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.