Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Ice Age Trail: Montrose Segment

This gallery contains 19 photos.

Do you ever have those days where you are trucking along quite well, and then all of a sudden – WHAM – your brain does a flip flop and you suddenly feel depressed, overwhelmed, sad, and a little beaten?  I … Continue reading

Rooting – Like a plant, not a pig

IMG_2567My coach keeps leveraging this great metaphor of a tree as we discuss establishing new habits.  (What? You didn’t know coaches had coaches? Oh yes! It’s vital, I wish everyone could have a coach to help them navigate their life. I also love the image that in order to do what we do, it is most effective if we have other’s helping us similar to how we help people, and they have others helping them… all the way down the line!  For us to live our best lives, we need the support – but not approval – of one another. I love that. Anyway, I digress…) The metaphor goes something like this – as you start a new habit you plant a seed.  As you continue with the new habit you feed it, and the more you tend to it, and care for it (and perform the new habit) the deeper the roots grow, and the stronger and more resilient the habit becomes.  Eventually the roots become so strong a flower blooms, or a tree bursts into leaf – metaphorically the results of having that new established habit.

I love this metaphor for a lot of reasons.  Nature always gets my attention, so its a pretty spot on attention grabber for me, but more importantly so many aspects of the metaphor stand.  Stop purposely practicing the habit too soon, and the roots aren’t established enough to survive the “lack of water.”  Approach the new habit with a poisonous mental attitude and at “best” the habit will grow deformed and sickly.  Not only that, have you ever planted a garden that turned out to be WAY too big for you?  You just couldn’t keep up with the watering, and weeding, and general maintenance?  How do you fix that?  You either continue to poorly neglect everything, or you have to let some of it go, so that you can give what you prioritize the care and attention it needs.  New habits are exactly like that as well.

When it comes to trying new things I tend to be an “all in” person once I make the decision to do it.  What this means functionally is that instead of focusing on one new habit, as the first in a series of new habits I need to acquire to reach my goal, I take on 8.  Then like the big garden, they all wither away.  Neuroscience backs this up and cognitive scientists recommend working on only one or maybe two new habits at a time. Which sounds slower to my impatient brain, but in reality, which is slower? – successfully establishing new habits one after another, or repeatedly being unsuccessful in establishing any of them!

There is another part of the metaphor – and I almost always picture a tree in various parts of its life cycle because I love trees and they work perfectly here – that often gets missed, but I think it is really important.  If we grow new habits by giving them attention and care, how do we get rid of old habits?

This is where the metaphor kicks into overdrive for me.  In order to lose old IMG_2581habits we have to stop watering the tree.  We have to stop caring for it and let it die.

Oh…… now I’m sad.

Now it makes sense why it is so difficult to transition to new habits, part of us wants to keep the old habit alive.  “Hey! Don’t kill this tree that has been a comfortable resting place for so long! Hey! Do you hear me!?”  All the while you have to walk over and tend the new tree, the new habit that will better serve you now.  If you don’t have focus, it is so easy to give in to the voice, and the sadness (at some level) of losing something comfortable.  Sometimes you chop down the tree in a fell stroke, sometimes it slowly withers, but in both cases the thoughts and reactions to the death of the tree need to be sorted, or you may be distracted and not tend the new tree as carefully.

This concept that every time we change something about ourselves we may also need to mourn the loss of what was is very challenging for me, but has also revolutionized how I think about the challenges I face while doing self work.  Instead of “What is wrong with me? I really want to give up TV why is this so hard, why am I not managing to do this!?” if I think of the tree it makes more sense, and I am kinder to myself, and more successful over time – “Ok, this is hard. TV has been a very comforting tree for a long time, and I’m sad I’m losing it. Also it has provided me with shade and leaves, and a place to hang my swing so now I have to find new ways to address those needs. Plus I need to tend this new tree, which is kind of hard, doubly because I’m still sad about the TV tree…” and so on. It makes sense, and what I can understand I have a lot better chance of addressing.

