Sunday, December 11, 2011

on getting off auto-pilot

Most mornings I wake up at 6:45 and I get out of bed and do things in a pattern: I check my email, I meditate, I shower, I dress, I pack my lunch, and I leave by 7:30. I'm able to do this because, for the most part, I'm on auto-pilot. I know how much time each step takes, and like an unconscious little soldier, I make sure to get them done in their allotted minutes.

This works well to get me out of the door efficiently, but on weekends, when I have the morning to myself, I do things completely differently. I wake up and putz around, check my email, make some coffee, maybe shower, maybe meditate, it doesn't matter, there's really no pattern to it. Auto-pilot doesn't kick in, and the days are all very different.

Weekdays are efficient, and weekends are fun. Not news to just about every non-self-employed person out there, but I'm trying to find a way to split more of the difference.

Two years ago, I challenged myself to do things differently. (Read more about it here.) Part of the experiment was to get myself unstuck from some negative self-chatter habits that were making me miserable, and part of it was to wake myself up out of auto-pilot. While this was important for my relationship with myself, I'm finding it important in my relationships with others, too.

December is all about "newness" and one of the practices I'm bringing to the month is one I learned in my class at the School of Practical Philosophy (new semester starts in January): meeting others as if for the first time. The idea is to drop all our preconceived notions about others, to drop our expectations about how they will react, and to just meet them as if we knew nothing about them. I like this practice because expectations are really just a set up for disappointment, and when I meet people with an idea of how they'll treat me, they either prove me right or disappoint me. When I don't have that expectation, who knows what'll happen?

In the past I've found it easier to be more forgiving of strangers and people I'm meeting for the first time than it has been for people I've known my whole life. It was always comforting to believe that my sister would tell me what I wanted to hear when I called her, but I find it easier now just to not have that expectation and instead make myself as clear as possible. If I didn't know her, I wouldn't have the expectation, so it's only fair to treat her as well as I would treat a stranger, right?

One of my favorite songs is by a Brooklyn band named Hem, and the lyrics are:
There's a lazy eye that looks at you
And sees you the same as before

Where are your eyes lazy? Where are you on auto-pilot? And what can you do differently to wake up and meet people as if for the first time?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

walls in our heads

Thanks to my friend Brian, I'm happy to share an interesting article about the allure of creating the walls in our heads, which continues on the post I shared two weeks ago.

For those of you who might not want to read the whole article, here are a couple of quotes I think are interesting:

"Walls, then, are built not for security, but for a sense of security."

"...walls can also block one’s view, but that should not be such big problem, especially when one wa
nts to hide."

"The erection of a wall signifies that someone has got something precious and that the others should know about it."

Whenever we identify ourselves as something ("I'm a New Yorker," "I'm a nice person"), we exclude other options and possibilities and limit ourselves. Do I love being a New Yorker? Yes! Is it important to me to be a nice person? Absolutely. But when I build a wall that says "I'm a New Yorker and I'm not anything else," that limits me. Same thing with being a nice person -- or any other identification you're likely to make.

Why draw lines? Instead, be flexible and explore what it would mean to not be a New Yorker, or to be a mean person. How would that change you? What would the impact be? You might be surprised by what you find...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

farming vs. mining

Many moons ago, my cousin Brian pointed me to a really interesting blog post that inspired me. The premise is that you've bought a plot of land and have two choices -- you can farm that land, or you can mine it. Which do you do?

"If you farm," says author Wil Shipley, "you’ll have to purchase seed up-front, and work on it for a season before you see any profits. And every season you’ll plow most the profits (literally) back into the land and salaries and your mortgage. You husband the soil to ensure that it’ll keep providing for you for years and years. If you’re lucky, and if you do a good job, you’ll gather a following, sales will increase, and eventually you may make a tidy living. But every season, no matter how rich you get, you’re going to be back out there, breaking your back and working with the soil. When you finally retire, if you’ve done a good job, the soil is as good as when you first got it, and your farm will live on."

"Or," he continues, "you could mine; you’ll need some initial money to lease mining equipment, and to hire some people to work the mine. Then, bam: profit. You’re making money. You tear a giant hole in the ground and eke every last bit of metal out as quickly as possible; there’s nothing to preserve, there’s no soil to keep in condition. You’ll make a big score, then the land will be spent, and you move on, leaving an unusable crater."

He then goes on to parallel this analogy with starting a software company, which I won't go into, but it really applies to how you want to live your life on a broad basis. Are you willing to invest a part of yourself in your development on a regular basis, or do you want to get in, get out, and get emptied?

Some people are naturally long-term focused, and so for them, farming may come easier. Knowing that it's in their best self-interest may make eating healthy easier to do. Believing that insight will follow a week with no television may make it easier to bear the silence. But for people who are short term focused -- or even long-term focusers who are frustrated by their current situations -- mining may feel more rewarding.

And is there a way to combine both? Can you mine part of the land and farm others? Life is not black and white, it's much more of a continuum. And if you aim to land in farming more often than in mining, I think it's a winning proposition. Because the image of that "unusable crater" is pretty haunting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

we build the wall to keep us free

I've been listening recently to this incredible musical based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Why We Build the Wall (the song above) has been stuck in my head a lot in the last week or so. The premise is great and seems totally backwards -- we're building a wall to keep ourselves free. The lyrics say:

What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That's why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

And it makes me wonder -- where in our lives do we build these walls? Walls that seem to be keeping out an enemy and providing us with freedom but that are still closing in on us and keeping us small. Walls that give us something to focus on and something to keep ourselves busy, but walls that, in the end, don't get us what we really want.

I'm thinking of a friend of mine who works six bajillion hours a week. The "enemy" in this case is failure or disappointment, and working endless hours at his job (the "wall" in this case, too) is what keeps the enemy at bay. But even if he builds that wall, failure will be patiently waiting on the other side of it, looking for the smallest crack to climb inside.

I'm also thinking of myself -- in my case sometimes the enemy is "feeling too much" and shutting down those feelings so I don't have to be overwhelmed by them is my wall. It seems like the smart thing to do -- manage emotion so it can be tamed or mastered, but in truth, the more I try to sweep my feelings under the rug, the more they become protesters at Occupy Kate's Wall Street.*

If what we want is endless work with no payoff, we can have that. There will always be more fear. There will always be more walls to build. But what does it take to knock down the wall and start giving up the war in the first place? Acceptance. Recognizing that whatever's on the other side of the wall -- poverty, fear, disappointment, too many feelings -- it's always going to be there. And we can't pretend it away. So why not start to accept it so that we can let go of the concept of it being an enemy?

Easier said than done, I realize. But worth a shot -- unless you want to move to Hadestown, that is.

*I know, sorry, I couldn't resist.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The power of attention (or Hondas, Hondas Everywhere)

Ever notice how, when you buy something, all of a sudden you see that same thing all over the place? Those new shoes? Even the nuns on the subway are wearing them. That recent bestseller? You can’t get out of the coffee shop without seeing six fellow readers. I call this phenomenon “Hondas, Hondas Everywhere” because I first noticed it after buying my first car – a Honda – at age 16. All of a sudden, every car in every parking lot was a Honda. Every commercial was for Hondas. I could even swear Honda debuted a breakfast cereal that year. (Ok, no, not really.)

