The Pony And The Pile

The other night after a long day, I got ready for bed and I could hear the distress cry of a cat outside. I went to my window and as I was closing my shutters, I saw the cat right outside my window, one floor down staring up at me, meowing urgently.

My first thought was one of empathy wondering what the cat was trying to communicate and my second thought was, Oh no, she’s not going to sit there all night meowing and keep me from sleeping is she?

It was at that moment, I needed to remind myself nothing is permanent – the good, the bad, the suffering or the joy. (OK the cat did not cause me suffering – lost some sleep, but let’s not be that dramatic!) Yet we often take the things that are bad or causing us pain and suffering and act as if they will last forever. When joy arrives we miss it because we are trying to find a way to cling to the feeling for fear it will vanish as quickly as it came.

As humans we are wired to look for danger, but are we also wired to cause ourselves pain? Are we the cause of our own suffering? Are we missing out on the experience of joy for fear of it’s impermanence?

I believe that through changing our focus we can experience more joy and peace in our lives, though it takes practice. Now this is not to say everything is rainbows and puppy dogs, I’m not practicing pollyanna optimism here. It is to say that if we look for the pony in the pile of shit two things can happen. One, we get excited that although we are up to our elbows in shit that there may be something beautiful in it so it makes what we’re digging through tolerable. The second thing that happens is that we stop focusing so much on the shit because we are looking for something in it, not just staring at the shit itself.

Again, don’t get me wrong, we cannot ignore that we are in shit up to our elbows, but maybe there is purpose in why we are there? Maybe there is benefit in the shit? And maybe if we stop looking at the pile of shit and start digging we’ll find a pony or something else.  Maybe we know we we’re looking for or maybe not, but if we begin to dig instead of staring at it and experiencing it in a state of overwhelm, we can begin to clear it up and see what is there.

This does not mean that the pile doesn’t smell badly or that it is pleasant, but looking for the lesson, the good thing that might be in there provides us a way to move through it. It provides an incentive to clean it up and not just stare at it and experience it as a whole pile. It allows us to work through it a bit at a time and get a better understanding of what is in it and sort out if there may be learnings in there.

An example from my life comes from my mother. She used to talk about the gift of cancer. As a 4-time patient of various forms of the disease, I do look to her as a bit of an expert there. She would speak to patients and survivor groups about what cancer enabled her to do versus what it took from her. She spoke of the benefit of the disease bringing to the forefront what was important to her, what she learned about herself and her friends and family through her times in treatment. She looked at life differently because she had faced death. She didn’t deny it was hard, she just focused on what good came from it.

The other night on the phone I was talking with a friend who, as a survivor himself, was now watching his mother take on her own journey with cancer. A comment he made struck me, he said, “I’m amazed at how strong she is, I had no idea.”

It was such a beautiful comment and even as I write this it brings tears to my eyes. As a mother myself, I think we often down play our strength or it seems to be taken for granted. For this son to be able to experience his mother in a new and beautiful light is an incredible pony in the terrible shit that is this illness.

So as we move through our days, we know that some will be joyful and some will not and that is the way life is experienced. What we can do is create our focus point so that when the joyful times come we are present to enjoy every bit in that moment and know that although it wont last forever, it will come again.

As you face painful or uncertain times your focus is essential to move through them knowing that these times will not last forever either. I encourage you not to sit in the big pile of pain rather to begin to dig into it a little at a time and ask for help if it’s really tough. If necessary, bring in an entire excavation team so you are supported as you dig through it.

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Having experienced many piles in my own life, I have found that there is always something I learn from the tough times.  As I focus on my learning instead of the pain I find peace returns and I am able to move through the pile better.

As I write this we are facing unprecedented uncertain times. Even though I began this post before the preverbal shit hit the fan, it seemed to be good timing to publish it as I work hard in my own life to remain focused on the lessons and pray for this to pass. I am hearing from my community they are in this shit with me and if we all dig maybe we can fill a whole stable by the time it passes!

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Photo Credit: Markus Korenjak

 

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An Unhappy Monk

While I don’t consider myself an enlightened  Buddhist, I do subscribe to many of the teachings of Buddhism. It seems to be such a no-nonsense, practical way to look at life usually and besides that, I’ve never seen an unhappy monk!

