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november project, day 4: changing my mind

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Sometimes I use my writing to get my mind right.  Coming from a champion lineage of depression and addiction, this is something I have to do on a regular basis, when my thoughts tend toward the negative and I am not being kind to myself.  When negativity arises, I neuroplasticize.  In other words, I change my mind.  To do this, I simply write at the top of my page “thank you.” And then I begin filling the page with words and images and thoughts and things that I am grateful for in my life, from coffee to Oliver and Lucy to the warmth of sunlight through the windows in a cozy coffee shop.  And it works.  From the time I begin writing until the page is stuffed with words and color, I am able to alter my own emotional and mental state.

I often tell my students that life is not easy, being human is not easy.  It wasn’t meant to be.  But it’s how we navigate our humanness–bringing ourselves back when we fall out of grace–that heals our souls and makes us powerful.

As the sun slants away from summer and the days shrink and the darkness grows, we must to tend the light and warmth within.  Next time you notice your thoughts leaning toward the negative, give yourself the gift of ten minutes, a blank page, and colorful markers, and pull out the grace within so you can see it and feel it.  Again and again.  This is the work of life.

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november project, day 3: learning how to unicycle

november project, day 3: learning how to unicycle

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I signed my daughter Lucy up for a unicycle class on Thursdays through November.  When we got to the gym on the first day, I found out that the class was open to adults, so I joined.  I am so excited! This photo is from last night, our second class.  Lucy and I both started going short distances with no hands.  I cannot wait to go down our street, which just got newly blacktopped last summer, and roll around the neighborhood with Lucy on our unicycles.

I love learning new things, filling my creative well with little adventures along my way. It keeps my brain fresh, my body awake. Unicycling makes me sweat with the effort of moving my body a new way. I love it.

Life has taught me that I can’t dwell in a routine too long or I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel and I get depressed.  I guess this speaks to the dance of balance–knowing when the dance is stale and needs new breath.

 

 

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being 45

being 45

Last week my physical therapist asked me how old I am. I told her I was turning 45 on Thursday and she responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Her reaction stunned me. It shouldn’t have considering the general view of aging, especially for women, in this country. But it did. And I’ve thought about it since: What does it mean to be 45?

Into my 30’s, I subconsciously cast 45 off as old, when dreams have been long realized and everything from there was on a downslope. But as pages of the calendar seem to be flipping off in a windstorm of years, I’ve gained a new perspective.

Let’s not sugarcoat–aging sucks. I’ve never met anyone who wants wrinkles, aches, pains, inevitable loss, new knees, gray hair, or saggy skin. Not once. And yet, that’s where we are all headed. Until our spirits rise, we are destined to live inside an aging body.

But if we are willing to say yes to life, we must be willing to say yes to it all.  And when I step into the light of grace, of what it means to be given 45 years of life on Earth, I realize I have needed every one of those years to get to where I am now, and there is not one year I would give back.

Forty-five to me means going to college and discovering how humungous the world is, breaking rules, boarding airplanes to lands unknown, walking barefoot on beaches and riding bikes through cities, wildflower meadows, and over canyons. It means being in classrooms and lecture halls, both as student and teacher, always learning and discovering. It means taking my time and following my curiosities, and it means getting lost, wandering, and finding my way back. It means breaking my heart and falling in love and making mistakes and saying I’m sorry and practicing bravery and working really hard and being really grateful. It means marrying my best friend and realizing it was worth the wait. It means growing children in my belly and watching them become who they are, spirits and journeys all their own. It means being the “fortune teller” at the school carnival and reading The Giving Tree before bed. It means letting Lucy destroy the kitchen to make “slime,” and watching Oliver disappear down the sidewalk on his bike, praying he arrives at Spencer’s house safely.

It means all of the experiences I’ve had and all of the people who’ve crossed my path and taught me about love and life.

I am 45 and there is no apology necessary. Instead, I want to tilt my head back and sing to the sky, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, for all of it.

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fear and love

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I stood in front of a room full of undergraduate students hearing myself ramble through my introduction on the first day of our Personal Leadership in the University class at the University of Minnesota. I heard myself tell them about being a writer and an as-yet unpublished novelist. I heard myself talk about being a social entrepreneur, having created a career teaching the very thing that saved my life: writing. I heard myself talk about my teaching experiences over the past decade, and I may have even heard myself talk about being a mother of two children. But I’m not sure.

The truth is, I don’t know exactly what I talked about in my introduction because while I was standing in front of that room, I was experiencing an intense wave of nervous fear in front of 26 students, all eyes on me, on my and their first day of class.

What I didn’t tell them was that I have never taken a “leadership” class in my entire life, nor had I ever taught one. I didn’t say I was stepping on the pathway of this journey for the first time with them. And I certainly didn’t tell them that I really had no idea what I was doing, or where this path would take me.

