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.
No matter how streamlined and efficient we aim to be, waiting is an unavoidable part of life. We stand in line at grocery stores and coffee shops. We idle in doctors' offices. We await updates from prospective employers and admissions offices.
As I shared last week, I am in a waiting pattern of my own. And despite the opportunities I have had to flex these muscles EVERY. DAY. OF. MY. LIFE. I am woefully out of shape.
I know I am not alone in this. Students often laugh when yoga teachers suggest savasana (final relaxation) is the most challenging element of the practice, but it is true. While no great strength, flexibility, or balance is required, being completely still requires tremendous mental and physical resolve. We are conditioned to instead "use" the time to review today's "to do" list, map out tomorrow's logistics, or consider how to most quickly roll up one's mat and make a speedy exit from the studio...
In my private sessions, I can anticipate the fidgets, adjustments, and sighs of my clients before they begin. And I understand exactly where they are coming from. No matter how many studies demonstrate the importance of stillness , and no matter how many times we have acknowledged the need - perhaps even a sincere desire - to create more space in our lives, sitting in silence is an uncomfortable place for most of us to be.
But I would like to suggest there is much to be gained from these moments of discomfort. Acknowledging and accepting that we are not, in fact, master of the universe frees us from the burden of investing precious energy and brain power trying to control every element of our existence. Paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise when we are forced by outside circumstances to be still can provide powerful insights into our desires and our character.
At the end of the day, we cannot escape traffic, grocery stores, or medical appointments. Rather than allow yourself to grow frustrated by these inevitabilities, I encourage you to be still and open yourself to the valuable insights they can provide.
Next time you are find yourself waiting, can you stay present with whatever arises? Can you be still and learn the lessons these moments hold?
If infertility itself is something of a taboo, the more difficult ethical questions surrounding various treatments are positively unspeakable. My own journey left me with far more questions than answers. I am grateful to the Huffington Post for publishing my article about one of the more difficult decisions we made along the way to building our family. I hope its message offers encouragement to others in a similar position and opens the door for an important dialogue in the broader community:
Huffington Post Essay: Are you My Mother?
Washington D.C. is a transient city. The seasonal swell of bright-eyed Summer interns and changing of the political guard after Fall elections are as much a part of the rhythm of the city as the arrival of the cherry blossoms each Spring. Every long-time resident has bid farewell to at least a few close friends whose journeys have brought them here to soak up the "Washington experience" before continuing down their path.
For my first several years in our nation's capitol, I had a front-row seat from which to view these constant shifts. I watched fellow interns leave for graduate school or moves back home. During my tenure on Capitol Hill I said goodbye to many colleagues who departed after gaining the knowledge they needed to secure their next job. As a yoga teacher trainer, I sent my best wishes along with the newly minted teachers who left the confines of our city to share their newfound perspective with the world.
But after the birth of my daughter and a major life transition, I began to realize my circle was populated primarily by "lifers" - those rare souls who chose to make Washington their home. It was a welcome grounding experience. I finally felt I was becoming part of a community by whom I would be surrounded for years to come - a network of souls who would remain part of the fabric of my family's life.
So when a dear friend mentioned in passing that she was moving to the opposite coast to pursue her lifelong dream of a doctoral degree, I was more than surprised, I was shocked - not by her bold declaration, but by its unexpected effect. I thought I had this stage of life figured out. My village is strong and stable. I can't replace her role in my - or my daughter's - life. Maybe she will change her mind...
She didn't (of course), and in two short months, she will be gone. Yes, I realize I can (and will) visit. I know technology makes it possible to maintain a close connection despite great distances. And - most importantly - I am overjoyed that she is able to realize this dream. But the mere idea of the change has me rattled.
I have observed this in other areas of my life, as well. Each time I think I finally have a handle on the demands of the current stage in parenting, my daughter - and her needs - grow and change. Just when I feel I have finally achieved the "perfect" work/life balance for this phase of life, another opportunity arises, and another adjustment needs to be made.
Whether or not we choose to accept it, we can't deny that we are surrounded by constant change. We do ourselves a disservice when we cling to people or routines to steady us. We must instead hold our relationships and present circumstances with open hands and accept the ongoing ebbs and flows of life. In seasons of transition we have a choice: we can surrender to anxiety or commit to remaining in - and fully appreciating - the present moment.
Next time you find yourself saying goodbye to someone - or something - meaningful, can you accept the change gracefully? Can you embrace impermanence?
I had grand plans for February. Fresh off New Year goal-setting and determined to make progress before the frenetic energy of Spring arrived, I had it all figured out. I established timelines. I created metrics. I ensured the elements I was adding to my life didn't require more time and energy than I had to give.
But then I got sick. I could feel it developing but couldn't be bothered to slow down. Yes it was a weekend - and theoretically the perfect time to rest, but we had a full slate of birthday parties, baby showers, and long-ago scheduled dinners and brunches with friends. A virus wasn't an interruption I was interested in acknowledging, so I didn't. I opted to drown the symptoms in tea, Vitamin C, soup, and healthy dose of denial. I maintained my full teaching load and populated the calendar with meetings, plans, and projects. Phew - I'm glad I got that out of my system. Now where was I??
