ticket to humanity.

This time of year has many expectations of what and how we should do everything. As our lives change, our relationships change and so do our rituals, from who is sitting at our holiday table to who gets the ecard verse the paper. These changes are neither good nor bad, they are just changes. How we see those changes or feel about them, is what makes them good or bad. Taking time to embrace what is, find a new normal and invite in generosity of spirit and heart is not only good for you but everyone around you. We sometimes want to jam our life into a cookie cutter and we do this with a vengeance at holiday time. It creates stress, conflict and anxieties, making us want to add brandy to our nogged coffee or hit the cooking sherry with breakfast even if we have to flambé a bagel to do it.

What would it be like if we saw those around us for who they are, instead of who we wanted them to be? Better yet, what would it be like to see ourselves for who we are, instead of who we think we should be? Oh goodness those are powerful lenses to view the world through, and they are most beneficial to our sanity. How can we do that though?  We can start by taking time to sit with a book, a cup of something good, a fire or a friend and enjoy that perfect moment between our expectations, our agenda and our angst. Taking that moment, can be a lovely little antidote to the shoulds or have tos. That step back from the whirl might give us some clarity and help us to realize we are playing old roles, old tapes and old drama we no longer need nor want. Simply by choosing to put it down for a little bit, whatever it may be, can help; if you really need it you know exactly where you left it.

Take parts of your day for yourself, even if only 30 minutes, to savor doing nothing but watching the crowds going in and out of airports, malls or tree lots all around you. Watch your fellow humans leap, struggle, grit teeth and laugh at wherever they are. Stop and think about that connection to others, strangers and loved ones. To those who are brave enough to love and be loved fiercely regardless of consequences. And to those who need to sit on the fence a little longer to watch, because the game of life looks so very dangerous that they fear they might make a mistake. Think of those times you have done just what they have done in some way or to some degree. The world has never been them and us; it has only ever been us. One boat, one people, one heart.

So maybe in the spirit of the holiday look at those we love and those who make us crazy, angry and scared—and many times those all are the same person—and find our humanity in theirs. Find compassion for them and for ourselves. Find laughter in the small moments, and let go the difficult ones, knowing this too shall pass. I think finding space to love where we are and who we are with for this very small slice of time is a powerful tool. We can do this by making this day, this shining moment, perfect in its imperfection and beauty and perhaps use it as a blue print for the holidays and beyond. Come on, we have all seen the films that make us fall in love with life… Love Actually, Stranger than Fiction and About Time, to name just a few.

In the last lucid conversation I had with my sister Amy shortly before she died she said she knew she was going to die and very shortly. She paused after this and said, “What I could do with one more month, a few more weeks.” Well folks, most of us have that time don’t we? So let’s take advantage of the love, the laughter and what really, really matters. Nobody at the end of their life I have known ever said they should have worked harder, they should have made more pies, sent out holiday cards or lost 10lbs to fit into that dress. They always say they should have been braver, taken more risks, loved harder and more, been kinder and let things go. They also say they should have had more pie, champagne, or naps.

Maybe we can look at the holidays to reconnect, rewire, to find love and forgive for others and ourselves, and build something wonderful with everyone around us. Light the fire of kindness, compassion, tolerance, and do it with laughter; build belonging and connection. When we feel loved and that we belong we can do anything and be anything. So that is the gift to give this season: above all others the generosity of spirit, give it freely to everyone and most especially to yourself. So here is some homework from this giant elf: first do something special for yourself, something thoughtful and kind. Then reach out and tell someone who has made a difference in your life, call them, or even send them a note and tell them how grateful you are that they are/were in your life. This can be a grade school teacher, your mother or your partner in crime and life. In fact the more people you tell and show your love and gratitude the better your world, and all of ours will be. So grab your nog and champagne and start to make a new list, this one based on love, gratitude and generosity of spirit … they don’t call them spirits for nothing folks, cheers!

 

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Posted in Being Open, celebrate, Champagne, fellowship, forgiveness, Health and Wellness, holidays, humor, intent, love, mind shifts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks

In order to be thankful, to be grateful, we have to have the ability to recognize our gifts, blessings, good juju, and great fortune. Most of us don’t, but then we have not trained ourselves to stop or merely pause and take it all in. What does that mean take it all in? Do I mean our life, the moment, a gesture, all of our surroundings, or ourselves? The answer is all of the above. Our ability to recognize kindness, good fortune, and beauty in our lives is in direct correlation to our happiness and overall life satisfaction level. Like an Olympian trains using practice, awareness of skill level and focus on mastery: We can use these same techniques to achieve a higher level of satisfaction, happiness and hopefully joy. That said, I am not running, jumping or getting on any kind of balance beam to do this; that is nothing but a long-ass-day in the ER if nothing else. What I am doing is actively practicing the skills that will rewire my brain.

My taking time each day to look for three new things to be grateful for either at the end or the beginning of the day sets my intent and my brain in looking for these moments all day long. That action then makes me more aware of what they might look like, feel like, and gives me the ability to recreate more of them, more often. The difference in recognizing things I am truly grateful for has more to do with feeling than thinking. Here is what I mean: I use the following exercise in class and it helps to make the distinction of thinking about being thankful and feeling thankful.

Think of something that you love, like a great burger, a sunset on the beach, a nap. How does that make you feel? Now think of someone you love, think about how they make you feel and how they add to your life. How does that make you feel? For most of us the first example made us happy, or smile; it felt nice, even good. In the second example, where we are thinking of a person something in our chests expands like in the Grinch who stole Christmas at the end of the book—our heart feels expanded. There is warmth and an expansion in our core that is visceral, we feel it deeply. That is what I am talking about, feeling what thankful feels like. This is an indication of the level we want to look for and find daily. At first it might be smaller things but in time it grows and deepens. It’s all good and it all counts.

Sometimes talking about our trifecta-of-goodness list is a nice exercise to do over dinner at night with those you love around the table. It invites in lots of interesting conversation and creates a culture of positivity, wellness and being open. What happens when we retell a good experience is we release all the good chemical compounds like dopamine and endorphins, and we start to feel like we did in the moment and derive the same physical, emotional and spiritual benefits as if it were happening again. On the same note, if we retell stories where we feel wronged, that reminds us of instances that made us angry, hurt, cheated and dismissed where we are making our selves small same thing happens. In telling those negative stories either out-loud or in our head we are re-traumatizing ourselves over and over, releasing detrimental chemicals like cortisol and other stress hormones. Doing this long term we damage our endocrine system in that we burn it out so it no longer can regulate.