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Often times when I find myself in a state of uneasiness, I look to those who seem to have a process I might follow that will work for me in any given situation. This is where the principles of the Buddha’s teachings showed up for me.

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These philosophies and principles are based on the universal truth that nothing lasts forever.

I used to have a bit of a self-deprecating statement that I had an attachment disorder. Now, I’m not so sure that this is a bad thing, maybe it turns out it is a really good thing.

This does not mean that things, people and places are not important to me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I absolutely love deeply and those who enter into my life and make any type of impact, regardless of the length of time experienced, are held in my heart for life.

What this does mean is that I allow the place, person or object to be what it is in each moment. Today they may be part of my everyday routine or with me for my morning coffee, tomorrow they may be a text message or video chat once a month or we reconnect at another time and location.

I may return to a place I once called home but I never experience it the same way. Change happens and people and places change, and if they don’t, I have. In this case to hold on to the expectation of what it used to be for me could cause a lot of disappointment.

This relates to the second Noble Truth that the origin of suffering is attachment. For me this does not relate to not being attached to the person or place, but to allow it’s place in my life to move with life itself.

For example, I will love my family eternally, that will surpass all constricts of time and space. I know this because 20+ years after my mother has died I still feel her love in different moments. I feel joy instead of sorrow because I have been able to release the need for the physical experience I used to have with her. I now am able to celebrate a more heartfelt experience of love washing over me as a butterfly flits by me while on a hike in the middle of any country I happen to be in.

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Because of this change in perspective or adapting to what is now and not suffering over what used to be that can’t be any more, I can truly celebrate the feeling. My mother’s love can reach me in places she never would have been with me. Those of you who knew my mother know she would never be on a cliff walk with me no matter how much she loved me!

Life is a constant state of evolution and these days change is happening quicker than ever before.  The more we cling to how things “used to be” or our expectations of how the “should” be, the more pain and suffering we cause ourselves. The more we adapt to how things are and find the celebration opportunities where we can, the more joy and peace we can have in our lives.

I encourage you to think about attachment in your life and how a new perspective might ease suffering, disappointment or sorrow for you and bring you more peace and joy.

In the end, we could all use a bit more peace and joy in our lives, couldn’t we?

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Time Passages – A Decade in Review

fullsizeoutput_41d9I accomplished many firsts in this decade, I stretched my physical capabilities by running amazing races and summiting some amazing mountaintops. I have been more health conscious in this decade than any before and I plan to continue this trend by continuing to be active and focusing on my nutrition.

Each time I move to a new location regardless if it is for a week or a year I stretch my emotional capabilities. The ability to continually be starting over and being a stranger in an unfamiliar is both exhilarating and uncomfortable all at the same time.

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In 2019: 27 flights, 1 Train; 6 buses; 17 Locations; 5 Countries; 4 Continents – countless memories

As I learn about others and meet people from all different backgrounds and cultures, I learn more about myself as well.  I am constantly amazed at what others have endured that I have taken for granted and the privileges I have been granted simply by circumstances beyond my control. These continual discoveries keep my gratitude list quite long and my faith in the human spirit high.

I have crossed a number of things off my bucket list and each time I do I think I add about ten more!

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Still working on meeting Richard Branson in person!

One of the most amazing things for me though is even as my bucket list grows, so too does my understanding that I will likely not get to everything before I get to the bucket. As I collect experiences along the way, the pressing need to achieve each and every item diminishes. I will continue to aim for them all but have no regrets if I can’t reach every one and I appreciate each moment in each experience.

As I am able to complete many of the items I desire I am in comfort and peace that I will enjoy all that I can in each. My ability to be present has increased and because of my desire to travel slow I have been able to really absorb the nuances of a location not just visit.

My gratitude for all I’ve been able to enjoy and discover gives me both the joy and peace that I have gotten to do more than I ever thought and the experiences have been rich and thorough. This is a unexpected benefit of this lifestyle.

