Saturday, December 28, 2019

Convergence: the wise words of Death, and decade reflections

A stairway to... somewhere? 
"It gets under your skin, life..." said Death. "Speaking metaphorically, of course. It's a habit that's hard to give up. One puff of breath is never enough. You'll find you want to take another." 

This, from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, a twisted take on a Christmas story that I faithfully watch every year. 

Discworld is no Planet Earth, but BBC brings this other world into clear focus, and while entertaining, it also offers keen insights and intriguing perspective we can apply here, too, on our spinning round ball.  

A heartwarming tale, though the villain is truly villainous and not for the faint of heart, Death gets some of the best lines in the three-plus hoursworth considering as we close out both a year and a decade. 

"You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?" 

Some of the major themes I wrote about this year: create your future, the role of mindset, and the power of beliefs (conscious or not). 

We must believe: 1) in ourselves, 2) in our capabilities) 3) that we create based on what we want and not what we've done or what's necessarily true, 4) that we deserve our good, and 5) that the universe, or life force, or divine energywhatever you want to call itconspires for our highest and greatest good. 

It's important to note that we often get in our own way, usually without knowing it. It's those underlying beliefs that hold us back, the self-talk we don't notice or don't give credence to, and persistent patterns and habits that no longer support us. 

We can create the life we want. Sometimes we have to #dohardthings first, though, which usually includes a thorough self-audit, and there is this thing, I believe, called Divine Right Timing. Self-awareness is critical to growth and change. It requires deep reflection, soul-trembling honesty, and a willingness to let go of who we are for who we can be. 

"Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom?" 

Life is precious, and while I don't believe we should always be busy, always striving, nor always productive, I do believe curiosity is a superpowerone that consistently helps us grow and moves us forward. It's one of mine, and one I'm deeply grateful for. 

What do you wonder about? Are you curious about why you've made the choices you have? Are you curious enough to realize you've made choices your entire life, and the results of those choices are why you do what you do, live how you do, and determine who you have around you? What about the world-at-large fascinates or befuddles you? 

As far as we know, or at least as far as we can conceive consciously, we have this one life, and it's up to us to make it what we want it to be. We can live in ignorance and blame the world for our situations and be victims of our circumstances, but we'll perpetuate the life we're already living. It won't get better. We can 'create better problems', as author and blogger Mark Manson writes about. 

There are endless places and ideas to explore, things to try, entire libraries to delve into, new people who cross your path every day who have a different story than your own, and now, in our digital world, podcasts and new music to listen to, and encyclopedic volumes of information at our fingertips. I've mentioned my sociology professor before, who often said: See everyone as your guru of the moment. In other words, everyone has something to teach us, even when it isn't immediately apparent. 

What do you want to know more about? 

"There is always time for another last minute... there's no better present than a future... "

My birthday, the winter solstice, Christmas, and year-end all arrive within two weeks of each other. I take this convergence to mean it's a powerful time for mea time to go deeper than usual, to reflect, assess what I've learned and what about the last year had meaning, and set intentions for creation and change in the, or my, new year. A Christmas birthday can be hardI've had a lot of stories around it that aren't supportive... but shifting my thinking to one of convergence is how I've not just finally made peace with itmy initial thinking—but how it truly works in my favor. 

We can all do this, whether at year-end, around your birthday, or whenever it makes sense. But now, as we close out a decade, it can be helpful to take a look back as you think ahead. 

Could you have ever imagined, 10 years ago, where you'd be now? Whether you observe it / judge it to be good or bad, is this what you had in mind for your life?  

Ten years ago, I could barely see beyond what was immediately in front of me. Forrest and I had separated and didn't know if we'd be back together. I started a new job, and my first six months were rocky. I had a balloon payment due on my mortgage and had been out of work following a layoff when the 2008 recession hit, so even my home was at risk. 

While I had plenty of self-awareness and had been doing a lot of this work for a lot of my life, suddenly, nearly everything was in question. 

And, I was intentional. I got very clear when this all seemed to happen at once that something still wasn't working. I recognized I had beliefs and patterns and habits that kept me stuck, including that life was hard, I didn't believe I belonged here, and that I couldn't have what I wanted. 

So, with help, hard work, a lot of soul-searching and solitude, I changed all that. And here we are, at the end of one and the start of another decade. There are some outward similarities, but on the inside, I'm a different person. Just as much of our bodies regenerate every seven or so years, so too, have I regenerated my beliefs, my thinking, and my actions. 

That's a lot to celebrate. And it's important to acknowledge what we consider success. I can build on this as I look ahead to 2020, and the decade in front of me.   

No matter our condition, that we are living, breathing, evolving individuals all connected through an energetic system invisible to the eye, is nothing short of miraculous, considering the complexity of our very existence.