But that’s the power of attention. What you focus on can take over your whole awareness. And this is great, if what you’re focusing on is positive, uplifting, exciting, or even just neutral. But my experience has been that it tends to be only charged things that swoop in and take over our focus. Things we want, but don’t have. Things that piss us off. Things that stir up something restless inside of us.

I met a guy once who only saw happy couples. Everywhere he turned there was another couple, making out, buying milk together, holding hands, laughing. How dare they?! Hogging up the grocery aisles, giggling in the park, there was no safe haven from the onslaught of perpetually smiling twosomes! And these couples infuriated him, because he wanted to be one of them and wasn’t.

Couples, Couples Everywhere!

It can be the same thing with our bodies. It’s easy to see the flaws, focus in on them, and overlook what’s great about the way we look. One poochy bit, and all of a sudden we think we’re the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. One waggly bit, and the voices in our heads send us running for a muumuu. I, myself, spent almost 25 years between bikinis because I was worried about how my tummy was going to look.

Bellies, Bellies Everywhere!

So what do you do if you’re stuck in this spiral of negative focus? Try focusing on something else. Focus on nature, on smiling, on being in the moment. Feel the sun on your cheek. Hear the rustling of the leaves or the faraway rumble of the subway. The more our minds are focusing on what’s really happening in front of us (instead of the constant yammering of our inner voices) the less we’re likely to be trapped by the neverending train of chatter.

Truth is, there were the same number of Hondas before as there were after.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What is fun?

If you can’t see or hear the video, I’ll break down for you what Michael Shore says about fun.

First, in his years of studying children, fun, and play (he is the President of Worldwide Consumer Insights at Mattel) he has come to understand fun as having ten different aspects. Each one is an important, but different, piece of the puzzle.

1. Freedom

This is any unstructured, voluntary activity that a child engages in. It’s essentially running around. There are few constraints and there is an immediacy to the fun. It’s about living in the moment.

2. I Dream

This is imaginative play in which children come up with possibilities and enjoy pretending. This kind of play can improve our language and social skills, and is also linked to resilience and delayed gratification.

3. I’m Special

This is the kind of play that is about luck or have the rules suspended in your favor. Staying up late, getting an extra ice cream cone, or otherwise getting some privilege is what this kind of fun is all about.

4. I Belong

This is all about acceptance into a larger group and cooperative play among kids.

5. I’m Wacky

Kids love being wacky! This is about delight, vitality, and goofiness. Shore says that the best way to make a toy wacky is by having it burp or fart. If it’s a pet, make it poop or pee. Wacky!

6. I Know

This is about exploration, accomplishment learning, and gaining mastery and control.

7. I’m Cozy

Even kids like to kick back, relax, and snuggle in. This is just about being comfortable and lazing around.

8. I’m Proud

This is about benevolence, defending others, nurturing others, and protecting one another.

9. I Stand Out

As kids get older they enjoy performing and expressing themselves more. This kind of fun is about identity, performance, and creativity.

10. I Dare

Shore says this is the kind of fun that kids would have a lot more of if there weren’t such a thing as consequences and getting caught. This is bold, defiant fun. It could be mischief, shenanigans or any other rule breaking.

In looking at all these different kinds of fun, I have to admit, they all sound pretty good to me. I’ve been trying to come up with the essential elements of fun for myself – what has to be in place for me to have fun? – and I’ve discovered that the biggest factor is willingness. Am I willing to have a good time? And if not, what do I need to get out of the way so that I can be willing to have fun?

Another TED presenter I listened to, Dr. Stuart Brown, says that if you’re feeling down, just get up and wiggle your body around. Jump up and down. Flail around. This kind of body play can really prep the mind for being able to have more fun. (So forgive me if I have more typos as I’m flinging myself around while I write this.)

One thing that seems to be missing for me in Shore’s list of 10 is the element of connection – not just belonging to a group, but really connecting to someone else on a very human level. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of them, or maybe it’s something that’s less important to kids. Or maybe it’s implied in the connection between the kid and the toy. But fun for me is hard to have without connection, either to my surroundings, someone else, or myself.

Think about things that you do that are fun: which elements are involved? Let’s say you love shopping. Is it the ability to go to whatever store you want and try on whatever you want that is fun? (Freedom) Is it imagining yourself at the ball wearing the gown you’re trying on that makes you smile? (I Dream) Or is it finding that chartreuse-and-puce argyle sweater that makes you squeal with joy? (I Stand Out or I’m Wacky)

If you’re down and not having fun, first, start wiggling, and then pick an aspect and try to live it up. Start dreaming. Join a group. Snuggle up with a good book. And see what happens.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Marathon Project Q&A

1. Do I have to be a runner to participate?
Absolutely not! I am offering coaching to anyone on any topic. The reason this is called the “Marathon Project” is because I just want to reach the goal of coaching for 26.2 hours before 11/6 and whatever you donate goes to help to support a marathon runner.

2. What exactly is life coaching?
It’s easier to understand once you’ve experienced it, but in general, life coaching is a partnership between a coach and a client where both work together to achieve success. That can be getting the client unstuck in a current situation, setting and reaching goals, taking on new challenges, or just finding new ways to look at the world. It’s easy in life to go on auto-pilot, and working with a coach can help you see where the choices you’re making are keeping you from reaching your dreams. It’s all about asking the right questions and helping you to find the answers inside yourself.

3. Isn’t that like therapy?
Not really. Anyone can benefit from coaching, even if you don’t think there is anything “wrong” with your life. Therapy tends to look backwards and come to some understanding about what happened to you in your formative years. Coaching accepts that your past is your past and encourages you to look at what you want to do about it going forward.

4. What kinds of things can you coach about?
What we work on together really depends on what’s going on in your life. We can look at a variety of things, not the least of which include:
  • Relationships
  • Stress Management/Balance
  • Personal Growth/Self-Care
  • Career
  • Time Management/Organization
  • Creativity/Self-Expression
  • Money
  • Health

5. How does it work?
Once you schedule an hour-long phone session, you’ll identify what you want to work on. This could be something you’re struggling with – like weight, or relationships – or something that’s already going well but could be taken to the next level – like health, creativity, or career.

At the appointed time, you’ll call me. After setting up a few ground rules about how you’ll work together, you’ll explain the situation, and I will start to ask you questions about it. Where it goes from there all depends on the information that you share and your willingness to explore different options.

At the end of the call, you’ll tell me how much you are going to donate to Matt’s campaign for the American Cancer Society. The regular value of my sessions is $75/hr, but my minimum suggested donation for this project is $26 (in honor of the 26.2 miles that Matt will be running).

Then you’ll make that donation.

6. Why should I try it?
There’s absolutely no risk, so why shouldn’t you try it? You’ll get to experience coaching at steeply discounted rates, your donation to the American Cancer Society will be tax-deductible, and you’ll come out of the session with a new perspective on your situation. What is there to lose?!

(See more here.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Nice Day

Last month I attended the “I Can Do It” conference sponsored by Hay House publishers, and there were tons of great presenters –Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Cheryl Richardson, and my absolute favorite, Robert Holden.

Wayne Dyer kicked off the conference, and the idea that struck me the most out of all of the ideas he presented is that we should spend the last five minutes of our days thinking about the fulfillment of the dreams and wishes we have for our lives.

