Last week I sat down, put pen to paper, and reflected on the closing of another year. 2018 was full of adventures, memorable travels, professional achievements, and personal growth. I traveled to areas of the world I had never seen, brought hope and healing to new communities of women facing the heartbreak of infertility, peacefully navigated a challenging relationship conflict, welcomed my daughter into her fifth (?!?) year of life, and inched closer to a milestone birthday of my own. Yes - 2018 was a year worthy of celebration.
No - you didn't catch me in a typo (though I'm sure that has happened...) - nor did I lose track of the year (though that often does happen...). I simply closed my eyes and anticipated how I want to feel about the year we are just beginning. The exercise was both inspiring and instructive.
If you are anything like me (and I would wager many of you are), despite your best intentions for a positive outlook, your mind is susceptible to being pulled into incessant, unrelenting, unhelpful chatter. You circle back to conversations you wish had gone a different way, fret about future events over which you have little (or no) control, and attempt to micromanage the minutiae of your daily existence. These thoughts have the power to cast a dark shadow over even the best of days - and they threaten to throw us off the course of the fully realized life we want to lead.
What if you instead filled your brain with enticing snapshots of a life well lived - and allowed those desires to not only brighten your perspective but also shape what comes next?
The lovely Lisa Eaves from Heal from Within, describes an exercise called "Skillful Imagination" that can serve as a framework for your efforts. To start, choose a point of time in the future: perhaps next year, five years from now, or even 50. Envision your future self reflecting back on the year or years that have passed. What did you experience? Where did you go? With whom did you spend time? What did you discover?
When you have answered these questions consider how these experiences made you feel. What was most meaningful or rewarding? Where was your time best spent? Even if it feels a bit silly, I encourage you to jot down a list of the highlights and hold onto it. Refer back to it on regular intervals - or use it to re-energize yourself when you are feeling mired in the details of daily life.
Allow your answers to these questions to guide your actions, decisions, and priorities in this moment. What decisions do you need to make today to ensure you arrive where you want to be? Create a vision of the life you desire, then turn anticipation into reality. Your future self will thank you...
Over the holiday break I had the opportunity to connect with a few dear friends I hadn't seen in far too long. During our conversations, they each asked, "What's next?" The question made me smile. At the outset of another new year, I have been thinking a lot about what lies ahead, and I have found myself downright giddy about the possibilities...
And I know I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Research has long validated the power of anticipation to affect our outlook and overall wellbeing. A study released in 2010 argued the pleasure of anticipating an upcoming trip surpassed the enjoyment of the travel itself. Author and life coach Valorie Burton goes so far as to say anticipation is a critical first step toward living a happier - and better - life.
Intuitively the principle makes sense. When we are looking forward to something, we not only reap the benefits of a positive perspective, we also become more willing to do the work necessary to achieve a desired result. Think of your own goals and resolutions for 2018. Perhaps you have committed to implementing a new fitness routine, eating better, or beginning a meditation practice. Whatever your aims, I am willing to guess you are fueled more by the anticipated outcome than the intervening steps. Is anyone truly excited about the prospect of sore muscles, more spinach, or waking earlier in the morning?!
Of course, like most things, anticipation is not exclusively about sunshine and rainbows. We all know the discomfort that comes as we prepare for a dreaded but unavoidable obligation, learn of an unwelcome medical diagnosis, or endure a seemingly interminable wait for a deeply desired outcome.
In our ongoing pursuit of living a more full and fulfilling life, I want to explore the power of anticipation in all its forms. I am eager to see what lessons we can learn as we consider - and wait for - what's next. Won't you join me?
THIS will be the year we learn a new language! Organize our closets! Write more letters! Run a marathon! Or perhaps your desires are more consequential: you want to realize your long-held dream of becoming a parent - meet your life partner - attain your dream job.
And you may!
But you may not... Because as much as we plan, prepare, and pray, we control (at most) only a small part of our lives, living instead in the messy midst of family, community, and a higher power whose designs are far beyond our capacity for understanding.
