Body Work

Exercise as a spiritual discipline might seem - at first - counterintuitive. Think about it. As integrated beings we cannot separate our spiritual, emotional and physical selves.

As a spiritual discipline, running for me is a place for emotional and spiritual restoration. It might be yoga, walking, cycling or stretching that connects your physical self with your spiritual self. Through physical fitness, we gain spiritual fitness.

Monotonous movement is a method of meditation. So, if you - like me - have a difficult time sitting still, moving can be as much your sacred space as the yogi’s contemplation cushion. That is not to say every run is a spiritual experience for me. The spirituality shows up in the beauty of nature and the gift of friendships forged out of the road.

A discipline implies effort and sometimes that is what our daily routine is - effort. And sometimes, our spiritual practice is effort. Our exercise - and our spiritual practice - can be a place for vulnerability with ourselves, with others and with God. It’s where we nudge ourselves toward our edges. Out where we develop our juiciness and our fierceness, in communion with strength and courage and shortcomings and limitations.

As a spiritual discipline, I sometimes use my running as prayer. I run with a mental list of people to pray for at each mile. For example: mile 1: mom; mile 2: sick friend; mile 3: friend struggling with career choice - you get the picture. Some marathon runners list names of people or things they want to pray for on their pace bands. Other times, I set out for an entire run and repeat a prayer I’ve memorized in honor or memory of a loved one.

Whatever exercise speaks to your heart - running or walking or yoga or stretching or cycling - turn it into your foundation for what is authentic and sacred. Do it alone. Do it in community. Ritualize it. Make it a daily ceremony dedicated to practicing being your best physical self. Dedicate some miles, stretching, and intention to the Divine within you.

“Run by my side-live in my heartbeat; give strength to my steps. As the cold confronts me, as the wind pushes me, I know you surround me. As the sun warms me, as the rain cleanses me, I know you are touching me, challenging me, loving me. And so I give you this run; thank you for matching my stride. Amen.”
A Runner’s Prayer from Day by Day: The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students

Service

Continuing in the spirit of Lent, I am offering another spiritual discipline for you to consider.

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” For some of us it is the age-old question of what comes first the contribution or the connectedness?

Research has shown people who feel connected to something beyond themselves feel moved to make a contribution to others in the world - to be of service. Likewise, research shows people who make a contribution to the world or their community feel more connected to something within and bigger than themselves.

Funny how that works.

Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

It is important to distinguish between choosing a life of servanthood and choosing to serve. In choosing the latter, you still have control of the who, the how and the when.

When we choose to become a servant, we are giving up control of the who, how and when. We are allowing ourselves to be used when, how, where and for whom God chooses.

And, of course, there is a difference between authentic service and self-serving service. It is human nature to want to be recognized and praised for our acts of helping others. You’ll know true service when you forgo the compliments and approval and let being a servant be a way of life - not something you do, but someone you are.

In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg writes of five ways to enter a life of servanthood. One of these he calls The Ministry of Being Interrupted. This is my favorite of Ortberg’s suggestions!

To truly be of service for another, you have to put your needs and wants aside. This ministry calls for being available for people who are not on our schedule and for doing things that are not on our “To Do” List.

And, here’s my favorite part.

His idea is to practice this ministry by, “keeping the latch off the door.” He says one day a week, a month, a quarter - whatever fits for you - leave your calendar blank. Sit. Wait. Wait for someone to need you to serve them. Simply be available.

Wow!

Becoming a servant - not just being of service - is about becoming more fully human. It means practicing forgiveness toward mine and others’ weaknesses and limitations. It means truly loving my neighbors - all of them.

I recently heard a Sufi teaching that goes like this.

As the seeker prayed, past him came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the seeker went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving Creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence, 
God said, “I did do something. . . I made you.”

Look around, become a servant for your family, your friends, your co-workers, complete strangers. Clear the calendar for one day. And wait.

'Tis the Season

The season of Lent is near and dear to my heart. Observing Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday - my favorite Holy day - is one of those thin places for me.

A place between my everyday and the Divine. A place between the mundane and the Holy. A place where time vanishes. A Spiritual happening.

Spiritual practices are possibilities for thin places. Some people call them spiritual disciplines. For this free-spirit girl discipline sounds a little too strict and confining. Practice on the other hand is synonymous with training, which I know much about.

Prayer is a spiritual practice.

I grew up reciting prayers - Our Father, Hail Mary, the Rosary - I didn’t learn prayer other than rote ones. When I heard people talk about prayer and realized they “prayed” in their own words, I was intimated. I had no idea how to pray something I hadn’t already memorized. You know, words that already had been vetted as acceptable for prayer.

Then I discovered prayer is wider - as in more expansive - than I imagined. I also discovered I already was praying in ways I hadn’t considered to be prayer. Praying is an act of intentionally being with God.

Eyes open. Eyes shut. Standing. Sitting. Lying down. Running. Driving. There are not a lot of rules involved in praying - my kind of spiritual practice.

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” 
- Rumi

During Lent, I am practicing Lectio Divina. Yes, I know, that sounds like it has something to do with wine, but it doesn’t. Lectio Divina is a Latin term that means divine reading. For my Lenten practice, I am reading a scripture passage, but I have practiced Lectio Divina with other non-Biblical readings. The passage should not be too long though.