Think about the last five minutes of your day, as you’ve climbed into bed and ready to pass out for the night. What do you do in that time? Do you start to worry about all the things you didn’t get done today? Or think about how you screwed up today? Or dread getting up tomorrow morning and doing it all over? If so, that’s pretty natural. Many of us don’t pay attention to the way we send ourselves off to sleep.

But think about it for a minute. Our subconscious is the most powerful processor in our brain. But it doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary, so if we soak it in frustrations or agitations before going to bed, it could very well process them as if they really happened.

Enter your good friends, Toss and Turn.

If we take the last five minutes of the day, when we’re cozy in bed, comfortable, relaxed, and have the most peace we’re likely to see all day, and we focus on what it would feel like if our wishes came true, it allows your subconscious to marinate in what you want – not what you don’t want. Remember that it’s all about attention – what you focus on is what you’re likely to see more of in your life. So focus on what you did well during the day, what it would feel like to be 25 pounds lighter, how nice it would be to snuggle up with that somebody you’ve been longing for, or how terrific it would feel to wake up to a clean house.

So Wayne Dyer may be a spiritual teacher for the ages, but my mother knew this idea instinctively. When we were little, she would read to us in bed, and then end the bedtime process by telling us the Nice Day.

“We had a nice day. We got up, and went to school. There was a hard test in math, and we did our best. We had a fight with Sherri on the bus, but it’s over now. We practiced the piano and had a good dinner with the family, and then we watched some tv, and now it’s time to go to sleep.”

Simple. Focus on the things that happened, release the stressful or the negative, focus on the positive, and let your brain go to sleep thinking about the good stuff.

My nephew is now 13 months old and, while he talks a lot, none of it is quite English yet. But my mom suggested recently to my sister that he’s old enough now for the Nice Day. And I love the thought of my sister being able to help him form a habit that will serve him for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: One Small Step can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

The idea is big, but Robert Maurer’s book is quite small. “Kaizen” is Japanese for “improvement,” and it’s the philosophy that taking small steps is the best way to make continual improvement.

Or as I once told a client, “Baby steps only go forwards.”

Think of the last time you set out to make a major change. What did you feel? Exhilaration? Exhaustion? Excitement? Trepidation? Most people, when faced with change, will feel at least some element of fear. And very often that fear can get in the way of actually making the change. The idea of kaizen is to take make such small changes that your brain doesn’t even know you’re changing, and therefore, doesn’t get in the way.

It’s kind of genius.

There are six strategies in Maurer’s book:

1. Asking small questions

2. Thinking small thoughts

3. Taking small actions

4. Solving small problems

5. Giving small rewards

6. Recognizing small moments

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

1. Asking small questions

Your brain loves questions. Just look at how many people are drawn to crosswords and Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles. But instead of overwhelming yourself with big questions (“How can I lose 25 pounds?” “How will I ever get a job in this economy?”) focus on the small questions instead (“If health were my first priority, what would I do differently today?” “What little step could I take today towards my ideal job?”).

Watch out, though, for negative questions. We get more of what we focus on, so if you’re tempted to ask yourself “Why does this always happen to me?” or “What’s wrong with me?” your brain will be delighted to work on those questions, too. In a judgmental, awful, negative way.

2. Thinking small thoughts

This is all about visualization, or what Maurer calls “mind sculpture.” Mentally practice a task using all five of your senses, and you are much more likely to develop the skills it takes to actually engage in that task in the real world. But this isn’t about 30 minutes of meditation on a task. It’s about how many seconds a day you’re willing to devote to the effort. The idea is to make it simple, habitual, and fun. And nobody can say they don’t have an extra 45 seconds a day, right?

3. Taking small actions

If you want to clean your house, you can go into the most awful room and start trying to rid it of its clutter, but for some of us, that’s just too big an idea. And so we avoid it. Instead, if you clean your house the kaizen way, it becomes about going into that room and cleaning up for five minutes. Or removing five pieces of clutter every day. Big, bold actions often get us initial results, but don’t take into account things like lack of time, exhaustion, fear, or resistance. The smaller steps get us to the goal because they can be so easily incorporated into daily life.

Here are some suggestions for small actions you can take:

If you want to stop overspending, remove one item from your cart before checking out.

If you want to start exercising, go – just go – to the gym three times a week.

If you want to get more sleep, go to sleep one minute earlier or sleep one minute later each day.

They may not seem like much, but for anyone who is really resistant to change, these are cracks of light in an otherwise dark room.

4. Solving small problems

The key to solving small problems is catching them when they’re still small. And if you miss that window, the trick is to solve small problems in the face of really large problems. Some of this step involves trusting your gut and listening to what your instincts tell you about things – so you can prevent small problems from becoming bigger ones. Maurer has a great exercise for helping to spot the warning signs.

5. Give small rewards

Small rewards serve us best as recognition of a job well done. They can be little treats and pleasures, or simply a verbal acknowledgement of taking the small action you set out to take. A few key things to remember:

The reward should be appropriate to the goal – that is, don’t reward yourself with chocolate if your goal is to lose weight

The reward should be appropriate to the person – I, for example, would not particularly enjoy the reward of watching a football game and drinking a beer as a reward for a day of hard work, but I know plenty of people who would.

The reward should be free or inexpensive – if not, rewarding yourself for all your small steps could become a financial burden, which would subvert the whole kaizen

6. Recognizing small moments

This is all about paying attention to what’s going on around you and what opportunities for change naturally arise. A couple of the examples Maurer shares are:

A flight attendant noticed that passengers weren’t eating the olives in their five-item
salads. A the time, five-item salads cost far more than four-item salads. When the fifth item (olives) was dropped from the salad, the company saved half a million dollars a year.

George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, noticed that when he took his dog out for a walk, the dog came back covered in burrs. His attention to this small moment led to the invention of Velcro.

Having this curiosity and awareness about life allowed the opportunities for innovation and enhancement to present themselves. Combining these six steps yields a very powerful philosophy, especially for anyone who has ever been afraid, stressed, or overwhelmed by change.

And because the book is so little (and only took me a day to read), it’s the perfect first small step!

Friday, September 30, 2011

look ma, new layout!

You may have noticed some changes around here. Please bear with me as I update and experiment.

Your feedback is welcome and encouraged!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

what others have to say about creativity

1. Be Aware

"Creativity - like human life itself - begins in darkness." -- Julia Cameron -- author

"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way." -- Edward de Bono -- psychologist

"Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm." -- Earl Nightingale - entertainer

"Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better." -- John Updike -- author

"I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." -- Albert Einstein -- physicist

2. Be Courageous

"An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail." -- Edwin Land -- inventor

"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -- Sylvia Plath -- author

"Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling." -- Madeleine L'Engle -- author

"Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties." -- Gail Sheehy -- author

"But out of limitations comes creativity." -- Debbie Allen -- actress

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.” – Cynthia Heimel -- writer

3. Be Expressive

"A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something." -- Frank Capra -- director

"Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something or to get in touch with something within." -- David Duchovny -- actor

“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.” -- Mahatma Gandhi -- philosopher

“What is Art? It is the response of man's creative soul to the call of the Real.” – Rabindranath Tagore – poet

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

what I learned about creativity

It's easy to think that creativity is limited to just artists. That it is some elusive force that you can't control, but can only tap into. That some people have it and other people don't. That there is an epic struggle that you must undergo to have creativity bestowed upon you. But after my creativity call this month, I came to the understanding that creativity is more about HOW you go about the things you do than WHAT exactly it is you go about.

