Molting…

Yesterday while doing yard work, I had the strangest sensation. I no longer felt like the “me” that I’ve always been. It was as if all the many changes I’ve made during these last few years suddenly reached a critical mass and poof!…old Caren gone and new Caren here. Like a snake who has shed its old skin revealing new skin beneath.

The sensation was disorienting but empowering. I wanted to change my life and by golly I have. I’ve thrown financial security out the window. I’ve chosen to believe I have something valuable to offer people. No supporting cast, no back-up band – just me. And I’ve altered, much of the time, how I choose to perceive the world. So, not only have I shed my skin but I’ve altered my vision as well.

Suddenly, I was hit with the urge to change how I look. How can I continue to look the same when I feel so different on the inside? There and then I decided to cut my hair really, really short. Just thinking about it is both terrifying and thrilling. Maybe that’s the point. We’ll see if I’m still feeling brave when my hair appointment arrives in two weeks.

In my bedroom I have a star-shaped golden cardboard box. Inside are two pieces of blue paper upon which are written the following:

  • Infinite Spirit, send me a sign. Show me the next best use of my gifts and talents; and
  • My perfect new path is already selected and will arrive at the right time. I’ll be shown the steps to receive it.

My prayers (and they were prayers, weren’t they?) have been answered in ways I never could have imagined. Not that it has been easy. Far from it! But I’m no longer sleep walking. And I have moments when I’m actually okay with who I am. And that’s all I’ve ever really wanted. The me that I’m now, the one with the tender new skin, feels like it’s time to write words on another piece of blue paper to put in the star-shaped golden cardboard box. This time it will be about love. It’s time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chain link fence, part 2

There are all types of fences. There are the ones that exist in the physical world, the ones that act as barriers to keep us away. (See Chain link fence, part 1.)  And then there are the invisible ones, the kind we construct consciously and unconsciously, to protect ourselves. These barriers, though motivated by the best of intentions (such as self-preservation), might in fact, act contrary to our best interests. For one thing, they keep us removed from fully engaging in life. And what’s the point of that?! I’ve already spent too many years playing it safe and being, at least a little, asleep, as much of a cliché as that may be. Fences also keep us from truly knowing the depth of our feelings, allowing us to remain strangers to ourselves. And maybe worse, they keep us stuck in muted tones instead of experiencing the whole rainbow of human emotions. By doing this, we are duller, less interesting, less dazzling. I’m also starting to believe that fences keep us stuck. The longer we refuse to look at and experience a strong or unconventional or unwelcome feeling, the longer it takes us to work through it or to be released from its grip. Playing it safe keeps us from sending strong signals to others which may, in the end, keep us from having the very thing we want (or think we want). Ironic, right? Alternatively, it keeps us from finding out as soon as possible, that we can’t have what we want, which lately has been my own experience. There’s no true moving on without acceptance first.

When I blog, I’m constantly trying to figure out where to put the fence – the boundary between public and private. There are some places I just won’t go in this format. Though I wish I could. Writing helps me work through particularly thorny or painful feelings and situations. It’s a therapeutic and creative outlet for when I’m brave enough to peel those extra layers away and, by doing so, expose the tender and vulnerable heart of a matter.

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Chain link fence, part 1

For months I’ve been acutely aware of the construction of a second trail at the park where I walk regularly. I can’t overstate my curiosity, excitement, and impatience to explore this new path as week after week went by and still the chain link fence tasked with keeping us onlookers out remained. As the fence was located close to the trailhead, what went on beyond that point was hidden from view. During my (almost) daily walks on the original trail, I could see and hear signs of progress – the hauling of building materials, the operation of heavy equipment, and the occasional faint laughter or talking among the construction crew. (Who had come to Georgia from Florida, according to the license plates on their parked vehicles.) As much as I enjoyed the current trail which over time has become as comfortable as a favorite, much worn sweatshirt, the allure of the new path beckoned to me. Hidden behind trees, everything about the path was mysterious. And yet, the fence remained. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Would it ever be ready?

And then, one recent Saturday morning, a gap in the fence suddenly appeared. Ahead of me, I noticed a couple had slipped through the opening and had ventured into the previously off-limits area. So I did too. And then it was happening…I was entering the woods, off on a new adventure. I was as excited as a kid going on an airplane for the very first time. My breathing and heart rate elevated slightly, my eyes dilated (at least I imagined that they did). and I spoke in an awed, conspiratorial tone to my fellow travelers. It was exhilarating.

