Friday, December 19, 2008

Reconnect and regroup

I have been quiet on the blog. This means I have not made time to reflect and "process" things as I would like. I have noticed that especially during the holidays, I tend to be harried and disconnected from what it is going on within.

I enjoy the rituals and the festivity. Holiday cards. End of year celebrations. Gift shopping. Gift wrapping. Gifting. Socializing. Breakfast with santa. Urban Nutcracker. School holiday concert. Cooking. Baking. Last karate class. Last gym class. This year, pepper in out of town interviews, graduate school application deadlines (mine by default), job applications, medical testing, travel planning, hosting... And it makes for a whirlwind.

Knowing this was going to be a hectic week, I promised myself that I would be present. Focus on the task at hand. Get through it, and not think ahead too far. Or, I would get overwhelmed. I succeeded. Got through a pretty hectic week without losing my temper or cool. Relatively calm and centered. Everything that needed to be done got done. No balls were dropped. I even enjoyed myself. The key to this was not to get in my head too much and worry about what might happen... but rather to be present, and take simple action.

But, I can not deny that I am physically and mentally wiped out. So much doing and not so much being.

I am wondering today what I can do to recuperate my energy, step into the holidays refreshed and ready to enjoy the blessings of the season. Surely being exhausted is not going to allow that. Besides getting much needed rest for my body, I am sure it is time to reconnect with myself and the Divine.

I am going to make space to think and reflect and pray. When I don't, I end up silent on the blog. I end up in do do do do mode and forget to step back, process and learn from what is going on.

How do you reconnect and regroup?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Relishing the boundless possibilities

My mind is racing a mile a minute, and I have a strong urge to write a brief post on the blog. It helps me focus and make sense of things.

On Monday, I opened up to the possibilities in our seemingly uncertain (potentially stressful) situation. Opening up has been a wonderful perspective to hold.

Being open is allowing me to hear all kinds of messages of affirmation, encouragement, and hope. Some of these messages come in unlikely places. A closed door. A job that is not ours. A bill. A neighbor's phone call. A venting session with my sister. A FB chat session with my brother's brother. I am feeling energized by these messages coming loud and clear from the Universe.

Dream. Hope. Learn. Step up. Take simple steps. Enjoy the journey. Overcome fear. Believe in yourself. Trust God. Live your purpose.

Yesterday, I vented to my sister of the heart, the one I never had but adopted growing up in Botswana. After I shared the burdens of my heart, I ventured (yet again) to my big idea that tugs at my heart and mind daily. I affirmed how simple steps can make big changes in the world. If I yearn to make an impact and do something meaningful, I can take the heart from people who have done this. Regular folks with regular means making big changes. A children's librarian who raises funds to take books to Ethiopia and creates a simple and powerful means of disseminating them to children all over the rural areas -- donkey cart libraries. Talk about inventive. I can do it too. Why not me? I have education. I have vision. I have friends (lots of them). I have friends with big ideas, education, resources. I have social resources. I have an unwaveringly supportive life partner. I have parents who will put their all behind me. She says, "you're rich." I hear her loud and clear. This is just the message I needed to hear. I agree. I am exceptionally rich.

And, as my other sister of the heart says often, "to whom much is given, much is expected."

Today, as my mind races a mile a minute, I am truly relishing the boundless possibilities that lie in our lives and futures. And, I am so incredibly rich! Woo hoo. Now, I am going to figure out what I am going to do with all this rich possibility!

Want to join me?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Opening up to the boundless possibilities

This morning, as I got little man dressed for school, I began composing a blog post about "navigating uncertainty."

I spent the weekend noticing how for someone as action and planning oriented such as me, our current state is highly challenging. I am mindfully noticing the frustration I feel every time there is a question that I can not answer. "Will you be re-enrolling the kids for gym class?" I can't say. "Will little man be attending afternoon lessons in the new year?" I'm not sure. "Will little miss sunshine begin pre-school in January?" It depends. "Will you be teaching next semester?" I'm considering it. "Will you be traveling over the holidays?" There is a chance. "When do you plan to visit home?" Who knows? "Will the kids have their adenoid and ear tube surgeries soon?" Possibly. "Have y'all found jobs?" No. "What will you do if...?" I don't know.

I just don't know about any of this. And, as I have shared on this blog before, this is not easy for me in the least bit. I would like to be decisive, informed, organized, systematic, and in control. I am not. Only yesterday I confessed to Charles how I was having a hard time with this. I think the ambiguity will "kill me softly" if I allow it to.

Notice how I actually decided to write about opening up to possibilities?

