The song I wanted to hear but didn’t know…

Earlier this week I decided to give being a vegetarian a try. No one is more surprised by this decision than me. Even today, if asked what my favorite food group is, I’d say protein! And that’s been my problem…I like meat so much that I almost always overeat it. And overeating is one of my least favorite things. Whenever that happens (which is more often than I care to admit), I’m buried by a cascade of physical discomfort, negative self-talk, and despondency. I know in the context of the world’s truly awful problems, this is beyond small but in my day-to-day life it looms large.

I’m not sure I can reconstruct the sequence of events that led me to make the decision to stop eating meat. Clearly I’ve been in search mode in regards to what would be the best overall diet for me in terms of weight loss/maintenance and health. Just a few weeks ago I was researching Whole30 where meat has a starring role though I ultimately decided not to go in that direction. But then I watched “What the Health,” a documentary on the health risks (among other things) of eating meat, dairy, and eggs. Despite the fact that the film was devoid of articulate dissenting opinions as well as any guidance regarding how to make the transition to plant-based eating, something got to me. I hadn’t realized until watching it how much I want to feel lighter, to feel that I’m eating clean, to know that I’m supporting my health and not working against it.

I’ve been amazed about how right this decision feels. There was no “I’ll start tomorrow” or “I’ll start next week.” I decided and then I was ready. I immediately began doing research and looking for recipes. Up until the last year or so I haven’t considered myself to be a cook; not only was l insecure about my kitchen skills but I never could figure out what kind of food I actually wanted to make. But when I began looking at recipes this time, particularly at Pick Up Limes – a plant-based (vegan) website – almost every recipe seemed appealing. It felt like I had come home. The only other time that I can recall having had a similar experience is when I began my Health Coach training program almost two years ago. On the very first day of opening weekend, we got to practice our nascent coaching skills with one another. Needless to say, I felt ill-equipped and nervous. (Terrified would sound overly dramatic, right?) But then it was my turn to coach a classmate for 20 minutes and it was incredible. Not only was I fully immersed in the experience but I could tell that being a coach draws upon my natural strengths in a way that I had never experienced before. I was astonished and filled with gratitude for having found something that I didn’t even know I was looking for.

Which brings me to the TV show, The Voice. The other night, Adam Levine made a comment to one of the contestants that the song he had just sung was a song that everyone wanted to hear but didn’t know that they wanted. That’s how I’m feeling right now about this decision to fundamentally change how I eat. It feels so right although until very recently, I didn’t even know I was thinking about it.

I have a lot to learn and I don’t expect my progress to be linear. But the wellness coach in me knows that the best way to proceed is by taking small, hopefully sustainable, steps, and by remaining open, curious, and positive about the results. Who knows where I’ll end up but I’m excited about the journey.

 

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Scheffleras & african violets…

I want to experiment with organizing my life around my strengths.

An example:

I have a Schefflera plant in my dining room which is thriving despite my almost total neglect of it. Yes, I do occasionally water it, but besides that, nada! And yet, it persists in growing and appearing healthy. When I look at it (which is often these days as I frequently find myself at the dining room table studying for the health & wellness coach certifying exam), it gives me pleasure. I love having a bit of nature indoors with me. I think, “I’m the kind of person who can have plants in her home.” I feel warm and fuzzy and content.

I also have a small African violet plant atop the wicker chest that sits under one of the windows in my bedroom. In contrast to the Schefflera plant, the African violet is not thriving. It looks stunted and undernourished despite the fact that I give both plants the same exact care (if you can call it that) and attention. Looking at the African violet brings me no joy; in fact, getting a glimpse of it can start some pretty severe internal scolding for not being a better caretaker. This results in my feeling like a bad person and my mood takes a momentary dip.

So, here’s what I’m thinking, I can bully myself into “doing better,” or I can acknowledge and accept that, all things being equal, I’m unlikely to make plant care a high priority at this time. There is something very freeing about moving with one’s strengths instead of always shoring up one’s weaknesses.

Next step – filling my house with Schefflera plants or at least giving away that poor African violet!

