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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White fire…

There is an idea in Judaism that you can find meaning in the Torah two ways: through the words themselves (black fire) as well as the space between words (white fire). Often the most interesting and meaningful interpretations come when readers go beyond the actual text and attempt to create their own understandings by imagining what else happened that isn’t actually written. It’s a kind of storytelling…

Right now I feel like I’m living in the white space of my life. I first had this thought while thinking about the day-to-day challenges of eating healthfully. In early September I started working with a nutritionist who looked carefully at how I was already eating and has been slowly guiding me towards making changes that I can live with for the rest of my life. By far the biggest change and challenge has come in how I snack. Before –> snacking = constantly and nonstop. Now –> I intentionally have three snacks a day. More importantly, this means that, theoretically at least, there are several hours a day when I’m not eating anything. And it is here, in those hours of not eating, that my battle to overcome my life-long weight issues really takes place. For I find that I can tell myself two stories in this white space. One story, the old story, is that immediate gratification is everything. That food is an acceptable remedy for anxiety, boredom and loneliness. And that it is okay for me to choose a pale existence. But a new story has been emerging, one of unlimited potential and power. And it goes like this – when I choose not to eat, not because of some rigid rule but because I just ate and I’m not hungry – I am choosing life. I know that sounds dramatic but I truly believe it to be true. Eating when I don’t need to allows me to mask difficult emotions, at least a little, and that is just enough to keep me complacent. Not grabbing food removes this protective layer. And only then, when I allow myself to wallow, does my self-survival mechanism kick in. I’m, regrettably, an insecure person but I’m also proud and I can beat myself up for only so long before I eventually say “enough”! Then I get energized and determined and decide to fight for myself and the life I want, for the type of person I know I can be and want to be.

But this idea of white space goes beyond food. I’m also between careers, in the pause between chapters of my working life. Lately I’ve been filling my head with lots of stories about what I’m not. It has been a difficult time. But I know that I have to endure this phase because as long as I don’t take any short-cuts, I will eventually find myself waiting at the bottom of these bleak thoughts to once again start fighting for myself. To be the champion of my light and not just my darkness.

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Superpowers…

Many months ago my trainer, K., accused me of acting like a victim. I was running on the treadmill and he was standing on the one next to me. He wanted me to increase the incline and I said “no,” that I didn’t want to chance hurting my knees. And that’s when he said it. Boy did I get pissed. I gave him an earful along the lines of “I know my body better than you do.” Here’s the thing though…he may have gotten it wrong on that particular occasion but, in general, I think he might be right. I think deep down I do allow myself to feel like a victim more than I care to admit. When faced with adversity, I sometimes succumb to feelings of hopelessness and passivity as opposed to all “fire in my belly” and I’ll figure this out, or show them, or by golly I will beat this. And that’s K’s superpower – with laser focus he can see the very characteristic that holds a person back from being her best self.

Remembering this interaction got me thinking…”What if each of us has a superpower?” So yesterday I decided to give my theory a trial run. I started thinking about my friend, BA, who I was getting ready to meet at the Beltline. This is what I asked myself, “What one thing is BA better at than almost anyone else?” And the answer came to me quickly – she is a fiercely loyal friend. She’s all in whether it’s helping me make a difficult decision; using her considerable journalistic and project management skills on my behalf as I grapple with what to do for the next chapter of my life; or simply getting angry because someone has hurt me. This is not to say that BA sugar-coat things but she is always there for me. BA’s superpower is definitely her loyalty.

So far so good. But for my superpower theory to hold up it must apply to me as well. This is a change in direction from my usual line of thinking which tends to focus more on things that I’m not such as not being much of a partier (meaning, no fun?) or not being someone who brims over with self-confidence. But if everyone has a superpower then I must too so what can it be? Never one to see my own positive attributes clearly, I decide to ask BA during lunch. Unfortunately, I don’t totally understand her response and am too embarrassed to ask her to clarify. (Please can you find another way to tell me how wonderful I am?) Something about my openness and willingness to be real, I think. I understand enough to know that I like it. And I understand enough to know that I recognize myself in her description, which is important to me. I also think back to a recent conversation I had with one of my former teachers. It was the first time we had seen each other since I left my position back in June as Religious School Director. She told me that she missed my positive energy on Sunday mornings. I like that too, a lot.

I need to better understand the nature of my superpower; doing so will allow me to share it more generously with the world. And thinking about it will be a good antidote for those times when my thoughts turn in a more self-critical direction. What’s your superpower?