Read your passage of choice slowly several times. Then, quietly reflect and ruminate about the reading, discerning the meaning. The last stage requires sitting still and quiet and listening while letting go of your thoughts. Allow the words to rest in your heart. I am reading the same passage daily until Easter. In light of the few rules rule, you may choose to read a different passage daily.

Let me be clear. Prayers and praying are two different things. Prayers are those words I learned to say. Praying is something I do with my whole self. Praying is about me listening and not about God listening. Praying doesn’t have to involve words at all. And sometimes, I write my prayers to God.

Do you pray? When do you most feel the need to pray? Do you have different avenues for praying in your life?

Praying can be a mystical experience, but it need not be a mystery.

“I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” 
- Mother Teresa

Holy Interruptions

A friend recently asked how I do inner work. I told her I have to both be still and move. Move as in run - to gain perspective and inspiration through my pace. My sitting still often involves journaling or centering prayer and sometimes mindful meditation.

Honestly, sitting still is one of the most difficult disciplines I take on. It’s not really the act of sitting, I mean I do that for much of the day with my clients. It’s the still part that gets me. The quieting my mind to be exact.

Many things distract me from being still and quiet. Mostly, though it’s busyness and numbing. Folding laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, looking at Face Book, a TV show. I am an accomplished busy-er.

The other still and quiet obstacle is my mind. My mind likes to think. My mind likes to be engaged - full-on, flat-out, firing on all cylinders - unless of course, I’m asleep.

I know that becoming still and quiet in body and mind is an action of self-love. And like all acts of self-love it has a divine effect. (And in my case divine intervention from God, but I digress.) Because to show up with love for yourself, you have to see yourself as God sees you. Becoming still and quiet in body and mind is to shine a light on hopes, dreams, and strengths as well as fears, distress and weaknesses.

A couple of Sundays ago I visited a church along with eight 13-year old boys going through confirmation. Just before the sermon - right in the middle of the service - there is a Holy Interruption. The entire congregation gets up and mills about talking, drinking coffee and eating cookies.

Arriving back at our church and debriefing, we asked our boys what they thought about this Holy Interruption. They liked it. And what one of them said really struck me. “I like it because it kind of forces you to get to know people and talk to each other. Not like at our church, where we have the coffee and cookies after the service in the basement and you can choose to go home instead of participate.”

What I’ve noticed happening lately are unexpected and often unexplained gifts of time. Time for me to be still and quiet. Time for me to tune-in, become aware, go inward. I have taken to calling these my holy interruptions.

Time to begin prying myself from busy and distracted and numbing. Time for attention and acknowledgment of the emotional messiness. Time for shifting my perspective. Time to quiet my brain. Time for listening for the clarity in the distance. I’m sure it’s just over the next hill.

Holy interruptions forcing me to slow down, stop, get still and quiet and go inward. I don’t have the luxury of choosing not to participate.

My wish is this week my holy interruptions will open me to creativity, to calm, to breathing deeply.

What might shift for you, if you use the holy interruptions of your life this week? I would love to hear about your holy interruptions. 

Love Wins

February is love month (see previous blog) and February also holds the anniversary date of my father’s death. I am reminded how much I loved him.

One of my fondest memories of dad and me is me sitting on his lap in his old overstuffed, beige rocker watching westerns. We called them cowboys and indians. It is one of my earliest memories, too.

I remember the little - compared to the sizes now - black and white television with rabbit ears. You adjusted the volume and changed the channel by - gasp - getting up out of your chair and walking over to the TV set.

I now know, there was a simplicity to these shows. And to these days. I could always tell the good guys, they were wearing the white cowboy hats. And, yes, the bad guys were either wearing black cowboy hats or they were the Indians.

There was usually a lot of action and there always was a simple morality lesson in the best of those Westerns. Good - the white hats - always triumphed over evil - the black hats - often without mercy. Justice always prevailed.

And life as a cowboy was not an easy one. Surviving in the West required strength and endurance. These stories were not just about surviving but conquering the wild, wild west. In my young mind, cowboys were the epitome of mettle and courage.

And, like little girls tend, my dad was my hero. He could ice skate and shoot a hockey puck as fast as any cowboy could draw his gun and shoot a bullet. His heart could hold more love than I could imagine back then. He taught me by example that life is about risk taking, adventure making, fun-loving and faith building. And he was the provider and protector of our family.

I learned later in life my dad was made of perseverance, courage and bravery beyond measure. He pushed through pain and suffering I can’t imagine - all to have one more day with us. “Let me see her reach one more mile marker,” he would pray. The only name I can give to such love and courage is valor.

The truly brave in life are those who are willing to face the unknown down and make it the known. Those who are willing to get back up and try again. Those who are willing to face not just the fears you can see, but the ones you can’t - the ones you let no one see.

The fears that might have been buried so deep no light gets in. The only way those fears get cracked open is through pure love and valor.

That is the lesson in the westerns my dad and I watched through the night. And that is the lesson my dad taught me not only in the way he lived his life but in the way he died.

So whether you’re lost in the desert, the wilderness or your relationship, let love in - it can do great things.

Are you brave? What does courage look like for you?

For me, it’s love.

