Saturday, August 6, 2016

Unwinding

It's my typical Saturday morning. I drive east to the Wedgwood neighborhood in Seattle, park my Sweet Llama (my 94 Honda) in the Safeway lot across the street from the yoga studio, pop my trunk, grab my mat, and cross the street. I stuff my Chacos and keys in the cubbyhole of the Ikea cube, and feel the cold, hardwood floor on my feet as I make my way into the back corner, my usual spot. I unroll my green sticky mat and take a breath. 

I like coming early before the rush. I get some time to warm-up, working out the kinks with my therapy balls against the wall. Tender areas in my hips and IT band start releasing.

I have been coming to this class for about seven months now. It's taught by a fabulous, wholehearted, real deal woman in the tradition of Forrest Yoga. It works me like no other class. When I first started coming, I thought I was all big & mighty, me being a trained yoga teacher. I thought I knew how to breathe. I was wrong.

She sets up at her usual spot and has us continue ball work at the wall. "Use your breath. Get into your breath. Deepen your breath. Feel it, like really feeeellll it." My ribs start to poke out, my body starts to open, I start to feel taller. More open. My spine is melting like a stick of butter in the hot sun. 

"We all come to yoga for a variety of reasons; the physicality of it, the mental peace, whatever it is for you. For me, yoga is about unwinding," explains my teacher. 

Whoa. Yep. That makes a ton of sense, yet I could never articulate that. I always would say that I come for the peace, the therapy, the alone time, but all of it leads to unwinding. My physical limbs, my mind, my breath...all of it, held so tightly day after day. I reflected in my practice about how I so fear unwinding outside of yoga. 

Hmmmm. Food for thought. Why is that? 

Despite all "the work" I have done, the internal training and loop runs a muck; close off, be strong, don't let go. It will all be too much. Vulnerability is something saved for behind closed doors, maybe with that one special person you can trust. Despite the craze around vulnerability (I love Brene Brown BTW, so don't get me wrong), I have to honor and hold that part of myself that likes to be wound up tight. I am aware...oh I am sooooo aware, and slowly I can accept that unwinding in my own way is the ticket. 

So I do unwind in my own way. My yoga mat, my alone time, my weekly massage, my reading at night, my one-on-one time with friends, my meditation cushion, writing, sweating, being with my dahlias, being with my sweetie at a film on Saturday night, chopping vegetables. 

But I am still not there. I am still not letting my guard down in a lot of my environments with a lot of people in my life.

Like the yoga practice, it's a life practice. No destination. No where to arrive at. No end in sight.
And yes, I am still looking to find peace in that. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

All The Things


Well, a lot has been brewing. On the inside and on the outside. Life sometimes feels as though I am in a funnel cloud, just holding my breath until I get spit out, face buried in dirt, and sternum broken. Other times, it feels like I am on an electronic sidewalk in a fancy airport terminal, like Denver, looking out over the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains, while I float on by with ease, grace, and style.  

We have navigated sickness, a death, mountains of paperwork, the darkest and wettest winter in history. A beautiful weekend away, laughter, a free TV, lots of yoga and meals at home. I have been coming to terms with inner demons who scream incessantly that I'm not good enough or there's something wrong. I continue to struggle to find spaciousness and am quick on the draw to schedule every last but of white space. My receipts are piling up, to do lists litter my desk, the dirt between the stove and the fridge is taking on a color of it's own. Yet, my yoga mat is getting used. The gym membership is getting scanned more days than not. I am laughing. I am swimming in good books. I am capturing joy with my photo project on Instagram. I am making space for what matters to me.

All the things.

And you know what?

I'm okay.

Sure, the bits of paranoia creep in every so often, freaking out that this isn't what it's supposed to look like. I am supposed to be thin, my house is supposed to be sleek, modern, clean. I am supposed to create these amazing meals at the end of my days, which of course I glide through and encounter no difficulties. My garden is well-kept and I treat my husband with TLC 100% of the time. Huh. Funny how realities create themselves.

But here I am. A rare night at home, downtime with Jimmy Fallon on the laptop, a glass of Pinot Noir in hand. Whole wheat pasta covered in parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper. The husband is out. And I could be doing a million other things that feel productive, but this is it. This is what I need. I read on Instagram this idea that "rest is the new hustle." Say that aloud. Three times. For recovering overachievers and perfectionists in the PA (Perfectionists Anonymous) program, stay with me. What if I gave up, even for an hour, the should & must life? What if I surrendered to the couch and did put my feet up? What if I didn't set the alarm on the weekends? (gasp!) What if I simply gave myself just a wee bit of a break?