This is what happened to turn my perspective around. I received an unexpected phone call this morning. A big brother I never had but I adopted years ago growing up in Botswana, called. This brother of my heart, to whom I send the holy "rakhi" (Hindu festival celebrating the sibling bond), was the gift I needed most today. He was exhilerated, enthused, hopeful, excited and frankly thrilled with his recent trip home. He shared countless examples of people like us who decided to leave the grind in the United States and head home. A young man he met, started a condom factory. The first in Africa. The only African owned condom factory in the heart of the region struck with the highest HIV/AIDS infections in the world? Talk about socially responsible entrepreneurship. We can each of us do this. Why complicate it? It all begins with a simple step. All of this positive energy was contagious.

Midway into the conversation, we had affirmed that what we most need to do is take simple steps to realize our dreams, the purpose for which I was born to this life. For me, this is (to my knowledge) founding the first women's post-secondary college in southern (Sub-Saharan even) Africa. This "big idea" born of my unique life journey tugs at the recesses of my mind and spirit every day. And most days, it gets shelved.

There are many obstacles to achieving my dream "big idea." But, today I am choosing to open up to the boundless possibilities.

Thank you, brother for this priceless gift that I needed most.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gratitude Feast... for the spirit

My heart is overflowing with joyful gratitude at this very moment. We are seated together at the dining table enjoying waffles and fruit salad with the wee ones... they are working on some art projects while baba (dad) works on a grant proposal and mama (moi) blogs.

Every month since July, we host a gathering for the kids' preschool aged friends and their parents. We select a virtue for the theme and just have fun with it. Last month, we had a service theme costume party (as an alternative to the other candy and super hero oriented holiday). The kids dressed up as a community helper of their choice, worked on coloring pages that showed these helpers in action, read about community service (in English and Spanish), enjoyed a variety if fresh apples for snacks... and just had a good time being kids.

This gratitude feast comes at a really good time. I have found myself becoming afraid over the last couple of days. I was watching CNN the other night listening to the panic-struck commentators speaking about the dismal state of the economy. I noticed my blood pressure rising and my heart sinking in fear. Our little Ms. Sunshine continues to wake up on the hour all night long screaming. With no answers from the physicians, we are narrowing in on the strong possibility that she might have sleep apnea. Already, we sleep hardly, and now we sleep fearfully. The thought of my precious one losing her breath in her sleep... the remote possibility of losing one of my children is one of my worst fears. Sitting with this fearful anxiety the last couple of days, I have been wondering how to muster up courage and peace.

As it turns out, today, we are hosting a gratitude feast. As I prepare for it logistically by cleaning up the house, preparing a veggie stew and rice pilaf, planning the activities and so on, I am also preparing emotionally and mentally. My heart-wish is to have a gratitude feast that is not just nourishing to our bodies but our spirits too. While the t(of)urkey dinner and football game get so much air-time, I often wonder what really matters. I see so many stressed out people this time of year who are planning a big dinner. They are worried about getting the turkey just right, and the fixings to go with it. I love the comforting ritual of it all. What we really need is a deeply nourishing feast for the spirit.

At our gathering today, we will keep it simple. We will read picture books that illustrate children enjoying the simple gifts of life and nature. We will play a card game in which we will pick cards and speak about why we should be grateful for... a meal, snow, friends, the color purple, trash, farmers, hats... you get the idea. We will do a craft called Tree of Thanks. For this, we will go outside to collect leaves. We will then trace our arms and hands onto paper, and paste leaves on them. On each leaf, we will write what we are thankful for. For dinner, we will relish the joys of sharing a meal with friends. We might even do a dance of thanks.

If you were to host a gratitude feast for the body, mind and spirit, what would you be sure to include?

As I face my fears, I remember that living in gratitude is truly life changing. It is a source of courage and peace (and a whole lot more). Just what I need right now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Piecing together the puzzle that is our authentic life path

Bear with me as I think out loud about this quintessential dilemma. How do I find an authentic life path (and stay true to it)?

So many of us are actively working on this question. It is wrapped up in so many other questions. How do I know what I am meant to do? How do I do it in the face of competing demands and responsibilities? How do I honor the need for financial security while crafting a life that honors my needs and passions? On any good day, I find myself going in circles with all this.

And in those rare moments of clarity (today might not be one of them), I understand and can articulate the subtleties of this process. Today, I came up with an anology that I am going to try to think through and flesh out here. I don't know where it will take me.

The process of finding an authentic life path is like assembling a 1000 piece puzzle. For those of us who are going about the business of life, working our jobs, caring for our families and not actively making a transition, the pieces might be (neatly put away?) in a box on some shelf somewhere. We look at it every now and again, but we are not actively playing with it.

For the rest of us, they are laid out all over the floor, bed, desk, chair, under the couch, in a pocket, on a counter, next to the lap top... They are everywhere, and here we are trying to piece it together. Needless to say, we are also trying to cook, eat, sleep, work, care for the children, pay the bills... while we work on the puzzle. Some pieces get "misplaced." Others simply forgotten. And more often than not, the puzzle sits there semi-assembled because there is always something more pressing to take care of. We don't always remember the joy of playing so we think of the puzzle as "work." We might avoid it. Sound familiar?