Happy Valentine’s Day

To You, With Love

Saying I love you is a gift. A gift we give to others and a gift we often forget to give ourselves.

Love.

It is the most powerful of emotions. It evokes: honesty, joy, inspiration, motivation, peace compassion, empathy, courage, vulnerability, creativity, happiness, abundance, gratitude, confidence, faith, hope, grace, freedom, serenity, tenderness.

It can overcome: hatred, anger, jealousy, war, strife, greed, grief, anxiety, sadness, insecurity, fear, perfectionism, shame, rejection, resentment.

Love can save the world.

Love can change everything.

A friend of mine talks about truths as big T truths and little t truths.

I think of love in that way. The little l is when you say, “I love this outfit, or I love this book, or I love this restaurant.” The big L is when you stop on your way home from the restaurant and go back in with the homeless guy and order him dinner, too. It’s when you stop to help the stranded stranger; it’s when you change your plans because your friend needs you; it’s when you hold your beloved’s hand as he takes his last breath.

I’m declaring it Love Month. I’ve decided to devote an entire month this year, instead of just one day.

For the month of November, I journaled daily one thing for which I’m grateful. For the month of February, I’m journaling daily one thing I love about myself. Not because I want to feed my ego, but because self-love often is the love we all forget to remember and practice. I’m always with me. Wherever I go, there I am. No one else is there all the time for every experience. I want to go through life loving my one permanent companion - me, myself and I.

Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer may have invented Valentine’s Day, which we celebrate on February 14. A poet - what a shock, right. In 1375, he links courtly love with the feast of St. Valentine in his poem “Parliament of Foules.” Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Letting those in our life know how we feel about them is an important part of nurturing any kind of loving relationship - this is true for yourself, too. You can give yourself the strongest, best part of love - the unconditional kind.

This might be difficult because often we find it easy to believe our critical voice and difficult to believe and accept our magnificence. It’s ok, I give you permission, give yourself the permission - you don’t have to show anyone what you write - this is not a time for modesty. It’s a month of daily love - using heaping helpings of love on yourself. You deserve it.

We’ve all heard what psychologist Erich Fromm says about love - you have to be able to love yourself before you can truly love another. Fromm suggests loving yourself means caring about yourself, taking responsibility for yourself and your actions and respecting yourself.

Spend February nurturing yourself. Get enough rest, eat healthy, exercise and feed your soul.

To honor ourselves with love and acceptance is to honor the One who created us. Self-love is about realizing our strengths and accepting our flaws. It is not about being self-centered, self-absorbed, which is based on insecurity. When you love yourself you are able to more freely offer love to friends, family, community, even people we don’t know.

Just as in November, daily gratefulness proved to be somewhat of a challenge due to a busy life, not always feeling grateful and not wanting to write about frivolous gratefulness. I”m sure my daily love journaling will be challenging. But I’m in for all 28 days. How about you? You in? Try it, you might be lovingly surprised with yourself.

XOXO

An Altar

Maybe because it’s been so frigid out this winter that I have been thinking about a housewarming - or lack there of in my case.

I have lived in my house for 16 years. I have loved, lost, laughed, formed bonds, broken bonds, broken bread and drank wine here.

I’ve rested and relaxed and renovated my way into creating my space in my home. And, I’ve never held a housewarming.

The word “housewarming” originated in the days before central heating. When someone moved into a new house, guests would bring firewood and build fires in all the fireplaces and offer more firewood as gifts.

Today, a housewarming party is usually held in short order of settling in. The party is an occasion for the homeowners to present their new digs to their friends and family. Sometimes guests bring celebratory gifts - not usually firewood.

I’ve always wanted to host a housewarming - because I like parties and I like sharing the things that matter to me with the people who matter to me. And, because I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than for sheer hospitality. I never hosted my housewarming - the timing never seemed quite right and I couldn’t choose a suitable ritual.

The word “home” evokes sentiments of gathering and sharing and experiencing life with loved ones. It is somehow more dear to us because it’s the exact opposite of a “house,” which feels so nondescript and cold - no fires burning there.

During my growing up, my family moved a few times. I always thought of home as wherever my parents were calling home. We were a tight family and it mattered not the geography or the shelter as long we were together.

During and after college, I moved around quite often - wanderlust. I’ve lived in a tent, apartments, rented houses, hostels, dorm rooms and I’ve called each of them home whether it was for days, months or years.

Susan Clayton, an environmental psychologist, says many people regard home as part of how we define ourselves. Clayton says this is why we do things like decorate a certain way and take care of our lawns. Our homes become an extension of us.

My home is my bricks & mortar touchstone. My home is where I celebrate, grieve and anticipate alone and with those I love through both old and new rituals. My home is my indoor sacred space. My boundary for me and the outside world. This home stands as my reminder of all that I have and all that I need to share with others.

I’ve decided the perfect housewarming for me.

In the spirit of the travelers to Jerusalem to place prayers in the foundation Solomon built for God’s first brick & mortar church - I am going to write my gratitudes and my wishes and my prayers on tiny pieces of parchment and slip them into the foundation of my home. Not because I regard my home as church, no.

My home is my altar in the world.

Expansion

At the risk of sounding like a politician. I think we need to expand our definition of what is is.

The dictionary is full of hundreds-of-thousands of words and really most of us use only a small number of them - even when talking about things important to us.