We need to process things and talking about bad experiences is a fine and a healthy way to work through those experiences—being self-reflective is good. Defining ourselves by reliving old anger, painful filled stories over and over, is not. Forgiveness is an act for self, not for others. It does not condone or minimize what happens to us, it merely means we are not defined by those actions and chose to learn from them and move on. That doesn’t mean that there is not an external benefit to forgiveness in relationship or community in building bridges and empathy, there is that as well. Anger is like a hot rock, the only person hurt is the person holding it. Complaining falls into this category: it does not fix anything, it makes us feel awful, and we are then focused on the problem and not on a solution. It is a way to self-sabotage that is social. Some folks feed on it; some folks are repelled by it. Be mindful of where you fall on the spectrum of negative spewing. Again, we all do some complaining; however, if you do it all day long, that is a problem Eeyore.

Sometimes we are much more aware of our blessings after bad things happen. Then we recognize how precious our health is, the comfort of a bed, food to eat, our family and friends. Sometimes we have to lose something or someone to find what we need, or to find ourselves. We cannot have light without darkness: each brings gifts to recognize the other and we learn from each. We learn far more from our struggles, our challenges and losses, here is where our true character is revealed and hones itself against the rough. There is a reason we are drawn to things that are shiny: they have been crafted through blood, sweat and tears. We also then understand that all the goodness we have is but fleeting, as is our pain, and all of it deepens our appreciation of our lives and those in it. This brings us to deep gratitude for what is.

Taking time to find, recognize, then revel in moments we are grateful for is time well spent. It is wonderful to find abundance in your life by stopping and looking for it. It is there and always has been but we generally speed past it unless we practice taking that pause, that breath and soak it in. Then in turn we role model that practice for others and show them how to do it. That can be our children, our partners, our friends and colleagues. Happiness is external, it is derived from external stimulus and how we chose to react to it. Joy however is internal, it springs from deep places and it is brought on by practices such as gratitude, learning to be compassionate, kind and finding out and accepting who we are in our light and in our darkness. We are a mirror of what we think and believe, so by changing how we think, we change our lives. By reaching for meaning, and space to appreciate what we have and what we are, we then can connect to ourselves, to others and to our lives in a deeply satisfying way. This practice grounds us and sustains us through the winds of fate and of course the martinis of doom. So go out there and practice thankfulness or gratitude not just for the turkey or tofurky come thanksgiving but every day, all day and in building these skills your build a life worth living.

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The Best Season of All

As fall comes tumbling, in so do the holidays. October has always been my favorite month. When I lived back East I loved the sweaters, the boots and the smell of the crisp air so full of earthy scents of leaves, and smoke from no longer dormant fireplaces and possibilities. Fall always meant beginnings; most people equate that with spring. Not me. The cooler weather means school, the coming holidays and most of all the Candy Season. Candy Season is my most beloved season of all.

What, you are not aware of a Candy Season? Oh come on now, surely you jest. There is a ski season, a bathing suit season, which ironically runs contrary to Candy Season, and other seasons that run through many months. Candy Season is the same deal. October starts Candy Season and kicks-off with giant bags of candy we buy for Halloween. We try not to burrow through them in all the weeks leading up to Halloween, only to buy new bags to replace the ones we devoured.

There are various methods we all have tried to not eat the Halloween candy prior to Halloween, such as buying the kind of candy we don’t love or like, like that is a real thing. We put it in a giant Tupperware tubs in the car, in the cellar, garage, basement, attic, and under the neighbor’s back porches. Sooner or later we are in our pajamas wearing a coat or hat and always slippers, grabbing a few handfuls/bagful’s. After you run out again and the neighbors call the police about a burglar they keep seeing in the backyard you wait a little longer before buying it again. We wait only a day or two before re-upping again, starting the cycle of love/hate with candy and Candy Season.

For me it is only love, no hate. I gave up hating food years ago. Even crap food. I eat pretty clean, like 80/20 or even better as I get older. Eighty percent good stuff and twenty percent crappy. I am okay with that and so are my Pilates instructors. Halloween is the first showcase in Candy Season!  I buy candy I love, leave it in the car, and the day of Halloween I take some to work for my coworkers/ME. The bags follow me all day, allowing me to eat my body’s weight of candy for only one day. From breakfast to bed, oh yes Virginia there are gummy bacon and eggs that are divine! That plus coffee equate to toxic rocket fuel: no need to drive to work, you can roadrunner right there in nothing flat.

Then we move on to Thanksgiving. What, you think no candy, only pie’s at Thanksgiving? Pshaw, as much as I love pie more than color television, there is also candy. My mother would buy Andes’ Mints and try to hide them each year so we had them for the Turkey Day. She was good at hiding them: back of cabinets in the breakfront, behind the cans of veggies in the basement pantry, no matter where she hid them I found them and ate some. Eating just enough for the package to seem light but not empty. With four sisters, and a grandmother, she had no idea who to pin it on. There is also the hard candy option at this time of year, which is pretty, but nasty to eat. Good to suck on and throw at your sister’s head, causing a knot the size of Wisconsin in her hair, but other than that inedible. There are also those candy-corn-type things in the shape of pumpkins, squash and pilgrim hats, which is just wrong. Not only is candy corn disgusting at Halloween (sorry Kaelea) but shaping it like vegetables and historic clothing makes it creepier. At least when it stays in the candy corn shape you can bite the white tips off, stick them on your teeth and make your coworker snort her coffee at an inopportune moment. Needless to say there are some very good mints and chocolate to be had at Thanksgiving.

Then we move into the winter holidays, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza: offer a bonanza of candy options right after you wrap up Thanksgiving. We have chocolate in the shapes of everything from nativity scenes and religious texts to bells, dreidels, stars, coins, anything and everything. There are candy canes, which are useless unless you add them to a cocktail, and then they are festive. Why do we buy them every year? Nobody eats them; they go on the tree and get packed with the ornaments. I have some from 1932 that my mother passed down. They are older than me and the closest thing I have to family heirlooms.