Today, I had a coaching conversation with someone who, like many of us, is figuring out her next move. These are my words, not hers. Should she stay with a job that demands so much of her that she does not have room to breathe? Should she follow her passion for poetry? How to deal with her need for financial security (especially living in New York City)? How can she find a balance? I asked her some basic questions.

And, in these questions are some of the pieces of the puzzle we are assembling. I am going to sketch some of these pieces in a cursory way. Each of them deserve a lenghty explanation. I will pick up on pieces that seem of particular interest to those of you interested in this question.

Puzzle piece "must-haves": What must I have in order to be at my best? These are needs that must be filled so we might have time and space to get more of what we want in our lives. A network of friends and family who support me? Regular access to this support network? A spiritual community? Geography? Intellectual stimulation? Creative expression? Personal growth? Health? Social activism? Cultural diversity? Each of us has a very unique list that reflect who we are. Mine has some of the elements listed above.

Puzzle piece "values": What are my core values? I define values as those intangibles that attract me. They are different from the tangible "needs" that are in my must-haves list. It takes some reflection and work to name these values because we often take them for granted. They are not necessarily the same as the morals or family ethics we inherit. This work of defining our values is done by so many who are so much wiser than I. I use a number of tools with coaching clients to help us name values.

Puzzle piece "personal gifts": What are my unique strengths, gifts and talents? What are my God-given talents? What kinds of gifts have I chosen to develop? What skills do I have? Over time, I have found that for a number of reasons, we do not own the full extent of our gifts. I can not tell you how often I encounter the sentiment that because something comes naturally to us, we do not think of it as a personal gift. Equally often, I hear that someone writes poetry or sketches or doodles but does not consider herself an artist. This puzzle piece is not as simple as it may seem because each of us has to come to a place of seeing ourselves in the light of gifts and not the darkness of faults.

Puzzle piece "passions": We are mostly familiar with these, but do you notice how this piece is not the same as gifts or needs? What would I do if I owned my own time and had no worries or responsibilities? What would occupy me so well that I would lose myself in the activity with no sense of time? Often this is the piece that is tucked away in a closet or dresser drawer or pocket somewhere. This is the piece that needs the dust wiped off so that it can actively be in play as we figure out the question of our authentic life path.

Notice how each of these is interconnected? They do fit together, and rely on each other for greater clarity of the "big picture" we are trying to piece together. There are other pieces. Bigger ones like the puzzle piece "life purpose" that encompasses the ones I have already listed here. And, I certainly can not name them all. After all there are at least a 1000 according to my analogy.

If you are interested in playing with these ideas, please post a comment, a thought, question so that we can collaborate on the puzzle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where are we now? A month later.

I have been "stewing," so to speak. A whirlwind of new thoughts, ideas, opportunities, activities... and alongside, new and re-emerging struggles, issues, and tasks.

A month ago, I started the blog to document the process of finding our way in uncertain times. Where are we today?

The times are still uncertain. Neither of us have jobs yet. No concrete decisions have been made yet. No definitive answers to the big questions: What's next for us? Are we moving? Are we staying put? Are we going to be able to pay the bills? Where will be in 2009?

Who knows? I don't know. And I am working proactively to be alright with the not-knowing. In days past, not knowing would have been equated with powerlessness, and failure on my part. I was always the student who wanted to know it all, and have the answers. I have always been a solution sleuth. I thrive on finding answers. For someone like me, not having answers could be tricky business.

I could become discouraged. I could feel helpless. I might even be vanquished by a plethora of insecurities and worries. I notice when these feelings begin to creep in. Then, I choose not to get sucked in.

To do this, I am vigilantly doing all the things that I have written about thus far. I am staying centered. Being present. Giving thanks. Enjoying myself. Focusing on who and what matters most. Accepting my situation just enough not to fight it. Forgiving myself when I falter.

I am also being proactive. This month, our collective goal was to GET OPTIONS. We were not going to limit ourselves by field, kind of work, geography, salary, you name it. We were just going to cast a wide net, put ourselves out there and see what comes to us. When we give thanks later this month, we will count our blessings, weigh out options and make plans.

That said, I am learning some really important lessons as I work diligently and creatively to get options. I am tempted to just get a job that will pay the bills. After all, most of us would say that is the practical and realistic thing to do. Just get a job. Any job. No matter what. Even though I know that there are certain options that are just not right for me. It is tempting to give in to the "practical" considerations.

I am resisting this temptation. Are these desperate times or just uncertain ones? Why would I entertain options that go against who I am? Why consider opportunities that violate my core values? Why negate the heart-work I have done to figure out and create my authentic path?