1. Be aware
We defined creativity as doing something new, or doing something you've done before in a way you've never done it before. This creates new neuronal connections in your brain, and fills a very technical definition of creativity. (See more about this at my friend Gwen's blog here.) To create these connections, you could do something simple like brush your teeth with the non-dominant hand, or head to work via a route you don't normally take. This awkwardness or intentionality drives you to a greater sense of awareness of the present moment, and that awareness is an important part of creativity.

We talk about "flow" and being really absorbed in a creative process, be it writing a play or designing a business plan. And in this state the hours can fly by and you're not at all aware of your surroundings. (Some people (who are not me) can even ignore their bodies in this kind of flow and go without eating all day long.) So how is this flow (that ignores a rumbly tummy) an awareness of the present moment? It's by focusing intently on the work at hand -- the work in the present moment -- that our attention and awareness are drawn to the present.

2. Be expressive
There are two kinds of creativity -- the kind that stays in your head and goes unexpressed or unidentified (passive) and the kind that gets shared in some kind of medium like paint or song or words or business or your outfit (active). And you can be passively creative, solely experiencing your unique perspective on the world, or you can share that perspective with others. And it's this second kind of creativity that I think most people associate with the term "creativity."

It's kind of a tree-falls-in-the-forest situation; if you're creative without awareness or expression, are you really creative? Or are you on auto-pilot?

3. Be courageous
There are plenty of obstacles to being creative. Fear of rejection keeps plenty of people from sharing the passive creativity they enjoy in their own heads -- "oh, I can't paint that, they'll hate it." The worry that the creative project is not good enough, not creative enough, unacceptable, etc. keeps plenty of people from bringing their visions to light. And what about that nagging need to finish a project instead of allowing yourself to simply play creatively? Or the trials of being labeled as "the creative one" and having to live up to that? All of these things can be a tall order. That's why it's important to be both creative and curious with your creativity. Remove the rules that say there needs to be a finished product. Be brave enough to challenge your own notions of creativity -- that, in and of itself, is an act of creativity!

These are three simple things you can do to have more creativity in your life. Be aware, be expressive, be courageous. The steps you take in any of these directions don't have to be grand, either. I was hiking down a very slippery trail recently and found that the placement of my feet was incredibly creative -- my body was orienting itself to the trail without my conscious mind's involvement. And if I hadn't had the awareness in the present moment of what was happening, I might have missed it all together.

(And if I hadn't been expressive or courageous, you might have missed it, too!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Marathon Project

So, it's fall in NYC, and there are boatloads of runners out there training for the marathon. They're fit, athletic, don't bounce in a lot of the same places I bounce, and in general, they look like they enjoy sweating. Part of me envies them. The other part is exhausted just thinking about it.

But they've inspired me, and in an effort to be even remotely like them, I've decided to prep for a marathon, too. Except mine doesn't involve running (or really, sweating in any way). Instead, it's a coaching marathon. So like those runners, I have a goal -- I am offering 26.2 hours of pro bono life coaching before November 6th. But unlike those runners, I don't have to get up off the couch. (Phew!)

That said, I'm looking for someone running the marathon for charity who wants to partner with me. Because instead of paying me for these 26.2 hours of coaching, my “marathon clients” will donate to the charity of a runner partner. (That's right, I have a conscience!)

All I ask for in exchange is that my runner help me publicize my coaching marathon.

Benefits to the runner include:

1. Free money! Whoever I find to coach on my own will be a donation to the runner's charity that the runner doesn't have to work for.

2. A bonus to prospective donors! The runner can offer my services as a benefit of donating, or as an enticement to donate.

3. Free publicity! Working together spreads the word, both about the coaching and the charity.

4. Free life coaching! The runner could be one of the 26.2 hours of coaching and can get help with something in his/her life (that isn’t necessarily the marathon -- though as November 6th gets closer, what else is there, really?).

5. Free PR! I know someone at the NYRR, so there’s a chance the story could get picked up.

While my runner is pounding the pavement, I will be helping people get unstuck and find new ways to make the most out of their lives. Not too shabby, eh?

My ideal partner in this project is someone who would make the most of working together – helping me to spread the word and introducing me to people who are interested in or curious about coaching.

Is that runner you? Is it your brother/sister/mother/cousin/milkman/coworker/dogwalker/cable guy? Because without a runner, the project can't go forward -- and if you're interested in getting some coaching for a tax-deductible donation to a good cause, you need a runner just as badly as I do.

So, if you're interested, or know someone else who might be, please contact me right away!

Friday, September 16, 2011

What I learned about mind

August was the month of “smarts, ideas for the sake of ideas, connection, words, and learning.” Qualities I condensed for the sake of brevity into the category of Mind. And by putting my mind on Mind, a very interesting thing happened in the universe around me.

I’ve always said that my ideal mate will be Smart, Funny, and Self-Aware. These are my dealbreakers. If you’re not smart, funny, and able to display a modicum of self-awareness, we’re not a match. And smart has meant a variety of different things over the years. Book smart, street smart, dorky, nerdy, incredible at whatever it is you do, brilliant, genius… any of these would be lovely. I don’t have a baseline requirement for smarts (no minimum IQ or SAT score) but I know smart when I talk to it.

During August, I met a couple of incredibly smart men. One was book smart and in the top of his field, one was a super-brainiac and a top percentile IQ/MENSA type, one was quick-witted and sharp. And yet not one of them was right.

My interaction with these men made me realize a couple of things:

First, any time someone makes a conversation out of how smart he is, that makes me wonder how smart he actually is. This was a good reminder, as I have periodically found myself making mention of dorky things I’ve done or smartypants facts about myself. (“I threw the curve on the freshman year vocabulary test!” “I did second year calculus in high school!”) Turns out? Totally unattractive! We know smart when we see it, not when we’re told all about it. It’s one thing to drop an accomplishment or two into the conversation, but if we’re talking about your application to MENSA and just how many tests you had to ace to get in, I might have to fall asleep a little.

Second, balance is key. Being on a date with someone who is smart without being funny is like going to a really long, boring lecture where the professor may or may not try to kiss you at the end. Similarly, going out with someone who is smart without being self-aware is like listening to a recording of Stephen Hawking – fascinating, but after a while you want to turn the documentary off and talk about something stupid like Spongebob Squarepants or farts.

People – especially people we date and don’t choose – are excellent mirrors for us. I learned from these dates how important it is to also be modest, to listen well, to revel in what makes you happy (even if that’s nerdiness) but to always make sure you’re reaching out to the other person. Making a connection. Because you can only date alone in your mind.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

shhhhh! this contract is silent!

I was challenged recently to look at my silent contracts -- you know, the agreements we're abiding by that we've never really acknowledged as agreements. Roles we may not have signed up for but that we're playing nonetheless. Things like being a "good daughter" or "the fat sister" or "the problem solver." Some of them may be roles we want (like "the smart one" or "the pretty one") and some of them may be Sisyphean burdens that we roll up the hill of our lives day in and day out (like "the smart one" or "the pretty one").