There is a world of giving and receiving candy that erupts through this part of the Candy Season that starts with hostess gifts in Thanksgiving and rolls right through the winter holidays, kicking-ass until spring. There is candy in the office and in shops by registers as the big winter holidays roll in. It is everywhere and we wash it down with eggnog lattes! Maybe the last part is just me. There are chocolate-covered cherries: some of us hate them, and some of us love them. No matter where you come down on the chococherriefest you have to admit the jelly liquid with the cherry is very saliva like, no?

We use New Years to try to stop the onslaught of candy, but it cannot be stopped. Oh yea, and that New Year’s celebration with cocktails, which is essentially liquid candy: sugar with alcohol is more or less crack. Our New Year’s Resolution to eat healthy lasts a few days or until Valentine’s Day, the mother of all candy days and candy buying.

During Valentine’s Day, the really expensive candy comes out to play. Fancy boxes filled with truffles. Some chocolates are filled with champagne, rum, again see the above crack comment. There are gold and red foil boxes in shapes of hearts filled with promise, regret and indigestion, depending on if you eat them all or just take exploratory bites to eat only the good ones. Chocolate shaped hearts, roses and thankfully no candy corn shaped anything to do with amore.

Lastly, the end of Candy Season comes with an extravaganza of spring indulgences like Easter and Passover. Again we have chocolate shaped everything, from barnyard chicks to deities and religious symbols. We have baskets of fake grass heaped with jelly beans, chocolate, some bad candy corns stuff again and peeps. I would like to address a few things here, one of which is the flooding of the market with wondrous type of jelly beans. They are all good and we need them. I have done taste tests from classic Braches to Starburst, and each fits a blessed niche like sneakers at a footlocker: there are a dozen for everyone and you will need a dozen sneakers after Candy Season to get ready for bathing suit season.

I want to spend a moment on peeps as well. We have seen the peep-creep in other holidays and I would be remiss if I don’t address it now. Like candy corn and chocolate covered-cherries, these are outliers in candy. People either love or hate them. We have seen the peep morph into zombies and orange pumpkins at Halloween, they turn into Santa, or stars at Christmas, maybe even hearts at Valentine’s Day. I am not a fan, though I do appreciate the marketing of the peep-creep into other holidays. The only good thing I have found to do with a peep is put it in the microwave for a short time and watch the fun unfold. I discovered this almost 20 years ago while working in high-tech. We had left-over candy: the dreaded candy dregs, having saved the worst for last essentially. And of course there were a lot of stale peeps. I was bored after a battery of meetings and grabbed a yellow peep, put it on a paper plate and nuked it for 5-10 seconds in the common area. It grew three times its size like hulk peep, it was crazy and funny. Make note here that you have to catch it before it burns and stinks the office up. After the discovery of hulk peep, I then grabbed my team and showed them my new neat trick. No eating peeps, just growing them mutant-sized and killing time with burnt sugar. The rush off all that candy sooner or later turns destructive.

This is of course where we see Candy Season come to a twisted puffed-up end, not unlike me at the end of Candy Season. After these last spring candy holidays a new season starts: Fruit Season. Memorial Day kicks it off and we see watermelon as the staple of summer holidays, with berries and the like. Sure you might go camping and make a s’more but really the work to get ready, go to the woods, and sleep on the ground with bears for a graham cracker ( not even a proper cookie) and a marshmallow with a smear of chocolate is not worth it. Good lord, you have to caveman it up and make a fire to get a candy-like substance. No thank you, I will enjoy the fruit for the daiquiris and dream of fall, of October. Each good thing in its own time, and in the absence of Candy Season my heart grows fonder, my appreciation more, and my dress size less. Here’s to Candy Season y’all, enjoy!

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The Summer of Enchantment

This summer I vowed to find enchantment in every action and not just from the results of the action. To remember to do this I drew, or had someone else draw, a symbol, art, or faux tattoo on my right wrist. The changing pictures, the ever present Sharpie, the ritual I hoped would remind me of the quote I used in my May blog “Compared to What,” and remind me to find enchantment in the moment. Here is the quote and some of what I found, learned and created along the way from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

 

“We live under the power of modern consciousness, which means that we are obsessed with progress. Wherever you are is not good enough. We always want to achieve something, rather than experience something. The opposite of this is spiritual consciousness.
By that I mean you find enchantment in every action you do, rather in just the results of your action.”
Satish Kumar~

 

The preparation was easy: a Sharpie on my desk at work and one at home. It turns out that is not near enough Sharpies, I also needed a purse Sharpie for travel, opportunity and forgetfulness. Thanks to Nadia I got one the first week I forgot to draw on myself. What that taught me was when you invite others into your adventure you build community, you build relationship, and they help you succeed. I waited until the Thursday before Memorial Day to ask someone to draw something for me to kick-start my summer. I knew exactly who I wanted to draw on me first, my former student, co-worker and friend Chelsea. She is an amazing artist and I wanted the sign of infinity on my right wrist as I am right handed, so anything I managed would be purely crazy eights at best.

 

I will take a detour here to say that 25 years ago my evil-twin-half-sister Tony and I got tattoos. I have not had a real pull, or reason to get a second tattoo,  though in recent years I have toyed with getting a second tattoo on my right wrist and maybe an infinity sign, as that ties me to many things, one of which is my sister Amy. That is why I wanted the faux tattoo done well and with skilled hands to assess if this was something I might really want to put a needle and ink to, not just ink. Chelsea did a beautiful job and I knew at first glance that no I didn’t want a permanent mark on my wrist, it felt wrong. No other way to say it. Knowing “no” to a real tattoo, and putting that to bed, I began my summer of enchantment.

 

Each time I was asked if it was a tattoo I explained about my summer experiment.  Each time I was drawn in to remembering why I was doing this and being in the moment. Each time I had to take the Sharpie in my left-non-writing hand and draw something, over my morning coffee and post shower I took pause. Each time I looked down at a different, sometimes less-than-attractive symbol on my wrist I was there enjoying my folly, bad art and whoever was with me in the moment. The tale of my summer drew smiles, nods, laughter and puzzlement depending on my audience. Most people engaged, but there were a few that did not. That was interesting to see who stepped in to play and who did not. That is true for any adventure we plan: some will go with you down the road, some will cheer and others just shake their heads. What is always the most interesting is it is never who we expect in each of those roles. People’s reactions to our actions can be surprising, sweet or even disappointing. I try to remember that it is about them not me, not to judge, and tally on.