This happened to me this past week when I was talking about my work as a writer. I was speaking from that part of me who believes anything worth doing must be work - as in burdensome in some way; an activity in which you have to make yourself participate; it likely requires great effort.

Really? Is that true?

No.

When I reframe the thought and think about my writing as part of my vocation, well, that opens up a whole new way of thinking about it. Vocation implies a strong urge, something with purpose and meaning. Vocation - not work - evokes feelings of something special, of worth and merit. Something joyful and fulfilling.

A vocation is what I call a broader definition of work. A fat, juicy definition. A definition that expands our vantage point. When I broadened my definition from writing as work to writing as vocation, my horizon changed.

Depending on from where you start, your horizon can look different. I love watching the sunset - preferably from the beach with a cold beverage in my hand. I also enjoy watching the sun rise - preferably while on a run.

Mentally, changing your horizon means looking outside the box and approaching things in a different way. Emotionally changing your horizon can give you a feeling of control over a situation. Spiritually changing your horizon is about integrating the whole - all the parts of yourself.

In the world of athletes, broadening your horizon might mean participating in two sports. Running and tennis. Although sometimes it might mean honing your skill. Getting better at sprinting or your backhand. If you broadened your horizons, instead you might focus on eating healthier to compliment your running. Hill training and improving your time.

In this case, broaden does not mean to generalize or make bigger - in fact, just the opposite. When we broaden the definition of something we actually go deeper into the meaning. We focus.

Broaden in this sense is to refine. Weird how expand and refine mean the same thing in the this case. That’s not usually how I think about those words. To broaden my horizon, I have to challenge myself - dig deeper and enjoy every mile marker along the way.

How about the definitions in your life? Can they be broadened, refined, focused? Get your dictionary off the shelf. Read your thesaurus. Dig deep. Be juicy. Integrate all the parts of yourself into the whole that is your authentic self.

Word to the New Year

Every December - around my birthday - I take my yearly inventory. I look back with gratitude for the blessings in my life. I take stock of the goals I’ve reached, the ones I’ve not and those I’ve let go. I remember that serenity and daring inhabit my being.

This is the first time I can ever remember being ver clempt to see a year come to a close - not that they’ve all been bad, this one was exceptionally satisfactory.

This past year was me moving from my 40th decade into my 50th decade. I moved in with intention, grace and gratitude. I packed only what I need - OK, a few discretionary items - to fit neatly under the seat in front of me or to be carried in a soft pack far and wide on the trail. I brought along the essentials - friends and family, strength and sustenance for the journey. I left some unwanted and not needed trappings behind.

I don’t know why, I just know I’m looking forward to 50 - maybe not 51, but yes, 50. I’m in awe of life. I made it this far in one piece. I’m still of sound mind, body, heart and soul.

The thing is - I’m so content - I have no serious plans for 2014, which brings me to my mantra for the year. Nudge. I want to gently coax my way into the next decade. In my contentedness, I see I don’t need any big changes to my life. I don’t need or have a desire to start something new for 2014. I’m going to nurture what is already growing. I’m going to cultivate what I already am doing.

I’m going to focus on my measuring stick of progress and success because mine is the only one that will work for me. If I use someone else’s measuring stick, I’ll fall short, come up lacking, overshoot, miss the target - you get the picture.

I’m wanting to create - what I’m not quite sure - but somehow I don’t think that’s important just yet. That will come somewhere between the clarity and craziness that is life.

I’m going to become my own prime minister of nudges. I’m going to nudge myself in the direction I most want to go - my authentic self. I’m excited with the possibilities.

How about you? I’d love to hear about your plans for the blank page that is the New Year.

My wish for you is that you are nudged closer to your authentic self in 2014.

An Ending Too Soon

My greater community lost three iconic men the past several weeks. Three men who dedicated their lives to helping others and our community. Three men who shared love, gifts, strengths, struggles and passion with all of us.

I also have seen numerous clients in my office the past several weeks grieving the loss of a loved one. Bonds broken, relationships ripped all ending before we wanted them to.

Collectively we are brokenhearted and in shock. Those closest to these people are having to bear the weight in a way the rest of us only can imagine. How difficult it is to celebrate the life you shared while knowing the loss lasts forever.

For those of us who want to support the grief stricken, it can be hard to know how. People struggle with comforting words. Sometimes it’s just as important to know how and when to be silent as it is to know what to say. Being all right with a loved one hurting helps them feel more normal in expressing their sorrow when sometimes our tendency is to want to fix it, deny it, or numb it.

I attended one of the funerals - the husband of a friend - and was awed by the priest’s homily. He unraveled the tale written by anthropologist Loren Eiseley in his essay, “The Bird and the Machine.”

Eiseley had traveled to an abandoned cabin to capture birds for the zoo. He crawls up a ladder to find himself face-to-face with two (a female and a male) young sparrow hawks. The male fights with Eiseley until his mate is able to escape through a hole in the cabin roof. At that point, the young male sparrow hawk gives in, “he neither gave nor expected any mercy,” Eiseley writes.

He puts the bird in a box overnight and returns the next morning. He decides to let the bird go, “I suppose I must have had an idea then of what I was going to do, but I never let it come up into consciousness. I just reached over and laid the hawk on the grass.”