All the things will still be there, that I know. Patiently waiting like little children lining up for ice cream on a 102 degree day. I'm not worrying. The only one yelling at me is...well...me.
I'm learning to surrender. Slowly. Briefly. Just for moments at a time. I am learning to savor it. And I'm learning to like it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What I Read in 2015: The Book List


In January of 2015, I set out to read 52 books. Essentially, a book a week. Well, that was extremely ambitious, especially with wedding planning and going back to school in the fall.

In setting a reading goal, I found out that...

  • It helps me shoot for something and provides a gentle nudge. Goals and metrics motivate me. I like having a metric to shoot for, a checklist to check off, or a project deadline on the calendar. It keeps me honest and aligned. 
  • Reading is a huge part of my life. It ties in with life long learning and the naturally introverted part of myself. 
  • I have transitioned to using the library more and don't buy books very much, simply because of space and my new relationship to stuff. If I do buy, I try to shop local, half price and used books versus new. 
I will say, I didn't reach my goal in 2015, BUT I did read some pretty great stuff. 


Memoir
  • Long Quiet Highway-Natalie Goldberg
  • Writing Down the Bones- Natalie Goldberg
  • Carry On Warrior: Thoughts On Living Life Unarmed-Glennon Melton
  • My Organic Life-Nora Poullion
  • God Is Not Here:A Soldier's Struggle with Torture, Trauma, and the Moral Injuries of War-Lieutenant Colonel Bill Russell Edmonds
  • Struck by Genius- Jason Padgett
Living & Personal Development
  • Thrive-Arianna Huffington
  • Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play when Nobody Has the Time-Brigid Schulte
  • Better than Before-Gretchen Rubin
  • 5 Love Languages-Gary Chapman
  • Essentialism-Greg McKeown
  • Life Changing Art of Tidying Up-Marie Kondo
  • Money Can Buy Happiness and It's Cheap-Tammy Strobel
  • Rising Strong-Brene Brown
  • Big Magic-Elizabeth Gilbert 
  • The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny- Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
Spiritual Living
  • Think on These Things-J. Krishnamurti
  • Being with Dying-Joan Halifax
  • Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice-Tich Nhat Hanh
  • Mindful Work-David Gelles
  • Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life's Challenges-Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara
  •  Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change-Pema Chodron
Fiction

  • The Signature of All Things-Elizabeth Gilbert
I am always on the lookout for reading recommendations and have a running list in Evernote of Books to Read. Would love to hear what you are reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

How I Step Into the New Year & 15 Lessons I Am Taking With Me From 2015


The juiciness of planning for the year ahead always gets me going. I love to see what other people do and the processes they go through. It's a potent time of year and I always carve out a few hours to reflect on the past year and plant seeds, set intentions, and design goals for the year ahead. It's always a mishmash of a process and very ad hoc. I don't follow the exact same structure every year, but there are three tenets I follow:

> Start with physical spaces. I try to do some purging and clearing out to keep energy open and flowing, especially around my sactred spaces; altar, desk, bed, closet. Recently, my husband and I have been going through the "Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and it is changing our lives and transforming our marriage. It's really hard work and it takes a lot of energy, but we are clearing out so many things and making our space feel more liveable.

> Find a framework that resonates. Last year, I stumbled upon Susannah Conway's Unravelling the Year Ahead. Her printable workbook works for me. Short bursts of writing, reflecting, and visioning guide me through the process of looking back on the year and setting intentions for the upcoming year. I enjoy it and it feels simple but profound. Oh yeah...it's free!

> Follow the Energy. I work on my review and my planning in spurts. I take breaks, visit friends, enjoy my time off, run errands, and eat. I can't do the marathon self-help thing anymore. It doesn't work for me and I am not in a place in my life where I need to spend 40 hours visioning what my year ahead will look like.

Find Your Process + Let Go of How It Should Look 
= Amazingness. 


Last year, I wrote this post about the gems I got from 2014. I feel sparked to reflect and cherish all that the year had to offer, so it's been a bit of a task to narrow down my 15 biggest, most favorite gifts from 2015.

1. Throw a damn good party. Always. Getting married and having a rocking wedding was by far the biggest highlight from the year. August 20th, 2015 will always have a special place in my heart. But what I took away was that it's all about your tribe. The people make the party. Period. My husband and I got really clear on who is part of our golden tribe and we felt so held, supported, and loved by all of those wonderful people this year.

