Yesterday was the Summer Equinox, and it's got me taking stock of how my life has moved forward this year. When I reviewed my 2014, I noted that this year's theme was "enrich". On the whole, I feel like I've been true to that idea. I've turned and nurtured my soul soil with friends and family, my own internal work, and so much love with my man. We sit and talk for hours about our stressors and relationship, and dreams for the future. It's real, deep and meaningful communication. Our home feels lovely and welcoming; a comfortable place to snuggle down into. He's even helping me learn how to cook! But here's the thing. I still get bogged down in feeling like I haven't accomplished everything that I wanted to by now. Working out, dancing on the regular, writing my novel, sleeping under the stars, gardening. I've kept putting these things off and off during the past three months. "Oh, I'll start after Randall moves in and get's settled", "...after I get back from my work trip", "...after my ankle feels better", "...after I watch this Netflix episode", "...after I'm back from my vacation." All the while, those intentions are camped out in my brain like big fat pigeons, pecking me with guilt. Procrastination is not a happy campground y'all.
Ought I just strap in, and get it done? Galvanize and go?
But, enriching takes time. Hard pack dirt can take months, years even, to become pliable and healthy soil. I was nowhere near as sealed off as that analogy implies, but it's good to remind myself of the time needed. My 2015 theme wasn't 'action' or 'accomplish', it was 'enrich'. As such, I think I have to give it more time. I can't rush it. I have to dig in with the nutrients and be peaceful with myself. Beautiful things have happened so far, and I know there's more to come.
Anyone else feeling this way about their 2015?
In the meantime though, feel free to check out some of my favorite photos from my trip to NYC to visit my sister - an enriching experience for sure!
“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.” -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
It's part two in my semi-regular series: “A Road of Her Own – Interviews”. In this space I’ll be speaking with amazing and interesting women. With each interview, I’ll be following a chain of admiration, as each friend will pick the next person in line. My blog is all about finding your own path, and I want to talk to these women about their “own road”. Check out the first interview with Andrea here.
My second interviewee is Anne! She is a professional grant writer, fundraiser, travel enthusiast, and peace pursuer. I'm thrilled to share our conversation here.
Katie: Hello Anne! How are you?
Anne: I'm fine, happy to be here!
In my blog, I talk about three things: authenticity, peacefulness, and productivity. Which of those three stands out the most to you?
Anne: I would definitely say peacefulness, because it's what I'm trying achieve these days!
Of those three, would you say peacefulness is the most challenging? Why is that?
Absolutely. I'm in the midst of a lot of life changes right now, I'm buying a house and planning a wedding. I recognize that these are all very big blessings, but they're also very stressful. I'm trying to let go of control right now, and enjoy the waves of my life more than I have in the past. Trying not to be so anxious! I'm doing a lot of yoga.
That's perfect for my next question! Because when do you feel the most peaceful?
Practicing yoga has really been helpful, I'm trying to do it every single day. Breathing techniques really help too. And I've also taken up needle point! Which is very zen for me. You can just sit in front of a movie and do that, and you're not just in front of a computer.
What are three words that’d you pick for this time in your life?
I would say Dynamic, Challenging, and Gratitude.
What three would you pick for your focus today?
Today is more about Productivity, Enjoyment (because it's Sunday) and Focus. I'm going on a business trip soon, so I have a lot of things to do!
What was the first book that really affected you? Why?
Well, I remember James and Giant Peach being the first book that I read in one day. I think it took me 8 hours and I just laid on the couch all day and read it. It was the first book that I was obsessively reading and I couldn't put it down. I think was probably 7 or 8. As more of an adult, Kate Chopin's The Awakening was really big for me. It was the first feminist book I had read. I was in high school, and it really blew me away. It was the first story I had read of a woman who took a different and unconventional path. So much of the books that we were assigned growing up were the classics with male protagonists, and [The Awakening] was such a change from the standard women's role. It definitely opened my eyes to a different point of view.
What is a book that you just read or that you're reading that you recommend? Why?
One of my favorite books in the last couple years was Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. I recommend it to pretty much every person I meet. It's a dystopian novel, so funny, and so smart. It really nails it on the head of where our society is going. Our use of technology, our focus on money, looks, and materialism.
What do you listen to when you want to feel unstoppable? Why?
*Laughs* That's a really good question! Music for me is a lot of dream pop and folk, stuff that doesn't really feel unstoppable. But, oh ... Prince! It's hard not to feel amazing when you're listening to Prince.
If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you try to do?