More on struggling to find and stay true to an authentic life path in the next post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life is a rich learning environment

Today, I am struck by how many lessons lie in everyday life.

In my last post, I beseeched us to process everything in order to glean the life lessons. When the going is good, I rarely pause to ask myself, "so what can I learn from the fact that things are going well in my life right now?" I know I should but I rarely do this.

Now, when the going is rough, it is even harder to ask where the lesson lies. Especially in the moment. In the here and now when something unexpected, fearful, disappointing, stressful... hits you. Do you ask where the lessons lies? I am learning to do this more and more.

Let me try out a couple of scenarios that I encountered just this morning:

An opportunity I was pursuing does not pan out. I am disappointed. I have a choice. I could either wallow in the "woe is me" and wonder what happened, what I did wrong, why I can't seem to get ahead etc. Or, I could move foward. In order to do this, I must ask myself what I can learn from this closed door. Once I figure out the lesson, I can take action. I can move on.

We have this choice every day. Several times a day.

A person I was really counting on, does not come through for me. I am disappointed. I have a choice. I could wallow in the "woe is me" and wonder what happened, what I did wrong, why people can not seem to live up to my trust etc. Or, I could take it in stride. In order to do this, I don't take it personally. I ask for the lesson. I then remind myself that I can always count on myself. Once I do this, I can take charge and move on.

We all have this choice every day. Several times a day.

Need I go on? So, what I am saying is that remembering that life is a rich learning environment allows me greater choice and effectiveness.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Process everything... to learn from it.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.... Helen Keller

I have been plain exhausted all week.
Sure, I stayed up most of the night watching election results. Sure, little one had a couple of wakeful nights. But, the real truth is that the election buzz has us all coming down off the "election high" in a big way. We are all mentally, emotionally, physically wiped out. Exhilerated, inspired, hopeful, and definitely changed. But, if you are like me, cried out and wiped out.

Speaking with a number of you, members of my coaching circle, in the last couple of days, one thing is quite apparent to me. It is important to take a time out to process everything. Some of you were on the frontlines for days, weeks, months. You witnessed greatness at work. You worked through the challenges. You shared in the victories. There were moments. There were fascinating stories told and insights received.

Some things were decided. Oh so much to do, fix, resolve. Uncertainty still lingers.

Allowing ourselves the space and time to reflect is key -- especially during uncertain times.
To ensure that I remain calm, centered, and focused in the midst of upheaval, I have to constantly give myself room to just be. Think and be. Lately, I am learning, I need to share-write to be. Writing, in the spirit of sharing, is vital to my being. Here I am.

How can we "process" the events of this week and their powerful impact on our lives? Where will all this feeling and living and loving and hoping ... go? Will we let it be? Let it go? Or, shall we actually allow ourselves to feel in our hearts and then learn from it all? "Processing" is to discern the important life lessons.

What did we learn about ourselves and the world?

Will you talk about it? Will you write about it? Will you rap, sing, praise it? Will you sketch, paint, draw it? Will you scrapbook it? Will you photo-album it? Will you you-tube it? Will you pray about it? Will you affirm it? Will you take a retreat? Will you yoga it? Will you work-it-out?

Will you share a story, thought, comment on this blog about it...?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tongue-tied ... and ready to go!

The world is rejoicing today. It is a deeply monumental day.

And I am so overwhelmed, I can't muster up any of the right words. I am not often tongue-tied. Today, I am awe-struck. Deeply overcome. Inspired. Hopeful. Humbled. Aware. Revitalized.

I will feel it all. Soak in all the good will the world over. Pray. Pray hard. Then, I am going to kick up my efforts several notches.

As I said a couple of days ago, today is the beginning of a long haul. I plan to show up and give every day all I got. It was not all about getting the win on Election Day. It's about getting to work to clean up the mess we're in. The real campaign starts now.

I am renewed, and ready to go.

As our President Elect called on us in Monassas, VA two nights ago, "FIRE IT UP! READY TO GO!"

I am fired up. Ready to go.

What about you? Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work? President Obama is. He got to work right away. Are you ready to be the change you hoped for? Let us begin. Together.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Giving it all you got

Everyone I know is buzzing today. I am getting excited text messages. Neighbors are calling. Friends are emailing.

They are cautiously optimistic. Most are ready for the campaigns to be over. They are praying. Praying for themselves, for Senator Obama, for his family, for this country, for the world. Some are sending crazy Obama-McCain jokes (while they still can).

Even our incredibly perceptive four year old asked me today, "mama, who is going to be the president?" "I don't know, dear, we have to wait until tomorrow night to find out." He sums it up, "today is election eve, mama." And then, he asks me to give him a lesson in flag-work. We page through his atlas.

I am painfully aware of the lifelong implications of this historical moment.