2. The dark doesn't last forever. Despite all the amazingness 2015 offered (weddings, ample time with friends and family, traveling and adventure, growing dahlias, etc.), at times I felt a bit down and out emotionally. I have learned through my years of battling my own inner shitstorms that these dark spots don't last forever (thank god!) and befriending impermanence has been my own strategy. Also, learning to lean into the discomfort and inner pain is much more productive than running from it or avoiding it.

3. Travel lightly, no matter where you go. I was on the move a lot this year. Between an East Coast trip, the wedding, my brother's wedding in October, and mini-getaways and adventures, I am so much more confident in traveling lightly and have my core essentials: a good pair of shoes, comfy pants, my book, journal, headphones, water bottle, and layers, I know I can get ready in about 20 minutes. I don't spend a ton of time packing anymore for trips and the sanity I get from that is priceless.

4. I have to actively choose joy. Many years ago, I was introduced to the concept, "You are responsible for your own happiness." This year, I felt this lesson resonated and made its way into every cell in my own body. I know what feels good and what doesn't immediately. I know what invitations call me and which ones don't. I also know what people give me energy and which people suck the life out of me. I am way more present to the fact that I manifest and always have the choice to bring joy forward and into my life.

5. Nurture and tend the creative spirit. This year, I set some ambitious goals around my reading and writing, two of my most favorite, nourishing practices. I ended up surpassing my goal of 100 blog posts, mostly because I participated in the #100dayproject, but I also took more time in my days, as part of my morning routine, for journaling and free writing. I set out to read 52 books this year (Ha!) but only ended the year with 23 books. Not even reaching 50% bummed me out. BUT, I do have to be gentle; wedding planning, going back to school in September, etc. These two goals will always be a mainstay in my New year planning.

6. Let the practice be the teaching. I took a deep dive into my spiritual practices this year, specifically around my self-study and meditation. I fell in love with my sitting practice. Each day has been an opportunity to get curious about my mental patterns, reactivity, habits, and my rough edges (how fast I can bite the hook for anger, discontent, comparison, and jealousy). Anytime I come to my cushion or mat to practice, I am reminded over and over again that the practice is the teaching. There is no destination or place to arrive at. I simply show up as I am and do the work.

7. Head up, eyes open. One of the most powerful things I did this year is transform my relationship to Social Media. I took a social media sabbatical for the month of November that had lasting effects on how I show up in the world. I wrote this post about how it transformed me. I feel more in the world and present in my life and plan to do the sabbatical again in 2016.

8. Stop Waiting for the Perfect Conditions. "I'll meditate after the dishes," or "I will sit down and write when the errands are done," or "I'll rest after I get through my e-mail." All of these statements reflect this internal monster called "waiting for perfect conditions," which holds me back from following my bliss. This year, I killed that monster, mostly through committing to small, doable challenges; 10 minutes of meditation, one blog post a day, a 20 minute walk, whatever. There will never be perfect conditions. Ever.

9. Run the mental checklist when things don't feel good. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. It was a reality check on my lifestyle and how much stress I was bringing into my life. Increased Stress - Limited Self-Care = Mega Inflammation. I strive for 80/20 with my own health and I have a few barometers that let me know when things are out of whack; lower back pain, insomnia, burning eyes, crabbiness & irritability. One or a few of those things signal that something is out of whack, probably related to stress. This year, I started running my mental checklists: when was the last time I drank water? Ate? How much sleep did I get? Have I rested today? Etc, etc. It has allowed me to take on a new level of being responsible for myself and my happiness and health.

10. Know Their language. One of the best books I read in 2015 was 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  It changed my life. I have a deeper understanding of how love shows up for people and can make powerful requests when I am feeling unheard, not acknowledged, or pissed off. I have been recommending it to everyone I know.

11. Chop often. After our wedding, it felt good to get some more time and space in our calendars that wasn't devoted to wedding planning. I got back in my kitchen again and it was grounding, nourishing, and lovely. As we transitioned into fall and winter, I tried out some new recipes, busted out our new slow cooker, and simmered, stirred, and chopped. I love to cook and each meal is an opportunity to be creative and express love and appreciation for the people in my life.

12. Life Long Learning. If I had my druthers, in my dream world I would be a full-time professional student, pursuing degrees, certifications, and exploring new languages and concepts. In the interim, I chose to go back to school for my Certificate of Nonprofit Management. I had been thinking about going back for awhile and it seemed like a great time. Going back this past fall proved to be challenging but rewarding. I am just about to start winter quarter, and will complete in June. I am grateful for the love and support that surrounds me in my choice.

