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Monthly Archives: November 2012

what matters most

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So I survived Friday’s business consultation meeting! After an hour and a half of analyzing projections, profits, and losses, to say that I was feeling discouraged is an understatement. Suddenly, the optimism that had been fueling me for the previous ten days had given way to a world of self-doubt and uncertainty. I wanted to go straight home and either fill out all the paperwork in an effort to find my enthusiasm again, or perhaps find my place in a warm pile of heavy blankets.

Fortunately, I noticed that I was hungry and made a stop at my favorite place for lunch. I sipped iced tea, waited for my grilled chicken breast on whole-wheat with cranberry chutney and greens to arrive, and logged into my email. What I found awaiting me was a wealth of support from friends and mentors. Apparently people had been reading my blog and they were moved, inspired, and interested. Mentors had wonderful questions for me and friends had meaningful words. I was overwhelmed, and recharged. It made me realize that the thing that matters to me most is that I honor my strengths, surround myself with supportive people, and follow my intuition. No matter how this all turns out, I still have the opportunity to explore and celebrate the experience.

All too often, I have neglected my creative inclinations or used them in problem solving and crisis management. Those are old ways of doing things that I hope to do away with. No one appreciates being used or neglected! I think instead my creative core would welcome love, encouragement, and a chance at the wheel. I’ll do my best to nurture it along!

keep on breathing

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Sometimes the best advice is the most simple. For me it is the reminder to breathe. When my husband and I first started dating he would say it often. I’d get all worked up about a decision or exasperated trying to explain something and he’d simply say, “Breathe, Rachel.” He is a man of incredible patience.

One afternoon we took a long walk in the woods. I had no idea where we were, but I just trusted that he knew how to get back to the truck. After a couple hours I started to panic, I was certain we were lost and would be walking in the rain indefinitely.  He reassured me that everything was fine and that we were not lost. After I didn’t calm down, he suggested that I take several deep breaths. I did and within a few moments, I could see the color of the truck flickering through the trees. We were absolutely fine.

 

My dad studied martial arts extensively while I was a teenager. I often got overwhelmed by the world around me, and he took the time to teach me about the advantages of deep breathing—taking in as much air as possible into the lungs and letting it out slowly and completely. It is an exercise that is incredibly rejuvenating and if done five or ten times can feel like hitting an internal reset button.

The other breathing exercise I have recently become fond of is meditation. For along time, I just could not meditate.  I found myself trying to implement those deep breaths my dad taught me and the next thing I knew, my mind was off racing with bits of worry and anxiety. In the past couple months I’ve learned to experience meditation differently. It is not about taking those deep, giant, cleansing breaths. It is about breathing naturally and tuning into the feeling of it. For me, it really took the effort of giving myself permission to experience something as ordinary as normal breathing and a little extra oomph to keep from falling asleep.

The extraordinary thing that came from my meditation practice continues to be the sense of awareness. Not only did I become aware of my own breath, but also the tightness in my jaw, my wrinkled forehead, my reoccurring dreams, and worries that won’t leave my mind. But the beauty is that I don’t have to do anything but recognize their existence. My body becomes a safe place in which I learn to say, “It’s ok to feel this way.”

The book that has helped me to begin appreciating meditation was The Mindful Path through Shyness by Steven Flowers. Shyness serves as my default “safe-place” to be. The sad thing is that my shyness becomes reinforced by ideas of what others might think. It is just silly to think you know what others think (especially of yourself). But now I have the ability to be aware when those defense mechanisms go into affect. Tonight is one of those nights. I desperately want to cancel the appointment I have tomorrow morning to go over my business plan. I want to work on it from the comfortable confines of my couch. I don’t want some stranger who is a business consultant to walk me through it. Of course I am nervous, I’ve got some huge opportunities on my plate. But, for the first time in awhile anxiety is starting to take over. Not to mention I’ll have to drive on a road that goes through a lake to get there (the setting of a reoccurring dream that terrifies me most every night.) Now before I decide I need to take a Xanax, I am going to do something else. I am going to try to acknowledge the anxiety, accept that it is there, understand why it might be reasonable to feel anxious, and continue to breathe. We all know what happens if we stop breathing—we’ll turn blue and pass out. I’d say that it would probably be worth it for me to keep on breathing.

to hell with to-do

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I find it funny when people suggest I am good at being organized. Perhaps I am “the organized one” in my family of origin. But this illusion seems to be encouraged by my affinity for making and following lists. These lists, often known as to-do lists, have proved helpful in hectic or grievous circumstances as they help provide focus and make it possible to discern what is important, urgent, an interruption, or a welcome diversion.

