I’ve been known to talk about my “core” a lot – that part of the self that isn’t penetrated by outside experience, strong in a non-attached sort of way. I’m usually talking about yoga and making some joke about my physical core being all flabby, which makes me worry about the state of my aforementioned metaphysical core I’m sure it’s pretty annoying to anyone who has to listen, and for that, I offer my condolences.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be spared that mini-Amanda-lecture-series a.) consider yourself lucky and b.) don’t tell those other people, but I may have been wrong.

I know you’re shocked.

We speak about a core Self as if there is some true person buried beneath the layers of self, as if enough digging will unearth a Truth long hidden, some deeper part of our personality that will once-and-for-all explain ourselves to ourselves. I suppose it’s the urge behind the whole “finding yourself” business everyone was supposed to figure out in their 20’s.

Well, I’m 38 (I almost typed 37 – that goes to show a certain slippage of self right there, don’t you think?) Any sort of core identity seems to be slipping further and further away as I get older, when I thought the reverse would happen.

The older I get the more I’m struck by a terrifying idea – I’m just making this crap up. And when I look around at everyone else it unsettles me even more – everyone else is obviously making it up too. Duh. Y’all aren’t even good fakers.

So now I’m having to rethink this whole idea of a core – it’s elusive. I’m going to go all spiritual here for a second, but this whole core-business seems to be the exact opposite of identifying with an idea of who you are and all about tapping into something that is much bigger than any of us – something that asks nothing, demands nothing, but encompasses us all. It’s like looking out at the night sky and realizing how tiny you actually are.

It’s not what I thought being a grown-up was all about. But it is liberating, in a jumping-off-a-cliff sort of way, so at least there’s that.

Now let me go anchor this rope to a tree before I creep over the edge.

I can’t wait to see what I find down there.

Namaste

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personal growth, yoga

Jumping Off Cliffs and How “Grown-ups” Are All Big Fakers

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personal growth

Emotional Weather Barometers ~ Sadly No App For That

I love my weather app. Like, to a possibly unhealthy degree. I know it’s a little nutty to repeatedly check the current temperature on a little machine instead of just sticking my head outside and judging for myself. But there’s something so reassuring about always “knowing” the temp and humidity and the type of precipitation we are or are not experiencing at this very “updated two minutes ago” moment. And even though I know, rationally, that the forecast might change drastically between now and then, I really like knowing the predicted chance of rainfall next Tuesday. I don’t know why. I don’t claim to be normal.

The other day it occurred to me how awesome it would be if there was an app like the Weather Channel for my life. Some sort of mood gauge or progress barometer that highly trained specialists could read, analyzing insights I was likely to stumble upon, calculating my future emotions based on hormones and sleep and food and exercise. “By Thursday, you should be feeling substantially better – your current ennui is unjustified, a mere blip in your spiritual barometer…like a front it will pass and the birds will sing.” That. Would. Rock.

Or perhaps it would be able to warn me of emotions that haven’t surfaced, not-yet-visible storms on the horizon whose inevitability blows like a hurricane across the Atlantic ~ undoubtably coming but the trigger that equals landfall and the exact timing are still up in the air. The prediction would caution vigilance, emotional inventories – at least I’d know to stock up on sleep.

I guess this urge to know the future is why people read horoscopes and question oracles – two things I don’t do very often anymore. And the reason I’ve stopped is that I finally realized I have way more control over my emotions, now and in the future, than I will ever have over the weather. Not that anyone can exactly choose their feelings every second, but we can change our emotional direction and weaken the impact of negative emotion far more than we usually give ourselves credit for. But we must first accept responsibility for ourselves and the way we feel.

It seems easier to just predict how we will feel, as if our futures are inevitable. Sometimes I am like that: “I didn’t want X to happen but it did, ergo I will feel angry.” But it doesn’t have to work like that. When I stop resisting what “is” and realize how much is outside my control, my inner Doppler radar calms down a lot. There are fewer hurricanes. More sunny days. I realized that I can choose to be a birch that bends or a branch that breaks, and that when the sun hides her sunny face for too many days on end, I can be like the moonflower, blooming by moonlight in spite of herself.