The young male sparrow hawk flaps his wings once and is gone in a split-second without a sound up into the great blue, silent abyss of the sky. Eiseley stares up but cannot find the bird in the sunlight. Then, he hears a cry ring down through the stillness.

Not the cry of the just-freed hawk. No. The female companion who must have kept vigil for hours on end came careening toward her mate. “And from far up, ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of such unutterable and ecstatic joy,” Eiseley writes. “I saw them both now. He was rising fast to meet her. They met in a great soaring gyre that turned to a whirling circle and a dance of wings. Once more, just once, their two voices, joined in a harsh wild medley of question and response, struck and echoed against the pinnacles of the valley. Then they were gone forever somewhere into those upper regions beyond the eyes of men.”

That is both what our love and our grief feels like. A collision of souls that cannot be untangled by Earthly time and space - they collide and we rise and we tumble together.








Tweet, Tweet

Maybe I’m just a bit old fashioned or nostalgic or sentimental, hey - I draw the line at schmaltzy, but recently, I was perusing through pumpkin recipes I’ve collected over the years and found a postcard from dear friends.

I’m not sure of the date, it was a bit faded. I know it was from Oregon and had baby seals on the front. Boy, it brought back all kinds of memories. Memories of friends, traveling to fun and foreign far-off places, and most of all my joy of sending and receiving postcards.

I’m not much for writing poetry, but I’ve always thought of a well-written postcard as a sincere form of the poetic word. I think of great song lyrics in this way, too. “Poetry is to dancing as prose is to walking,” wrote French poet Paul Valery.

The thoughtfully written postcard can rival anything wrapped in an envelope. When I go to the mailbox and find a piece of 4X6, card stock with a photo on the front, it’s like receiving a message in a bottle. An artful account of a voyage written just for me.

I suppose a tweet on the social media site Twitter is the modern transformation of the postcard. A typed version limited to 140 characters. Tweets and postcards are both pieces of a puzzle and we imagine the rest. They are micro blogs constrained only by space.

Still, postcards - unlike twitter - are hand written specifically from the sender to the receiver - personal although not private like the tweet. Hopefully, there is a place in the world for both the old and the new; the slow and the fast.

Because whether writing postcards are behind the times or not, I for one hope they are never wiped from our landscape. There is something beautiful about handwriting, stamps, the cover art and something to hold in my hands.

Next time you’re having an adventure in-town or out, put down the Twitter, find a postcard and put your poetry in motion. Finding that post card was like talking to my friends - in person - being there and sharing the fun with Jeff, David and Beth.

When I hear the chirp, chirp of the tweet from twitter I don’t feel a connection. When I reach into the mailbox and pull out that postcard with the photograph chosen especially for me, the connection is beyond words.

Re-entry

Readers’ Note: I took six months off from writing my blog while working on adding coaching to my private practice. I found that my schedule already was full, which meant I would have to give up something while I pursued this credential. I had a difficult time choosing what to give up. I am happy to be back.

This is my second-favorite time of year. (Summer is my first love) In September, I get a kick out of the excitement around heading back to school: school clothes, school supplies, seeing friends, making friends, meeting teachers - if I could get paid to go to school, it would be my life’s work. And, October, well Halloween is my favorite holiday. From the freaks and frights we head into the gratefulness that is Thanksgiving and the magic of Christmas.

The part I like best is the learning. I relish diving into something new and soaking it all in - like I do with the sun and surf in the summer. The difficult part about learning for me is the integrating. I first have to decide if I want to integrate into my daily life the new skill or thought process I have learned - do I want to practice through to the mastering. If the answer is “yes,” then the questions become how? and when? Clearly, all of this is an effort that does not happen overnight.

The process of integrating is organic in nature. It’s natural to have times of activity and growth followed by intervals of quiet and contemplation. Not only does it take action to integrate into a new version of ourselves or a new vision for our life, it takes rest days, too. During these down times, it appears as though nothing is happening - a plateau even. This resting place offers a perfect view of where you’ve been and where you’re heading. A place to recharge, take inventory and get your bearings.

The view from there might be beautiful - the air crisp and clear, but don’t get too comfortable. We have to emerge rejuvenated with resolve for practicing and integrating.

Some have difficulty leaving this place. Instead, they choose numbing out, escaping or being unconscious (as in aware). If you’re stuck at this mile marker, could it be fear? Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown - even if the known isn’t healthy for you. Have compassion for yourself. Move - crawl, walk, run, skip, dance - move. Some of those obstacles are rocks and some are boulders - ask for help. Practice. Practice small. Practice big. Practice daily. Practice the thing you most want to do. Practice being the person you most want to be until this new learning is integrated into your being - your human-ness.

There is a Zen saying, “Practice as if your hair were on fire.” It’s about showing up in your life, challenging yourself to always be awake (metaphorically of course).

Keep showing up in the moment.

Solid

My community of friends, family and fellow runners have taken a hit recently. Big ones. This past Thursday a friends’s mother passed away from a brain tumor, then Friday a friend called to say her youngest daughter has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Monday morning another friend’s aunt with whom he was close passed away. And of course, there is Boston.