So as I think about the goals, habits, and thoughts I’m working to grow, I often think, “What am I watering right now?” as a way to help me stay focused, and as I falter from the practices I want to foster it is easier for me to understand why, and how important it is to set up clear fences in the beginning, because otherwise you may just walk by the dying tree and make yourself miserable, instead of focusing on the beautiful trees and flowers that are blooming as they grow big and strong.

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What to feed?

Have you ever had one of those days where you are going along, the sun is shining, a blue bird is sitting on your shoulder, there is happy music following you, and all feels right with the world?

North Cascade Pass, 2015Ok, me neither, but I have definitely had days that have been metaphorically like that.  Today was one of them.  There wasn’t anything particularly special that happened, but I was definitely in a place of gratitude.  I got an encouraging and very heartfelt note from a friend.  I felt incredibly thankful that it feels like I am aligning my life with my life’s purpose, that I have so many incredible people surrounding me, that I have developed such a supportive network that helps keep me moving forward.  I felt thankful for the weather, for my life, for the universe… just in general it was a very loving gratefulness kind of day.

Then I got some news that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I had been hoping for something different.  Final prognosis – I’m officially out of treatment options for a foot injury I’ve been trying to heal for years, unless I’m ready to have a surgery that doesn’t have great outcomes.  Crap.

After I was done badgering my poor doctor with questions about wasn’t there ANY other options (for the third time), and whining to my mother, I had choices to make.  What kind of day was I going to have.  Was I going to let my frustration drive me to throw my “no sugar” goal out the window? Was I going to engage in activities that would feed the part of me that wanted to throw a temper tantrum, or the part of me that I have been working to feed that recognizes emotions come and go, and don’t have to upset the still lake they are floating over?

I decided to choose the second, and then actually did.  This is a big deal for me.  Injuries that impact my ability to move are a huge trigger for many of my deranged inner dialogues around worth, normativity, and a host of other things. Historically they spin me out for a while, and this foot injury has been a source of unending lessons about myself, how I think, and how I have related to the world over the last couple of years. I’ve let it drive me into depression, and a host of other barriers, but today, I could see clearly enough to make the choice not to compound things.  Sure, I could binge eat, watch TV and feel sorry for myself, but where would that get me?  What if, instead, I remember that lovely sunny feeling of loving kindness from earlier in the day and choose activities that feed that?  What if I focus on one of my main mantras to always seek the sun through the clouds?  It doesn’t change the current situation, but it doesn’t compound it either.  I can step aside, and witness, and learn, without the turmoil.  I can step back and look at the situation more holistically. It isn’t the outcome I had hoped for, but it also isn’t the end of the world, or anywhere near it.

Am I still sad and frustrated?  Sure.  But I’m also grateful for the lessons I have learned, and for the opportunity to see how much my thinking really has changed.  In the past it would have taken me days, weeks, or months of sitting and churning to get to the place I got in 20 minutes today.  To decide I was going to honor and observe my emotions, but choose my actions based on the outcomes I want to achieve.

I like the visual that Thich Nhat Hanh paints when he says, “Emotions are like clouds in a windy sky,” or Pema Chodron when she says, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”  I have a long way to go to truly embody the peacefulness of the sky – especially as I picture it meaning the entirety of the Universe  – but I’m taking heart that in this instance I have taken a clear step in that direction.

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Accepting Ourselves (Yes, even our strengths)

Accepting ourselves as we currently are, as we strive to understand who that is, all while that very act of observation is changing who we are, is a big part of the Impeccable Warrior path.  Recently, I’ve been noticing something about my self-acceptance that struck me as unexpected, so I’ve been trying to dive into it.

It is far easier for me to accept, and share, my vulnerability, weaknesses, and Mount St. Helens, 2015perceived shortcomings than it is to embrace my strengths. (and heaven forbid share them!)