 

I asked many people if they wanted to draw something on me and it was fascinating to watch the reactions, and art that came forward. One time I asked a close friend who is an amazing artist and a very deep thinker. She needed time to plan in her head prior to drawing. I gave it to her. A few hours later I prompted her again and she was ready. As she started to draw on my wrist I watched and thought “oh my that is not good.” Not that it was ugly mind you… but rather what she started to draw was starting to look a lot like a swastika. Yikes. I stopped her and asked her about what I was seeing, and then she saw it.  She had been aiming for a mandala but clearly it had not gone as “planned.” Art, and life, rarely go as planned so stopping to think can be a good thing, but sometimes in creative endeavors it may not be the best approach. She took the drawing in a better non-swastikary-Arian-white supremacy mode and went more floral.

 

A couple of times people went big, my wrist and my forearm were involved. That was always a little surprising and uncomfortable. The first time it happened, I had a picture that was four to five inches down and maybe three inches across, if not more. I had not planned on how bigger would feel. It felt a little embarrassing and goofy which I was. Nobody noticed. It was just there but my expectations of what was going to be drawn moved out of my scope of possibilities, and there was an adjustment for me to make. This was uncomfortable, not in a bad way but in a “Oh, that is where we are going” kind of way. Like when a new hairdresser finishes your cut and color then styles your hair in a way that you have not expected or planned. Sometimes though, in that example, we get as far as the car and do damage control. Whether that damage looks like a brown helmet, blonde cotton candy or red cartoon Heat-Miser, though that one I kept ….

 

So yes when my expectations in inviting someone in to partake were not met, or shifted into unknown territory I got more than I bargained for. It gave me a moment to check myself, to choose to be in the enchantment of the unknown, unexpected and interesting. We know that unmet expectations can also go to fear, anger or resentment, which is the dark-side of the unknown. Paying attention to my reaction and not anyone else’s when I got shifted out of my script in my tiny head was surprising. I found myself embracing the initial reaction of embarrassment and feeling goofy then digging deeper, finding humor, and finding out I had a script and letting it go. Small things can bring big learning.

 

Another interesting moment came when I was getting ready to interview a student for a fall tutoring job. We did not know each other. She is about 19 years old; the other person in our office that day was my friend, Wendy, who was subbing for us over the summer and had done some lovely artwork on my wrist earlier in the summer. I grabbed the interview questions, the young woman’s application and on a whim a Sharpie. I had forgotten to draw something that morning. I asked her if she wanted to do something odd and draw on my wrist, explaining why I was doing it. I told her she didn’t have to if it was too weird or she didn’t want to and it was no big deal. She did not hesitate or blink. She took the Sharpie from me as Wendy watched with a question in her eyes. The young woman drew a lovely little symbol quickly and efficiently then off we went into the other office for our interview. She did well in the interview, most do. I hired her thanking her for her sense of adventure and willingness to jump in.

 

After she left I looked at Wendy who still had that question in her eyes and then I explained using an old movie. In Men in Black, Will Smith goes in for an interview. He finds himself in a crazy room with a bunch of other guys in suits filling out applications. There is nothing to lean on and they are all struggling to write while propping the application on their thighs with their pens periodically puncturing the paper. Will gets up and grabs a heavy table to lean on and drags it slowly, due to its heft, across the floor making a racket the whole way. He invites the others to use it to fill out the paperwork when he gets it close to their seats. They decline, and he fills out his application easily. All the while the hiring manager watches this play out.

 

I was curious what this young woman would do with my odd request. It wasn’t part of the job interview, just my summer “art” project. But here’s the thing: tutoring is uncomfortable the first few times you step into a new classroom. It is about initiating, moving out of your comfort zone and being brave. She did that in spades. She would not have lost any points not doing it. I would have thought it was interesting but nothing more. This small task, requested on a lark, showed me who this young woman was in that moment. I was impressed and delighted.

 

Some days I forgot to draw something, best guess about a dozen days all summer; not great but not too shabby overall. Even in the forgetting I would look at my naked wrist and remember, so the reminder was there still. Seeing something new drawn there caught my attention each time and it brought me back to the moment. A piece of jewelry or a real tattoo might have become too familiar and disappeared into the everyday; and therefore not giving me what I wanted. The ever changing symbol, the guest artists, the ritual of doing it, trying to draw something with my left hand, to looking down at it in meetings, and while driving, all made me look for something beautiful in that moment. It was great fun, frustrating sometimes in forgetting it, or going sideways when my expectations were toppled.

 

This summer’s experiment was all good learning, all good lessons, and a valuable tool for my and your bag of tricks. I went looking for enchantment and found it. I also learned a lot about myself and a little about others. Whether you decide to do this for a weekend, a week, or a vacation I highly recommend it as a social experiment if nothing else. Who knows what you might find? My guess is if your experience is anything like my experience, it will be more than you expect, and as Dr. Seuss says, “Oh the places you will go!” Grab your Sharpie’s and head out on to an adventure…

 

Posted in Being Open, Creativity, curiosity, Faith, fellowship, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, Learning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stones

Our lives are made up of moments, each strung together like beads on a necklace; they can be pearls, stones or turds. It is up to us. At first an oyster thinks, “this is a problem. This piece of sand is very irritating. It is making me work to be comfortable, work to be okay, work to be whole.” Of course, I am paraphrasing for the oyster given their huge vocabulary. That piece of sand, the small grain of sandstone irritating the oyster and us is the beginning of beauty, art, character and all that is good. Those things are born out of being uncomfortable. This is a foundational stone of change generated out of fear that gives us milestones we earn rather than ones we are given.

What do I mean? This month I turn 55 which is a milestone. What did I do to achieve it? I didn’t die. For me sometimes not dying is no small feat given my proclivity to rushing about without paying attention, playing with sharp knives, dallying with fire, and my keen love of adult beverages, all of which can happen on any given Sunday afternoon in my apartment. I am also not talking about struggling with a serious illness, where making it to a birthday is a huge feat of bravery, stubbornness, faith and fortitude, just to mention a few. So that said, my living to this birthday was not born from anything other than refusing to stop breathing and maintenance.