13. Play In the Dirt. We grew over 100 dahlias for our wedding. Gardening has become a huge passion of mine (although, I haven't been out much), and it nurtures me in so many ways. It's meditation, it's physical activity, it's being in relationship to energies bigger than myself, and it's fun. I can be out there for ten minutes or a full day and I will always feel better after, no matter what. Having a garden continues to teach me so much about the cycles of living and dying and letting go of how it should look or be.

14. Quality Time is the Best Gift. Whether it's a hour with a friend over coffee, or curling up for movie night on the couch. showing up as my best self and being present for the people I love, is the best gift I can give. I started volunteering again about a month ago for the food bank and am loving it. It feels right and resonates with my values. I cherish time over money, experiences over stuff. Hands down.  

14. There Is Space for All of It. Sometimes I get stingy; with my love, my time, my money, my energy. I am constantly brought back to this idea that there is enough room for everyone and for everything, including all my passions, interests, friends, work, and love. The universe does take care and there are elements of faith and trust that remain a huge part of my life. Surrendering to all of it, the good, the bad, the messy, allows us to live our lives with more grace, ease, and space.


I hope you take some time to reflect on all the gifts and lessons you received from 2015. Stay tuned for my 2016 intentions in a follow-up post. 

Blessings,
Jen

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Moving Through Stagnation

I can't seem to articulate where my irritability and general rage at the world is coming from.
Internally, I feel as though a battle is emerging within my innards, a war of sorts. It's an emotional roller coaster right now and the crazy thing about it is that I can't put my finger on why I am so pissed off at life and the world. I had to sit with some pretty tough emotions these past few days, leaning into the uncomfortable, the icky, the disgusting shame I was feeling. I felt as though I was one of those shallow, hot ponds in the Maine woods, full of mud, bugs, and filth. Stinky. As I listened, I was tuning into a deep stagnation within myself. It make sense. That I know.

Stagnant. I get that way. A few too many missed gym days, not hitting my yoga mat for personal practice, and lacking in my laughter. Good, hard belly laughs. So, what do I do to move through it? Well, I get angry with myself, shaming myself for not doing the 'right' things. I shoulda/coulda/woulda. But I know better. That game has no winners. Pure shame.

My husband and I went out for dinner last night. He is my best, most favorite teacher. "Jen, you'll move through it. Be gentle with yourself. It's just a patch," he says.

I am not a fan of the hot yoga world, nor am I devotee of any practice that measures you by how far you can go into a backbend, but here's the deal: I was craving sweat and flow. It's dreary here in the PNW right now. A bit dark. Okay. A LOT dark. So this morning, I packed up my towel and block and strap, pulled on a pair of sweats over some yoga shorts, and drove myself to a Power Vinyasa class. It was like I drank a magic potion or something. I needed to deal with my shit. And that is how I needed to do it. I had to work out my anger, my rage, my annoyance with the mass consumerism around the holiday. I had to leave my homesickness on the mat. I had to let go of "what it should all look like." I had to let my heart open just a little but more for the abundance, gratitude, and joy to slip in, like stealth superheroes being all vigilante and shit. I shed my angry layer. I rinsed off the stagnant pond. And now, I am working again like a tinker toy who got a new and improved battery or operating system.

So what? Well, I am reminded that we can move through anything. We have to get friendly with impermanence and feeling shitty and down sometimes. It moves through us, but we have to know, deep in our hearts, that it's not really about us. It's about being human. And I am pretty sure that the other seven billion hearts in this world feel heavy, sad, and sometimes full of rage. But, if we can, just open up, even a teeny tiny bit more and take a small action, that action can support us in moving through what is there.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Notes On My Social Media Break


It was October 30th. A couple days away from a new month. I always think that the first of the month has energy similar to that of a new year. A chance to start fresh, a new beginning. I turned to my husband while we got into bed and said, "I am giving up Facebook and Instagram for the month of November." 


"Why?" he asked.  

"Well, it doesn't bring me joy anymore. I am constantly going for it at any moment of downtime; when I'm standing in line, on the bus, a break at work, when I come home and am tired, when I am sleeping in on the weekends...it's becoming crack cocaine and I don't like it. I am abusing my use of it. It's scaring me and numbing me out."

"Okay," he said. "Sounds good."




I uninstalled my FB and Instagram applications from my phone. I signed out of my FB account on my laptop. I let people know in my life. I felt like I had just threw out a bunch of old stuff that had been taking over my physical and mental space. I could take a deep breath.