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Dead ends…

“The world is always rushing forward to teach us, and that the greatest thing we can do is to stand there, open and available, and be taught by it.” ~Dana Velden, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen

Today I went for a mid-afternoon walk at Mason Mill Park. It was fantastic outside; sunny, cool enough for a sweatshirt and really breezy. Not long into my walk I decided that today was the day to follow the newly paved spur off the well-trodden main path. I approached the new section with curiosity and excitement. (Truth be told, I was practically skipping!) I wondered how far this particular path would go and what it would feel like to walk (or run) its length. And I was quietly patting myself on the back thinking – “Yay you, trying something new”! So you can imagine my disappointment when the spur ended a relatively short distance from its starting point rather abruptly and unceremoniously by a large parking lot. Not what I was expecting or hoping for!

This is what I’m realizing. As I try to keep myself open to and pursue new experiences, not all of them will be positive or will resonate with me or will further my growth. Sometimes an experiment can be mildly interesting but ends up not having any lasting attraction for me. And that’s OK because all of it – the home runs and the dead ends and everything in between – are part of my journey.

 

 

 

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Yom Kippur…

“We’re all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” – Ernest Hemingway

Yom Kippur just ended and I’ve now been to temple four times in the last 11 days. This is a lot for me and not at all representative of my normal synagogue-attending behavior. But the High Holy Days are special and lately I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have rituals and celebrations so that certain days stand out and aren’t like all the other days of the year. Also, being a part of a community has really advanced in my hierarchy of important things to have in one’s life and attending services with hundreds of other people definitely qualifies as community, especially if you are fortunate to know many of the other congregants like I do since my synagogue was also my place of employment for 17 years.

I belong to a large congregation which makes us able to offer diverse worship experiences. So, just like you need to do a little advance planning to get the most out of a work conference or film festival, I spend time beforehand thinking about which experiences I am most likely to find meaningful. It is not as easy of a task as you might expect because each year I am a slightly different person from who I was the year before; consequently what I’m needing spiritually changes, but I do the best I can knowing that I can make different choices next year if I get it wrong this year.

Today I chose to skip the more traditional Yom Kippur services and instead went to an alternative afternoon service entitled “A Yom Kippur Service for Renewal of the Mind, Body and Spirit.” I’m so glad I did and here’s why:

  • Firstly, it was held in our chapel, a lovely intimate space with lots of natural light and warm wood.
  • Secondly, because this was a creative service, the readings and songs chosen were less beholden to traditional liturgy and therefore gave breathing room for alternative views of God. This was an enormous relief because it made it less necessary for me to engage in my usual internal process of translating the text in the prayerbook into words more in line with my own beliefs – a process that can feel at times like mental calisthenics.
  • And then there was the wonderful music, some familiar but mostly not. The cantor led us in a call and response which reminded me of how my yoga teacher, who loves chanting, would sometimes end our sessions. Later in the service we stood and sang a song of healing with our arms around our neighbors – hokey, I know, but powerful nonetheless.
  • Lastly, the service illuminated a contemporary understanding of the main theme of Yom Kippur which is atonement. I’ve long ago left behind my outrage at the presumption that I need to atone for my sins each year. Over time I’ve come to understand the more subtle ways that we veer from being our best selves and now I use this time of year to identify where the holes in my soul still are. This year my list isn’t particularly long but it is weighty. In the year ahead I want to be braver – to take more risks both with people and situations; and to be more mindful –  to be open to the daily opportunities to be fully present. Relatedly, I no longer want to act like I have all the time in the world because the simple truth is none of us do. And I want to figure out how to be more giving – not only to my family and friends but to society in general.

During the High Holy Days we’re urged to be vulnerable; to remove some of our protective layers; to be brutally honest about ourselves. But we do this is a loving and supportive environment, surrounded by both the weight of tradition and the belief that we are all capable of growing into our best selves.

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Endure the darkness…

Here in Atlanta you can feel the beginning of fall. The days are still warm but the mornings and evenings are more comfortable now. On some days, the sky is that deep blue that only happens when the humidity is low. Mowing after dinner is becoming less of an option as the hours of day light are noticeably diminishing and I’ve needed a sweatshirt, at least briefly, during several of my early morning walks. Best of all, there were several days in a row when I was able to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows wide to the fresh air. Fall is definitely my happy place. But there is something just a little bit sad about leaving the warm months behind and all the informality, spontaneity and freedom that summer implies.

Recently I came across this quote:

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” — Og Mandino

I’ve been aware lately that I need both – the light and the darkness. In particular, I’ve had days recently that were difficult, where I felt purposeless and aimless. When I’ve retreated into myself both literally and figuratively. But each and every time I read the above quote it reminds me to be patient and to understand that good work is being done, even and maybe especially, during those times when I feel that I’m searching for something that I can’t even name. I’ve made a commitment to myself to no longer live on automatic pilot but I’m still struggling to figure out what that looks like and feels like. The dark days are kind of like reset buttons…when I emerge I usually feel invigorated and optimistic and open. And that’s when I remember to feel gratitude and awe, to dream, and to create.

 

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