 

 

 

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Wary maintenance…

Some times you have to go back to the beginning. I started getting healthy when I joined a gym and started working with a trainer. Changing how I ate was an add-on at first, no pressure, just modifications here and there. That changed down the road when I addressed my over-eating head on, but it wasn’t my original focus. Now I’m trying to figure out the formula for keeping weight off. Or, as Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente* say about what happens once you’ve made a significant lifestyle change such as losing weight – you get a life of decreasingly wary maintenance. Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

But that’s reality; otherwise you find yourself drifting back into old habits like eating mindlessly and copiously in front of the TV. And then you throw in an unexpected medical scare, and all the crazy emotions that go along with that, and momentum starts to build in the wrong direction. Lapsing is scary stuff. So, some times you have to go back to the beginning. And for me, the beginning is making physical activity my main focus.

But it’s never exactly the same, is it? Because you haven’t been standing still since the beginning. You’ve acquired new skills and additional life experiences plus the knowledge that you know you can do this. One way things are different is that this time I want to be the designer of my plan. It’s a subtle shift. I will still go to bootcamp twice a week and be grateful each and every time for our wonderful trainer. But bootcamp twice a week, I’m learning, isn’t enough for me and I want to figure out what else I need and then, well…Just Do It!

This morning I kicked off the long holiday weekend by going to my local high school to jog around the track, something I haven’t done on my own for a very long time. I ran/walked for 1.5 miles. Then I alternated three sets of running up and down five flights of stairs with 20 wall push ups. A good beginning…

Best moment besides the feeling of accomplishment that comes with having just had a good workout? Having an adorable two year old mimic my wall push-ups. Change yourself, change the world.

*Changing for Good: A revolutionary 6-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward

 

 

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Crossword puzzle…

Last night I was stumped. The New York Times crossword puzzle I had been working on was mostly solved except for a couple of pesky sections. I had been at it for three nights in a row. Finally, I knew what I had to do. I had to be ruthless. I needed to erase every answer that I wasn’t absolutely sure of. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. But the “maybe” correct answers were giving me a false sense of accomplishment as the number of empty cells diminished. In reality, these “maybe” correct answers were clouding my vision. Clearly, something was off and not working; otherwise I would have been able to finish the puzzle. I needed to be on firm ground once again and I could only get there by eliminating everything that wasn’t truly trustworthy. All those educated guesses needed to be gone. So out came my eraser. And then an amazing thing happened…with the distraction of the unreliable answers gone, I was able to see the way forward easily, almost effortlessly, and I completed the puzzle in no time.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been slowly creating a new life for myself. I’ve been careful and thoughtful as I chose a new profession, found new jobs, made new friends and experimented with what wellness looks like for me. I made sure each step was sure and true. But creating an authentic life is an art, not a science. And to make matters worse, I continue to grow and change. (Now who’s being pesky?!) So pieces that once felt right, currently feel less so. Perhaps not totally wrong, but, as Bob Dylan once wrote, “if it’s not right, it’s wrong.” It dawns on me that it might be time to apply an eraser to portions of this new life I’ve created. The new, better answers I’m looking for might not come as easily as the crossword puzzle answers did, but eliminating the “maybe” correct parts of my life feels like the right place to begin.

frame less eyeglasses on newspaper

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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Fathers and sons…

Often in the past 10 months while doing my job as a wellness coach at the YMCA, I’ve observed fathers showing their sons how to work out. I’ve witnessed many teaching styles – both encouraging and demanding and everything in between. Some of the kids look proud, cognizant that they are getting special one-on-one time with their dads and that they’ve entered a sacred space that had previously been off-limits to them because of their youthfulness; others look like they are living out a prison sentence. As a woman, I don’t understand the “take no prisoners” approach…that is simply too alien to how I interact with people in general, not to mention my own daughter. However, on some level, I get that, regardless of the style of interaction, something important transpires when a father decides that it’s time to teach and guide his son in how to navigate the world of the gym, how to be physically active, and get stronger.

Girls don’t usually have this experience.

My own dad started going regularly to a fitness club some time during my teen years but I was never invited and I have my suspicions that he spent most of the time when there schmoozing with his fellow gym rats. And mom was not physical in any sense of the word. The one time she signed up for a series of Yoga classes, she went to the first one, hated it, and then pretended to my dad, brother, and me that she went to the remaining classes – leaving the house on the scheduled evening each week as if she was actually going. (I didn’t learn about the subterfuge until many years later!) She was a life-long smoker with scoliosis and depression who let fear, pain, and misinformation inform her choices about what was in her best interest. Her inactivity as well as other poor lifestyle choices eventually caught up with her; towards the end of her life she developed emphysema and was ultimately bed-ridden, unable to even turn over on her own.