In my last post, I was adamant that we not be distracted from ourselves, the work within, by putting so much stock on the elections. I still hold by that.

I did not mean, however, to suggest that we somehow ignore what is happening around us. We have to be fully engaged, and do our part. Certainly. Just keep all the political and economic dynamics in perspective by remembering who really has ultimate power to make change.

My strong sense today is to tap into all our inner reserves and give it all we got. Do what you can to make things happen tomorrow. We need to show up. It is all about Get Out the Vote. Each of us will do our part, and as fully as we can - mind, body and soul.

Whatever the outcome, we can't just give all to the 4th. There are many many many more days beginning on the 5th of November. On the 5th, it is time to get back to work. It is time to kick it up another notch to make CHANGE happen. Get ready...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mustering up faith... and agency

There is an energy and anticipation all around. There is also a great deal of fear and uncertainty. I smell fear everywhere. Anxiety too. A collective holding in of our breaths until Election Day. We're on high alert, wondering what will happen to us, our families, communities, country, world. A lot is riding on the outcome. Sure, but a lot is riding on how we respond to whatever happens. A lot rests on us.

This is where I think faith comes in. Faith in the Divine and faith in ourselves. Hear me out.

Where we live in Altanta, African Americans have come out in record numbers to vote early. The other day, Ms. Mary, a diabetic neighbor shared how she stood hungry in line for over two hours to cast her vote. It didn't matter how long it took. She (a lady in her sixties) knows that this vote is significant. She also added that she wasn't sure how the elections would turn out. She is not sure America is ready for Obama. Many people, especially people of color, are indeed fearful of the "Bradley effect." Let us call it what it is: racism. We are afraid to trust the polls. There is a great deal of skepticism all over the world about what will actually happen on Tuesday. They wonder if voters will cast their ballots out of hope or fear, knowledge or ignorance. Who knows? A fear of the unknown is understandable in some ways, and that might be just what impacts the so-called "undecided" voters.

Uncertainty can bring on fear. Trust me, I know. What concerns me, though, is fear so strong that it negates hope and undermines faith. Really? Really.

I watched D.L. Hughley last night on his new CNN Show and he showed in not so many words that he is afraid to hope that things will turn out (Obama's Way). What if...? What if something goes wrong? So just in case, millions who share this predicament, are not going to acknowledge the personal and historical ramifications of what is going to happen. Actually, what is happening now and has been for the last twenty months. Precious few are going to express enthusiasm or hope publicly. Nobody is celebrating out in the open. Waiting to see what happens. Just in case it actually does not happen. Not much optimism. Not much faith in the political process. Not much faith. Period.

I have also noticed how we are all in a holding pattern until the 4th. I find myself waiting for the 5th to get to the business of planning our next move. As if the outcome will change what I need to do in my life. I still need to figure out how I will translate my values, passions, gifts into something truly meaningful to me and others. I still need to handle the financial mess we're in. I still need to deal with my own thoughts, fears, hopes, and plans. I still need to overcome varous stumbling blocks to my progress. What does the outcome of the election have to do with the internal work of getting myself in order? If I tune into the truth, it is partly an excuse to not have to deal with myself. Focusing on the outside takes attention away from what's happening on the inside. The two are connected but what matters most is my inner life.

Where do I stand now? I am optimistic about change. Whatever happens, it will be a change. So, I want to focus on how to change gracefully. Whatever happens, only the result will be immediate but the process will unfold over the next four or eight years. And, the process ain't gonna be easy. To state the obvious, whoever the next president is, frankly does not have the answers to my personal predicaments. He is not going to solve my dilemmas. He can't. Only I can (with a whole lot of help from all of you and the Divine).

I am learning to have faith. A few posts ago I spoke about being present and being thankful. How worrying is a sign that we are not being present. Some of letting go of worry has been about letting in faith. This faith I am conjuring up in these uncertain times (and I'm not limiting myself to the elections) is not a belief that things will go the way I want them to. Not at all. I don't believe that life will turn out the way I want. The elections, our lives, work, finances, health, children... you name it.

I honestly believe that whatever happens, will be for the best. I do not mean to sound fatalistic. What I mean is that whatever happens, I will find a way to make the best of it. This kind of faith is not about my will, but following the Will of the Divine. And the gifts of the Divine bestowed on me. I trust. I believe. Even if there is struggle, turmoil and suffering. I know that I have in me what is needed to rise to the changes gracefully. To create the right kind of changes myself. To take charge of my own life.

This holding pattern and waiting for November 5th to take action, is an avoidance of my own my ability to make change in my own life and all around me. Putting so much stock in how the new President (God bless his soul) will get us out of the mess we're in, can be delusional. Frankly he doesn't have that kind of power. The political system is broken and can not fix the complicated mess we are in. Focusing on the political "leaders" of the world in that way, undermines my own agency.

