Every now and then someone says something so on point that time itself seems to pause and listen. I had such an experience yesterday. In a yoga class, a wise mentor teacher put us into a pose and asked us to hold it. And hold it. And hold it. As time passed, the seemingly simple asana took on a new intensity, and we had the opportunity to feel the physical sensations in our bodies while weathering the resulting storm in our minds.
While offering modifications, the teacher said, quite simply, "If you are miserable, do something about it."
On the surface, her comment was an invitation to relieve physical discomfort by using a prop, but I almost laughed out loud at the obvious but powerful truth. I am grateful to be far from miserable in my life, but we all have moments in which we are frustrated or aggravated. And more often than we should, we sit with that discomfort when we could, instead, say or do something to improve the situation.
Are you miserable (or simply displeased) about something in your life? What can you do about it?
Last week my family was challenged by the loss of several men and women - young and old - close to them and their loved ones. While I did not know the individuals well, the news has caused me to reflect on my own relationships and serves as a reminder of how fleeting this life really is.
At some point, every one of us has - or will - lose someone important to us. We can never predict when loss or grief may strike, and it can be easy to lose perspective. It is worthwhile to invest in developing tools and strategies to help us process grief - whether sudden or ongoing.
This weekend a friend and colleague is offering a workshop designed to help participants cope with loss. Drawing on her own experience with loss and years of lessons learned through teaching and practicing yoga, Abby's workshop will provide a safe and nurturing environment to explore how yoga and reflection can help us restore perspective and celebrate life.
From her description:
One of life's most difficult challenges is losing someone you love. Whether you are caring for someone through the dying process, trying to make sense of a sudden loss or living with long-term grief, yoga can help you be present with the pain and find a sense of healing. Through a combination of meditation, journaling, a nurturing vinyasa flow and restorative poses, this workshop will help you remember your loved one, let go of grief and recognize that in acknowledging death, we are more able to embrace life.
What has helped you cope with loss? How can you prepare yourself to endure whatever comes your way?
Last weekend we headed out of town to meet up with some dear friends in Richmond Virginia. Because of travel schedules and work commitments, we weren't able to leave as early in the day as we would have liked, but we set out full of excitement to reconnect with friends, escape the city, and expose our daughter to new surroundings.
Shortly after leaving the District, however, my spirit flagged as traffic stopped. Literally. When we moved (which was infrequently) we traveled at top speeds of 15 miles per hour and never for more than one full mile. Compounding my frustration was the unchanging view through the windshield: miles and miles of cars. Sitting still. With no relief in sight. Every time we crept to the top of a hill or crawled around a corner, I strained my eyes, hoping desperately to see movement, or a few feet of open road, but each glimpse produced a disheartening, seemingly endless stream of taillights.
Rather than passing the time by conversing with my husband, diving into a book, or simply closing my eyes, my mind began agitating: What idiot PLANS to leave DC on a Friday at 1? Why didn't we choose another weekend when we could have left at a more reasonable hour? What am I going to do when the carseat phobic babe wakes up? What if we are still here at dinnertime? What if we run out of gas? What was I thinking?
We did, of course, finally reach our destination, and none of the worst-case scenarios came to pass. And as I reflected on my agitation, I began to recognize an unhelpful pattern in my thinking. Whether faced with a traffic jam, physical challenge, or contentious discussion, I have allowed my imagination to trump reason, manufacturing scenarios far beyond worst case realities.
I recalled running my first marathon and nearly giving up - not because of fatigue or discomfort in the moment, but the certainty that one of the other would escalate beyond what I could endure. I remembered being in labor with my daughter, nearly paralyzed by fear - not because of the pain I was experiencing, but the expectation that it would continue to get worse. I thought about the months I agonized over leaving my job to spend more time with my daughter and pursue a different path - not because I didn't know in my heart what I needed to do, but because I feared failing as a mother and a businesswoman. In each of those scenarios, I had someone to encourage me to press on and the end result redeemed the struggle, but what if I were able to provide the necessary encouragement myself? Would it look like for me to stop the cycle before it spiraled out of control?
Is it possible for me to sit still, experiencing life's discomforts and frustrations without projecting a dire outcome? Can I let go of outcomes and circumstances I cannot control? Am I capable of following the instruction I so often give to my students to turn off the "monkey mind" and be present with whatever arises? Can I, simply put, think less?
Let the experiment begin...
I like to consider myself as a thoughtful person. I routinely think fondly about family, friends, and even the occasional stranger who crosses my path. I often pen sweet "thinking of you" notes in my head, with every intention of capturing the thoughts on paper and sending them off in the mail, but lately, the thoughts escape before I sit down, and my good intentions disappear with them...
A few weeks ago, I recommitted myself to the practice of sending "love notes." I jotted down the names of friends and acquaintances who have been on my mind and picked up cards that captured the spirit of what I wanted to share. But as each week concluded, the cards remained in my "to do" folder, and I copied the names forward to the following week's agenda, reasoning I would have more time when "x" was done.
I have been inspired to overcome my lethargy and act on my intentions by a simple reminder of the value of a kind word and the unforeseen loss of several men and women - young and old - close to my family over the weekend. We have such a short window to let our loved ones know how we feel about them, and it really takes so little time and energy to say "thank you" or "I appreciate you." So this afternoon, I am pulling out my list, grabbing my notecards, and getting to work. Friends, check your mailboxes - there just may be a note coming your way!
Have you been putting off a gesture that could improve someone's day - and bring you joy in the offering? What can you do to make it happen?
My husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage last weekend. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of our mothers, who traveled from home to watch the babe, we were able to enjoy a day and night on our own in the city. It was fun to revisit some favorite haunts from years past, reflect on our decade of marriage, and dream about what lies ahead.
We have been blessed to experience much joy in our time together, and like most couples, we have navigated many challenges. As we reminisced, it was clear that irrespective of circumstances, our joy has been most full and our commitment most strong when we have prioritized caring for one another over looking out for ourselves.
The principle is as true for friends and family as it is for a spouse - and the reminder is well timed as we approach the holidays, with their unique blend of merriment and potential for family drama. As we move toward the final quarter of the year, can you shift your focus to caring for your loved ones and trusting them to do the same for you?
We all know sleep is important. Studies tout benefits ranging from improved memory to living longer. But few of us do - or can - get the sleep we want and need on a regular basis.
As someone whose work often requires me to be on my feet from the pre-dawn hours until after dark - and whose recreational pursuits involve pounding miles of pavement - I try to ensure I am well rested. I routinely turn in between 9 and 10 pm and fall asleep almost immediately. Family, friends, and complete strangers warned that parenthood would be the end of my consistent, reliable sleep habit. But whether through nature or nurture, we have been blessed with a babe who greets her bedtime routine enthusiastically and sleeps soundly. At least she did until last week...
A cruel combination of her final few teeth breaking through and a passing virus meant she - and by extension we - were up every few hours, ALL. NIGHT. LONG. The first day of minimal sleep was a bit challenging - I felt fuzzy around the edges but was otherwise functional. On day two I developed a piercing headache that would not abate. By day three, my eyebrows seemed permanently raised with forehead creases to rival a Shar Pei. By day five, muscles from my neck all the way down to my hamstrings screamed reminders that our bodies were not built to "sleep" in intermittent hour long intervals sitting upright while cradling a 28 pound body.
One week into our new seemingly interminable reality, something switched, and rather than waking to comfort a sniffling babe by the light of the moon, I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock - EIGHT HOURS after lying down. The benefits were immediate and remarkable: I sprang out of bed headache free! I completed coherent sentences on the first try! I taught a sunrise class without yawning. I had so much energy!
I know this too will pass, but I have a renewed appreciation for sleep and its benefits and am committed to creating opportunities for rest. Circumstances may not allow you to enjoy eight hours of uninterrupted sleep tonight, but can you make it a priority to rest when you can? Your body and mind will thank you!
As I've mentioned before, I don't find much value in dwelling on the negative. But some days events conspire to bring me down. Last Thursday was one of those days.
My rock star sleeper of a babe was up at 2:30am, 3:30am, and 4:30am with a triple digit temperature and in dire need of comfort. When the rest of the world had awoken, I sought to cheer her up with a trip to the zoo, but the outing led to frustration as traffic snarls extended a reliably 15 minute drive to nearly an hour in a barely moving car. On the way home, I stopped to get gas and did not discover the nozzle was broken until it locked - spraying gas all over the side of my car, the sidewalk, and me. It was not shaping up to be a good day.
Shortly after putting the babe down for a nap, I pulled out my computer to start working on a project with a tight deadline. No sooner had I opened the document than she woke up. I sighed, resigning myself to the fact that no work would be accomplished. I put down the computer, scooped up a babe, and sat down in the recliner. Immediately my typically too-busy-to-cuddle baby threw her arms around my neck, and moments later she was breathing heavily, fast asleep. With my computer, phone, and planner nowhere within reach, I had no choice but to sit still. And while I thought briefly about the missed window of productivity, I quickly realized that no work was as important in the moment than comforting my girl, and no feeling could be sweeter.
Next time the events of your day seem stacked against you, can you identify a redeeming moment? Can you find the good in a not-so-good day?
Autumn is by far my favorite season. I love the feel of a cozy sweater and fuzzy socks. I love the smell of soup simmering on a Sunday afternoon. I love the changing colors of the leaves, and the sound as they crunch beneath my feet. But perhaps my favorite tell-tale sign of fall is apples!
From early harvest offerings at the farmer's market to the arrival of Honeycrisp and (finally) Gold Rush (!), I buy them by the bushel. I bake them into pies and cobblers and slice them for salads and snacks. I fill and roast them. I dip them in peanut butter. I scatter them across cheese plates and fill bowls on the counter.
Last week a friend shared her CSA bounty of Golden Delicious, and I couldn't resist a basket of Crimson Crisp beckoning from the market stall. With more apples than our small family could possibly consume, I eagerly rolled out some dough and baked up the first apple hand pies of the year. From the initial whiff of fruit and butter as they baked to the moment our forks pierced the flaky crust, I was fully rooted in the moment and the appreciation of fall's delights.
Simple, sensory joys can help ground us in the present and enhance our experience of the season. What fall favorites are you savoring right now?
Generally speaking, I try to maintain an optimistic outlook on life. Dwelling on the negative has never served me well, and I truly believe a positive mindset has tremendous benefits for our overall health and well being.
That said, however, in times of great uncertainty, my mind tends to run away from me. In recent weeks I have found myself in just such a space. As circumstances change and routines evolve, I am greeted both by delicious possibility and terrifying ambiguity. As a result, I am overthinking every option, greeting suggestions and opportunities with great suspicion, and wasting time trying to plot, "If x, then y" charts for even the smallest decisions.
After a string of nights in which sleep was interrupted by troubling dreams and days in which those dark clouds followed me, I began to pray and journal about what I was experiencing. As my pen moved across the page, this verse from Philippians came to mind. It spoke so directly to what I was thinking and feeling that I wrote it on a notecard, taped it to my mirror, and have been repeating it to myself every time a negative thought arises.
There will always be disappointments and disasters along our path, but no manner of brooding will banish them, and it is so much more affirming to focus on the truth and joy in our lives. This little reminder to elevate my focus is helping me think more clearly, and my outlook is improving daily.
When you find yourself locked in a mental struggle, can you shift your focus to the truth and beauty that surrounds you?