What do you want in these last minutes of this, our second decade of the 21st century? As Death so wisely stated, there's no better present than a future. How can you set the stage for an awesome 2020, and the next decade? 

If you like this post or this blog resonates with you in any way, please feel free to subscribe (see right column), share it, comment below, or send me a message. I'm also available for one-on-one coachingyou can find me here. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Ready, set... reset

I took this photo when I stayed here 6 years ago, 
and my 'seagull series' remains a favorite. 
This may have even been from the 
same balcony. 
I'm grossly in need of a reset: body, mind, spirit... from diet to finances to... well, right now it feels like everything. 

So, I'm taking a few days off, hanging out in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. It's one of my happy places and a place I've returned to often; it has a kind of magical feel, with open ocean, stunning waves, monolithic sea stacks, a quaint but modern 'downtown' (an eating and shopping district), a local food scene, many parks, and, were I to venture farther, more charming pocket towns to explore along the coast just a short drive away. There's a lot to like here. 

A storm came up during my Thursday drive from Seattle, and the weather didn't relent until sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. Two days of high winds and pelting rain ensured I stayed holed up in my hotel roomthis is actually a good thing since I paid a little extra for an ocean-front room (with, thankfully, a gas fireplace since we've lost power several times since I've been here). It's worth it. 

Revisiting self-care

When I do a reset, it can mean a few things: stream-of-consciousness writing, journaling, reading, walking, meditating, a change in diet, or as of this moment, staring at and listening to the ocean as the tide comes in, sitting next to the fire. Sometimes just a change in scenery has a powerful impact.  

I came here loaded up with books, a journal and notepads, my laptop, teas, my swimsuit, running shoes (not that I'll be running yet...), my camera, and all kinds of other things for nourishmentall just in case because I don't know what I'll want or need while I'm here. Oh, and of course, the apps on my phone. 

I use Insight Timer almost daily for a morning meditation, or at least, the intention of meditating. By doing this daily practice, whether or not it feels like true meditation (depending on the morning, I use either a guided meditation or the timer), I consistently start my day with some very focused me-time, or presence. It helps me set the tone for my day. Lately, I haven't been very focused, so it's another reset. 

Waking up

My friend Stefan pinged me with some urgency before I left to suggest I listen to Sam Harris, both his podcast Making Sense and his Waking Up meditation course, while en route or while here. He was right with the urgency. It's perfect. (Thanks, Stefan!)  

On the drive, I listened to Sam's podcast with Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins University professor of psychiatry and neuroscience. He's doing some extraordinary work on psychedelics, and I've heard him now on several different shows. Researchers today are building on work that started in the 1940s but got sidelined during the '60s counter-culture movement; sadly, psychedelics used for recreational use freaked out a lot of powerful people who put the kibosh on any kind of research. Thankfully, there's now enough evidence of their value that research picked up in the '90s and is now full-on, with intriguing results for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Michael Pollan, who coined the phrase, "eat food, mostly plants, not too much," wrote a whole book about this, How to Change Your Mind. As a coach, all of this stuff fascinates me. 

Anyway, all that aside, I also started Sam's Waking Up coursewhich is perfect for this long weekend away. 

My goal this weekend? Start the reset: unwind, regroup, so I can regenerate. 

Year-end intention

That's my intention for the next two weeks: regroup, reset, regenerate. I'm back at work Monday / Tuesday, but aiming to take most of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day off (on-call but not in the office).  

This year-end reset ritual isn't uncommon for me. The combination of my birthday (Dec. 19) and winter solstice (today! Dec. 21)the shortest day and longest night of the year, which ushers in wintermarks the beginning of this period of self-reflection, which can carry over into the new year. For me, it has less to do with the clock turning over at midnight on Dec. 31, and more about my own new year. In many circles, this is a solstice tradition; both solstice celebrations and Christmas are grounded in pagan rituals. (Here's an inspiring travel article; I skipped the video.)

Here's what I think or write about: where am I in my life... what do I want the rest of it to look like, particularly the year ahead. Are there themes to focus on? And beyond goals, what intentions must be set? (Specific goals can come later.) This is the time of year when many set resolutions for the year ahead; I gave those up and instead think about how I want to feel and what I want my life to look like, and how I can set intentions that move me in that direction. 
My birthday dinner

Solitude and time alone, for me, are facilitators of this. And, sometimes I need to take myself out of what's familiar to eliminate distractions. Hence the sojourn to the Oregon coast.  

Today, and for the next two weeks, I intend to breathe, walk, meditate, read, eat well, write, and hopefully reset my sleep patterns.... and this weekend, stare at the ocean and listen to the sound of crashing waves. It feeds my soul.  