The thing about silent contracts is that sometimes they're so silent, we don't even know we have them. I spent 30 years playing the role of "peacemaker" and "perfect daughter" not realizing that my family didn't need peace, and actually preferred me with a couple of flaws. The contracts or the roles we play can be positive, but usually they're sneakier than that. We can have silent contracts with ourselves (in fact, one could argue that's the only person they're with) but usually they're experienced in relationship to someone else.

My specific challenge? To look for places where the silent contract of being "the single one" may, in fact, be keeping me single.

Much to my surprise, I found a few.

First: Two of my best friends are married to each other. They have two sons, and five seats in their car. When they go on an adventure, there's always a seat for me. But not for my boyfriend. Is this keeping me single?

Second: My sister and brother-in-law say that I'm the only non-parental visitor that they can really tolerate. They think I'm cool and easy to get along with. But what about my boyfriend? Could he live up to that, too?

Third: The bedroom in my apartment is only big enough for a double bed. (Any bigger and you wouldn't be able to get around the foot of the bed into the rest of the house.) It gets crowded with someone else sleeping in there. Is that keeping me single?

These revelations in and of themselves are somewhat meaningless. The real question is what I want to do with this information. I'm certainly not going to stop being friends with my friends, or become an unacceptable houseguest for my sister. But I'm acknowledging that there are things to gain and things to lose whenever we give up a silent contract. I think, in this case, the gains would enough outweigh the losses. Which makes it worthwhile for me to still look for a partner.

Watch out, sis.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

honesty is the best policy

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had invited me to join her at a birthday party. I love parties -- it's like going to a bar where the bouncer cards your personality -- and was particularly excited to go because my friend was going to introduce me to a guy she thought would be a good match for me. Win-win-(wine)!

A couple of hours before the party, though, my friend emailed me and said that she was exhausted, so it might take a little longer for her to rally to go to the party -- was I ok with going later? I put myself in her shoes and thought about how awful it feels to go out when I don't feel like it and I sent her an email back saying that I would be ok going alone if she would rather not go.

She was surprised that I would make the offer -- I don't love going to parties alone -- and she triple checked to make sure I was ok with it. I told her my policy: I don't make offers that I wouldn't be happy (or at least ok) with because I want people to believe that I'm ok with the offers that I do make.

A similar scenario presented itself a few days ago. A friend and I were planning on having dinner, and I was really looking forward to seeing him again after a long absence. Shortly before dinner, I got an email saying that he had had a long, tiring day and would likely be low-energy when we got together. I told him my policy, and said that I wasn't going to offer to reschedule -- why invite disappointment? -- but that if he wanted to make that offer, I wouldn't offer a lot of resistance. He clarified his comment by saying that he didn't want to reschedule, but was just giving me the heads up that he wouldn't be overly energetic. (His phrase? "I won't be juggling sparklers.") Disappointment averted!

I developed this policy after years of making offers I felt compelled or obligated to make -- offering to forego the party I was already dressed and ready for, or offering to go to a noisy, overcrowded bar when I really just wanted a quiet dinner. I did it because it felt like it was the "right thing to do," but it always left me feeling crappy afterwards. Sure, there are going to be times when things are going to be cancelled or plans will fall through -- that's unavoidable. But I don't need to go out of my way to invite people to disappoint me, especially (as happened in the second case) it wasn't on my friend's radar.

I also do this because it can send mixed signals to the other party. If I offer to cancel or reschedule or change the plans in a way that I don't want to might make the other person think it's what I DO want, and they may accommodate me accordingly.

So I just stick with honesty. And I make sure I'm consistent and that my friends know about it. So far, it has worked really well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene (or, why a restricted media diet is a good thing)

It's one thing to be prepared. And so staying tuned to the news and making sure you have the latest information is important, especially in the event of an emergency (or a Pending Emergency, as this storm really turned out to be). It's another thing all together to continually bombard yourself with images and information that serve to do nothing but raise your blood pressure and anxiety levels. And I don't think it's actually the media's responsibility to monitor how much of the information you take in. That's your call. (Would I like it better if the news channels weren't fear-mongering for ratings? Yes, yes I would. But it's kind of their job to get ratings, right?)

I survived hurricane Irene easily, as did virtually all of my friends, so it's easy for me to be fairly blithe about this. But there was so much build up, so much tension before the actual storm that I started to get worried even though my apartment (and the apartment where I weathered the storm) were not in a threat zone. I made sure we took necessary precautions -- had water on hand, secured items on the roof, etc. -- and then that we turned off the TV. We checked in periodically, just to see if anything had changed, if there was any chance we'd be directly hit or otherwise affected, but as soon as the news looped back around to information we already knew, we turned it off.

Same thing with facebook. Some of my friends online were posting nothing but terrifying updates about the death toll or the misery of the flooding. And I'm not saying they shouldn't post those things, especially because they were true. Facebook can be a good way to get information shared. But I'm saying that I should be careful about how much of it I take in -- especially when the cause of the drama is something that I can't do anything about.

So should we all just sit around and be ignorant? No, of course not. But monitoring how useful the information is that we're processing and balancing that with how anxious it makes us feel is important. And we'll all have different levels of acceptability.

I think people like a little bit of drama in their lives. It helps to make us feel alive. And so a storm like this can provide us with that little bit of adrenaline. But adrenaline, not burnt on some task (like fighting or fleeing, which it was created for) can turn into stress and be quite harmful to our bodies. And the bodies of our friends and families. And we forget this.

So it's your choice as to whether or not you look at the Glenn Beck article that called Irene a blessing. (Yikes!) And it's your choice -- if you read it, how much do you read? (Two paragraphs.) And it's your choice -- you can close that window and focus instead on something where you really can make a difference. Like calling a friend. Helping a neighbor. That kind of thing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

community organizing

All my life I've wanted a group of friends who all hang out and know each other. That television-inspired fantasy life where I hang out with the people from work every night. Or I go home to a whole apartment building full of amigos. But it's never been like that. I've always had great friends, but very few of them have known each other. Even in college -- my friends knew of each other, but very rarely (outside of that one directing class where just about everyone had slept with just about everyone else in a strange variety of couplings) were friends with each other.

As an actor, I lived the fantasy a bit more than I do now, since the theatre community was much smaller and I knew more of the players. While we weren't all friends, we knew people in common and we came together after work, kind of like they do on tv. People ask me if I miss acting and there are two things I do miss -- the applause and the community.

Over time, I've come to accept Some Day My Group Will Come as a fantasy, and have focused on strengthening the individual friendships that I have. But ever since I left acting, I've really missed belonging to a community. Knowing and caring about people who know and care about each other. Working together with people I enjoy towards a goal that is bigger than just hanging out. Being of service to people who I believe if the tables were turned would be of service to me.

I've done a lot recently to build my community, including reaching out to new women as friends. I'll be honest -- it can be awkward. Here I am, 34 years old, and asking women I've just met (and find awesome) if they'll be my friends. Do they want to get coffee some time? Maybe go to the beach together? I mean, could it be more second grade? I've found, though, that the awesome ones are open. They welcome me and my second grade advances. So there must be a need for community out there.

I've explored a lot of options for community recently. Committees at work. Leading a book group. Even going to church (which, if you know me, you know this means I'm serious). I'm thinking about helping adults learn to read. I'm thinking about getting more involved in alumni events. This idea of community really speaks to me, but I just don't know where to find it.