So I guess I’m cool without the app. I have too many anyway (Machinarium, anyone? That game is so much more fun than silly personal growth any day.) Seriously, though. I don’t need a barometer, only the courage to accept life and what it brings, no matter the stormy weather.

Still. It would be super-cool if there was an app for that.

Namaste.

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personal growth, yoga

Bangs and the Pursuit of Happiness

Last year I vowed to not make any New Year’s resolutions. It worked well and I managed to accomplish all sorts of things while resolving absolutely nothing. However, with the turning of another year (and the fact that I survived the prophesied end of the world…thanks Mayans,) I find myself reflecting on where my life’s path has taken me and where I’d like to journey next.

The only problem is that those kinds of reflections often send me into a spiral of “should haves” or white-knuckle-life-changing strategies that never seem to work out. I’ve discovered that when I focus on what I want instead of what I should want or don’t want, I take much bigger leaps forward in life, at least from a satisfaction and happiness perspective. Little hunches and whims have carried me far, from my job to yoga to writing a children’s book to most of my closest friends. Following supposed “flights of fancy” often takes my life in new directions I didn’t perceive at the outset, directions that often seem unrelated to the initial “purpose” or point of the activity. Inevitably, I find myself in situations that I would have chosen for myself in hindsight. but if I’d set out to arrive at my destination I never would have been able to plan the haphazard, jaunty path whimsy set before me as the quickest path to “happy”.

So this year, when I found myself trying to design some sort of new “project” for my life or to structure my growth towards a defined goal, a little voice inside resisted. Every idea I played around with didn’t seem right until this one: Do what makes me happy. In Joseph Campbell’s more eloquent words: Follow your bliss.

I find myself in the fortunate position of liking my job and the person I live with (two big criterions for happiness), and I have several good friends….so I’m starting out this little project ahead of the game, probably thanks to all those whims I’ve already followed over the last decade of my life. But now I give myself permission to pursue this sort of happiness path with gusto and enthusiasm. In the past the “shoulds” have stopped me, but no longer.

I’m no fool. I know there will be all sorts of things I have to do that might not be my preference in the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about my free time, the people I associate with, the projects I devote myself to. I’m talking about filling my life with even more beauty and joy and playfulness than I’ve allowed in so far, and seeing where it takes me.

First stop? A new haircut on Saturday. When I told my daughter that I’ve wanted bangs for the longest time but haven’t gotten them she looked at me with total confusion. “Why wouldn’t you do something that you’ve wanted to do for so long?” I didn’t have a good answer for her and hopefully, I won’t be asking myself that question much longer.

Here’s to a year of pursuing passion and talking to owls (my term for trusting and listening to your inner voice.)

Namaste

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personal growth

Pathfinding for the Soul

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I was fortunate to open my email this morning and discover an update from Tara Sophia Mohr, writer and champion for women to “Play It Big.” I first heard of Tara when a good friend told me about her “10 Rules For Brilliant Women.” That post was chock-full of juicy wisdom that got me thinking about myself in a compassionate, supportive new way. I hadn’t read it for a long while, but she was interviewed over at Whitney Johnson’s site yesterday and the post reminded me of one of the cornerstones of success, happiness, and a life well-lived.

“We – especially those of us trained in critical thinking skills for our work – often act as the critics, the skeptics, the analysts, in relationship to our heart’s desires. There are moments for that – moments for strategizing and planning with a critical eye – but they are rare and they come later in the self-actualization process. First, and primarily, we need to be the nurturers and unwavering friends of our heart’s desires.”

When I first stumbled on it, the idea of being an “unwavering friend” of my own heart’s desire seemed ridiculous. Self-indulgent. Selfish.