So now, here I am. It's December and I wanted to share my "notes from the field," on my sabbatical. I will say, it was one of the best things I did for myself this year. Since the sabbatical, I have noticed a huge shift in my device habits. I also don't crave it as much. Since November 30th, the end of my own sabbatical, I have gone days without jumping on. I haven't even updated my status. It's like a part of me has died, in a really good way. Here's what I got: 

I got close with boredom and clear about distraction. I really came face to face with this idea of boredom and how, when there is a just a little window of space, my knee jerk reaction is to go for the device or the webpage. I found that there are so many moments of my life like that; waiting for the bus, waiting in line, at a break during a meeting, when I am bored of working on a project...the list goes on. I sank into this space of enjoying the space and finding other ways to be centered, versus running from the present. Breath work, a walk, a stretch break, journaling, listening to new music. All of those things were way more joyous than surfing mindlessly.

I craved quiet time and silence. I have been doing a lot of reading about digital noise and how it's just as chaotic and disrupting as actual noise we hear in our ears. After about a week into my sabbatical, I started sinking into quiet more and more. I realized how much I need quiet and silence in my own life, especially as a natural introvert. It really helps me build my own capacity to be in the world, doing the work I do, which led me to...

Turning my energy towards juicy stuff. Movement, meditation, yoga, real connection, and cooking. I came home to some of my loves. Now, I am not completely sure that ditching Facebook increased my participation in these activities, but I did make these activities more of a priority in November and loved it. I felt completely nourished and excited about my daily sitting practice (still going strong), and had new found energy to be in my kitchen. I also enjoyed many face-to-face connections with friends over tea and got on some great walks.  

I got clear about what my devices exist for. I have a new found relationship with my phone. I still don't have the Facebook app installed and I turned off my e-mail notifications for my personal e-mail. (I haven't had work e-mail on my phone since early 2014), and with all these tiny adjustments, I have embraced what digital boundaries are like. I also got clear on the real purpose of my device: to connect when needed. It's not a numbing tool, nor is it an anxiety provoker. It's not oxygen.

I enjoyed spaciousness and downtime. This is a new arena for me in my own life and something I have struggled with for most of my life. Having white space on the calendar used to totally freak me out, now, Sundays it is rare that I even leave the house or get out of my leggings and sweater. There became a sense of coming home and not having digital noise to jump into on the couch or bed (i.e. scrolling through my feed), allowed for so much rest and juicy downtime. 

I got shit done. Again, I can't really make the case for correlation here, but I got some key personal projects done in November, including a massive reorg and purge of my clothing. I also got a lot of reading done, and came back to my morning practices. I stuck to my action planning and it felt good to wrap up the month feeling successful. I also stayed up on my chores and errands. 

I found magic in my moments. Without the need for status updates and sharing of pics, I loved living in every moment with beginner's mind. I enjoyed moments for what they were and then cherished them as they passed. I don't have the need to document everything. The documentation is enjoying the moment fully and in the most present way possible. 

I developed empathy in having my head up and eyes opened. I looked at the world more. Without having my eyes down on my screen, I enjoyed people watching, feeling my feet, and my breath. I enjoyed quiet time and gleaning sparks of inspiration for my writing. I was more present with my husband and the people I was with. 

I stopped drowning in the black hole of comparison. This was one of the roots of my giving up social media in the first place. I was getting stuck in the comparison mindset, which does nobody any good, I promise. I got really clear that I have a beautiful, abundant, and quirky life and it's all my choice.


I got clear on what I really need. I ended the month feeling super clear on what brings me joy, what nourishes me, and how much gratitude I have for all the things. The good parts, the bad parts, and the messy bits. I also got clear on what matters and what doesn't and how boundaries are a really good thing and how sometimes, going cold turkey is the only way. I also have a new sense of self-compassion and listening to my own intuition. By really listening to my own internal needs, I show up as a better person in this complex world.

So what's next? Well, I am really reveling in this new sense of space. I may cut the cord completely, but who knows. I am still enjoying the process of discovery as I continue to exercise great caution and mindfulness in this arena. It's like learning a new language. 

More to come...

Friday, October 23, 2015

there's always room...

Fall Mums in bloom at the
North Carolina Farmer's Market in Raleigh, NC
There's room. Always.
...for more rest, going to bed early, and waking up before the sun.
...for more opportunities to move the body and sweat it out.
...for pause and deep breaths, in and out through the nose...
...for time in the kitchen to chop, bake, and stir.
...for real connection and eye contact. 
...for digging in the dirt and playing in the rain.
...for walks around the lake.
...for curling up with your loved one to watch a film on a school night.
...for morning tea and watching the birds from the chair on the deck.
...for a phone call or Skype session with a friends and family far away.
...for finding work and hobbies that light you up.
...for simplifying, tapping into what matters most, and purging the excess.
...for gratitude. Always. There's room.