Right on cue, my daughter fell ill. I was filled with sympathy for her, but at the same time, frustration welled within. I can't stay home today. I have updates to present at a meeting this morning. I have clients counting on me. I have a million things to do. I don't have time for this...
But this time I couldn't completely ignore the interruption. A tiny human was counting on me to take the situation seriously. So I did - if somewhat grudgingly - and she recovered. We may even have enjoyed the luxury of an unstructured day... I justified the lapse by promising myself, Tomorrow I'll double down and FINALLY catch up!
And then we learned about an unexpected setback in the health of someone near and dear to us. This time instead of resisting, I surrendered completely. Without a second thought, I closed my planner, put my agenda on hold, and bought two plane tickets. Rather than bemoaning the items that would not be crossed off the list, I embraced the interruption. I let go of my "need" for productivity and focused instead on what we could gain from our time away. As a result, we were able to soak up special moments with family, make meaningful memories, and reinforce important connections.
I know you have been there. Despite our best efforts to take charge, we are at the mercy of so many factors beyond our control: A child brings a virus home from school. A car window is broken. A friend needs our help. A family member receives an unexpected diagnosis. And just like that - whatever was on our agenda for the day, week, or month gets pushed aside.
At that moment we have a choice: we can waste our time on a futile fight or embrace the unexpected and learn the lessons it brings. A sick day offers a chance to recharge our minds as well as our bodies. Time spent caring for someone else is an opportunity to shift our focus off of ourselves and gain some much needed perspective. An impromptu trip gives us the space to to create special memories.
Next time reality interrupts your carefully crafted plans, can you resist the urge to fight? Can you embrace the interruption?
Last year I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I had no delusions of recording contracts or stadiums packed with fans - I simply wanted to be able to amuse the babe and occasionally accompany our impromptu singalongs.
I purchased a guitar and found a teacher. As the day of my first lesson approached, I grew excited. I was pleased to discover I recalled more than I expected from childhood piano lessons and a short stint playing the drums in my junior high jazz band. My instructor was encouraging and I walked out the door feeling energized. This is so fun! I thought. Why did I wait so long to get started?!?
I practiced faithfully throughout the week and quickly mastered the material. When our second lesson rolled around, I performed the assigned pieces and received more positive reinforcement. The pattern repeated itself for our third lesson, and I was hooked. I'm really getting the hang of this!
But when we met again, my instructor had something different in mind. "Give this a try," he suggested. "I'd like to see what you can do with it."
Feeling confident and relishing the idea of new horizons I sat down to play as soon as I returned home. But after 30 minutes of utter frustration, I put down my guitar and walked away. I declared the new assignment beyond my ability.
As the week went on, I found myself making excuses not to practice. I really should go through the babe's closet and take out the clothes she has outgrown. Maybe I should bake a pie...
The morning of my lesson, I did my best to force the information through my brain and into my fingers, but much like last a minute cram on the eve of an exam, my efforts proved futile.
I was embarrassed as I sat down to play, but as I fumbled through the piece, something amazing happened. My instructor didn't ridicule me. He didn't banish me from the studio. He didn't say I was wasting his time - or my own. Instead, he helped me accomplish what I had dismissed as impossible.
At various points between then and now, this scenario has repeated itself. While the easy lessons have been gratifying, I have learned far more in the weeks that have proved most challenging. And isn't that usually the case? To transcend our own (self-imposed) limitations and exceed our (narrow) expectations, we often need guidance from someone who has traveled the path before us.
Next time you feel you are facing an impossible challenge, consider whether a friend, mentor, or teacher can provide the encouragement you need. Allow a fellow traveler to help you reach new horizons...
Near the end of last year, I attended a holiday gathering with many old friends and former colleagues. It was a joy to connect with those I hadn't seen for years and laugh about fond memories and shared experiences.
In the course of catching up, many people asked whether I was still enjoying life as a yoginimama. I shared various updates and talked about some of the highs and lows of this adventure. I was surprised when multiple people followed up by asking some form of the same question: Is it enough?
Despite the fact there had been no malice behind the questions, my first instinct was to go on the defensive. I wanted to talk about the organization I am excited about diving into, enumerate the laundry list of projects in the works, share my latest extracurricular activities, and wax poetic the incredible experiences I have been able to enjoy in this season of life. But something stopped me.
As I reflected, I realized the question needed no more than a simple answer: Yes. It is enough.
It is true that my life looks very different than it did four years ago. I have traded daily interactions with Members of Congress for early mornings spent helping clients improve balance and flexibility on their yoga mats and in their daily lives. I recite Dr. Seuss rather than write speeches about the policies that shape our nation. But I feel no less fulfilled. And I am learning how to let that be okay.
In the year to come, I invite you to join me in exploring what it means to embrace this season of life and learn the lessons it offers. Because wherever we find ourselves - whatever vocations, activities, and adventures we pursue - there are endless opportunities to grow. Together we will discover how to open our hearts and minds to whatever comes our way. Ready or not, here we go...
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!