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?