Short of having children, what do you recommend?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

what I learned about presence

Often, when I'm working on these different months, I don't know what the month is really about until it's almost over. And that was true with July. I started out thinking it was about sensuality, and about living in and enjoying my senses. But I realized that spending time focusing on my senses was really bringing me into the present moment. When I was chewing on that fig and goat cheese combo, I couldn't be thinking about how I was going to finish writing my class on time. When I was feeling the wind in my hair, I wasn't obsessing over when I was going to get my laundry done. And when I was hearing my nephew laugh, I was only thinking about how I could get him to do that some more. (Answer? Peek-a-boo. That kid's an addict.)

Living in the present moment when you're a really thinky person like I am, is a challenge. For years I have told myself this story about how my mind and my intellect make me funny and awesome. So I don't tamp down my brain because, according to the story, doing so would make me less funny and less awesome. I've resisted meditation. I've struggled with any definition of self that leaves out the mind. I list "smart" as one of my best qualities. Because, in fact, I think my brain's kinda sexy!

Recently, though, a teacher of mine explained meditation differently. She said that meditation wasn't about getting rid of your mind, it's about letting it rest. When I'm not calling on it to perform -- or rather, when I'm not rewarding it with my attention for performing -- it will take a break. And I can just rest in the peace and quiet. And I can feel the air conditioning on my legs. I can hear the thrum of the traffic outside. I can smell the barbecue wafting in through the window. I don't have to jump through hoops of worry. I don't have to repeat song lyrics or plan the day. I can just be here now and relax.

When I started the Year of Yes (well, ok, the 14 months of yes), I assigned the months to the qualities randomly (using Excel, because I'm a dork). Because of the way things are turning out, the month of Presence is being followed by the month of Mind. August is all about mental pursuits, the delight of ideas for the sake of ideas, and generally pushing myself to new perceptions. I've picked up a book that I think will be appropriate -- Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. And I'm looking for good lectures and learning opportunities.

At the same time that I'm fascinated by pushing my brain to new limits, I also want to retain what I've learned about presence so that I'm thinking only when I choose to. So that I'm the boss of my mind, not the other way around. I want to drive the mental bus and not just be some random passenger in a mental version of Speed. (Because if my mind the bus, what the hell is Keanu Reeves? Riddle me that one, fancy brain!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Do you like taking quizzes and assessments? I do. I love knowing more about myself and finding new ways to look at my inner workings.

If you want to know whether you're authentically happy or not, what your biggest character strengths are, whether you have enough grit to make things happen, or how you're doing in terms of how much time you currently spend feeling happy, then visit and take an assessment or two.

Not only will you find out more about yourself, you'll be helping the positive psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania find out more about the human race.

And it beats a night of watching mindless television!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A sense of flow

I'm halfway through the 14 Months of Yes and am finding that there are really two types of months to be had in this experiment -- cerebral ones and practical ones. The cerebral ones are easier to dive deeply into, since I have to think about the quality, unravel it, and really roll around in it before I can apply it to my life. Wisdom, Passion, Grace, and Surrender were incredibly think-y months for me, and it was easy to get wrapped up in them.

The practical months, however, are where I get to just go out and DO more of something than I normally get to do. Risk and Generosity were practical months, and this month, Sensuality, is about aliveness and the five senses and living-in-the-moment-ness. I am working to smell and taste and hear things more than I normally do. Taking time to re-connect with nature and the connections around me so that I can really feel alive.

I'm discovering, though, that when I'm most in the present moment, most in a sense of flow, I barely notice my five senses at all. For example, I was teaching all last week at our company's distribution center in New Jersey, and, as you may recall, it's been a hot week. When I was in front of the room, though, I had almost no concept of temperature. I was so focused on communicating the message to the learners in the room that I almost didn't feel my body at all. And at the end of the day? I was totally exhausted. (And it was 80 degrees in the room -- something my learners definitely noticed!)

Also, the hotel in which we were working (and I was staying) smelled awful. I mean, it smelled like someone barfed in the lobby and then tried to cover up the smell by spilling a bottle of cough syrup on the stain. And while I was teaching? Didn't notice it. As soon as I was done? Brutal.

In my philosophy class we talked about how important it is to focus your energy on the surface of whatever work you're doing, as a way to settle your mind and bring your attention to the present moment. So if you're typing, think about where you fingers hit the keys. If you're reading, stay aware of the page in front of you. If you're doing the dishes, focus on the dishes. And if you're teaching, focus on the space between you and the students. It's another way to sharpen your attention and keep your mind on the work that needs to be done. It also makes it easier to slip into that present moment.

I tried it with running the other day and it works wonders there, too. Focusing on how and where my feet hit the sidewalk took my mind off of all the other blah-blah-blah that was happening in my head. It made running more immediate (and, what's more important more tolerable). I'm doing it now as I type. I did it last night, as I flirted at a bar. It's a conscious effort to acknowledge that space and stay in the moment. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

the difference a year can make

Fifty one weeks ago, I went to Midsummer Night's Swing at Lincoln Center on a date. I had always wanted to go, and that night they were teaching the hustle, which (as far as I could tell) seemed fairly harmless. It was a second or third date, so I knew the guy a little, but not terribly well, and I was a little concerned about looking like an idiot.

I'm not a great dancer. I'm very white, and I think I might lack a joint or two. But I love to move. Aerobics? Yes, please. Running? Sure, why not. Kickboxing? You bet! So dancing is something I've wanted to do ever since I moved to the city, and (can you believe it?) I've never really been.

So my date (who, I discovered later, LOVED to dance, and probably would have hustled the hell out of the night) wandered around the periphery of the dance floor with me, and we never bought tickets. We mildly shook our booties and kindasorta hustled, but there was really no dancing to speak of.

Had he gone there without me (which, for the record, he wouldn't have), I feel confident that he would have bought a ticket and danced. And I envied him that.

Fast forward 51 weeks. It's Midsummer Night's Swing again, only this time that date is no longer in the picture. I've invited a number of friends to join me for the evening, but none are available. So I go again, this time all by myself. Because I want to be the kind of person who, when she finds herself faced with something she has always wanted to do, doesn't require an escort.

And that same embarrassment, that same reluctance to get up there and move my body crept back in. The gremlin inside kept saying awful things like, "Don't go out there; everyone will know you're alone. They'll wonder why you have no friends. They'll pity you. It's safer to stay off the dance floor. Save your $20. Just go home. You came to the event. That counts. Now just leave."

For easily 15 minutes, I wandered around Damrosch Park, watching the guy give a dance lesson, watching everyone have fun trying to do 80's hip-hop moves (which most of them really couldn't) and envying them. Why couldn't I just get in there and do it, too?

Finally, after WAY more agony than was required, I bought my ticket, checked my bag, and got on the dance floor.

I want to say it felt triumphant, but really, it didn't.