Agency, simply put, is our ability to tap into our own power and create change on our own behalf.
Right now, I choose to muster up faith. Not just in the Divine, but in myself and all of us. I beseech us to make sure that we be the change we are are so eagerly awaiting.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Practicing Extreme Self-Care

Since my last blog entry, I have been run down and tired. I am noticing this each day as my patience, calm and resolve are inevitably impacted by the fatigue. It's been a busy week. The kids have been demanding. Long nights with frequent wakings by both of them. One has the sniffles and the other one might be on his way too...

Remember what I said a few entries ago about practicing self-care - especially during stressful time? Indeed, that is proving to be a real priority right now. I also mentioned in that entry that I would get back to this. Some of you might be wondering what this whole self-care thing is all about. You might have visions of self-indulgence and needless luxury. You might even be wondering how self-care might be a way to justify selfishness (god forbid).

Renee Trudeau in her book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal says, "self-care is about nurturing yourself on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—so you can live, love and parent optimally." I like this definition of self-care because I realize that I need to care for my whole self so that I can be my best. Being my best means I can care for others effectively. The two are not mutually exclusive. I also know that each of these aspects of self-care are inter-related. If my body is weak, how will my spirit be steadfast?

This business of self-care is tricky. I have had few role models of women who took care of themselves effectively. I learned at an early age that women are expected to sacrifice themselves for others -- their partners, children, workers, employers, friends and so on. The image that comes to mind is of a candle that lights other candles while it weeps its own life away drop by drop. There is little room for self-care in this version of what it means to be a "good woman." I am sure there are some patriarchal elements to this whole dynamic too. So, a woman who takes care of her needs without guilt, remorse or apology is hard to come by. I want to be this woman.

This means that I do not live my life as the candle that weeps its life away. I am still experimenting with a fitting image that captures the idea that I nurture myself first so that I can nurture others even more effectively. I fill my cup so that I am overflowing love, encouragement, support, patience... for others?

I have learned that a little external accountability helps keep me on track with a personal goal or project. Since practicing self-care is a priority for me right now, I have worked out a support structure by creating a forum in which a group of women is actively discussing, sharing and working on this collectively. To that amazing group of women, myself especially, I posed an Extreme Self-Care Day Challenge:

“An extreme self-care day is a stretch of time (preferably 8 hours, but 4 will do) where I'm completely devoted to nurturing my physical/mental/emotional/spiritual well-being. My only job is to become attuned to the needs of my body, mind and spirit--and then to nourish myself accordingly." (Renee Trudeau)

Having completed a brief self-care spot-check questionaire, I realized that although I am faring well in the mental, emotional and spiritual realms, my physical self-care needs some work!
My one simple self-care goal is to be extremely kind to my body (the vessel of my spirit). To practice this, I will eat an energizing breakfast, stretch my muscles, meditate/ do yoga, rest my weary bones, look on the outside the way I feel on the inside...

I am excitedly planning my Extreme Self-Care Day! It is taking shape beautifully, inspired by days B.C. (before children) when I would take retreats by the ocean and spend my days completely enjoying my SELF. Relishing my own company was the primary goal.

Some of the elements of my day that are directly motivated by my self-care goal:

*Reading and meditating
*Leisurely breakfast at one of my favorite cafes
*A massage (and maybe a mini-facial too)
*A long overdue haircut and highlights
*A walk and some rest
*A relaxing trip to Whole Foods...

And did I mention that I am doing this on Election Day as a means of defraying some of the "frenzy" of the day. I plan to step into November 5th renewed, energized and ready for whatever comes!

So, are you up for the Extreme Self-Care Day challenge? What is your self-care goal? What will your day include?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tuning into the underlying truth?

I am still calm. I am trying to keep my wits about me. Still plugging away at the plethora of issues to be resolved. Still standing. Not weeping. Not melting down.

But what do I notice when I dig deeper about where I am right now?

Truth be told, today was a hard day. Bad news on a number of fronts. Grants that did not go through. Job searches that are turning into dead-end streets. Contacts and leads in job searches that we were banking on turn out to be not so solid. New grim realities with the legal and financial situations. Our four year old was bullied on the playground and came home with bruises (emotional and physical). Our little miss sunshine was weepy. My energy and patience were waning. The hits kept on coming.

Here is what I notice when I tune into the underlying truth.

Being present and being thankful takes a whole lot out of me. At times, it is like an out of body experience. I notice the stress welling up inside as we discuss the legal ramifications of x, y or z path. I notice my lack of enthusiasm as I search international development job databases. I feel myself emotion-less as I speak to trusted friends about the details of our mess. I hear myself saying, "I am hanging in there" as people inquire about how we are doing. I listen and observe in dismay as the ever so perceptive four year old is talking about how he is sad that he lost his old paramedic job and can not afford (yes, he used that word) to repair his ambulance.