Instead of the outcomes you desire, the new year may present you with events and experiences you didn't expect - or want: the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis you feared, the phone call you never imagined. Or you may achieve your goals only to discover they fall short of your ideal. Parenting is hard work. Your partner is as imperfect as you. Your dream job isn't so dreamy...
But balanced betwixt our desires and fears is life in all its richness and beauty. A major disappointment might put you in a position for an unexpected opportunity. A loss could free you to embrace something even more fulfilling. Boredom may inspire a depth of creativity you didn't know existed.
In this final month of the year, go ahead and plan. Prepare carefully. Pray earnestly. But also allow yourself to walk forward with eyes and arms open and ready to welcome the myriad of experiences you can't anticipate. The outcomes you didn't choose. Allow yourself to embrace whatever is next...
When my husband Brad and I first started this whole “Let’s Have a Baby!” project back in September 2014, I didn’t tell many people. I naively thought this would be a short-term secret and we’d reveal our pregnancy in a cute, totally viral-worthy way.
Ha. Ha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, so naive.
As this “project” began taking longer and longer, it started seeping into all the other parts of my life. Physically. Financially. Emotionally. I began turning to my friends for emotional support as the fear and anxiety surrounding my infertility started feeling way too heavy for me to carry alone. The support I got from my friends was a mixed bag. While many of them tried to be there for me, it was hard for them to truly empathize with my struggle. They had no idea what to say... In the summer of 2016, I hit an emotional low after our first cycle of IVF failed. While the cycle yielded two blastocysts, after genetic testing we learned both were abnormal, leaving us no healthy embryos to transfer.
I was heartbroken. No one understood the unique flavor of pain and shame I felt. Well, not NO one...I learned that a select group of people did understand: other fertility warriors who had once been where I was, but were now safely on the other side. They were the only ones who could offer me the support, understanding and perspective I so desperately craved.
It was then I had the idea to create Fruitful, a free fertility mentorship program that connects individuals struggling through infertility with a mentor who has been through it firsthand and is now on the other side.
Brad and I got right to work. He’s a web developer and I’m a copywriter, so together we used our skills to make Fruitful Fertility. We proudly launched the site for National Infertility Awareness Week on April 23 and we could not be more excited about this new project and its potential to help others like us.
To sign up to receive a free mentor or to volunteer to become one, please visit www.FruitfulFertility.org. Or if you just want to follow along, check out our Instagram account @Fruitful_Fertility.
Remember, you are NOT alone.
Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility. She and her husband Brad have been trying to conceive since September 2014 and live in Minneapolis with their cat, Puck. Elyse loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce and pretending she’s into yoga.
Late last month I traversed the country to visit a dear friend who had recently relocated to the Golden State. We planned our weekend rendezvous around a yoga retreat that would provide an opportunity to reconnect and recharge far removed from the demands of daily life.
I was eager to see my friend and begin my first [!?!] yoga retreat. We kicked off the weekend with a Qigong class (a wonderful discovery!), booked massage appointments, and entered the first yoga session relaxed and ready to learn. The teacher under whose guidance we would be practicing and studying is considered a master in the field - with decades of experience in teaching and training teachers. I was sure he would provide insights that would enrich my practice and my teaching.
After a brief introduction, we began to move, and he offered an alignment cue I found puzzling. It seemed at odds with what I had been taught during my own training - and counter to what I have been teaching for more than a decade. At first I wondered whether I had misheard, but the instruction was repeated several times during the practice. I found it unsettling but tried to dismiss what was, in reality, a minor discrepancy.
As the weekend wore on and the information was repeated and reinforced, a seed of dissent lodged itself in my mind. This doesn't sound right and it doesn't feel right. Attempts to ignore the instruction left me physically tense. I found myself feeling defensive and agitated.
During a quiet moment between sessions I stopped to consider the source of my discomfort. Why was I so resistant to something so simple? Hadn't it been my intention in studying with a new teacher to try new things?
It wasn't long before I realized that at its heart, my resistance stemmed from fear: If he is right, then I am wrong. And if my understanding is off base, then I have been misleading my students...