Though this particular situation was new to me, this feeling of standing at the edge of myself, at the edge of my comfort zone, the winds of fear and uncertainty and the Unknown whipping around me, was not new. I’ve been there before, dozens of times, in dozens of rooms.

In fact, it has been on the shoulders of discomfort and fear that I have built my career and my life.

I grew up a blue-collar kid in a white-collar world. My house stunk of cigarette smoke and broken dreams. As I grew, I built wings with the strength I earned from the struggles I had experienced. With pen and paper, I lifted myself out of that situation and decided I would always follow my heart, no matter what.

The problem is, with love comes fear. They are the right and left hands of almost every decision we make:

We love to travel, but we fear if we will miss out on career opportunities.

We love our boyfriends or girlfriends, but fear they will not love us back.

We love racing, but we fear we will lose.

We love to create, but we fear we do not know how.

If we make the decision to follow what we love and step into the landscape of our dreams, we must know that we will meet fear along the way. And if we are to continue on this journey of the soul and spirit, we must make friends with fear. Because bravery does not exist without fear, and if we choose safety, to remain within the cocoon of what feels comfortable, we will never know the full extent of our truth and power. We will never know what it feels like to have reached beyond ourselves to see exactly what it is we are made of.

So the question to continually ask ourselves is, which voice are we following? Are we following love or fear? Are we leaning into life or away from it?

Though fear is uncomfortable, safety isn’t all its cracked up to be either. In fact, it is an illusion when considering the human journey and its true vulnerable nature. Anything can happen at any time. We could walk onto the street and be hit by a bus and become paralyzed from the neck down. Or we could lose someone we love in a moment. Or we could lose that job or that house or that lover or whatever.

And worst of all, if we side with safety and follow our fear, we risk extinguishing the very flame in our hearts that keeps us warm along this journey of life.

Though the path is always uncertain and I am still learning how to “teach” leadership, there is one thing I know for certain: inside each of us exists a still, small voice. It is the voice of our hearts, emanating from the deepest part of our souls. And if we listen to that voice, we will never have to look back on our lives and think, “I wish I would have…”

Instead, we will be able to stand firmly on the ground of ourselves and our lives and say, “I did.”

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never underestimate

thumb_IMG_9467_1024This morning I left the house without my shell. Maybe I was overtired, maybe it was the rain, maybe I am hormonal, or maybe it’s just raining inside for no other reason than I am human, so open and vulnerable, that on days like today, I feel like I am a breath away from releasing a torrent of tears.

Why does it rain some days and others are full of sun? Who knows.

All I know is I walked into the room, yoga mats already covering the floor, with mine still rolled up in my hand, feeling like an a-hole for disturbing the people around me who actually showed up on time.

I stood, hovering above a tiny space of floor, when I heard the man below me ask, “Do you need more space?” in such a kind voice, I could have wept with gratitude.

Instead, I held back until Savasana, until the instructor put her hands on my shoulders and forehead, and I felt her love radiate through her fingers and into my being.

“Thank you,” I said, tears joining the sweat as they flowed down my temples and onto the floor.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all of those people in the world who use soft kind voices when talking to others; for the people who look you in the eyes, and then your soul, to say thank you; and for those people who reach down and offer to help you up when you are on the floor with your humanness.

Thank you.

This holiday season, forget the shopping malls and go to the streets–give compliments, give help, give your time, and give your attention.

Never, never, not for a moment, underestimate the power of giving kindness.

 

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deface the page (and save your brain)

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Here’s the problem with thinking: thoughts build upon each other and begin ricocheting against the walls of my brain, creating pure chaos and a cacophony that distracts me from the very life I’m living.  Often, too often, the thoughts I wake up begin with the words “I should…”  I should have woken up earlier.  I shouldn’t have stayed up so late.  I should be more organized.  I should relax more.  I should do more….

The sun comes up, the gloves come on, and I begin beating the crap out of myself for all of my failings and shortcomings.  Yippee!

Lucky for me, I have been gifted with a malfunctioning brain that tends more to negative, self-defeating thoughts than fresh, wind-blown inspirations. Even so, I’ve come to believe most of us humans are susceptible to these unkind thoughts about ourselves, and we all must find a way to live and thrive, in spite of the asshole within.

This is why I write. To change my mind. To move it from a negative to a positive state, so I can air out the stale thoughts and get on with things.  I neuroplasticize baby.  I move, I should have woken up this morning at 6:00 to I want to wake up at 6:00 each morning so I have time alone with my thoughts and steaming cup of coffee.  One contains punishment while the other contains positive intention and inspiration.

So I make time for this.  I make time to change my mind, to feed it positivity and power.  Because it really comes down to choosing the thoughts we want to think.  Therefore, I deface the page to save my brain.

 

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