The milestones we earn can look like anything or nothing to the world’s naked eye, as they are generated from the inside out and might look like this blog, number 100. I was terrified for a long time for anyone to read my work. It was suggested over and over by many people for years to create a blog. I would have rather set my hair on fire than do that (see the prior paragraph on dangers of fire and me). Tony, Chris, Marsue and did I mention Tony… they encouraged me to put myself out there. But Tony pushed because he knew it scared me and he loves and knows me. So I did, slowly, with great fear and fumbling, create a blog, then went on to write for Flickspin, a now defunct web magazine, and back to writing my own blog. What went into this milestone was blood, sweat and tears over years, and that is just how my editors feel.

The milestones we earn can be fearless or fearful, but they happen with courage, abandon, foolishness, alcohol, grit, intensity, faith and grace. They are about acknowledging the fear and being uncomfortable but not giving into it, and doing what we need to do despite the fear. This is whole-hearted living. It might look like stepping out onto the stage at an open-mike night, or open-mark night having invited people you know to watch you perform. It might be that plan to bring your box of kazoos next time up at bat. It might look like taking a big job or turning one down. It could be moving into your first sun filled apartment on the Upper East Side or talking to a stranger on a plane to work on your shyness and build an unexpected connection. It could mean reaching out to an old friend, enemy, or family member in kindness and forgiveness. These are not easy things: they are fraught with worry and overthinking, and they are paralyzing and polarizing in how we feel and what we do. They are indeed what we build the life we want if we choose to step forward, make a choice and jump, crawl, scramble or trudge up that stone path to the top.

Once there I advise a few things: First is to pause, then stop, take a deep breath and take in the view. Take in the satisfaction of achievement, the learning, the struggle, and the beauty. Do not diminish your view or your milestone in any fashion. The “anyone could have done it” does not apply here and never did. We are individuals and our struggles are our own growth, which gives each of us our own Hero’s Journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. This is about our journey, our road and our choices. There at the perch of your milestone, take a good long time to just be in it, be with it and soak it all in before rushing past to the next climbing spot. Dive deeply into the collective experiences of what that accomplishment or milestone felt like, what was learned and how does it apply to the next part of our journey.  Breath, smile and drink it in. This is how you make a pearl and that is a big-ass-pearl to be strung up.

Stepping stones, milestones, gravestones, the stones we throw and the ones that are thrown at us all are part of this process. What we do in spite of loss, pain, grief or fear matters. What we choose to do when someone irritates us, or we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. Do we make a pearl or does it stay a stone, or do we turn out a turd? I don’t have to explain a lot about how we make a turd, do I? What I will say about it is that it is about making us, and more importantly others, smaller through meanness, sloth, carelessness, lies, fear, anger, righteousness, arrogance, or silence. Hey folks, what we do–not what we say–show people who we are and we wear that around our neck right across our heart. So I implore you to live purposefully, choose wisely what you do to yourself and others, celebrate all the stepping stones, milestones, and pearls and learn from the times you turn out something less than that. And when you get to the top of a well-earned milestone, pause, stop, take a deep breath, laugh, cry and celebrate the hero’s journey, the human experience and maybe indulge with a little champagne!

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Strategery

It was a Saturday night in Denver and the Veuve Clicquot was open and flowing in celebration of Ms. Marsue’s graduation and high honors. This was all well and good but I needed to talk about something serious: We were to embark on a journey the next day and there was no time to dilly-dally. We had reservations for champagne brunch at The Brown Palace, the oldest and seriously posh hotel in downtown Denver, at 10:30 the next morning. Preparation is everything.

Marsue had been to their brunch once before, I had not. I needed to talk strategery and thought her knowledge of their brunch would help me glean information about set-up, the variety of bounty and rules of what gets you kicked out or cut-off. They were pouring Moët & Chandon, not the orange label mind you, but that stuff was not too shabby at a bottomless bottles brunch. I peppered Ms. M with questions from what stations do they have—seafood, carving, omelet, and sushi—to what delicacies they offered. I asked about pastries, specialty and hard-to-find items on buffets like caviar or truffles. I asked about the set-up of the room and if there was easy access and get-away in a crowd, and of course I asked what the refill rate of champagne was. I tried to drill down to what the dress code dictated and if there were any factors that could impede our celebrating.

Most of the answers I was met with were “I don’t remember,”  “I am not sure,” or “maybe?” It seems Ms. M was too awed (meaning drunk) during her prior visit and retained little to no knowledge of her attendance. Add to that fact we were drinking her favorite champagne at the time of this discussion so she was subject to being impaired by champagne or she is just lackadaisical, the line there is so close it is hard to call. Bottom line about our brunch was we were going in blind.

Well thankfully this is not my first rodeo. Of course you want someone else driving your ass there and back whether it is a city bus or Uber.  I know the basics of getting your biggest bang for the buck and doing it with style at this type of soiree. The style part means wear a lovely summer frock with no restrictive clothing in site. Forget Spanx in a situation like this, you are essentially placing a gastric sleeve on the outside of your body, and you might as well throw the brunch fee in the gutter. You need to think of all those bubbles and jumbo shrimp having room to migrate with ease. Adorable comfy shoes are a must. Although you are sitting most of the time there are reconnaissance missions to scope out the joint when you get there: from understanding the food options to understanding the bathroom situation, and of course the many trips to the buffet itself. You want to know all of this prior to imbibing; looking for a hotel bathroom at the 2-hour mark when you had a bottle or two of bubbs in you is a YouTube video you will never live down. Nobody wants to be “drunk broad in koi pond peeing” with 2 million views and counting.

On the food and beverage front we talked about key elements of success. The first being: never drink non-essential liquids. It is easier to tell you what essential liquids are than to list the non’s:  Champagne and water; Always with alcohol you drink water, not doing so is a rookie mistake. You can drink a little coffee toward the end to be the awake drunk rather than the sleepy drunk, but only a little. The key is to go slowly and never get drunk, just steady-on glow, tipsy, giggly, animated and not obnoxious or loud, rude or entitled, though we all know people who can achieve the latter stone-cold sober. Pass up juices, caffeinated concoctions, fancy drinks, fizzy foreign waters or anything else you might find in your own fridge or at Starbucks. There is no place for non-essential liquids on an outing such as this, instead focus on drinking enough champagne to fill a large Jacuzzi.