I'm glad I got over my anxiety, I'm glad I put the notch in my belt, and I'm glad that I showed myself that I can do things alone. But I'm also willing to recognize that there are some things that are just more fun when done with people you know or care about. And I think dancing to 80's covers while avoiding the flailing limbs of people even whiter than you might just be one of those things.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

saying grace or grace sayings, whichever you prefer

Some others' thoughts on grace:
“Gracefulness has been defined to be the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul” William Hazlitt

"Grace is the absence of everything that indicates pain or difficulty, hesitation or incongruity.” William Hazlitt

“I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace.” – Margaret Mitchell

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott

“You are so weak.
Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave
till it gets to shore.” – Rumi

“To be able to live peaceably with hard and perverse persons, or with the disorderly, or with such as go contrary to us, is a great grace.” -Thomas À Kempis

“We're all stumbling towards the light with varying degrees of grace at any given moment.” -Bo Lozoff

“All men who live with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace.” -Reinhold Niebuhr

"Whatever we are waiting for - peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance - it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart." Sarah Ban Breathnach

And some thoughts from Will & Grace

"Coulda, shoulda, Prada!"

"You say potato, I say vodka."

"It's the oldest story in the book. Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl to do dominatrix film. Girls says, "Naked?" Boy says, "Yeah." Girl says, "No way." Boy says, "Okay how about you just wear this rubber dress and beat this old guy with a scrub brush?" Girl says, "How hard?""

Monday, June 27, 2011

what I learned about grace

I learned a number of things about grace on the call this month, not the least of which is that I'm not the only one who struggles with the definition of grace being religious, or being hinged on god or some other higher power. (I was hoping some of my more religious friends and family would join in, but, alas, they were sorely missed.)

I chose to adopt one caller's understanding of the Buddhist perspective on grace, which she summed up as "being ok in the moment with things just the way they are now." That simple definition became the building block on which we anchored much of the later discussion.

As we talked, we decided that "being ok" wasn't quite thorough enough, and we identified other qualities that must be present in order for grace to arrive: awareness, mindfulness, acceptance, love, gratitude, and authenticity. Because authenticity is such a strong value of mine, I discovered that part of why I have seen grace as "living in alignment with my values" is simply because grace requires me to be authentic. It's kind of a chicken-and-the-egg thing. Was I authentic first, and then grace descended? Or was grace descending, and I authentically met it?

When we are out of grace, we are in more of a reactionary and less of a responsive place. Which, if you think about the dancer metaphor from the earlier post, makes sense. Reacting is all elbows and stomping; responding is flow and acceptance. We also realized that there is no such thing as too much grace, or negative grace. Sure, there's the condescending form of the verb ("he graced us with his presence") but we kept that benediction synonym out of the discussion.

We looked at the three graces in Greek mythology -- the goddesses of charm, beauty, and creativity. (Not an in depth look, mind you. Just one that was charming, beautiful, creative, and short.)

We looked at the i-Ching and what it has to say about grace, namely that it is a vision of possible perfection, and that in the state of grace one should look within and enjoy the pleasure of being in a pretty perfect place. However, there should be no grasping of that vision or perfection. Grace is kind of like that bright shiny thing in the Abyss -- you can't force it, it only comes when you're ready. And bad things might happen if you try to force it.

We also looked at purpose, and how purpose relates to grace. I feel, in many ways, that it is my purpose on earth to help people find their own ways to grace. To experience that acceptance, love, authenticity, flow, and general well-being that accompanies grace. The danger, though, as warned by the i-Ching is that the state of grace should not be shaped into something else. That it is meant only to be what it is, and nothing more.

Except, maybe, a short little piece about what I learned...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

how grace (as in moving) is like grace (as in being moved)

I've been thinking about people who have the ability to move through space with agility and not crash into things. Or people who can take a dance class and not look like a robot made entirely out of elbows. Or people who glide rather than stumble. Or people who can employ their bodies in such a way as to enhance their appeal rather than just dragging them along because they're stuck in them.

And I've noticed some similarities between those graceful people and people who are full of grace. (The other kind.)

1. Graceful people stretch.
It's not sheer luck that those glidey folks have a strong relationship with their bodies. Many of them work on that connection regularly, and part of that is stretching. Reaching past themselves towards others, or towards greater fulfillment. Or simply reaching out, away from themselves.

2. Graceful people don't flail.
I'm noticing my tendency to emotionally flail. So much so in the last few days that I'm getting exhausted by it. One day things seem perfect, the next they seem to have fallen into the toilet, and there's only my bare hand to pull them out. To fill myself with grace, I have to curb this tendency. I'm struggling with it (which is causing its own flailing, no doubt), but am finding that focusing on the present moment and letting go of judgments, shoulds, and other thoughts is helpful.

3. Graceful people have terrific alignment.
This is, to me, the core of the non-moving-around grace. It's finding an alignment between what I believe, what I value, what I love, and what I do. When I'm in that place, my metaphorical vertebrae are perfectly stacked on top of each other. When I bend over backwards or contort myself out of my "natural" state, I lose my grace.

4. Graceful people can choose to look ungraceful.
Grace is about choice. I can choose to live in alignment, or I can choose to allow myself to get out of whack. (Though, truth be told, I'm a little out of whack at the moment and it does NOT feel like a choice. So I have sympathy for those who say it's not a choice, while still believing it is. In fairness, I'm not always sure how to choose it.)

5. Graceful people star in movies with Fred Astaire.

6. Graceful people radiate light.
They make it easy to be around them. They will adapt to the circumstances with ease and flexibility (because they stretch) and they shine.

In both senses of the word, I aspire to have more grace.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

there but for the grace of June go I

It's a new month, which means a new set of qualities to explore; this time it's Grace, Transcendence, Presence, Patience, Honor, Peace, or, for the purposes of simplicity, Grace.

Now, I'm clumsy. I bruise easily, and sometimes act like a cat with its whiskers cut. It also just so happens that falling down is a family pastime, so when I say "grace," I'm not talking about the ability to move through space without bumping into things. Nor am I looking at the kind of grace you "say" while sitting around a table drooling over your mashed potatoes. I'm looking at something more internal, something quiet and gentle that combines the human/alive elements of presence and patience with the spiritual pieces of peace and transcendence.

Many people see grace as having a relationship with god or some other higher power. And to some extent I agree with those people -- any time I connect with the best qualities in myself, I feel like I'm aligning with the best parts of the universe. But for me, the experience of grace is very personal and is very much within my own ability to control. When I speak or act with heart, I feel grace. When I live in alignment, I feel grace. When I rely on the fortitude of my own convictions, I feel grace.

A lot of my definition of grace as a quality has been shaped by a play a friend of mine wrote that I saw performed a couple of years ago. Simply titled "Grace," my friend Sara Thigpen's play was one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. Though many of the details of the storyline escape me (all these years later) I remember seeing situations that called on women in difficult positions to soldier through -- but to do so delicately, carefully, lovingly. The play was so full of genuine care, love, and dedication, it made me want to know those women, to have them care for me. And that's the kind of energy I want to put out there in the world.

An old boyfriend of mine once told me he felt I was the tree under which he could take off his skin and sit in the shade of my love. And that feels like grace. The creating of a safe place, a shelter, a haven; I think those take grace.

Grace takes optimism and effort. It takes alignment and intention. And I'm excited to give those this month to find out more about it.

How do you define grace?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

what they say about wisdom

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.- Kahlil Gibran

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.- Naguib Mahfouz

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. - Plato

Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.- Baltasar Gracian (I have no idea who this person is, but I like that his name looks suspiciously like "Battlestar Galactica")

A short saying often contains much wisdom.- Sophocles (very meta, that Sophocles.)