But it wasn’t until two days later, early the following Monday morning, that I witnessed something that eventually spurred my wanting to write this entry. After all the preceding months during which time winter had become spring and now summer, I happened to be at the park at just the right time to catch a workman in the act of removing the chain link fence. I could have so easily missed this milestone…the visual clue that the project was now complete and open to the public.

I found myself feeling surprisingly grateful. Because change, especially the internal kind, isn’t usually like that. Rarely is there a concrete moment in time when we can say to ourselves, “Ah hah! I am different now; I’m not the same person I was three months or three years ago. My work here is done!” Instead, real change typically happens imperceptibly and non linearly. It happens in the background, like the remote sound of heavy equipment and workmen laughing and talking faintly in the distance. Occasionally, we do get a peek – our vision temporarily gets sharper and clearer and, if we’re mindful and a little lucky, we notice that we just handled a challenging situation better than in the past or chose a behavior that was truly in our long-term best interest where in the past we may not have. Work on ourselves doesn’t come with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Because of that, we rarely, if ever, get to see the fence come down. No wonder it felt so satisfying.

 

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Laptop dreams…

I recently purchased my first-ever laptop. In the beginning, it stayed parked on my desk in my office. After several days, I tentatively unplugged it and took it into the Breakfast Room so that I could do guided yoga enveloped in the beautiful morning light. Then, a few days after that, emboldened by my earlier wandering, I ventured into the dining room to do school work in the lovely, diffuse afternoon light. In this way, little by little, my laptop and I followed the sun’s journey around my small house. And now the final frontier…outdoors!!! I write this post sitting on my front porch on a beautiful day in early spring in Atlanta. It has taken me approximately six weeks to get here.

This tendency to be tentative (a kind description) is a core attribute of mine. I see it in my longstanding inability to dream about the future or to be the kind of person who can open her arms wide and shout out to the universe what she most wants. But if I want to continue on my journey of creating a meaningful and vibrant life, I have to push harder to hear and express my inner voice.

During a recent class for my Health Coach Certificate Program, we began exploring what might come next career-wise as the conclusion of the program approaches. In one fell swoop I was no longer safely in “student” mode and was suddenly thrust into “job-search” mode. Yikes! As soon as class was over, I found comfort in watching TV and eating mindlessly as I attempted to quiet my anxiety. But the difference this time around (compared to the countless other times through the years when I’ve comforted myself this way) was my ability to recognize my feelings and coping mechanisms as they were happening. Then I took a pass on passing judgement having learned in class that being self-critical rarely has the effect we want and often increases the very behaviors we don’t want!

Instead of passing judgement, I did something much more useful. I began to examine why I was feeling anxious about my next steps toward becoming a working health coach. It was then that I realized that I had immediately jumped to what kind of position I could get instead of taking the time to visualize what I really wanted. Once again, I had forgotten to dream.

So here’s my dream in regards to health coaching. I want to work with women who are stuck, like I was. For me, my upward spiral began with working out and climbing back into my body. Then came eating better and broadening my circle of friends. Next up was gathering the courage to leave my job of many years to figure out a new path. More recently, I’ve been learning about mindfulness and meditation and the importance of positivity. And I’ve only just begun. I can think of nothing better than to continue my “travels” while simultaneously witnessing and championing and assisting other women as they forge ahead with their own transformations.

Which brings me back to my newly acquired laptop. I’ve missed writing regularly these last three months. I think I was too busy absorbing new ideas and practicing unfamiliar skills; I wasn’t ready to process and share. But writing feels so important. So one more dream for now…to figure out a way to take this blog into the next chapter of my life.

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A year of answers…

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. ~ Zora Neale Hurston

Live as if you are going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you are going to live forever.    ~ Gandhi

Two thousand sixteen was definitely a year of questions. I had the luxury of time and space for deep reflection and exploration. It was at times a lonely journey but I’m thinking that was the way it had to be. We humans are so resistant to change; we have to practically be forced to head in a different direction even if it is in our own best interest. By forced I mean being in a place without distraction or rescue where you finally have no choice but to look yourself squarely in the eye and acknowledge what is missing and what you truly need. In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach suggests that if you feel a sadness that cannot be named it might be because of the following:

Perhaps the heart of our melancholy is that we miss the woman we were meant to be.

When I read those words, I felt the shock of recognition – clearly she was talking directly to me! She goes on to say that “even if you have ignored your authentic self for decades, ‘she’ has been waiting patiently for you to recognize her and to reconnect.” My sojourn these last few months gives me hope that this is so.