Many of the same principals apply to food as well. The first rule here is to arrive hungry; just make sure to eat a little off your first plate of food before drinking too much. Drinking more than a sip or two on an empty stomach spells koi pond incident in your future. The next thing to keep in mind is to focus on the high-dollar items you love and don’t get often. This could be anything from amazing smoked salmon to crab legs to fancy desserts made for you with fire and alcohol (which is like a Vegas act done by a guy dressed like an orderly). I can make salad at home, I can make an omelet, I will not make sushi or crown roast pork anytime in the near future, and never one with tiny little booties on it!

A champagne brunch is about indulging, savoring, taking your time to enjoy, taste, chat, laugh and experiment. It is about being bold and tasting the weird thing in the pretty dish, then deciding one taste is enough and letting it sit there until the nice busboy takes it away and creates space for a new plate. Eat dessert first or have two rounds of seafood and no breakfast fare at all.  Jump into the prime rib and back track. This is not about stuffing yourself, racing or eating until you feel sick. It is about pleasure, about sharing the experience and laughter, about good food and great beverages and being thoughtful how you go about it. This is about strategy and choosing the best of life in the moment, and not about over indulging from the fear of this being gone soon. Know that thoughtful choices, a little prep work and reconnaissance of what are your options will help you navigate. Not using a detailed topographic map, not a step- by-step iron clad plan but loose guidelines. Look, flexibility and preparedness can go hand in hand and should when we explore the unknown and untried. We want to be bold, have fun, experiment, test, try and make the rounds again and again. Auntie Mame said “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” So get out there folks and enjoy the potpourri of goodness life is making available. And remember, to stay hydrated and wear your big girl clothes!

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Smoke and Fog

One morning on the way to work I looked up from tailgating a Corolla made in 1952 to see a cloud of grey across the highway. It was low to the ground, dove colored, with a pigeon’s pedigree at best. Living in Southern California’s droughtlandia, my pulse hiked up and I came to full alert. Thoughts of evacuation, wild fires, packing the car and finally getting to eat that spam in my emergency kit darted through my mind, but those thoughts quickly evaporated like the gin in my martini the night before.  What I first thought to be smoke turned out to be mere fog. The thirty seconds of breaking news in my head dissipated with a deep breath and half a mile. Smoke means danger, fog means slow down, and be careful and oh hell I need more coffee.

 

After my small scare I thought about the nature of smoke and fog beyond navigation in the practical sense.  For smoke, our response to it is more often black and white: good fire when in hibachi, bad fire when the garage housing that hibachi lights up. The simple mechanism of a unipolar switch that is either on or off, good or bad, a call to 911 or another beer and kabob, creates easy assessment. No mystery, no difficult problem identification, just the way humans like to categorize problems, people, events, ideals and Kardashians. It is good or bad, it is black or white. It is very simple absolutes with a great deal of clarity between choices and their criteria.

 

Fog on the other hand is tricky. The inability to see the road ahead causes a different type of panic,  the unknown, the unseen, can lead to an expanse of what if, who dat, a queasy limbo, the grey expanse between black and white in Maybeville. Maybeville, a place so far from Tinder that you need shots, a Sherpa guide and a passport to get there. Back to fog, fog leads to more anxiety in the not knowing, in slowing down, being careful and fully present for what is to come. It is about constant monitoring and assessment and being vigilant. It is the space between seeing something, and sussing out whether it is a problem, might become a problem or is just nothing. The time lapse in that fog or grey area in the process of identification makes us anxious and uncomfortable.  We want to rush through to an answer as quickly as possible, whether that is prudent or not, even at the stake of being wrong in our assessment.  We as a species do not like not knowing what is to come, what is going on, what the hell is on his head, I am just saying.

 

The unknown portends doom in movies, in books and in our tiny craniums. Twice a year I wake up and look at the ceiling and see a black dot above my head and fear gripes me.  I think, “Is that a spider? Is that a spider that bit me in my sleep? Could it be a black widow, a brown recluse or a green lacrosse?”  That last thing there is not even a thing, just fear on a jazz rift in my head. I take a breath and think, “Where are my glasses? Oh wait… that is the same hole in the ceiling I saw 6 months ago. Oh, yea, nothing… where’s my coffee?”

 

When there is not an easy assessment of perceived danger or the unknown, which translates into the same thing for the amygdala, we rush to judgement. The not knowing is uncomfortable, but that is most of life really: not knowing what is next, what do we do, and what do we say. The not knowing, the transition between noticing and knowledge, between awareness and enlightenment is important. This is where a deep breath helps, then another, to find clarity past the uncomfortable to get perspective. It is where reason, logic, heart space, and compassion live. Compassion for our tiny scared self and asking for our humor in the moment to return so we can relax and spin down.

 

Sometimes when I am faced with a decision and I don’t know what to do, the right answer is to do nothing. Just wait, be uncomfortable in the not knowing, in the limbo until I do know what to do. That is a difficult thing, to accept being uncomfortable rather than rush to be through it. Choices made in haste rarely turn out well. Ask anyone who met and married in a Vegas chapel in a 72-hour period, or got a drunken-fueled tattoo of our saintly mothers, a shag haircut when we felt stuck or that McDonald’s special burger with the jalapenos on a desolate country road.

 

In smoke, we know fast and clearly what to do depending on where the fire is. In fog we stall and then rush, both poor choices when dealing with the unknown. Going slowly, sipping tea, taking a breath and waiting for clarity is our best choice. In the time it takes for the fog to clear we can sing with Neil Diamond or Twenty-One Pilots, eat a donut, think about Paris or just indulge in the mystery of life and how it is unfolding in front of us.

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Compared to what?