In that moment of humility I recognized I owed it to my students - and myself - to set aside my ego, listen, and learn. I entered our final session with an open mind, and for the next 90 minutes I simply explored. Slowly I began to see how this alternative approach complemented - rather than conflicted with - the principles I have been practicing and teaching. I left the weekend with a deeper understanding and more balanced approach to share with my students.
How many times have you seen similar patterns play out in your life? How often do we reflexively reject an idea because it is unfamiliar or uncomfortable only to later see its merit? How much time and energy could we save by instead approaching new perspectives with an open mind?
As we tiptoe toward the impending holiday season, many of us will find ourselves surrounded by family and friends with whom we do not see eye to eye. In these environments, we can choose to shut down and refuse to engage, put up our defenses and prepare for battle, or take a deep breath and enter into the conversation with grace.
Listening to another perspective needn't threaten our own values a beliefs - and a sincere exchange may serve to enlighten all sides. Next time you encounter a conflicting point of view, set aside your ego and listen carefully. Allow yourself to be open to the possibility of discovery. Give yourself an opportunity to to learn and grow...
Thirteen years ago this month, my husband and I exchanged our marriage vows in the middle of a meadow on a beautiful Fall morning. Later that evening, we celebrated with dinner and dancing under the stars surrounded by family and dear friends. Full of love and enthusiasm, we marveled at the seemingly endless adventures that awaited in this next chapter of life...
On a recent visit to the Midwest, we found ourselves back in the same setting enjoying a similarly beautiful evening with family. At some point our conversation turned back to that memorable day, and I expressed regret that we never took part in the tradition of sharing a piece of our wedding cake on our first anniversary.
My mother smiled, "It is still in the freezer..."
We laughed, and before I could weigh the wisdom of my decision, I leapt up from the table to investigate. As I carefully peeled off layer after layer of wrapping, I was delighted to discover the cake was not a freezer-burned brick but instead a clearly recognizable layer of cake. I warmed, sliced, and plated the nearly THIRTEEN YEAR OLD dessert, and delivered it to our guests.
Between giggles, we raised our forks and took a bite. While the flavor and texture were undoubtedly compromised, everyone agreed it had held up remarkably well. As I continued with a second bite, then a third, my mother cautioned, "Just because you can finish it doesn't mean you should..."
Her caution reverberated in my thoughts as we returned home from our travels and found ourselves in the midst of the frenzy of Fall. New teaching opportunities presented themselves, and I found myself devising creative ways to accommodate the increased demand while attending to the logistical realities of shuttling the babe to school and related activities. The pace was initially invigorating after a Summer of ease, but after a mere two weeks I found myself exhausted. By the end of most days I was irritable and frazzled. As I collapsed into bed each evening, I chastised myself for this perceived weakness: What's wrong with you? It's time to step it up a notch. Let's go!
But as I continued to struggle, I kept returning to a few simple questions: What am I gaining by ignoring what my body and heart are telling me? Do I need to add more to my schedule? How do these new commitments align with my priorities? Will they make make me a better mother or spouse? Do they allow bandwidth for activities that fulfill me or bless others?
My mother's voice whispered clearly: Just because you CAN doesn't mean you should...
In different seasons of life and growth, we are presented with new opportunities, but we also encounter new limitations. Just because we CAN push up against the very boundaries of our abilities doesn't mean we are best served by doing so.
Simple questions and reflections often provide the guidance we need. Does dread begin to creep in when you consider a certain activity, engagement, or commitment? Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your participation. Has your longstanding exercise routine begun to drain rather than energize you? Maybe you need to integrate something more restorative into your routine. Do certain relationships create more insecurity than comfort? It might be time to part ways.
As we enter the final quarter of the year, I encourage you to listen to your heart and acknowledge your limitations. Rather than try to ignore or push past them, consider whether they are offering you a much needed caution. Let's learn to embrace our limits so we can live more fully.
In a span of a little more than one month, my husband and I will have made two separate trips to our hometown for our respective 20 year high school reunions. These events have loomed large in my mind since adding them to the calendar late last year. Every time I envisioned the gatherings, I found myself reflecting on how life has unfolded over the past two decades.