But as I’ve put this theory of self-love and acceptance to the test, I’ve found that the flight attendants are right. You really do need to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. In other words, if you don’t have love (or energy or compassion) for yourself, you don’t have it to give to others. Period.

I know it’s not easy. It isn’t easy to trust yourself. It isn’t easy to even know what you want many times. It takes practice like anything else, especially if you’ve been told all your life, either overtly or otherwise, that other people’s needs are more important than your own, that other people are smarter than you, that other people know what’s best for you.

It isn’t true.

There will never be another you in all of creation. Nobody else has ever lived your life, so the reins of your life’s destiny belong in your hands alone. This path you’re on, it won’t always be lit by a bright beacon. But there are signposts.

Listen to that small voice of whimsy.

Follow your urge.

Wonder about the long-forgotten dream.

Pay attention to fear.

And finally, ask yourself, “What would I do if I knew it would make me happy?” When you find the answer, do it. Hold your own hand. Find your way back home.

Namaste.

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nature, personal growth

Flying Above The Clouds – Navigating the Thought Storms of Life

The last time I flew on an airplane I was reminded of a simple, yet often forgotten, truth: the sky is always clear above the clouds. It was a rainy takeoff and my logical mind started listing all the reasons a few bumps and lurches didn’t mean imminent death, because as many times as I remind myself to stay in the present moment and ride the waves of life, part of me can’t help instinctively projecting worry into my future. I know enough nowadays not to give that fear-mongering voice much attention, so I did the psychological equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and humming a tune to drown it out – I started deep breathing.

Much to my surprise, the ascent was pretty smooth as I cast furtive glances and watched droplets of water slip-slide across the tiny window. And then, as quickly as the rain raced, it stopped. We had crept above the clouds. And all I could see were blue skies.

20121002-213634.jpgThe clouds bubbled beneath us, no longer threatening stormy weather. From up above they were gorgeous as all the rest. The beauty was all in the perspective.

As a child, I’m sure most everyone played the game of trying to find shapes in the clouds. Some of us still do. Aren’t our thoughts so similar to clouds and the images we found in them long ago? Some are lingering, some are fleeting. They loom large one moment but then change so quickly as to be unrecognizable the next.

I often forget this about my thoughts. I give them such power, believe them to be true and solid, when they are actually ephemeral. I often forget there’s a blue sky of peace behind them. To get there, you have to push through the often-frightening takeoff. You must relax and keep moving through the clouds, undeterred by the bumps and detours. Often, just remembering the blue sky lies beyond gives enough courage to breathe through the thoughts and emotions that thunder and drift through your inner skies.

So today, as I look up at a sky that simply can’t make up it’s mind (one moment storms, the next pockets of blue), I smile and am glad for the reminder that, in many ways, I am like that sky. And no matter how stormy life seems, the blue sky is there whether I can see it or not. The storms shall pass. Or I shall fly above them.

And then I will kiss the sky.

Namaste.

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personal growth, yoga

Why Falling On Your Face Is Good For You

This evening, I fell on my face. That isn’t a metaphor: I literally came crashing to earth. On. My. Face.

I consider myself lucky to still have front teeth, but it’s all good. Trust me.

How, you may ask, is falling on your face a good thing? And what was I doing to fall in the first place? Easy answer first: I was doing a handstand – sort of – not very well. That’s where the falling part came in. In my future-version-of-Amanda-awesomeness I look like this:

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And as much as I’d like “future Amanda” and “current Amanda” to be the same entity, they’re really quite different. Current Amanda has been practicing headstands for a year and tentatively creeping more weight into her arms in forward bends, stepping onto tippy-toes, leaning forward and hovering with her face above the ground for milliseconds at a time. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s not even close.

But there’s the rub. Maybe it is close. Maybe I’m closer than I know. The only way to find out was to lift my feet up and see what I could do.

I found out I can fall.