It was pointed out to me recently that I need to slow down. I was surprised. I really work at taking my time, try to go slowly through my days with a conscious effort. I pointed this out, and my comment was met with laughter. The answer came in the form of an analogy: “you are on a road where people are going 140mph and you are going 100mph. So by comparison, to most people you are going slower; however, you need to compare yourself only to you. So when the comment to slow down comes it means slower for you, slower than you are doing presently.” I thought about it and thought about it some more an hour later as I drove past the Vons supermarket I was supposed to stop at. I was going to stop on the way to work so that I had a birthday treat for a student who had to come to class on her 22nd birthday, which seemed only fair. Slow down, oh yea, so this is what we do next huh? Slow down, stop over thinking, slower than I was moving, slower in my thinking, adding more space and less doing … again, still, oh hell… I hate this stuff sometimes.

My week was booked at work with back-to-back student meetings, an interview for another department, and clients sprinkled about. I sighed and looked at my calendar, carving out more space and setting a perimeter of “whatever comes” and letting it go. This is hard stuff, to slow down, to stay present, to be in the moment, to enjoy who you are with while you are with them. We know that moments are fleeting and precious, building blocks for a good day, a good week, a good life. I know this. I work at it but how to take it to the next level in a real, actionable and livable fashion I am not quite sure about, but I am working out those bits. Those thorny expectations of what my time should be, what is work, what is play and what percentage of productive is produced for ego or making sure I am not living in squalor, with no food, no utilities, dirty clothes and drunk as a fruit bat a fortnight past harvest.

The next morning in reading an article, a quote in it popped for me as a way to maybe find my way into this next level of slow down.

“We live under the power of modern consciousness, which means that we are obsessed with progress.

Wherever you are is not good enough.

We always want to achieve something, rather than experience something.

The opposite of this is spiritual consciousness.

By that I mean you find enchantment in every action you do, rather in just the results of your action.”

Satish Kumar~

What I was being asked to do was indeed slow down. But it was also to disconnect from the notion of progress as a constructed future complete with expectations which fit my idea of success. So it is letting go of the precepts of if this then that, or cause and effect and inviting in the moment rather than the product of the moment. It is looking at not only finding space around my tasks and responsibilities, but also deepening those moments and finding the enchantment in doing them and not a result.  This resonates with a pleasure-principled girl like me, I bring, find, and create fun everywhere I go. I tend to look for meaning and deepen those moments when I can catch myself and take a breath. This is asking to take it to the next level. To make all the moments of our lives sacred, filled with wonder, pleasure, meaning and learning. I know, I know this is a tall order. Not unlike me in three inch pumps and a pencil skirt. That being said it is a way to jump off the gerbil wheel which lives first in our head then manifests in our lives. We know what we believe, what we think, manifests in our behavior and in our world. When we embrace a new concept, even merely a try on, we get new results. It’s like changing one ingredient in a recipe; it gives you a different outcome. The alchemy, the dance, the equation, is changed and so are we.

So my plan is to build a summer of enchantment, to string together wonderful experiences- not build a bucket list or a how-to, but just dive deeper. In my meetings, in my laughter with friends, in my quiet time, I want to remember this way of being. Sometimes to try on something new, I need a visual reminder; frequently, I wear a ring or bracelet so when I look at my hands I remember. I might take a sharpie and create a temporary tattoo on my wrist, what the hell. I want a prompt, Post-it note, a path for my neurons to trigger and remember to embrace enchantment in that moment, in the mundane, in the frustrating, in the quiet space of my breath before I take that sip. Cheers!

Posted in celebrate, choices, foundation of change, Gratitude, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, mind shifts, Play, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Never go to the second location

It has been advised by safety experts that it is important to not to let an attacker, kidnapper, or anyone at all shady take us to a second location. Just ask Dexter, who is a professional interior designer with an eye for quick clean up, containment , danger, and simple lines (which are cheeky at best) . Some of these same principals are true when looking at the second location when we play the What If game.

We all know and play the What If game. It goes like this…What if I get a bad review at work? What if they write me up?  What if I get fired? What if I won’t be able to get a job because I got fired? What if I can’t pay my bills and lose my house/apartment?   What if I have to live in a cardboard box and eat squirrels I catch with my bare hands?

First off, take a breath. Second, nobody catches squirrels with their bare hands; they are way too mean and wily for that nonsense.  You might, however, catch a blind, bloated, geriatric, pokey pigeon and that is a long shot at best.

The What If game is the single best way to take a problem, a fear, or a discreet unpleasant incident and turn it into a downward spiral. The What If game is an avalanche of negative thoughts that can send us into an abyss for an hour, a day or far longer. The good news is that we are the ones who start or don’t start that avalanche; we have control of where we let our tiny little minds run. The rule for safety in never going to the second location comes in here, only now it keeps us mentally safe and sane. If something we perceive as bad happens and we jump to a negative conclusion, then another, then another, soon we are racing down a fictional dark alleyway complete with monsters we keep on retainer.

One jump is all we get if we want to stay sane and maintain perspective. If, however, we let our tiny evil minds take us to its second What If location, it is the equivalent of going to the second location with Dexter, Darth Vader, or Donny Osmond-no good can come of it. One jump allows us to plan, and maybe do some critical thinking, assessment, or creative problem solving once the fear ebbs away. By feeding the fear in going to that second What If location, those steps never happen.  Chasing those dark thoughts of What If only triggers our lizard brain where the release of cortisol and adrenalin and our amygdala is in charge as danger is flagged. Having access only to our amygdala brain gives us three options: fight, flight or freeze. We react in lieu of respond because that is all we are capable of if we don’t take a breath and invite in our prefrontal cortex where our executive functioning and more developed cogitative process live.

The What If game is a bad game, not unlike the steel-tipped lawn dart sets of the 1950’s. It appears to be a harmless sport at first until drunken Uncle Willy loses a game and punctures Aunt Erma’s lung when she takes the last cold Schlitz. There is no good here, and no reason or reasonability, and more than that if you play you lose. The only way to win the What If game is not to play. So what does this mean?  It means before we jump to that second location in What If, we breath, we distract ourselves, we pause, we catch that string of catastrophizing and self-implosion we are about to inflict on ourselves and those around us. We wait for the real data to come in and assess. Come on, most everything looks better in the light of day except of course those purple highlights you added to your hair and the drunken texts you sent your ex-last night.