In the face of this heavy load, do not mistake my calmness as not caring, not being scared for you, not grieving. And certainly not for weakness. We are there for each other which sometimes means keeping the pace and other times it means drafting and waiting until you’re needed to pull. But make no mistake we are in it together. I feel my friends’ pain and sadness even if I haven’t experienced just the same situation - yet.

You can’t train for happenings of this sort in life. I am a little dazed and confused by it all. The recent events may cause a detour or two, but we have endurance and perseverance on our side.

We may be shaky and feeling unsteady on our feet, but make no mistake we’re going the distance with each other. Our gaze is fixed on the horizon and we’re putting one foot in front of the other with patience, determination and love, yes, a lot of love.

So huddle up. Find the members of your community and remind them you love them. Give them a hug. Invest in your community because it will give back. It will share in the celebration and the sorrow with you. Your community will hold you up.

Your community - keep them close, because after all, your community is where your heart is.

The Enemy

Sit down. Brace yourself. Spoiler alert. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or being perfect.

I know, you’re thinking Ok, I can give up Santa Claus - I’ll still get Christmas presents and I don’t need the Easter Bunny to get my chocolate fix. But, hold on just a flawless, faultless, matchless minute I am not giving up my perfectionism - no siree bob.

While I am not a big believer in labeling, perhaps perfectionism should be a diagnosis in the DSM-V. It would say people who have this characteristic strive for unattainable goals while constantly comparing themselves to others using an unrealistic measuring stick with overly critical self-evaluation and have the possibility of falling into depression when they don’t reach said goal.

We all have perfectionism lurking around the corner or over our shoulder just hanging out waiting until we are vulnerable to pounce. Perfectionism threatens our sense of self worth and our ability to live our self-defined authentic life.

We live in a culture where everybody is served up as flawless through photoshop and everyone has a life of mythical proportions according movies and television. What do all these media messages do to our collective psyche?

I’ll tell you: we never feel or think we are enough. Enough what, you ask? ____________ enough - fill in the blank. Strong enough, thin enough, fast enough, smart enough, energetic enough, pretty enough, cool enough, spiritual enough - you get the picture. We carry these mantras around that are hurtful and destructive to our well being.

Perfectionism is insidious. We get tricked or maybe lulled into believing our friends and family expect us to be perfect and to make it look easy. We start looking to them with the same expectations. And then the cycle begins again. We have a difficult time being real with each other because we’re afraid we won’t cut the mustard when really we all are doing the same dance.

Eventually this results in exhaustion and fear of trying. When we’re depleted we feel defeated and the self-doubt and self-flagellation kick into high gear, which makes for no motivation. We become stuck in our tracks. When we’re exhausted and stuck it’s hard to muster courage to try.

For the past year, I’ve been hearing a lot of references to Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena quote excerpted from his Citizenship in a Republic speech. “It’s not the critic who counts” - even if it’s the one inside your head.

Waiting until we are enough prevents us from trying. Ah, the oxymoron. Trying is the opposite of perfection. Trying is not about perfect just as faith is not about certainty. Perfectionism prevents us from being proud of our wins. Perfectionism is the enemy of us all, and “forever the enemy of the possible good.” (www.theodore-roosevelt.com)

So step out, out into the arena with what you have and who you are.

Subtraction

Sometimes we need to shift perspective. A client said to me the other day, “It’s amazing what you can do when you stop trying so hard.”

When we have a problem in life, it is natural to go about solving it by looking at what to do rather than what not to do. But there is an ancient Chinese philosophy that purports: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.”

Writers and editors focus on what to leave out to make the piece flow and get to the point. Athletes focus on how to get maximum results with less effort.

Good to Great author, Jim Collins says great art is as much about what is not there as what is. “A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit — to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort — that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”

It’s no simple endeavor to let go, to stop trying so hard. Maybe we are more vulnerable when we stop trying and just let it be, waiting, listening, watching, being aware and awake to the moment. Sometimes that’s scary.

Can you imagine yourself letting go of trying to control your life so fiercely that your knuckles aren’t white and your shoulders don’t ache? What will happen to all those balls you’re juggling?

I’m not suggesting you throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water. Changing perspective doesn’t require grandiose. Start simple. When you have the urge to solve and fix and figure out why or why not. Breathe.

Instead of worrying about what you did or what you didn’t say or who you don’t know or how something is going to work out, be still and be who you are right now. Do one thing that will bring you closer to the person you most want to be.

Sometimes you’ll want to keep attaching yourself to that worry and controlling life in ways you cannot. Freedom lies in the letting go. Sometimes the desire for something creates such haze we become confused and frustrated. It is not until we let go and stop trying so hard that the trajectory becomes clear.

Michelangelo defined sculpting “as the art of taking away.” Subtracting to uncover the beauty within.

Groovin'

Just hearing the word groovin’ or seeing it in print, I start tapping my foot, snapping my fingers, bobbing my head and humming a tune. It’s a feeling that puts a smile on my face and relaxes my whole body.

Being in a groove means I”m on my game, getting things accomplished, growing into my limits and having a good time doing it!

But what about a rut? I mean technically they are the same thing according to the dictionary. They sure don’t feel the same. Being in a rut means I’m stuck, spinning my wheels and my energy without getting anywhere, staying tucked inside my comfort zone where the landscape never changes and there isn’t much joy there.