Which brings me to 2017 which I am convinced will be a year of answers. Okay, let me start by saying that 17 is my lucky number. I no longer remember why exactly, I just know deep down it is. So, right from the beginning, this new year has an auspicious start. And then there’s the fact that all my soul-searching these past few months has put in motion some things which I plan to pursue in earnest moving forward. I’m embracing the importance of being a learner, as Gandhi advised. On a regular basis now I practice Qi Gong (holdenqigong.com) and Spanish (DuoLingo app). I’m also committed to finally becoming a cook and have just registered for a 30 day on-line class that promises to turn me into someone who can confidently prepare meals without recipes (foodistkitchen.com). Can you hear the heavenly choir sing “hallelujah” at the mention of my FINALLY becoming a cook?! But that’s not all. I also want to learn to draw and plan to take a beginner’s class in the near future through Emory Continuing Education. And, I still have a few classes left on my Dance 101 card. In a former life I must have been a Latina because Salsa feels very natural to me; on the other hand, I have my doubts about Hip Hop. Another goal for 2017 – be willing to make a fool of myself from time to time! So, to that end, Hip Hop here I come!

But what about work? I have good news in that department as well. After endless hours of listening “to the whispers of my heart” (Breathnach), I’m owning my desire to become a Wellness Coach. I don’t have a road map for getting there as of yet but I’m working on it. The beauty about making wellness one’s job, is that there is no separation between living and working. Every healthy choice I make in my personal life about moving, eating, and mindfulness adds to my knowledge and understanding of what it means to live with vitality, purpose, and authenticity. Which I can then use to better guide others. And that’s where I’m headed…

wholeness-slider

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Walking…

When I was a working person, my daily route took me just close enough to Chastain Park that I would get a glimpse of people out for a morning walk. And I would be so envious! “What a civilized way to start one’s day,” I would think. I would go on to imagine that if one started one’s day with a walk, there was no end to the other beneficial acts that could follow. Meditation? Check. Cooking a healthy breakfast? Check. Yoga? Check. Writing in one’s journal? Check. A session with your personal trainer? Check. Shopping at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market? Check. Volunteering? Check. And on and on until you became a paragon of wellness. People would marvel at your balance, mindfulness, and centeredness. You would have no choice but to write a self-help book and Oprah would want to interview you. Phew!

Here’s the reality now that I’m neither a working person nor a student. I do, in fact, walk A LOT but not in the disciplined way that I had imagined. The time of day varies with the season along with my motivation for going on a walk on that particular day. When it was late summer/early fall and it stayed lighter longer, I walked fairly regularly in the early evenings (but before dark) to get away from evening food challenges and to avoid the daytime heat. Once the days got shorter and cooler, when I walked became more varied. Sometimes I walk to separate sections of my day; for example, to take a break between my job search and doing errands. Sometimes I  walk because I’m feeling restless and/or anxious and need to exorcise my demons and shake off my tension or stress. Still other times I’ll notice that the day is about to slip away and I want to get a walk in before nightfall. Early mornings are my favorite time of day and sometimes, though not too often, I’ll walk then just for the pure pleasure of it.

What’s most surprising though, is not the when but the what, as in “what does walking do for me?” It’s not so much about all the other healthful activities that it inspires, but more about all that I experience while I walk. While I totally believe in the many benefits of meditation, I don’t love sitting still and find that I can quiet my mind better if there’s some gentle movement involved at the same time such as doing Qi Gong. But walking outside is the best; it is hands down my favorite form of meditation. Whenever I walk I’m filled with gratitude that I can get from point A to point B with ease and comfort; that my body works as designed (which was not true for my mom). But that’s just the beginning. When I walk I notice things, though not always and rarely the same things. (Just yesterday I noticed for the very first time that a house I had passed innumerable times before was pink! How had I missed that?) During the moments when I’m fully present, there is so much to observe. Always there are my fellow walkers, many who look familiar at this point in time since I do most of my walking at Mason Mill Park. I love that there is such variety in the people whose paths I cross. So many nationalities, races, and ages. People walk alone, in couples, and in groups. It’s fun to guess at the relationships – family, friends, co-workers, partners? Many have dogs with them and though I’m not an animal lover (please forgive me!), I enjoy seeing them as well (as long as they’re on a leash!) Sometimes I play a game where I pick my favorite spot along the path and then try to analyze why this particular spot wins. Is it the curve of the creek at that exact location; or the way the sun is low in the sky and peeks through the trees; or the sound of the water as it breaks over some boulders immediately behind me adding a kind of soundtrack? I’m reminded of why I find going to the beach to be so therapeutic; as if I’ve pressed a mental reset button. I think it’s because all your senses get bombarded at once, but in a good way – the light bouncing off the ocean, the sound of the waves crashing over and over onto the shore; the smell and taste of the salt water; the tickle of the breeze on your skin. Perhaps in a similar way, my favorite spot also engages my senses more so than ordinary life.