During these strolls down memory lane, I often paused to consider the many pivotal moments within those years that changed the trajectory of my life: the places I traveled and subjects I studied. The decision to pursue an internship - and subsequently a job - in Washington. (Re)meeting the childhood friend who would become my husband. Our long and difficult road to parenthood.
I lingered on images of the friends, mentors, and peers who had a tremendous influence on my journey and considered what I know - and imagine - of their lives today. As I reflected upon how seemingly small changes can transform who we are and where we find ourselves, I considered the endless "what ifs" along my own path. What if I had chosen Boston over Nashville for school? What if my husband and I had moved back to our hometown rather than building a life in a city halfway across the country? What if I hadn't pursued my first yoga teacher training? What if I had accepted the prognosis that I would not be able to have a child?
As I followed each of these rabbit trails to their logical (or not so logical) conclusion, I envisioned an alternate reality - one that seemed, in some respects, precariously enticing... I found myself critical of what I deemed to be mistakes and missed opportunities.
After a week of uncharacteristic irritability, I paused to sit with my agitation. Why did I feel so unsettled? Why was I questioning elements and experiences and relationships that are otherwise reliable sources of joy? I asked myself hard questions: If I could change one thing about my life today, what would it be? What action could I take to bring about a more full and fulfilled life?
The more I meditated on these ideas, the more I realized the root of my dissatisfaction was not any decision, consequence, or circumstance. Rather, it derived from a false comparison between real life and an imaginary ideal. No matter how wonderful our relationships, pursuits, and surroundings, we ALL experience frustration, boredom, and aggravation. Regardless of how well obscured, these moments are part of the lives of EVERY. PERSON. WE. ENCOUNTER.
I don't mean to suggest there aren't occasions when meaningful, large scale change is necessary. We may need to overcome an unhealthy pattern or break free from a toxic relationship. But more often, the only thing standing between us and joy is a misplaced yearning for something that simply doesn't exist. By tapping into gratitude and focusing on the blessings that surround us from moment to moment, we can (re)discover the peace that grounds and sustains us.
Next time you find yourself struggling with dissatisfaction, stop questioning what you are missing. Silence your inner critic and invite a more full appreciation of who - and where - you are. Let's embrace...what is.
Physical affection is NOT my love language. Sure, I can recall giving and receiving plenty of hugs as a young child, but at some point, I adopted the arms-length approach more characteristic of my family, where I remain (quite comfortably) to this day.
My fellow introverts will recognize the struggle inherent in balancing the desire to be polite and reciprocal alongside the visceral need to guard one's own personal space. Naturally, when we encounter a fellow non-hugger, we feel extreme gratitude to be with someone to whom we needn't explain our predicament.
Which is why I was caught off guard upon receiving an open-armed greeting from an equally reserved friend when we ran into one another in our neighborhood. The gentleman in question was the partner of a former client with whom I worked for nearly four years. We met in their home every week without fail until a decline in the health of my client required his transition into an assisted living facility. Though they are often on my mind, it had been more than a month since I had checked in. After exchanging pleasantries I inquired, "How is Robert?"
"He passed away on Tuesday - it was fateful that we ran into each other today."
I was immediately flooded with empathy. I can only imagine the strain of watching a loved one slip away. Having observed Robert's steady decline from week to week I had a glimpse of the struggle his partner faced and the labor of love he endured. As we finished our conversation I regretted not being able to offer the perfect words to convey my sympathy. At a loss, I instead offered a hug.
Walking away, it occurred to me how many times in my own life an embrace has transcended a gap no words could bridge: receiving support after learning of the loss of a pregnancy - comforting a friend after the passing of her mentor - assuaging the fears of an anxious toddler.
The encounter also served as a powerful reminder of the need to connect on a more human level in today's technologically dominated reality. We are wired for physical connection, and simple gestures can be incredibly healing - even (or should I say especially) when it is not our go-to reaction.
I don't mean to suggest anyone needs to embark on an uncomfortable new touchy-feely reality. Start small: accept a hug from a niece or nephew - or reach for the hand of a partner or friend. Open yourself up to the benefits of giving - and receiving - meaningful contact. What might you gain by embracing...people?