Just 'be' 

Sometimes just being is enough. There is always so much to do that we sometimes need to 'not do.' Not everyone is comfortable with not doing even though most of us need it. Near the beginning of the Waking Up course, Sam quotes Socrates: A life unexamined is not worth living. Or at least, he adds, it may be worth living, but it's not very interesting. Our purpose here is to grow and evolve, and just being helps us to integrate the lessons we've learned, let go of what no longer serves us, and recalibrate our inner guide. 

(About the photo of me: Over dessert at the Stephanie Inn, a farm-to-table restaurant I've wanted to sample for years. My dinner was better than expecteda starter salad of pears, cranberries and local gorgonzola, bread infused with enough black pepper to give it a bite and perfectly salted butter, and a main course of scallops dressed with a buttery and lovely sauce topped with crispy sunchoke 'chips' and set in a sunchoke puree, accompanied by delicious and perfectly prepared winter vegetables. While listening to dessert options, I chatted with my table neighbors, who soon became table mates when they invited me to join them for dessert. Unbeknownst to me until the check came, they paid for my to-die-for chocolate pot-de-creme. Thanks to these lovely hops-and-grapes Yakima farmers, Diane and Patrick, for making my birthday that much more special.

(I also want to thank the Tolovana Inn staff for the lovely bottle of Oregon merlot and chocolates, and for their patience when I changed rooms three times on arrival to get the view I wanted...)

#soulretreat #selfcareishealthcare #healthcareisselfcare 

PS: I just walked a few miles along the beach, now that the tide receded and the rain subsided to a drizzle. I always keep my eyes open for beach glass, but on this walk I saw none. I did, however, see a lot of small, colorful plastic bits. A reminder to us all, quoting Alan Durning from Seattle's environmental thinktank, Sightline, #thereisnoaway and #howmuchisenough ... 

If you like this post or this blog resonates with you in any way, please feel free to subscribe (see right column), share it, comment below, or send me a message. I'm also available for one-on-one coachingyou can find me here. 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

What to do when you don't know what to do

As we begin the close-out of another year, it seems like there's no shortage of things that must be done. There's an urgency in the air, no matter how few obligations you actually have. Or at least, that's true in my case. With no parents or children (other than 'the little') to buy gifts for, and no familial musts, my obligations are minimal.  

Still, my end-of-year to-do lists are always lengthy. Which means they're also sometimes overwhelming. Even without those familial musts, there are presents to be made, purchased, wrapped, packaged, given, or mailed, cards and notes to be written and sent, holiday parties, people to see, 2019 goals and intentions to get started or fulfill, year-end work projects, reports, and expenses to submit, and of course, prepping yourself and your home for the real winter weather that's starting to show itself (like finding your winter coats when you live in a small space and have to pack away your seasonal wardrobe). It's a seemingly endless parade of obligations that all have to be done before the end of the year. (Or do they?)
When there's that much going on, it's easy to feel paralyzed, even if some of it is self-inflicted.

Take the first step

I occasionally read Marc and Angel Hack Life, a blog with over 100k followers, who advise their readers and clients when they're in this place to do just one thing: wash their dishes. 

When the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean, it's much easier to look at what's next. 

One of my go-to tactics is to put away clutter. Whatever I see in front of me, if it's not in its rightful place, I put it where it needs to be. Whether that's hanging up a coat, putting strewn-about clothing into a hamper, or neatly stacking a pile of books and magazines now out of hand... this is especially necessary if you live in a small space. 

I'm looking at my dining room table, now covered in bags from various stores and bits and pieces of packaging and wrapping materials for the gifts they'll become. That's next. 

And because I realize that clutter sometimes means I don't need so much stuff, I keep a paper shopping bag tucked away near my front door where I place unwanted items to take to a charity shop or in some other way find them a new home. 

Make room for bigger projects 

When we do our dishes and put away clutter, we also unclutter what's in our heads. An uncluttered mind makes a whole lot of other things seem much easier. Have a project you want to tackle? A side hustle you want to launch? 

What can you do today to clear your path, so that you can focus on what's more important? Without the distractions of clutter and mess, your goals, dreams, and ideals have more room to flourish. 

Create space to dream

Maybe you're not sure about your goals, dreams, and ideals. If that's true for you, decreasing clutter also creates more brain space. Uncluttered space gives you the room to just be, think, or let your thoughts drift, which allows for ideas to percolate. 

We're now approaching the end of another year. This is the perfect time to think about what you want to take with you into the new year, both literally and figuratively. What objects no longer fit your life? What patterns or thoughts no longer support where you want to go in your life? To get clarity on this, take a look at how your year unfolded and see what worked, what didn't. When did you feel like you were thriving? What were you doing? What was particularly hard that you learned something from and don't necessarily want to repeat? 