Even more importantly, I can fall and get back up. I can land on my face, a humility I haven’t experienced since childhood, and then turn around and laugh. Because you know what? It’s only scary until you do it. Once you fall or nail it or stumble or whatever…you’ve faced the fear and moved into new territory. Unfortunately, I’m not in the new territory of looking badass while doing a handstand. I’m still working on doing a handstand. But I’m working with a little more know-how than I had before. I’m a little braver than I was before I tried and that counts for a lot.

You see, I don’t think it really matters what you can do. Truly great things don’t happen by staying in your comfort zone. It’s scary to go for the things you want, but your mother and teachers and even Nike were right: Just Do It. Try. Practice. There’s no other way to the awesome. There’s no other way to find out exactly how powerful, creative, inspired or beautiful you can be without risk. If there was another, easier way, everyone would do it.

Look around. How many people are truly fulfilled, striving, following a dream? Enough, but not most. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live?

Everyone has pain in their future. Everyone has bumps and bruises and scary things waiting to happen. Want to know a secret? You can’t avoid it. But you can choose the path you’ll be on when the inevitable growing pains and falls of life happen. You can set your compass.

That way, you’ll be your own definition of awesome when you reach the other side.

Namaste.

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personal growth

What The Children Have Taught Me

It might sound strange, but as a teacher I’ve “learned” more than I’ve “taught.” The children at my preschool have taught me about respect and curiosity and beauty. They’ve shown me how to love big and embrace each day for its own sake. They instruct, through their very essence, the inexplicable dance of being vulnerable and strong all at the same time. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned from the children. But there is one lesson I want to share in depth, because it has changed my life.

It’s called: Use your words. We ask children to “use their words” all the time, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. Their problems seem so simple to us: Who had the spoon first? Who gets to be which character in the game? What game are we going to play? As adults we think “How simple. I wish my problems were this easy.” We wonder what the hair pulling, name calling, and pushing people out of line is all about and how long it will be until they grow out of it.

The formula for “using your words” at our school is pretty straightforward:
1.Each person gets a chance to say what they want.
2.Each person gets to say how they’re feeling about the situation.
3.Everyone involved works together to find a resolution to which they can all agree.

I wish I could tell you that once I learned how to help children resolve their arguments, I immediately saw how applicable the system was to my own life. That would have been the adult thing to do. I’m sorry to tell you that it took many years of encouraging children to “use their words” before I found the courage to use my own. The awareness took me by surprise, one day, when I felt upset with another adult in my life. My mind started spinning about how wrong they were and it began scheming ways to make sure the other person knew how upset I was without, you know, actually having to tell them how upset I was.

Then, an idea hit me like a hula hoop hurtling back to earth: “What if I just tell them what I’m upset about?” On the surface it sounds good. It makes perfect sense. But pretty soon another voice sprang to mind, warning against those words I wanted to use: What if I say what I think and the other person thinks I’m stupid? What if I tell them how I’m feeling and they get angry? The “what ifs” of fear spiraled toward the horizon and I suddenly realized how hard “using your words” actually is in practice. Telling your truth can be terrifying, especially when it causes you to disagree with other people. How many of us try to “suck it up” or keep to ourselves just to make our lives easier? How often do you tell the truth about little things, but hide the things that are really bothering you behind a wall? Do you ever hide those truths from yourself?

It’s not so simple at all. Once I started “using my words” as a practice, not just as a teacher but also as a mother and partner and daughter and friend, I found a new kind of courage. I saw the beauty of people speaking from their unique place. I understood the importance of each person becoming vulnerable enough to reveal their truth so we could all be a little stronger together.

Whenever possible, (i.e. when I find my courage instead of fear) I use my words now. But I’ll never again think “using your words” is a simple activity. It is brave. It is important. And every day I see a child practicing, a little person who just found words a year ago and is already speaking their truth, I grow a little along with them.

And I would like to say “Thank you”.

(This post was excerpted from an article written for the Open Door School newsletter “Open Doorways.”)

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