Maybe the difference is “groove” has “OO” in the middle and “rut” has “UH” in the middle. Whatever it is, I know I’d much rather be groovin’.

Sometimes though, we all get down in that rut where we don’t want to be. Whether you call it a routine, your comfort zone, the same ol’-same ol’, you’re there wanting something different, something more - a little flavor, a little flair.

You might be stuck in a rut: if you keep doing the same things the same way hoping for a different outcome.

You might be stuck in a rut: if you are taking your life and the people in it for granted and letting your assumptions highjack you.

You might be stuck in a rut: if you’re moving through life on auto-pilot without any thought to goals or commitments or accountability to yourself and the ones you love.

You might be stuck in a rut: if you have stopped exploring the opportunities and possibilities life has to offer. Are you afraid to rock the boat?

Now, find a comfy, quiet spot, sit back, relax, double click and listen to The Rascals.

AH, the sounds of groovin’:

You might be in a groove: if you have forward momentum and energy about life.

You might be in a groove: if you are persevering toward possibilities and breathing easy.

You might be in a groove: if you are stretching yourself beyond your current limits into something new and rewarding.

Are you ready to pack your bags and head out of that rut? Have you made your travel plans? You’ll need to bring along your ability to say, “Yes!” - risk, try something new. Make sure you’ve planned to eat nutritious foods, and get at least 6 1/2 hours of sleep. Pack your exercise gear and recommit to getting it done.

What have you been catching glimmers of that you haven’t gotten a grip on? A new recipe and a dinner party? Learning a new language? Creating a piece of art? A new exercise? A travel adventure? Get your GO! on and head straight for the groovin’.

“When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it.” ----Twyla Tharp




Are You Investing?

I was sitting with a client recently who wished her significant other would be interested in investing in their relationship the way he is with his money.

“He always is reading and thinking about the best ways to get the best on return on his investment,” she said. “And he’s quite good at it.”

She is right. It is important for all of us to invest in our relationships otherwise we won’t get much in the way of return.

You start with a strong foundation, trusted philosophy and well-balanced spending and saving habits to build an outstanding investment portfolio. And, you have to start with a strong foundation, trusted theories and healthy habits to build a strong relationship.

One of the best pieces of advice about investing I have ever gotten: Start with knowing yourself - your emotions, your fears, your dreams and your risk tolerance. Only then can you make investments congruent with who you are and the life you want. Sharing yourself with your partner in these ways brings intimacy and trust to the relationship. Learn what each other’s strengths are and build on those.

Any smart investor knows to take a long-term view. Patience is a virtue in investing and in relationships. When investing, you need the discipline to hold onto or add to investments through down markets as well as up markets. Your relationship requires the same discipline to work through the rough spots and maintain closeness through the up times and the down times.

We’ve all heard the diversify advice. Reliable outcomes can be good, but boring. In a relationship things can get stale. To keep it healthy and happy, try new adventures together; shake things up with something different sometimes. Build in surprises. Be creative. Be interesting to the other person.

Smart investors review their portfolio at least once a year. Your relationship deserves the same evaluation. When circumstances change or there has been a crisis of some sort, regrouping sooner rather than later is always wise. I help couples create vision statements for their life together and always I tell them this is a dynamic document. As you age, life circumstances change, goals shift, etc., revisit and perhaps rewrite your vision of your ideal relationship and where you want it grow.

In investing avoid fad stocks because you are either too late or it is over priced. In relationships avoid comparing yours to everyone else’s. What works for them, may not work for you and your partner. Being in your relationship and not comparing it to your friends’ or siblings’ take courage and compassion.

And, just like any smart investor, keep track of your balance sheet. According to research published by marriage and family therapist John Gottman, for every one negative interaction (debt) in a relationship, you need five positive interactions (asset) to make up for - if you will - the negatives.

Invest in your relationships - both intimate and friendships - with interest, love, kindness and empathy and reap the rewards.

Keep Calm and Persevere

No doubt you have or you will experience both inspiration and motivation (see previous blog entry) in reaching for your goals whether they are about getting healthier, taking on a new career or being more connected in your relationships. But what happens when things get tough - and they will get tough.

What separates those who accomplish and succeed from those who don’t?

Perseverance.

Do you have it?

People - ordinary ones like you and me - develop skills that help them persevere and triumph. You know these individuals - you root for them in the movies or hear about them on the nightly news or read about them in a stirring memoir. You can be one of them.

What does perseverance look like? For one, focus - keeping your eye on the ball so to speak. You have to look past, look over, look around (you get the picture) the obstacles that obstruct your view of the goal. Tune out all the static and stay the course by defining your purpose and vision. Write them down and read them daily. Visualize yourself being successful.

Here’s a few more tools for your perseverance toolbox:

Practice patience. Sometimes it helps to set one goal at a time unless a couple of them are closely related and it makes sense to group them together. Be specific with your goal setting. Remind yourself things that bring great joy and gratification take time. Track your progress and celebrate the milestones.

Look past your fear. It is one of the biggest barriers to goal reaching. Ask yourself, “What could I do, if I weren’t afraid?” Step outside of your comfort zone and try it. Stop comparing yourself to others and embrace your imperfections - they don’t mean you will fail.