As I’ve thought more and more about it this became less of a surprise.  As a child I learned very early on that acceptance from my peers was not to be won by letting my strengths fully show.  The things adults valued, and that I was quite good at – academic success, good manners, acting like an adult, etc were things that got me mocked by my peers.  Add in the fact that I’ve been 5’9″ or taller since the 4th grade (in the 5th grade I was the tallest person in the school – teachers and administrators included!) and it wasn’t exactly a recipe for an easy, struggle free, orientation to my peer group (not that I think anyone had one of those!).  What I learned, despite my poor parents’ phenomenal efforts, was that other peoples’ strengths, and needs, came before mine, because I was too strong, too big, too smart, too fast (academically, not physically, I will never be a sprinter), etc. I was often asked to wait for others, to watch out for others, to protect others – at the same time the “others” were often not very… appreciative… of these acts.  So the way I made sense of that disparity was to be uncomfortable, and somewhat ashamed of my gifts, unless I could employ them perfectly.  Which is nigh impossible over time. (I figure out 20+ years later. It is definitely a journey!)

So I suppose it isn’t that big of a surprise that I shrink from fully embracing my strengths, and in this one situation struggle with a little bit of scarcity mindset. It feels like if I am very good at something, somehow that takes away from others’ experiences as they grow.  This is not true in reverse, of course. As with many things, one of my greatest desires for other people is for them to fully embrace who they are, and their strengths!  The trick is to embrace that mindset for myself as well.

Now I suppose I could continue along my path and not address these convoluted beliefs and attachments, except 1) that is definitely not the Warrior path, and 2) they hide some pretty significant dark corners that will (and do) hold me back.

Right from the start is the obvious ramification,  if I don’t accept my strengths, as well as my vulnerabilities, how can I possibly live my biggest life, and achieve the dreams unique to me?  How can I open up spaces for others to fully accept themselves if I will only accept the poor things about myself? (see poem here) Even more insidious though, is the hidden ego in all of this.  It sounds like low self esteem, or poor self worth, which it is… but it is also feeding a fragile ego. If I don’t accept my strengths and push them, I can’t find out their limits, I can’t push them beyond their boundaries and learn how to move those boundaries further out.  If I don’t engage in that my ego doesn’t have to potentially face up to the fact it isn’t as superior as it thinks.  Not to mention, who am I to believe that others could not keep up?  Possibly true in the narrow world of a grade school classroom – decidedly NOT true in my current life.  Now that is some serious ego!

So it turns into a big interlocking hairball (as a friend of mine likes to call such things) of areas I need to shine light on, and unravel, so that I can move forward.  By not doing so it remains a roadblock to my success, and my path.

I had the honor to be part of a year long leadership program a couple years ago, and the head of the program opened it up with a discussion of why we shouldn’t focus on strengthening our weaknesses – because then with a lot of effort we become moderately good at everything – but to strengthen our strengths, so that we can truly excel at them.

You have to take such advice with a little bit of salt because that decision has to be contextual, but overall the concept turned almost everyone in the room on their heads.  What would a workplace (the main focus of the training) be like if everyone was doing their exceptional things, instead of plodding along with their weaknesses?  I picture a big jigsaw of happy awesomeness where our strengths and weaknesses piece together to make a brilliant picture.  I think this holds true for our communities as well, if only we are brave enough to be ourselves!

Right now I’m being forced by the decisions I’m making, and the boundaries I’m choosing to push in order to reach my goals, to stand face to face with my fears around success, my feelings of inadequacy and not deserving to own my ironpeak_2013strengths.  Through them is the only way to climb up the mountain.  For a while they will continue to travel with me, and I will have to carry them in many places in order to continue moving forward, making my journey that much more challenging, but eventually I will have to put them down, or I will not be able to move much further.  An outcome I refuse to accept.

Identifying these “travelers” is one of many ways we can shine light into our dark corners.  The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz calls them attachments, which makes a lot of sense to me, but I also really like the powerful imagery that these kinds of beliefs are fellow travelers we either have to care for, carry, and be responsible for getting to the destination, or that we need to lovingly let go of, so that we are both free to achieve our higher purposes. (Especially since these “travelers” often performed a healthy function at some point in the past. So honor them, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry them around forever!)  I like the visual of climbing a mountain because just like trying to carry real people, at some point the extra load will weigh you down so much you can’t reach your goal. (Plus, mountains!)

In the end, the entire concept of strengths and weaknesses can be problematized by accepting that on the path there is no good or bad, just experiences to learn from, and I have to say, I think I will be learning from my strengths for quite a while to come.