Oh Lord. Oh Lord. Not good. The day was filled with those moments.

But, I noticed and made some choices. After all the day does not have to be a complete downer. I can do something about it. Give and receive plenty of hugs to all around me. Feel tired but not grumpy. Reach out and just talk to sympathetic ears. Don't worry about what they might think or how they might judge me. Keep searching for jobs. Send out a couple more networking notes. Do some research. Continue to be real about where we are. Reach out. Dig deep. Keep on trekking.

Now I am going to post this entry and enjoy a warm bowl of veggie chilli and comfort myself.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Being thankful ... and present

It is a chilly, rainy day here in Atlanta. The rain hasn't stopped since last night. We need it. But, this is prime weather to get down in the dumps about things. I have noticed my energy wandering in that direction since yesterday.

I am not as lucid today as I would like. I will ramble a bit.

A couple of heart-sinking moments today. What if the legal case (albeit baseless) results in some random imputing of income to us and the judge orders us to pay that ridiculous sum? We have been there before, where family law does not favor the father. The judge ruled against us in the past. We still have the legal debts to prove it. We don't know what will happen in court next week. Charles says if we get slammed there, we may have no choice but to pack up and leave it all behind. Sigh... deep breaths. Now I notice the slight panic beginning to bubble up. We know so many people who lost it all. How would all this affect the children?

Ten seconds of this is enough. I think I am developing a method to take charge when I feel myself getting derailed. I take a deep breath, notice the emotion, feel it to the count of ten and then let it go with a silent prayer or affirmation.

In order to ensure we stay centered, we have to find ways to innoculate against those inevitably "moments."

One way is that we are mindfully seeking out fun and enjoyment with each other. To make sure we did not get sucked into the blahs of a rainy day, we took the kids out to one of their favorite places, the Children's Museum. We are consciously spending more time with the children and each other (especially when we "should" be working). Being together is a good way to stay connected to what is important and what is next.

Another is to be thankful for everything. I mean, really bottom of the heart give thanks for the blessings of life. The list is long, very long, and gets quite specific. I won't go into it now. I have been trying to evolve to the point where I begin to find something to be grateful for even in the seeming disasters. I am still working on this one. How can I begin to be thankful for our current predicament? I am sure there are countless gifts here. Instead of going along with our comfortable lives, we are now being forced to ask ourselves some serious questions, to get clear on our priorities, our visions for the future, our dreams deferred.

Another way to remain centered is to be present. I have been experimenting with this one for a while now. For me this means choosing not to multi-task all the time, refusing to go from one thing to the next hurriedly, not dwelling on the past, or what might happen or what tomorrow might bring. Worrying is far from being in the here and now. I had a tendency to worry, and this is yet another learned behavior I can easily lapse into if I permit it. I try to "be in my skin" instead of my head. The distinction here is that I can get lost in a whirlwind of "what ifs" if I don't focus on what really is happening in the moment. Mind you, how can we lose track of the future? We are in the midst of planning our next steps, and figuring out where we go from here. It is all uncertain. We don't have the anwsers yet, so focusing on the present seems to be a way to start the process?

Right now, at this very moment, I am just thankful for these opportunities (troubling as they might be) to grow, learn and live more fully.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Being real about where we are

Since I posted the first blog entry a couple of days ago, I have received an outpouring of calls and notes. You ask what you can do to help. You wonder if I really am as "self possessed" as I seem. Some of you are at a loss for words, not sure what to say to me. I seem fine. Some of you are silent because this hard life stuff makes us uneasy. I am moved by your showering of concern, support and love. It nourishes and strengthens me.

All of you affirm what I believed when I put myself "out there": taking the masks off and being real about where we are is the only true option in times of distress (and joy for that matter).

I am not sure what happens to most of us at some point that we learn to "brave it" and "put on a happy face" so that nobody should see our pain, struggle or confusion. I know I have been there in my life, and lapse into that default mode ever so often if I am not consciously choosing otherwise. We go through so much of life with those masks on. They take so much energy, time and effort. And who are we really fooling? Ourselves, I suppose. That's what holds us back from actually seeing where we are and doing something about getting to where we want to be.

So, for those of you who are wondering whether I am just putting on a good show right now, I assure you that I am not. I don't have the energy to spare. Matter of fact, yesterday, I began to feel my body aching and absolutely exhausted. Change -- figuring all this out -- demands a lot mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. If I am not careful, I will burn myself out before I even begin. To the long list of my affirmative choices, I am going to add: I will use my energy (and time) wisely.