Align your goals with your strongest values and deepest convictions. Get clarity around your priorities and principles. Only then can you choose that which will bring you success and satisfaction. Ask yourself, “Do my goals match my purpose in life?” “Will reaching my goal bring me fulfillment?” If the answer is yes, you know what to do.

Be willing to sacrifice. Someone once told me, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.” You have to be willing to choose sometimes. Keep your eye on the prize and endure. You might need to change your environment to help ensure success. Don’t rule anything out. And, remember, if you’ve done the alignment (see previous paragraph) the sacrifices will be worth it in the end.

Manage your energy. As Peter Drucker the management guru one said, “There is nothing more useless than doing something efficiently which should not be done at all.” We have limits on the amount of time and energy we are able to focus on our job, family, friends, being healthy and fun. The path to effective time management is to be clear about our priorities and fully engaged in how we spend the limited time and energy we have.

The two Cs - commitment and confidence. Perseverance is about making a commitment to your goal with your time, energy and money. And, if you’re feeling less than, ask yourself the question, “Who defines me?” Then reach down for the answer and there find your confidence to carry on.

One of the most important perseverance tools: be willing to try again, recommit and learn from what’s not working.

And remember have some fun!

Inspired? Or Motivated?

On my run last night I noticed there were more people than usual out getting their fitness on. Wonder if they were inspired by the unseasonably warm weather or maybe motivated by that New Year’s resolution?

Are inspiration and motivation the same thing - interchangeable? Are they just words? I think not. Words and their meanings have an undeniable effect on the way we feel, the way we behave and the way we think.

We can use our words to hurt or heal. We can learn to use words as positive forces in our life or negative ones - to work for us or against us. Words and how we use them can help us reach our goals or sabotage us before we get going good.

The plethora of information out there on motivation can be overwhelming and downright discouraging. And inspiration is bottled and sold these days like snake oil. How do you know what is real and what is hooey? Or who is authentic and who ain’t the real McCoy?

Inspiration is an ah-ha moment that may or may not motivate you into action. Inspiration happens when something or someone enlivens you emotionally to feel something extraordinary. That feeling often is as if life is being breathed into you.

Unfortunately, that in and of itself does not last - like a jolt of caffeine. So now what? If you decide you want to act on that inspiration, you need motivation to outlast - after the buzz wears off.

Deepak Chopra says, "Instead of motivation look for inspiration. Inspiration comes from the same word as spirit. When you are inspired, the spirit moves you."

And the first person you have to inspire everyday is yourself!

But, what about when you’re not feeling inspired? It’s 5:30 a.m., it’s 37 degrees and dark, I’m not inspired to get out of bed for that run. Can I motivate myself up and at ‘em? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Motivation is not something we just have or don’t have. Motivation is specific behaviors - usually better if small - we build in to our day that, if we’ve planned accordingly, will lead to success. These usually are measurable, dynamic and action-oriented. Motivation can come from external sources or internal ones. So find help when you need it.

Think of inspiration as the 100-dash and motivation as the marathon. You need to prepare for the long-haul to create lasting, life-style change that is full of freedom and possibility.

What is motivating you?

What is inspiring you?

Follow it !

Target Fixation

This time of year a lot of us are focusing on making 2013 different - better than - 2012. Plans are being mapped out; lists are being created; we are getting our motivation on.

Choose carefully those thoughts, people and energy you want to bring to your life. You will move toward your focus whether that is losing weight, eating healthier, being a better daughter or parent, exercising more, growing your business, etc.

We have our sights fixed on what we want to accomplish. Or do we? Have you placed your focus on the thing you want? Or have you placed your focus on the thing you are trying to avoid? The difference can be important.

Often, when we resolve to change, we end up focusing on the negative - what we want to stop doing, eating, saying, being.

You might say, we have target fixation. The term was first used to describe what was happening with World War II fighter pilots on low-flying bombing missions. They were so focused on the target, they would run in to it. It is thought to be what brought down the famed Red Barron.

This phenomenon is equally relevant to everyday life. If you focus on what you want to avoid, you’ll end up gravitating toward it, feeling negative and losing sight of your positive self and the incremental changes you are making.

Look where you wish to go, not at what you wish to avoid. Look at what’s possible in your life. Moving toward your growing edge can be both scary and satisfying. You’ll need action and stillness to cultivate the life you want.

I read a quote attributed to former president Dwight D. Eisenhower the other day: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” I thought about calling mom - since she worked for him in the white house - to see if he really said that. Instead, I decided it didn’t matter.

Forego the “what if’s” and stick to realistic planning and follow through.

First, prepare: figure out what negatives you’re fixated on. It’s probably those “shoulds,” fears and comparisons you’re telling yourself daily. Write them down, find support in a friend, spouse, coach, or therapist. Replace those negative “targets” with positive ones and keep track of them. Remind yourself of them often.

Second, visualize your successes - including the small ones. They all count toward your better self. Literally look past the negative you want to avoid. Put your focus on where you want to be, not where you’re afraid of going - back to sleep instead of the gym; for the mashed potatoes instead of the salad; gossiping instead of changing the subject - you get the picture.

Third, keep bringing yourself back to center. Spend some time and energy refocusing on the positive target with gentle resolve instead of frustration with yourself. Repeat when necessary.

Newton’s first law of motion says an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. I hope you are focusing in a positive direction. Get moving!