I actually feel very strongly that failure is important, and making mistakes is an incredibly important part of life's journey. One of my life philosophies is to do the thing that scares you, regardless of failure. But, if I knew I couldn't fail, I would probably open up a thrift store! That would be my dream life. Own a thrift store and shop for vintage clothes all day.
What is your goal for 2015?
Be the best partner I can be.
This is an imagining question! If your life up to this point was a road, what would it be like, what does it look like?
Very up and down, but going up. Upwards in elevation, and becoming ever more expansive.
Looking forward, can you see what the road looks like?
I see it expanding in front of me! As you grow older, and you know yourself better, you have self confidence and there's more and more in front of you that you can choose from. Your life gets more expansive and richer.
What do you most admire about yourself?
I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin. I think that women in general struggle with self esteem, and there's so much pressure on us to fit into certain boxes. Since I've been in my 30's, I feel happy with where I am.
Who is a formidable woman (fictional/real) that you’d like to be friends with?
*Laughs* I would love to be friends with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from Broad City. They bring a lot of joy to my world.
What woman in your life should I interview next?
Thank you so much Anne for sharing your road with me! It was a joy to chat and learn about you. Can't wait to talk to you, Adrienne!
Being between--leaving one place and move towards, but not yet arriving in the new place--is called being in a liminal place...at that point one is between places, neither in nor out. --Evon Flesberg
Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, delight the heart. And they both take practice. -Nora Roberts
Here's to my 2015 theme word: enrich!
Heart full and heart hurt. It's a strange dichotomy I've got going on right now. When you welcome deep feelings, and are open and vulnerable, the practice can pay off in a big way. You feel shimmery and alive. But it leaves your heart open to take a walloping as well. So today, I am breathing.
This is my 100th post! 100 articles about my struggles, thoughts, and hopes - DANG. A Road of Your Own has traveled from the humble beginnings when I thought this blog was going to be a chronicle of my favorite roads in town, to life hack projects, to shared grief, to rules to live by, and even to a community workshop. These days, I feel like I'm finally finding the right voice. I've got confidence in sharing my vulnerabilities and dreams; and I sincerely hope that I've helped you find that same confidence. Thank you so much to everyone who has stuck by A Road of Your Own and supported me; it would've been a far more boring journey without you guys. Here's to 100 more rich, love filled, scary/exciting explorations of our shared soul beauty!
Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. --Anne Lamott "Bird by Bird"
For the past three (ish) weeks, I've been taking Aerial Hoop classes and loving it. I've had five so far, and have learned a ton of positions, conditioning exercises and even how to start spinning!
Taking on this new activity has been challenging, both physically and emotionally. A lot of these maneuvers require a core and upper body strength that I don't have right now. I know that I can get there, but sometimes class can be tough - especially at the end. My hands will burn, biceps and triceps will shake, and my abs will protest.
More challenging though, are the emotions. I'll start comparing myself to the other women in the classes, and feel low when I'm not as good, or as strong, or as thin. Many of my fellow aerialists are petite and whipcord tough. I'm pretty strong, but I've also got about 30lbs and 5" on most of them. I'll forget that they've been attending classes for months, or were gymnasts for decades. The comparisons and negative competition in my head will lie to me, reminding me about my belly, or weak arms. A familiar siren song will play: "You're not one of the be-est. People will se-eee. Might as we-ell stick to what you're gooood at." It's a tune that I've listened to in the past. For example, the first time I went skiing, I was 4 and I couldn't figure it out. I fell over again and again. I got increasingly frustrated (I'm fwustwated Mama!), and upset. Why couldn't I do this?? Everyone else could! The answer? I was 4. It was the first time I was on skis. Everyone falls down, A LOT, the first time on skis. So then, instead of persisting, I refused. I was over that impossible shit. I lost 7 years of fun ski time, as I finally picked it back up at age 11. Nowadays, I LOVE to ski, and I wish I'd stuck with it.
The Don't Suck Song is a liar. Comparisons and negative competition do no good, and keep us from the thrill of achieving hard fought goals. Feeding my insecurities doesn't help me to perform better, and definitely doesn't help form good relationships with my classmates. I've got to release my inner comparisons and appreciate what my body can do. Because my aerial classes will help to tone and strengthen me, but I'm never going to be one of the best, not even in the top 25%. I'll get to about the middle, and will most likely stick around there. I'm going to be okay with that. For a recovering over achiever, a solid middle of the road performance can be SO freeing. So, goodbye comparisons, and hello appreciation!