This is why I have been thinking very hard about the fact that I need to practice extreme self-care in stressful times. Recently, I realized that when I have a lot on my plate, I forget about the basics of self-care, and that is when I enter a viscious stress cycle. I am learning to avoid the downward spiral by prioritizing self-care all the time, but especially during uncertain times like now. More on the vitality of self-care another time. A circle of women I am honored to belong to, is actively working on practicing better self-care.

Back to being real. There will be days of sheer panic and overwhelm in the uncertain weeks ahead. I am absolutely sure of it. And when that happens, I make a solemn promise to tell the truth, not to hide it from myself or you. Being real means for me that I do not "put on a happy face" but I also do not over-exaggerate the struggle. I simply acknowledge the truth.

Being real about where we are seems like the only sound choice to me. Practicing extreme self-care also seems vital to our ability to be real.

What do you think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where we are today

I have been meaning to start a blog for a while now. Today is the day. It will evolve. The name might change. The fonts and settings will adjust. I will learn this blogging thing. It is a work in progress. So am I.

I am enormously enriched by each of you sharing so openly your past, present and future with me. My (immensely rewarding) job is to be there for you as I take myself out of the mix. In order to be coach, I have to ensure that my ego, preconceptions and experiences are dealt with elsewhere so that I remain open to the unique opportunities and challenges that each of you face. When you articulate a win or a stumbling block, I often wonder if I should share similar experiences and my own lessons learned. Sometimes I do. Most times, I listen and meet you where you are instead of bringing me into the conversation unnecessarily. That's what my coach training tells me to do.

Then there is this tricky thing called subjectivity. The qualitative researcher in me (past life) knows that subjectivity - my worldview - is relevant. It impacts how I perceive everything including our coaching work. You might need some disclosure on my part, not necessarily full disclosure, but surely at some point it would serve us all well for you to know something about my journey, my life, lessons being learned, where I am stuck, where I am working on evolving myself... After all, as I often say, we are all works in progress.

These are some of the reasons why I am starting a blog. Consider it a heart to heart, soul to soul conversation with you.

Change is upon us. Like many of you, I have been following the elections closely. The economist/ policy analyst in me (a former life) has been paying attention for months, remarking how nobody is immune to the hardships going around. I need only look around our neighborhood. I listen to clients, strangers, friends and neighbors' woes. Change is truly upon us. Life has taught me that change isn't always enjoyable or good. There is a lot of change going around nowadays. Something is fundamentally different about the way we are thinking, doing and being right now. All these external factors impact the depths of our beings in ways we can not begin to even acknowledge or understand. I'm going to try.

On one level, change is about growth. Personal growth. As coach (friend, sister, teacher, mentor, colleague), I am mindful to walk the talk, so to speak. How can I call anyone to a place I can not reach myself? So much of my life's work is about my own commitment to personal evolution. You, each of you, call me to rise to the self I have come to understand myself capable of being. Calm, restrained, thoughtful, patient, resilient, confident, self-assured, authentic, radiant... To be this self, there is always more growth to be done.

Life sends us plenty of opportunities. Blessings in disguise?

On Thursday, my partner was laid off. Within a hour of this, we also learned that we are being sued in the amount of $35,000 per year (details of who and why I choose to omit). We were already facing one of those ARMs and wondering, like much of America, how we will survive. We knew change was coming. We were prepared that times would be hard. But now we know it's real. In exactly three months (or less), we will have nothing but the income from my coaching practice. No health insurance. No savings. Hmmm. There's more. I won't go into it.

All this can be the making of worst case scenarios that we try not to think about, but here we are. You might be wondering how I reacted in the moment. Did I get scared? Worried? Panic-stricken? Sad? I suppose on some level yes. Maybe for ten seconds. And then I shifted gears consciously.

I was probably honoring my commitment to one of you when I did this. I was on a coaching call. I noticed what was happening. I took some deep breaths. I said a prayer.

Then, I consciously decided: I will respond, not react. I will see this seeming crisis as a blessing rich with opportunities. I will act out of courage and not fear. I will plan instead of worrying. I will give even more freely. I will trust the Universe, God and my support network. I will count my blessings. I will shower the children with more love and patience than ever before. We will figure it out. I will be creative. I will share my process so that we can all learn from it. At the very least, it will be an interesting experiment. Nothing to lose.

A crisis does not have to be a crisis unless you make it one.

So, here I am. And here you are. As one of you said to me today, we are on some level responsible to one another.

Stay tuned. If you are willing to listen, I will think out loud in the weeks ahead as Charles (my partner) and I prayerfully, calmly, systematically think through how we can honor our values and vision while taking care of our collective needs. A life plan. Not for one, but for all five of us. We're in the same place as many of you: Trying to make our way in uncertain times. Potentially fearful times. We choose otherwise. We don't have the answers yet. We may stumble. We might fail. But, we are going to figure it out.

Let us figure it out together. What are your thoughts?