It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.- Henry David Thoreau

The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don't have to gain, develop, or attain them. We're like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight. We don't need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we really are -- as soon as we quit pretending we're small or unholy.- Bo Lozoff (again... sounds like a phony name to me, but I really like the quote)

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. - Confucius

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. - Thomas Jefferson

Monday, May 23, 2011

a word to the wise

Complete the sentence "When I am wise, I..."

What do you come up with? It's an interesting twist on the question of what makes up wisdom. This month, as I've been looking at wisdom, I've discovered there are times that I'm wise, and times I'm more of a wise-ass. The difference involves self-awareness, temperance, and pacing.

So, When I am wise, I:

-- have respect for myself.
This includes setting boundaries, acting in such a way as to have no regrets, and doing for myself what I want others to do. This means not playing the victim or waiting for someone to rescue me.

-- am deliberate, but not overwrought.
I focus on the actions I decide to take, but don't obsess over them. I am clear in my thinking, grounded in my sense of self, and slow down a bit. Often my first instincts are wise, but for me the wiser path is to look at them a little bit first.

-- am loving.
I had the opportunity recently to celebrate the birthday of someone I care about deeply. And while our friendship has been rocky and gone through the wringer a couple of times in the last year, I decided it was important (for both of us) to just show up and love him. Not Gone With the Wind or Wuthering Heights love, but open-hearted, soul-filling love. I set boundaries, was deliberate, and just opened my heart. It was one of the most beautiful days ever.

So what's it like when you are wise?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What is Wisdom?

So May's theme is wisdom, and the tricky part for me about this month is where to start. How on earth do I describe wisdom? It's one of those know-it-when-I-see-it-(or-experience-it) things. I started out thinking it was knowledge and experience, but it's more than that. There's a depth to the knowledge and experience, and a peace to it, too, that makes wisdom the valuable quality it is.

The dictionary defines wisdom as "knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action." I like that because it combines a way of knowing with a way of being. It tells me that a wise person doesn't just sit up on a mountaintop thinking wise thoughts. She makes wise decisions and lives through wise actions.

I'm taking a philosophy class at the School of Practical Philosophy, which I highly recommend, and we're studying happiness. One of the keys to happiness, the curriculum argues, is wisdom.

So this week in class we talked about the Platonic Virtues, those qualities Plato said are essential to any society's happiness and prosperity. He breaks them down into "divine" virtues and "human" virtues and says that if you go after the divine ones, you'll get the human ones as part of the bargain. However, if you go only for the human ones (without the divine ones), you won't get any of them. (Bummer, right?)

The divine virtues are Wisdom, Temperance, Justice, and Courage. The human virtues are Health, Beauty, Strength, and Wealth. And I can see his point. If we go for beauty with no thought for wisdom or temperance, we'll end up with tv shows like The Swan or little girls who get forced into beauty pageants too young. If we go for strength without wisdom, we get, well, Arnold Schwartzenegger. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Having completed a month on risk, I feel I'm a step ahead in the wisdom category, as I'm already well practiced with courage. And courage is a huge part of wisdom -- being courageous enough to take "right action."

All of this is well and good, but what am I actually DOING to practice wisdom? I'm trying to live fully in the moment and make decisions I won't regret. Sometimes they take a lot more effort than I want to expend at the time, but so far it's really felt worth it. Because if I can live a whole month with no regrets... what a month!

Join me next Sunday, May 22nd at 4pm for a discussion on wisdom! Just call 712.775.7100 and use the participant passcode of 500681# to join.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So, what did you risk, Kate?

The month of Risk is over, and what a great month it was! Here are a smattering of the risks I took, and why they were risky:

1. Setting clear boundaries with a date -- eek! he might not like me!
2. Going to an OA meeting -- yikes! I might have food issues!
3. Starting a friendship with someone I previously had a crush on -- oh no! I might get hurt!
4. Cutting off all my hair -- ack! I might look so stupid that nobody would ever ask me out again!

Needless to say, one of the things I learned about risk is that it is incredibly personal. What's risky for me could be a walk in the park for you, and vice versa. Also, what's risky for me at this point in my life could, at some other point, have been no great shakes.

Enter my mom.

When I asked her about risk, my mom told me about the risks she took when she moved to New York in the 60's. She had a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and moved to the city completely alone looking for a job writing advertising. (Can you say "Mad Men"?) And, unbeknownst to my mother, the way a woman got a job as a writer in those days was to take a job as a secretary and then get promoted to a writer's position. But my mom a) didn't know that, and b) didn't want to be a secretary. So when she was offered a couple of secretarial positions, she turned them down flat. She was, finally, offered a writing position at an agency, but not before going through several interviews. Had she known at the time what was "expected," she told me, she never would have done anything quite so risky. But what I love about it is how courageous and forthright she was. She wanted what she wanted and went after it the only way she knew how. Risk or no risk.

Another friend told me that "risk is risk the way gravity is gravity, but you may not feel it until you experience the effects." And I'll be honest -- the effects ranged from "meh" to "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahimgonnadieijustknowit!" But there was a consistent dedication I felt in pursuing all my risks; I was doing it for the greater good of the Kate. And that made facing down the fear all the more bearable.

It was an exciting and mind-bending month; I HIGHLY recommend an experiment like this one!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

that which we resist persists

About ten years ago, I was working with a therapist who, after a couple of sessions where I talked about my relationship with food, suggested I go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, just to see if it would help.

And the minute she said it, every single cell in my body revolted. I wanted to die. There was absolutely NO WAY I would go to one of those meetings. Never. Ever. Not in a million years, not if you gave me a million dollars. Never. Not if the room was full of hot, eligible bachelors. Not if it meant I would never overeat again. If I happened to be running down the hall of a burning building and the only way out was through an OA meeting, I'd burn up with the industrial carpeting. Not. A. Snowball's. Chance. In. Hell.

A simple suggestion, one that I could take or discard, and my whole essence was ready to drop a very small, very targeted nuclear bomb on the sweet, dear therapist who mentioned the idea.

Needless to say, ten years passed, and my relationship with food has remained interesting.

When I feel good about myself, food is my nourishment. When I feel bad, it's my comfort. And I think that's pretty "normal." But since I don't see anyone else eat, and can't get inside the heads of other eaters, I have no idea whether my relationship is dysfunctional or not. However, some part of me desperately fears that it is. Otherwise I wouldn't be willing to burn up with the carpeting.

So, last week, in honor of the Year of Yes! (well, ok the fourteen months of yes) and in an exploration of Risk, I went. And it was scary. And it was awkward. And the building had some truly horrid industrial carpeting. But what's most important is that I made it out the other side. Was I like some of the women in that room? Yes. We all had tricky relationships with food. Was I not like some of the women in that room? Yes. And for privacy reasons I won't say why.

What I was afraid of was the label. I was afraid of admitting that my relationship with food might have been "abnormal" or "dysfunctional" which would, by association, make me a failure. Yes, it was that simple. If I went to a meeting of people who had trouble controlling their eating and found I was like them in any way, I was a failure.

I'm pleased that I went, and I'm incredibly proud of myself for facing that silly little fear that's been holding me back for ten years. Will I go again? Not to that particular meeting. I'll try another one, just to see, but I don't particularly care for the 12 Step model.

So I'll throw it out to you: what are you afraid of? What one thing does your whole body create a violent reaction to when you consider doing it? And if you could do it safely, what would it take for you to do it?