I haven’t just collected airline miles and passport stamps, I have embedded myself in daily life, learned about the culture, volunteered with local groups and left footprints along my path. Whether I am in my home country in a new location, revisiting a location I have enjoyed previously or in a completely different culture there is so much I have received and in return I leave a bit of myself behind.

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As I look ahead to the next year and decade I am filled with excitement. It is said that we over estimate what we can accomplish in a year and under estimate what we can accomplish in a decade. Being the over achiever that I am, I intend to blow it all out of the water over the next 10 years so buckle up, I’m just getting started!

I have some amazing adventures lined up for the upcoming year that I will happily take you along as best I can. My life is not just about the adventures and travels, I joke about wanting to have amazing stories to repeat when I’m old, but I really want to enhance my present moments.

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Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Having grown up in a household with a terminally ill parent has shaped the way I view life. No one knows how long or in what condition we will live, so as my sister likes to quote me, “How bout now? Now is good!”

As you step into this new year, may I remind you that you are already naked and encourage you to engage in every moment of this time we call life.

Mindful Time

My desire to grapple with the concept of time started at a very early age. I was a child IMG_9720living with a mother with a terminal illness and I always understood that she would not live the “normal” life expectancy. From the age of seven I understood our tomorrows are not guaranteed and that time is precious.

As a child and teenager, long into my early adulthood, I had trouble being “on time” for anything. As a young child my mother called me the pokey little puppy from the children’s storybook of the same name, but it quickly became an issue and not cute at all as I got older.

As a teen and young adult I struggled with schedules and meeting people at a specific time. It never failed as I was getting ready to meet someone, a friend would call needing to talk, or something would come up that I felt needed immediate attention.

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We now call that being in the moment, or being present – but then…it was called disrespectful.

I do own the fact that not everything truly needed the immediate attention I gave it, but this came only from practice and experience. I have also learned the art of predicting the unplanned and notifying people if it appears I’m going to be late now.

Once I got a handle on working within the constricts of time, I then was a single mother with children. Anyone with children knows this was an utter derailment and all my efforts to keep on schedule went down the drain as I tried to get my children to care about time.

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Children don’t care about schedules or time; they rely on their own rhythm and make their needs known as they arise. I allowed being on time to become so important to me that I missed so many important moments by hurrying them through something because of a schedule.

It’s funny how natural the child’s presence comes and as adults many struggle to become present. It is a natural instinct that we have put aside in order to work within the concept of time.

I know we need some type of order in the world. If everyone ran around being present and “in the moment” there would be chaos and we would certainly have trouble.

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Yet I think about living on the islands and going to a store or a utility office to pay a bill only to find a sign on the door, “out to lunch”. I knew that meant I should come back in 2 hours or so because they would come back when they were done, not within a prescribed 20 minutes or hour. Yes it was sometimes a hassle but not often because who doesn’t appreciate living on “island time?”

The thing is that time is a man made concept. It is a method we use to understand a rhythm of our existence. However this is not always to the benefit of our human experience, sometimes it separates us from the very experience and rhythm of life.

As I prepare to take a trip to the other side of the globe whereby I will cross the date line and a day of my life will vanish into thin air this concept becomes ever more illusive. A day will pass that I will never have lived yet been present the entire time.

If this doesn’t explain that time is not real, I’m not sure what does!

We are pulled each day by appointments, obligations and our schedules. Many often have trouble saying no to a request to spend their time doing something they may or may not want to do but once put in the schedule it is time spent.

Each time I step on a plane, each time I talk to my children on the phone or my family or friends either in person or on the phone, I recognize that time shared is a gift and not a guarantee. To miss being fully present in those moments however normal and routine they may be is to ignore the gift because it is those moments that are the ones I will long for if and when they are no longer available.

So I leave you with these thoughts on time. Time is a gift not a guarantee. It means onlyimages what you allow it to mean, so I encourage you to consider this each moment you
schedule on your calendar. Make sure what is in your calendar is what is in your heart and that you make space to be present during those appointments.

I encourage you to celebrate each moment. And if you forget how to be present, take a child for a walk in the woods and follow their lead, you might just spend a 20 minutes following a critter and it might just turn out to be the most magical and enjoyable 20 minutes you’ve had in a while.

Thank you for spending your time reading this and I hope it helps you be more present with the rest of your time.

The Step Beyond Courage

Have you ever had that feeling, “uh oh, I’m in over my head”?

Living my lifestyle this is not a new thought for me, but this past week it was a more intense version of the same thought.

I just returned from a week that really challenged me. It challenged my ability to call out for what I needed, it challenged me to learn new skills, and most of all, it challenged me to stay when I wanted to run. I was challenged to my very core to be brave.

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It is in these times when I have to dig deep that I find the best parts of me. I learn so much about myself and my strengths and weaknesses and I often find a new voice.

When I am placed in a position to be brave I have made a decision that what I am facing is worth the challenge before me regardless of the outcome. It is the truest test of what is important to me and it calls on my spirit to support it.

This is where my spirit lives in the moments I need to call on my ability to be brave.  I believe this is true for others as well.

Size Doesn’t Matter

It doesn’t matter the size of the challenge, for some just getting out of bed to face the day is the bravest thing in the world in that moment. To me, being brave is the virtue of knowing that you are pushing yourself to do more and be more than you think is possible in the moment.

To go after something even when you are not sure you will succeed is a step beyond courage and moves into bravery where you must call on everything you have to accomplish your goal knowing it is not guaranteed. It has reminded me that those with illnesses, addictions or facing any kind of unknown outcome, the strength summoned to face each day and the challenges it brings is tremendously brave and I am in inspired by you.

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This week reminded me that I have so much more ability than I believed because I can call on my spirit and be brave when I am faced with the opportunity.

Because I had forgotten about this inner strength, I thought you might have too and I wanted to remind you that you are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem.

I encourage you to celebrate the ways you are brave today.

I see you being brave.

I know how strong you are.

It all matters.

You matter

-E

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The Benefits of Beginning

Having a discussion with a friend and colleague today she said something I think we all feel.

“I like trying new things, but I hate being a beginner.”

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Does that resonate with you? It does for me, but as much as I don’t like the beginner stage and I want to start everything I try at expert stage – I continue to begin again on something new often.

For me, this is part of why I like travel so much, I get the chance every time I arrive at a new location to have the childlike wonder where everything is new.  This part is cool, but until I learn a place, I get lost, turned around and can’t find what I need right away. Things take longer for me because of the unfamiliarity and I risk looking like a fool (have you heard my Spanish?)

Here is the thing though, if we don’t step out into what we do not know, we stop growing. One of the dangers of not stepping into something new is that because of familiarity we miss some pretty cool stuff.

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When I begin something new my awareness is heightened both in how I’m doing the new thing and how it’s being received. I want to do it well and I pay close attention to each step of what I’m doing because it’s unfamiliar to me. My awareness is heightened to a level not seen in what is commonplace for me and I see and witness things that might be otherwise overlooked if I was doing something routine.

Remember learning to drive? Remember when going 5 mph felt like you were flying?  You noticed everything, where your hands were on the steering wheel (was that only my Dad?) where you were focused, the speedometer and the rearview mirror. Do you even notice any more when you pass 70mph unless there is a cop around?

This is what happens when we stop putting ourselves into new situations. Things become routine and habits are formed (good or bad) and life goes a bit into autopilot which to me is existing, not living. It becomes so natural to not pay close attention and do multiple routine things at the same time. When we are in an habitual mode we fail to notice some of the beauty around us and we might even take some things for granted that are precious to us. We definitely miss a lot because we are not paying close attention.

The discomfort of doing something new gives us the opportunity to examine things around us much more closely and be focused on our interaction with them. We are naturally more present in a new environment or when doing something new to us.

In the newness of a process or location we are also at our most vulnerable which encourages interaction with others. Those whom we may have overlooked or not made time for become a necessary connection for continued learning or growth in the new process.

As technology continues to take us away from our natural world and we need to relearn how to “be present” I can think of no better way than to start something new.

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What could you become a beginner at today? Have you always wanted to play guitar, or sing, or learn a language?

There is so much to be gained by continually becoming a beginner, so as we move into Spring, I ask you, what will you begin next?