personal growth

Pathfinding for the Soul

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.


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.


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:


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.



What I Didn’t Learn At Yoga Class (and Other Humiliations)

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions;
it is easy in solitude to live after your own; 
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I learned something in yoga today. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what it was, so perhaps learn-ed past tense is an inaccurate description. Let me start that sentence over. Yoga tried desperately to teach me something today that I haven’t quite figured out, yet. Emphasis on the yet.

I‘ve been feeling really pulled in different directions lately, like so many people want or need something from me, like I’m not exactly sure what they want but I am the one being asked to deliver. Personally. Professionally. Creatively. Many times over the last week I’ve wanted to go all preschooler on the world – stomp my feet, put my fingers in my ears and scream at the top of my lungs. Throw a temper tantrum. Or hide behind a tree.

I resisted the urge, tried to be pleasant. A urine soaked sheet slapped me across the face. Gross, but I tried to be positive and grateful my mouth was closed. I had to work all last weekend for a Very Important Inspection. Well, I thought, at least I had the weekend to prepare. See? Positive. Not running away. Staying with the discomfort and trying not to dwell in it. Many other things transpired this week, but these are the only examples I feel like sharing. It’s been a touchy sort of week. Emotionally sticky. Mentally draining.

So I decided to do a little hibernation. Pull back into myself. Get back to my core, my place of respite. And, above all, I decided to go to yoga class. Yoga is one of those things kicked to the back burner while I try to “accomplish” and “manage” so many other things in my life. But I need it. I crave it. I was excited for it and told my teacher as much when I rolled into the studio this afternoon.

I should have seen the lesson coming when my self-designated weekend of solitude landed me in the most packed class I’ve ever attended. Still, I managed to carve out a nice spot for myself right up close to the mirrors. Sometimes I set an intention before my practice and today it was: Focus on myself; don’t get distracted by the other students. You see, I brought the good energy.

Then a man who’s son I used to teach filled in on the row behind me. No problem, I thought. He’s a nice guy. No weird karma there. I’ll pretend I don’t know him for the duration of the class so I can really stay in this focused bubble. Om. Then I noticed the anorexic two mats over from him, exactly diagonal from me in the other direction. To look at her was painful, but I caught myself. You’re not going to be looking at her. You’re focusing on your practice, remember? Right. Om.

Class started. Relaxed. Deep breathing. I heard Shanna say “there are still spots, fill in,” and felt people set up next to me. Really close next to me. Not. A. Problem. Until the man fell into me. Twice. Then he started chastising his wife in Spanish and English, telling her she wasn’t doing the poses right. Um, hello jerk-off. I don’t really think you have room to talk the way you keep running into me and stepping on my mat. And what kind of a misogynist delinquent drags his wife to a class she repeatedly told him she didn’t want to attend and then tells her how badly she’s doing? Crap. I’m not focused again. Breathe. Om. This went on for a while. A long while. Let’s just say, skeleton-girl was the least of my worries. She could’ve had her heart attack and I wouldn’t have noticed.

See how awful I am? This is why I do yoga. My brain chatter is super-powerful. Even when I try to be open and loving and peaceful, I’m still saying really mean things in my head. On the flip side, that’s what I love about yoga. It hasn’t taken away the thoughts, but it’s made me more aware of them which is half the battle. Then I try to change the thoughts or at least decide whether I agree with them or not. Almost right away, I realized douche-bag and his wife presented me with a learning opportunity. I was being given a chance to go deep inside myself and block out distraction, find my solitude for reals, develop a strong inner resolve.

Then, he farted on me. 

We were doing wide-leg forward bend and he just let it rip. Right. In. My. Face.

I wanted to be rescued. I admit it. This strong, powerful, independent woman wanted to be rescued from the hell that the yoga class had become. Or, at the very least, I didn’t want to have to come back out of this pose and swish through the fart-filled air again. I’ll just take Savasana from here, thanks, Shanna. 

But I didn’t. I thanked the universe for my allergies which created a mild-barrier between myself and the odor. I told myself it would all be over, soon. I felt grateful I wasn’t this guy’s wife. Anything to make it better. And it did. A little. And even a little, counts.

The rest of my afternoon continued in the same ridiculous vein of The Universe Tries To Teach Amanda A Lesson. The “dad” talked to me for 30 minutes in the parking lot after class, asking my opinion on all sorts of work-related things. I went to the grocery store for a few items and ran into a bunch of people I know. We chatted. It was pleasant. My solitude bubble hid in the shadows, vowing never to come out again for fear it’ll just get popped. Again. And again. And again. And then someone will fart on it.

So I don’t know how this will end, but I will tell all of you that I’m going to persist in this search for solitude. My book is almost finished. It’s some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done and I realize I’m only about half-over. There is still a second draft to be hashed out, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it and after I take a break at the first draft’s completion. I’ll let you know when that happens. I’m sure I will celebrate in some fashion and appreciate the Congratulations.

But I need to be by myself right now, insomuch as that is possible. Which is, apparently, not so very much. This blog will slumber along with me and revive when I feel like posting and/or when I finish the book, whichever comes first.And I’ll keep you posted about what the lesson actually was of this week. I’d try a little harder to find it right now, but I’m tired. The big world is loud. It’s messy. And it farts a lot.

I‘m going to go read.


personal growth, yoga

Finding Your Threshold

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view, That stand upon the threshold of the new.
Edmund Waller

I don’t know if it was one-too-many sprints up the hill in high school soccer practice or just general wimpiness (I suspect the latter), but I’ve always associated the word threshold with pain. As in: “I’ve reached my threshold, I can’t push any further.” Now that I’m exploring the world of yoga, I find myself using the word threshold to describe the place I’m trying to find – the outer reaches of what I can physically and mentally handle without giving up. As with any practice, the more I do it, the stronger I become and the longer I can stay in positions that drove me to cursing and collapse just a few short weeks ago. But its not just about physical strength. My mind and spirit are stronger too, so that even though it hurts as much as it did weeks ago, I am getting better at sitting with the hurt. In fact, I find it helps not to think of it as “hurt” but as some nebulous something that soon will pass.  I know that sounds like a pile of new age crap, but its true. Try it and prove me wrong.

With all of the focus on pain and discomfort, imagine my surprise when I looked up the word “threshold” and found it defined as: “An entrance or a doorway, the place or point of beginning; the outset.” Huh. So I’ve been associating doorways and new beginnings with pain. That sounds like me. I’d just never seen it so clearly before. What I have seen are the words “Pain! Fear! Stop!” flashing across my brain when I’m presented with the new, something I really want, my heart’s true desire. Perhaps I’m the only one, but I suspect I’m not. Newness can be terrifying. It shakes you up. It shakes you down. It strips away your artifice and sends you naked on a new adventure. Sure, you may get your dream come true. You also might get eaten by a dragon.

But I’ve come to realize, the dragon gets all of us in the end. It makes more sense, to me, to find the adventure while its there for the finding. The grand doorways of life require an almost heroic crossing of a threshold, but you become stronger each time you push up against it.The unknown might be scary and uncomfortable at first, just like a yoga pose that asks you to balance your body in a new way, often head down, very close to crashing into the earth. But with practice, it becomes the new normal and you have grown past boundaries you never realized you’d erected for yourself.

What are the thresholds in your life and how do you reach them? The next time you find one, instead of running away or pulling back, maybe try stepping a little closer and sitting at the edge. Put a toe in the water – your future is waiting for you on the other side. And while you’re there, look for me. I’ll be the one splashing around in the water.