Whatever we can do to catch ourselves from playing What If is good. Science shows us that a mere two minute distraction can help us jump tracks in that dangerous looping game. This is hard stuff folks, I am not kidding. If at first we only catch ourselves at jump 10 in the What If game and suddenly realize that maybe we won’t die alone, addicted to Funyuns, in a fetid flophouse with 72 cats, that is progress. And then maybe next time  when we get caught up in the What If game,  we catch ourselves at jump 5, where we realize that we might not really be doomed to be dating for 20 more years, eating too much junk food, or carelessly investing  our 401K in that cat spa. Each time we practice we get better at not engaging those rapid, rabid, dark thoughts, at catching ourselves sooner and finally, at not playing at all. When making the choice to only work with what is and not the scary, self-indulgent fears of the past, not the fiction, we stop the ride down the slippery slope. This is not easy or done quickly, but the pay-off even for a little bit in pulling back in the What If game has a huge benefit in happiness, contentment and calm. When things go wrong and we don’t go to the second What If location, we are then dealing with quicker clean up, simpler lines and containment; therefore, less danger. Doing this is a way to dial back the internal drama and let Showtime handle that production cost not you.

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Breaking my Play

I am not exaggerating when I say I am a girl renowned for play I am not kidding. I can find fun anywhere, anytime. From creating funny vacation stickers to graffiti up the world during road trip travel or making an afternoon in the back forty a treasured memory complete with beach chairs, custom cocktails, outfits, aliases and an overall theme of the absurd. The back forty is a cement pad in back of my apartment building overlooking the garbage cans and telephone lines. I have an imaginary PhD in Play, just saying.

So imagine my distress when I realized that my work, all 3 jobs—which I love—are my greatest source of play, joy and fun these days. My play time was unfulfilling, frustrating and flat. I didn’t notice at first, and then thought maybe I was just tired as I was working roughly 6 days a week in some capacity sometimes 7. I rested more, clumped my work up to give me more space to rest and think, read, color, and walk, but none of this was as fun as my work. Even my long time love of trying new restaurants left me with a feeling of ennui. Nothing matched the rush, the pleasure of my work. I understand this sounds like “happy people” problems and it is. That being said, if left unchecked it could lead to trouble like a strange irregular-bordered multi-colored mole.

I know that staying happy is tied to play; it is a key component in learning and being fulfilled. Play invites in mystery and can add a sense of purpose. Discovery is built on play; discovery is one of my 5 core values. If what normally gave me pleasure was not hitting the mark I needed to mix it up, try new things, old things and nothing. I also know this can be an uncomfortable process when we are looking for something that soothes and we don’t find it. It can be frustrating, especially when pulling out tools and tricks that once worked or gave a great deal of pleasure now are just blah. It’s like having this gigantic itch you cannot quite reach to scratch.

I talked to several friends and they suggested I start with a list of ideas that might be fun. After talking to my brilliant friend Kamille about my play button being busted she sent me a great TED Talk with Shonda Rhimes about saying “Yes.” My trusty team had given me this same directive to execute after the holidays. So the TED Talk title resonated and I waited a few days to watch it when I could give it my full attention.

I watched it on the morning of a planned mental-health-play-hookie-sick day a few days later. It was the perfect way to start that day of discovery. Though all of the TED Talk did not apply a good portion did and it repeated the message I had gotten earlier in the fall reminding me of what winter into spring might look like. Shonda was a work-a-holic and was not a big fan of play. That was and never has been true for me. Though I had been working too much and stopped booking clients on Saturdays to make more space there were lots of truth, direction and resonance with what she said. It is a most excellent Ted Talk.

That morning I did yoga, watched my video and was off to Balboa Park to look at art, meditate, wander about and take pictures and just be. No plan really just wandering. After mediation in a pretty section of garden I got up to leave. Looking up I saw someone dressed in a jumble of bright colors, mismatched, ill-fitting clothes with a fire engine red headband and sunglasses moving at in a herky-jerky manner at a good clip coming  my way, humming very loudly. I thought he might be homeless or have some challenge’s from the sense of jangle I could feel in my chest and the reaction of those closer to him as he rushed past them. I just watched him move along ahead of me not thinking really and went on with my walk.

A little bit later I came out of an alley into the Old Globe Theater square where I heard beautiful classical music being played. As I stepped into the square proper I could see a brightly painted upright piano and the fashion challenged gentleman who had rushed passed me earlier playing it. There was a sign on the piano which said “Play Me” and he was. I froze for a moment as the music he played was transcendent. I stood there trying to process what I was seeing and hearing then moved to a bench and sat watching, then closed my eyes and just listened.

I listened for almost an hour as folks moved past him and me through the square chatting, pointing, listening for a moment and moving along. I listened to the sheer beauty of the music as it dipped and sailed and spun around me where I was moved to tears over and over. He never paused. Each piece unfolded seamlessly into the next, each concerto singular and complete yet threaded to the next one creating this whole experience richer and more powerful than their singularity of composition. Writing this I see how that is true for us as well. We are richer, more beautiful when threaded, connected and experience life with the world, with people, with nature as opposed to in our singular completeness.

When after a long time had passed and I was ready to move on, I felt immensely grateful for this wonderful concert, this artist, this day and this moment I had stumbled upon. I sent thanks, love and light his way and outward to the Universe ambling away to find sustenance. Sitting at Panama 66 a restaurant next to the sculpture garden in the park not far away I wrote a good part of this piece feverishly over a tasty lamb sandwich and a beer. At that point still not sure what just happened to shift me from worrying about my play time to being in it.

By trying to think my way through this—trying too hard, being the over-achiever I am—I crashed and broke my play. I go back to what my sister Chris said about me, “Your head is like a bad neighborhood. You shouldn’t spend too much time there alone.” So what I can say to you now about all this is: whatever you are struggling to achieve, let go. Let it unfold and be a surprise, choose a direction maybe, but not the route. There is a balance of choosing, doing and being. I had forgotten to be, I needed to go out and play, but I got hooked in the orchestration of that and hooked on what my expectation of what it should be and feel and sound like. I forgot that the new is more herky-jerky and bumbling then I made space for. I knew that the old wasn’t fitting but forgot that the untried needed space. Putting that open-ended desire to be lead after the choice was made was the key. So try it, lean in, let go and see where the music comes from. Let the games begin!

 

Posted in curiosity, foundation of change, Health and Wellness, humor, intent, Learning, mind shifts, Play, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments