Here we are, yet again, at the end of another calendar year. We have celebrated with family and friends, paused to reflect on the past 363 days, and begun to look ahead to the year to come.
The blank slate of a new year always fills me with excitement and curiosity. What new adventures will be in store? What new discoveries lie ahead? What will I learn about the world around me?
This year, I am also filled with hope. Over the past year, I have met incredible people doing amazing things. Individuals who are investing their time, energy, and resources to improve their communities. Organizations rising up to address significant challenges. Families reaching out to bless neighbors in need.
And beyond those I have met are countless others who are inspired - and inspiring others - to realize dreams and make a difference in the world around them.
As we enter the new year, I encourage you to do so filled with hope, imagination, and courage. Dream big dreams - and make them a reality.
When my daughter was one year old, we purchased a teddy bear for her at a craft fair. We did not have the parenting wisdom to recognize that a one-of-a-kind, delicate, hand made creation was perhaps not the best choice for an infant's best friend. "Al" has been dragged around town and across the country - joining my daughter for every nap and bedtime, and has served as a proactive source of reassurance for many an anxious moment. As a result, poor Al has endured countless surgeries, wardrobe additions intended to disguise his increasing maladies, and the eventual loss of an arm. We have tried to substitute other friends over the years or persuade her to allow Al an early retirement, but to no avail. There is simply no replacement for her dear friend and the comfort he provides.
It is a common story line, and one we all likely have experienced at some point. Most of us have little things - material or otherwise - we cling to for comfort in moments of anxiety. As a new teacher, I recall writing out a full script for every yoga class I taught. Over time, the word-by-word verbal cueing guide gave way to a description of the sequence I planned to teach, then to a simple list of poses or a note about the theme. Even though I no longer refer to my notes while teaching, I still fall back on the process when I need a confidence boost.
Elite athletes confess to relying on a specific song they simpy "must" listen to prior to a competition - or have established a precisely plotted pre-game ritual that adds to their mental strength. They know in their minds their performance is unaffected by any talisman, but they return to it nonetheless.
Whether or not you care to admit it, chances are you also have a teddy bear - something that adds an extra measure of confidence at critical moments. Perhaps it is the photo of a loved one who has passed on that helps you remember the importance of using the time you have wisely - or a sunshine file that brings a smile when you are feeling down. Irrespective of the form it takes, these little encouragements can help us take challenging days in stride and summon the courage to press on.
As we enter the final countdown to the end of the year, anxiety is common. A new year can seem daunting: will we get things right this time? Are we finally ready to take that important step forward? If you find yourself apprehensive, go ahead - reach for your teddy bear. Draw comfort from its familiar security and move forward with confidence.
Winter has officially begun. And right on cue, the weather across much of the country shifted. Significant snowfall blanketed Chicago and parts of the Midwest last week, closing schools and businesses and causing travel chaos. Another storm system is thought to be headed across the nation in the coming days just in time for the holidays...
Even if you are not presently under a weather watch, you are undoubtedly familiar with the pattern. We anticipate and prepare for the arrival of a storm, but when it reaches us, we find ourselves frantic. We had "one more" thing to do. We meant to pick up "one more" item from the grocery store. We wanted to finish "one more" project at the office. But we didn't.
And I want you to let that be okay.
The sounds of snow are instructive. It falls softly, and when we emerge from our homes to explore, we hear the soft crunch of our feet as we step, the laughter of children making snow angels, a respite from the all-too-familiar jarring noise of traffic and the hustle of passersby. Snow introduces an element of calm and quiet into our busy lives.
Whether or not you are currently surrounded by snow, embrace its message. Let go of whatever last-minute preparations you think you need to do in these final days of the year and instead use the opportunity to connect with those around you. Make a big pot of tea, put marshmallows in your hot chocolate. Take a nap.
Embrace a moment of silence. Be still.
When presented with a gift, most of us have been conditioned to say "thank you." Even when Aunt Myrtle knits ANOTHER misshapen, mismatched pair of wool socks, we know we should send a hand-written note or offer a verbal expression of gratitude.
But when we are the recipient of a sincere compliment, many of us find ourselves reflexively uncomfortable. "Oh it was nothing," we say. Or we try to change the subject or deflect attention elsewhere.
But we shouldn't.
We all have talents, strengths, and gifts to give to the world - whether we recognize them or not. You may not place much value on your ability to engage with small children, but it is appreciated immeasurably by the cousins whose daughter you charmed, thereby giving them a much appreciated moment to themselves. You may not recognize what a good listener you are, but it means the world to the friend who was able to share her woes without fear of judgment.
You don't need to be the perfect parent, star employee, or smartest guy in the room to graciously accept - and believe - a sincere expression of gratitude. Next time someone pays you a compliment, say "thank you," and mean it.
Heather Von St. James is a fighter, a survivor, and a voice of encouragement to everyone who has faced the devastating diagnosis of cancer. She also has a great sense of humor and offers plenty of sage advice for the rest of us. I am honored to share her story here.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has been in near-constant motion. As a child, we rarely left the house for an intended destination without making multiple "quick" stops to cross something off the list before we arrived. She was (and remains) a prolific multi-tasker - accomplishing twice as many things that seem possible in less than half the time.
But when she is with my daughter, her full throttle, fast-paced operating speed comes to a screeching halt. Time seems to stop. She listens intently to each of the babe's elaborate stories and every silly song without interruption. Instead of rushing from one activity to the next, they are content spending hours at home playing make-believe, fashioning magic wands from wooden sticks and putting various friends of the imaginary and stuffed varieties to bed.
On a recent visit, I was struck by the disparity between the pace of their shared world and my own day-to-day rhythms. I found myself wistful for that sweet, gentle expanse. Because while I do spend a great deal of time playing with my daughter, our regular schedule of activities keeps us moving at a brisk clip most of the time.
As the year winds to a close, I am increasingly aware of how quickly time is passing, and how short a window remains to sing silly songs, animate bears and dolls, and transform household goods into imaginary worlds. In the year ahead, I am aiming to live a life characterized by less rushing and more living.
Can you stop rushing through your days? How much "more" life might you discover?
During a recent visit to the grocery store, I found myself uncharacteristically unhurried. As I paused to peruse the giftwrap options, an elderly woman approached, "Excuse me - can you tell me which of these lightbulbs is 75 watts?" She shared that her glaucoma was flaring up, and she was having trouble making out the words on the packaging. I helped her identify what she needed and went on my way.
A few aisles later, I spied her struggling again. "Can I help?" I asked. She gratefully accepted the offer, and a moment later, I was back to filling up my basket.
While waiting in the check-out line I stood behind a young mother and her son, who appeared to be under the weather. He sneezed, then asked her for a tissue. After fumbling in her bag for a moment, she sighed and told him he would have to wait until they reached the car. Having been in the very same position on many occasions, I was happy to come to her aid by producing a package of tissues from my own bag.
I share these encounters not for accolades nor to suggest my efforts were in any way heroic. Quite to the contrary: these are simple kindnesses we can all extend - but only when we slow down enough to open our eyes to what is happening around us.
I can only imagine how many similar opportunities I have failed to recognize while distracted by the babe, my to-do list, or the constant chatter in my own mind. But that poor track record needn't stop me from acting on the opportunities I do see.
As you move through your day today, take a moment to pause and open your eyes to the needs that surround you. When you can help, do. And let that kindness ripple through you and into the lives of all you encounter.
This time of year many of us find ourselves wishing things were different than they are. We reflect on the past year and realize we fell short on many (or all) of our resolutions. We didn't receive the promotion we anticipated. We weren't accepted into the graduate program we so desperately wanted to attend. We haven't made as much (or any) progress on that project we were determined to finish.
Or we shift our focus forward - anticipating what lies ahead, furiously planning and preparing and doing everything in our power to ensure a better outcome in the new year.
There is nothing wrong with reflecting on where we have been. There is nothing wrong with planning for the future. But if we don't stop to acknowledge the present, we miss an important opportunity.
Our present station in life reflects the choices we have made - and failed to make, but it is also function of factors beyond our control. No amount of wishing, hoping, or praying can change this moment. But we do have the power to decide whether to continue to flutter anxiously between the past and the future or make peace with the present.
Only when we allow ourselves to be fully grounded in wherever we are can we reconcile what has passed and move forward with clarity. And that is my encouragement for you today.
Today you are where you are. Can you pause and embrace it? Can you make peace with the present?
Survivors of child loss carry within their hearts and minds not only deep sorrow for the loved one who is no longer with them but also physical manifestations of their grief: from fatigue, headaches, chest pain, muscle soreness, and digestive problems to immune dysfunction and elevated risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Compounding the physical expressions of grief are the ongoing feelings of isolation and separation.
Fortunately for bereaved individuals - and anyone else who suffers from chronic conditions - yoga offers demonstrated therapeutic benefits. Controlled breathing can calm the nervous system, shifting us from the sympathetic ("fight or flight") response to the parasympathetic ("rest and digest") mode, in which our bodies can begin to repair themselves. Systematic stretching can provide relief for tight, sore muscles and address imbalances. Yoga also offers an opportunity for community: providing a safe space for grieving families to recognize they are not alone in their experience. In so doing, these practices can contribute to a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
This Saturday, in partnership with East Side Yoga, Evermore is offering a yoga class, free of charge, tailored to survivors of child loss. Entitled "Breathe Deep," this class will use movement and breathwork to help bereaved parents and siblings pause, reflect, and restore during this challenging time of year. If you have experienced the painful loss of a child or sibling, we invite you to come and share in this opportunity to experience physical release and transformation.
Breathe Deep: Yoga for Bereaved Families
Saturday, December 10, 2016
East Side Yoga
When I chose the theme of Facing Fear for 2016, I had no idea how scary this year would be. I didn't know I would take a solo journey halfway around the world. I wasn't prepared for the reality of my daughter starting preschool. I had no idea I would find myself sharing intensely personal information with thousands of people. And I certainly didn't anticipate another major life shift.
The past four years have been remarkable. I was blessed by the birth of an amazing tiny human. I left a job and an office I loved to venture into the unknown world of yogi-preneurship. I shared encouragement with an ever-increasing community of readers through the blog and these newsletters. I helped people find balance and flexibility - both on the yoga mat and in their day to day lives. These shifts have been incredibly rewarding, but as 2016 drew to a close, I found myself looking for something more...
With my daughter now in a morning preschool program, I reflected on how I could invest my newfound bandwidth. I considered expanding my roster of private clients. I thought about adding a few studio classes to my schedule. I researched freelance writing and editing opportunities. But before I could dive into any of these endeavors, a little voice inside whispered, "Wait. Be still." So I did.
And then in the course of connecting with an old friend and colleague, the next step became clear. Unexpected life events changed her career trajectory, and she has spent the past few years channeling her passions into a daunting but powerful effort to serve families who are hurting. She was making incredible progress and affecting meaningful change but overwhelmed by the amount of work required to move it forward.
I left our lunch inspired and excited. I thought back to my mother ushering me out the door each day as a child with a simple directive: Make a Difference. It seemed so simple, yet I was anxious about putting myself out there. Why did I think I had anything to add? Who was I to believe I had a talent or skillset that would prove valuable to the organization?
But the same small voice that encouraged me to be still whispered again, this time saying, "Try..." I called my friend back and said, "Put me to work." And she did.
Every new year brings changes - big and small - into our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads; at other times, we feel the desire to change course when it is least expected. Whether a new job, a new family member, a new city, a new hobby, or a new experience, in the coming year you will have an opportunity to change and grow - perhaps in ways you didn't anticipate. As we look ahead to 2017, I encourage you to embrace, rather than fear, those changes and continue to move down your own unique path.