However, when it comes to setting goals, to-do lists feel like time-bombs ticking in my brain. Several of my former students witnessed the after-effects of these explosions as a sat on my office floor, surrounded by piles of papers, trying to find some orientation in the surrounding crowd of priorities. Since I no longer have an office floor for my thoughts to explode out on, I have come to find that to-do lists simply instigate my compulsive tendencies. My jaws tighten and tunnel-vision sets in. I begin to ignore my body’s need to eat, drink, rest, or contemplate. The compulsive actions seem to happen without awareness—only going forward with a bold confidence that thrives on escalating stresses created through excitement and achievement. It is not joy or happiness. It is not complete or compassionate. Any pleasure of success does not belong to me, but to the compulsion.  Sadly, such behaviors can be easily mistaken for motivation, determination, or excitement—which is why its existence is so strong. It has been nurtured greatly and for too long.

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I am happy to say that it has been two weeks since I have made a to-do list! This is especially important as plans to buy commercial property and open a bookstore are growing each day. I do make notes of appointments and events in my calendar, but I am no longer filling up every blank space with what I “need” to do before those times come. No more scratched out lists on the backs of envelopes. Instead, I have been keeping track of my accomplishments with an all-done board. I post the contact info of people I have met, I post quotes from important conversations, I acknowledge my achievements, like setting up the blog or going out in town when I’d rather just stay in my house. It is still in the works, mostly residing in my head and on the inside of a file folder. But, I really love the concept because it places events in the context of how the experience felt. Plus, it is much more celebratory and satisfying than checking off items and throwing them away.

from recovery to discovery

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For many months now, the central theme in my life has been recovery. I’ve been recovering from the sudden loss of my father in February, illness and surgery in May, and the unpleasant relationship with work I have relied upon for fifteen years. It has been a difficult process of reflection and redefinition. It took a lot of courage to take the steps to give this recovery the attention it needed, I stepped away from a successful and rewarding (albeit stressful) position as a high-level administrator at a tribal college. I spent many days working on “me” while my husband began to wonder what happened to “us.” I continue to face the sadness, fears, and anger that compulsive behaviors allowed me to ignore for years and years.

As difficult as this work continues to be, I know that I am progressing. The other day I gave myself a hug—telling myself that I am worth whatever life has in store for me. I’m not sure I had ever done anything like that before. But I did so just before I was about to share my business ideas, hopes, and dreams with a total stranger. I was glad that I took the time to show myself a little compassion, because two hours later I came out of the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation having made two wonderful friends and developed a plan that was suited to my strengths, values, and passions. My entrepreneurial spirit was born.

I was so full of excitement and esteem to start making a dent in this project of life. I wanted to do ALL the things on my to-do list at that very moment. But I did not. I took the opportunity to not react or even respond the excitement. Instead, I became mindful of it. I experienced it for what it felt. I made the effort to just try to absorb and feel the joy and anticipation of all the things that are yet to come, this winter, this spring, this summer, and everyday in between. The experience of resisting reaction was not an easy one, my hands and feet rattled with excitement as if they were contesting, trying desperately to find the old, comfortable me. But the “old” me wasn’t exactly comfortable- she was overworked, stressed, wrought with anxiety, disproportionately driven to prove something, ANYTHING about her value in life.

This was the point that my process of recovery became one of discovery.  I cannot help but think of Mary Catherine Bateson and her father, Gregory Bateson. For those of you who might have read the work of either, their premise is that productivity (of any kind) depends on the discovery of new forms of flexibility. The most recent work I have read (again) is Composing a Life by Mary Catherine.  GB and MCB are two of the most influential people I have never met in my life. My interactions with their writings have, over the past four years, assisted me in navigating my path in life.

Gregory Bateson with his daughter, Mary Catherine

This was no time to react. It was not the time to begin working on the business plan, updating my curriculum vitae, or making a list of all the possibilities that lay ahead. It was the time to feel it out and discover which possibilities felt the best for me. The reactions that I have come to know would not have facilitated this means of discovery. They would have left me exhausted and empty feeling. The time to respond might have allowed me to the experience the opportunity as a means to achieve in new ways. But a mindful approach to the sensations that were generated by respect, encouragement, and acceptance provided profound insights as to how models of possibility flourish.