Sometimes I’m not observant at all when I walk because I’m turned inward as I work through problems, sometimes about life’s big questions but also about the more mundane challenges of daily life. On these occasions my walk begins and ends and I’ve hardly noticed anything but I’ve breathed the fresh air, soaked in the sunshine (if I’ve been lucky), and rhythmically pounded the ground. And I feel better for having done so.

In general, I rarely get bored even as I walk the same 2.24 miles over and over again. Sometimes I listen to my iPod; other times I don’t. And all this just scratches the surface…

My trainer recently put up a post on Facebook reminding us that bodies are meant to move and not be stagnant. As I make moving a regular part of my life, I now know the utter truth to this statement. I move regularly in lots of different ways and at varying intensities (running, strength training, Qi Gong, dancing), but walking is the glue – it’s the activity I do most regularly and which is always available to me even if I’m unmotivated or sore. I can even walk on the treadmill at my gym if the weather is inhospitable. I’m not exaggerating when I say that walking keeps me sane as I struggle to figure out who I am and what I want the next stage of my life to look like.

nature-walk

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The life I want…

I started this blog in February and for the first few months I thought I’d never run out of things to say. My life was changing at a breakneck speed and I could hardly keep up. But then, in late summer/early fall, things came to a screeching halt. I’m old enough to know that journeys rarely, if ever, progress in a straight line. But despite knowing this, my sense of optimism was tested. I had made all these life changes but to what end? I no longer knew. I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark. I was no longer convinced that I could act my way into a new way of being and into a more fully present life.

Luckily, right around this time, I started working with a wonderful career/transition coach, Andrea Holyfield, and she has kept me putting one foot in front of the other. Which brings me to this post. This past Saturday Andrea hosted a workshop on Vision Boarding, something I had heard about but had never tried. It seemed a good way to (re)connect with the right side of my brain, my creativity, and my ability to dream.

In general I am a slow processor, meaning it is difficult for me to take new information or experiences and immediately know how this new stimuli speaks to me. I need time to live with it, to think and not think about it. So it wasn’t surprising that I couldn’t complete my board on Saturday; more time and space was needed. But then, today, I was ready.

This afternoon was cold and grey. I worked at my dining room table. Despite the general gloominess of the day, I chose not to turn on any lights; instead I opened my curtains wide so that I could let in as much natural light as possible. I had magazines spread all around the table as well as scissors, tape, construction paper, a beloved postcard, and greeting cards. Eventually I concluded that I needed words as well as images and ran to my computer when needed. I stood the entire time while I worked.

My completed board now hangs on the bulletin board to the left of my computer in the room that acts as my home office and Qi Gong/meditation space. The board is there to remind me of my life’s priorities. As Joseph Campbell, the well-known mythologist, said many years ago, “you are either on the beam or off the beam.” Lately I’ve been “off the beam” way too much; the board will help me find my way back. When I have important decisions to make (and I will have many in the months ahead), I will use these pictures and words to guide me towards answers that speak to my truth. I will also use the board to set goals and to stay focused.

My vision board, in its current form, says the following about what is important to me at this moment in time:

Beauty – Figuring out my authentic sense of style has always been elusive but it feels central to knowing who I am at my very core. Somehow this goes hand-in-hand with trusting that I am enough, just the way I am. I want so badly to be comfortable in my own skin and I’m getting close. I also know that I need light and color just as much as I need air to breathe.

Wellness – There’s no going back; I need to make sure I always prioritize moving, cooking/eating healthfully, and mindfulness. And, I need to be outdoors a lot!

Connection – I have to work hard not to feel isolated. It’s easy for me to prioritize family but I also need to put lots of energy into fostering friendships and developing a deep sense of community. I want to invite people into my home more often and to cook for them!

Creativity – I’ve neglected my innate creativity for too long and the quality of my life has suffered as a result. I need to develop a keen sense of curiosity so that I can discover what speaks to me. Writing and dancing for sure; maybe drawing or something totally unknown! I recently read that creativity waits on the other side of boredom. I need to allow myself the space to become bored (i.e. by turning off the TV!) so that I’m forced to get in touch with that spark inside me.

Work – Where exactly should I land next? This is the area that is the fuzziest. One big clue – I want to engage with people in a meaningful way. More and more I’m thinking that I can be a guide of some kind; I have so many recent experiences to draw upon. I just need to figure out what kind of guide I can best be…

Here’s my vision board for 2017:

visions-board-2017

Thanks, Andrea, for being a wonderful guide!

 

 

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