As my daughter neared the end of her first year of preschool I began anticipating Summer. Channeling my own schoolgirl days, I envisioned lazy afternoons at the pool, picnics in the park, and other simple joys that for too long have long taken a backseat to the demands of work, parenting, and keeping up with life. Full of ideas and enthusiasm, I declared this year would be different!
With our mornings free from the constraints of a school schedule, there were adventures to imagine, play dates to plan, sights to see, and camps to consider. I did my due diligence and crafted a schedule that I thought would provide the perfect balance of structure and spontaneity.
Meanwhile, our evenings and weekends slowly filled with visits from family and friends, connections with members of our D.C. tribe, and our own planned escapes from the heat and humidity of the nation's capitol. It wasn't until a dear friend reached out to suggest a family outing that I realized our first free date was in SEPTEMBER and I knew something needed to change.
Despite being enthusiastic about everything I had placed on the calendar, I began to regard the flurry of activity with dread. Summer had yet to begin and already it seemed over.
We want so much to create the "perfect" experience that we find ourselves driven by a (false) urgency to fill every moment - even though we know better. Research has demonstrated what our hearts tell us: what kiddos (and grownups) need most is freedom and space. Unstructured time to play and relax. The boredom that breeds creativity and spontaneity.
So as we enter (what is actually only) the second full week of Summer, I am changing course. Instead of asking, "What fabulous activities can I find?" I am looking for opportunities to pull back - to create space and time in our lives to just be.
As you dream up your own perfect Summer, I encourage you to scale back your ambitions and give yourself the gift of freedom. Let's embrace less so we can experience more.
At the beginning of last month I was scheduled to undergo a relatively minor surgery. A few weeks prior I had experienced a severe pain, about which I visited a doctor, who referred me for tests, which led to an appointment for surgery.
Along the way there were many surprises. The first test ordered by my doctor revealed a mass in my abdomen measuring 11 centimeters. A subsequent test suggested the growth was only 8 centimeters. In a follow-up appointment, a specialist determined it was not a mass at all, but instead a torsion. He recommended surgery to resolve the issue, remove any damaged tissue, and stabilize the area so it wouldn't happen again.
As I considered the series of events it occurred to me how fortunate the outcome was. From the initial pain to the determined course of action, the process seemed to deescalate. Not only had the pain abated, the prognosis downshifted from something potentially ominous to a relatively minor inconvenience.
I informed my clients I would be unable to teach for a few weeks, made arrangements for family, friends, and neighbors to help transport the babe back and forth to school for a few days, and arrived at the hospital at the appointed date. I felt comfortable with the plan and ready to move past this little bump in the road.
When I awoke after the surgery, my husband was waiting for me. "You're not going to believe this," he said... "When the doctor got inside, the torsion had already resolved itself. Everything is back to where it should be. You're good to go."
This could have been an opportunity to reflect on the miraculous power of prayer - or perhaps the efficacy of a consistent yoga practice. I would like to tell you my response was, "What great news! I'm glad there were no issues."
But instead I was livid: "You mean he operated for no reason?"
"He didn't know it had happened until they were inside."
"But wasn't he supposed to do something to make sure it won't happen again??"
"He said he didn't want to remove or potentially damage perfectly healthy tissue."
"So this was all for nothing???"
Despite the positive outcome, I fixated on the negative. Had everything gone according to plan, the inconvenience of recovery would have been overshadowed by the knowledge that all was well. But the awareness that it could have been avoided filled me with indignation.
It has taken nearly a month for me to let go of the frustration and acknowledge that what transpired was the best possible outcome. My recovery was no different than anticipated, and I avoided the potential complications from a more invasive procedure. But between then and now I wasted precious energy and countless opportunities for joy.
When we encounter the unforeseen on our journey, we can question and complain, or we can invest the time in navigating our new route. Next time life presents you with a bewildering detour, I encourage you to pause, survey your new landscape, and explore what it might offer. Let's learn to embrace the unexpected.