Everything is information, and to let our minds filter the joys and sorrows, the lessons and triumphs, we have to give ourselves room. Tidy space, quiet and stillness can be our best friend. This is true even for the extroverts among us.

A helpful exercise: take a piece of paper, fold it in thirds, and write in the first column something you remember about the year that had meaning for you. In the second column, write why it had meaning and what you learned. In the third column, write down what it is about that you either want or don't want to take into the new year with you. Let that be your guide as you set goals or intentions for the coming year. 

So, if you haven't done your dishes or cleaned up your clutter, start there. 

If you like this post or this blog resonates with you in any way, please feel free to subscribe (see right column), share it, comment below, or send me a message. I'm also available for one-on-one coachingyou can find me here. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

How good can you stand it?

My idea of bliss
My cousins and I got together this morning for our annual Christmas breakfast at Fishermen's Terminal. While we pondered the lengthy menu, we acknowledged we don't usually eat much for breakfast these days, but it was still a good idea since this is different enough from our day-to-day and we've now done it often enough that it feels like a tradition. And, we get some quality time together which feels like a rare thing these days. 

There were fewer of us this year. Over warm scones with orange-infused butter, we reflected on our family. One cousin recently turned 60, and we noted how she's now lived longer than several in her immediate familyboth her mom and two sisters left this plane by that age, and looking a little more broadly, we've all lived longer than several others. 

So we had to acknowledge how grateful we are. We all have it pretty good. We're generally healthy, working, and in relationships that work for us. And we're not actively engaging in addictive or destructive behavior like a few others who are remarkably still around.  

What a gift... a gift we gave ourselves. 

Giving and receiving

We're now in the throes of the holiday season... a time for giving to others as well as receiving. While I'm less of a consumer than I used to be, I do love finding just the right gift for someone or putting a fun package together.  

That said, giving is so much easier than receiving. Don't get me wrong. I love gifts. But I often feel uncomfortable when offered something I feel I haven't earned in some way, or perhaps haven't reciprocated, whether it's a gift, a compliment, or an act of kindness.  

This isn't uncommon. 

It's important to learn that it's OK to just receive and say thank you. When we receive a gift from someone else, they're giving themselves a gift, too... it makes us feel good to give to others. And, if we give and never receive, we end up depleted. 

Acknowledging our good

Whether it's doing a gratitude practice every day, like I do, or just counting your blessings as you see them, it's important to acknowledge the good we have in our lives. Because good begets good.  

My life is hardly perfect, and it can still be hard. But hard is what makes it better. It's that act of moving through something, finding an answer or solution, of feeling accomplished, that brings meaning and satisfaction. 

Which is, as I continually learn, what life is all about. It's less about happiness and more about meaning and purpose. The more deeply we know this, the better our lives become. How often have you said, "I'll be happy when..." or "I'll be happy if..." When we get whatever that is, something else replaces it. To relentlessly pursue happiness is a way to live in a constant state of unhappiness. 

How's that for wisdom? But think about it. If we're always out there looking for something we say we want, then we don't have what we want right now. That's a recipe for discontent. Happiness is right here, right now, in the journey; we find it in the meaning and purpose we assign to our lives, along with what we do, and who we spend our time with. We can even find joy in pain. (Yes, it's true, although we may not fully get that until we're on the other side.)

Looking back over the year

December is a time when many of us look back over the year. Radio stations play the top songs, writers and readers share their book lists, newspapers review the top stories. 

Many of us do this, too, although it may just live in our heads. Before looking at the year ahead and setting new intentions or goals, it's useful to assess the year and write it down.  

What worked well for you this last year? What are you most proud of? What do you want more of that you started? Are there lessons gleaned from what didn't work well? 

No need to lament or shame yourself if you didn't reach your goals; we can be optimistic about what we can accomplish and forget to account for real-life twists and turns. There's always something to be learned. 

How much good can you stand? 

So I'm curious: How good can you stand it? What would you love to receive? What brings your life meaning? What would it feel like to live in joy or bliss? Where do you feel that? 

I feel bliss when I'm outside, in the woods or on the water. Sometimes I feel it when I meditate or when I reflect and write my gratitude lists. I feel it when I'm with my partner. Bliss is fleeting, but oh so satisfying for those brief moments as it melts into contentment. 

It's up to you to state it, create it, find it, own it, and be that which brings you meaning, purpose, and ultimately, joy. 

If you like this post or this blog resonates with you in any way, please feel free to subscribe (see right column), share it, comment below, or send me a message. I'm also available for one-on-one coachingyou can find me here.