I know that not every boy whose dad indoctrinates him into the gym brotherhood ends up being a healthy adult, but it’s a head start, right?! I also know that there are lots of other things at play here such as modeling what it means to be a man and a father…and as such it feels sacred to witness and observe.

My parent’s generation didn’t yet value physical activity to the extent that we do now. Despite our increased knowledge, the gender gap still exists. It’s rarely a mom showing the kids the ropes, and rarely is it a daughter receiving the instructions.

Today at work I watched a grandfather and grandson go through the time-honored ritual. As I did my rounds around the gym, I overheard the older man patiently instruct the teenager. It left me wondering…what impact would it have had on me to have had a similar experience (or better yet, multiple experiences!) with one of my parents when I was that boy’s age? Would the trajectory of my life been different if I had developed more self-confidence in my abilities, strength, and appearance at a younger age; if I hadn’t waited until relatively late in life to embrace physical activity and wellness? I don’t ask with regret (well, maybe a little!) but with genuine curiosity….

 

 

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Hidden rooms…

For years I had a recurring dream about walking through my house and suddenly coming across a room, or sometimes an entire annex of rooms, which previously had been unknown to me. I would wake from the dream feeling disquieted but also exhilarated; these newly discovered spaces hinted at possibilities, almost like stumbling upon buried treasure.

Today my dream world and the real world intersected for a little while. I finally visited a spiritual bookstore that I had been meaning to go to for quite some time. I was in search of a necklace that I could wear daily which would be a symbol of my desire for calmness and centeredness. When I arrived, I discovered that the bookstore was located inside a nondescript ranch-style house – conventional and plain. I had expected something else entirely.

But when I opened the door, my disappointment vanished. I felt like Harry Potter visiting Diagon Alley for the first time…one moment in an ordinary, British Pub and the next moment passing through a portal to a different world full of magical things. What hit me first was the smell of incense, the sparkle of hanging crystal mobiles, and, everywhere I looked, a riot of colors. The bookstore is composed of several rooms, each with a theme – Eastern thought, personal development, crystals, candles, gemstone jewelry, tarot cards, and fantasy, to name a few. I noticed a couple of rooms off to the side for psychic readings. But it was a large separate room clearly designed for classes and meditation, that attracted me the most. Its yoga-like emptiness and decor was in contrast to the onslaught of stimulation that greeted one’s senses everywhere else in the bigger-than-expected, meandering store.

I didn’t find that special necklace today but I left with something even better – a new way of seeing myself. Just like the exterior of the store, I appear conventional. I’m a quiet, nice introvert; a good listener. But there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of me, a lot more color and irreverence and laughter and wonder. I haven’t had that recurring dream in several years because I’m no longer a stranger to myself. But I still have interior rooms that are in need of fresh air and light and I want to provide these things. But even when I do, at my center, there will always be a quiet space, an empty room, made just for being still.

 

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Crystal ball…

Do you know who has the ability to imagine the future? Landscapers! Landscapers select and place young, immature plants and trees with an eye towards the time to come. They imagine a distant day where, if Mother Nature cooperates, a harmonious or bold tapestry of color, size, shape, and texture will emerge. It seems a lot to calculate at the start – the knowledge of all things green, the understanding of weather patterns, as well as the aesthetics in multiple time frames – now, somewhat down the road, and then over the horizon. I’m in awe.

I got to thinking about the prescient powers of landscapers while I was walking at my favorite park last week. The newest of the two trails opened up only a few months ago so springtime on the trail is a new experience. Previously unnoticed and unremarkable saplings are now in bloom. One section alternates between redbud trees (whose blossoms are purple, go figure!) and a type of tree with small white blossoms. It hit me that this color scheme was pre-planned (duh!) and then I began to notice, with eyes newly opened, all the other landscaping choices made along the path. Clearly, these designers can navigate the terrain of the future with ease and comfort.

For my part, the future is a mysterious place so undefined that I can’t yet indulge in the pleasure of making it beautiful either in reality or in my mind’s eye. I know that the present is really all we ever have but there is a part of me that wishes for just one quick glance into a crystal ball.

Photo courtesy of https://tdimension.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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