Over the 4th of July week, Anthony and I went to San Francisco for a summer vacation. It was exciting, interesting, and overall relaxing. Yet, there were still episodes of stress and anxiety that threw me off guard. I got upset as I navigated our rental car through the hills of Pacific Heights, fretted as we tried to find parking in Chinatown, and fumed as we bought BART tickets. I had a small meltdown on Pier 39 about where to buy our chowder bread bowl (I know). Far worse, on Monday morning I believed that it was Tuesday until about 1pm - my anxiety had lost me a whole day. I was supposed to leave these emotions and reactions behind in Austin! Wasn't 1700 miles far enough? Why couldn't I just relax?? I was on vacation dammit! ARGURGHGRH! But...
...except for the BART tickets, I was able to stop my anxiety spirals fairly quick. Catch myself, breath, feel the SF wind on my face (SO MUCH WIND), and give myself space to respond rationally. Because finding the right roads through a major city that you've never been to before? That's difficult. Ditto parking in a major tourist zone. Pier 39? Mucho overwhelming. I reminded myself that I didn't have to be instantly great at it. To just take each day, experience, and moment for what it was: something new during our vacation. As I learn how to be more honest and friendly with myself, I recognize my stress, give myself a hug, and imagine the fear evaporating off of me. Because fear was behind my anxieties: fear of looking like a tourist,of not getting to experience 'everything', of having to go back to work, of getting lost. But noticing those fears, and hugging and loving the girl having those fears, helped them to float away.
Ultimately, it was a great trip, and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to take it in and enjoy friends and family!
I can be cruel to myself, sometimes immeasurably so. My internal critic will ramp up, particularly when I'm "low on spoons" at the end of the day. 11:30pm is a perfect storm time for me, and always has been. My mom and I joke, and say that it's my Pumpkin Time.
I'll say the worst things to myself, things that I would never say to a friend or family member. I disparage myself on how I've handled conflicts, what my future will hold, how I treat the people around me, how I dress, what I spend my time doing, and how I deal with my feelings. These comments will be full of absolutes and directives: I'm never going to get better, I should be able to handle this, I'm always a whiny bitch, I'm supposed to be making a difference, clearly nothing I do helps, something is always wrong with me, I'll be depressed forever, I should be pleasant for a whole day, everyone would be better off without me. Seeing these thoughts written down in black and white reveals how distorted and patently not true they are, but when I'm in a negative feedback loop my brain is utterly convinced of their truth. Of course I'm terrible. And then that thought bends into itself like a moebius strip from hell, because I shouldn't be saying this things about myself, so of course I'm terrible because I should know better!
I'm pretty sure that managing these feelings, thoughts and experiences will be with me for most of my life. That's the nature of depression, and it probably won't go away 100%. It's a part of who I am. But I can manage the thoughts better and better, build a stronger foundation, and decrease the amount of self criticism I pile on. The best way to manage, according to common sense (and my therapist!) is to be kind to myself. But what does "being kind to myself" actually look like? It feels as if I've been told to be kind to myself almost my whole life. "You're so hard on yourself", "Cherish yourself" , "You should be nicer to you". There's that should again! 'Being kind to yourself' can be a buzzword that lose its meaning after a while. So what are the concrete actions behind self-kindness?
To answer these questions, I think of what 'being kind' to a friend looks like. Because while I'm not very good at being a friend to myself, I am certainly a friend to other people around me that I love. And being a friend to someone else means:
- Responding to harsh self talk with quiet, diplomatic, and loving truths
- Taking them to fun places and events that I know they'll enjoy
- Cooking them food
- Asking them 'how can I help?'
- Encouraging them to pursue activities that they love
- Helping them to deepen relationships with people who support them
- Simply sitting with them and witnessing when things are tough
- Providing gentle advice where it seems appropriate
- Sharing hugs and laughter during pain
- Giving them reminders of how I care for them and appreciate them
Writing these actions is an eye-opener, because I do so little of this for myself. I say that not as a finger wagging critique, but as a realization of 'wow, look at all the ways I can grow'. Additionally, I'm struck by the loving kindness of the verbs I used. There's no absolutes, no supposed to's, just acceptance and gentle challenges. I can be a very cerebral person, and these concrete examples will help to change my behavior as it happens, or allow me to address the behavior immediately afterwards. I should be my own best friend, because of all the people in the world, I'm the only one that will always be there. So my friends, today is Thursday June 5th, and I commit to being kind to myself.
Today we'll be sharing one of my favorite DIY's to date: a backyard labyrinth!
The classical labyrinth pattern has been used from as early as 430BCE on coins and mosaics, and floor labyrinths have been used for walking meditation/prayer since the 11th century. It's an ancient tradition that I'm glad to be a part of. I'm also really glad that it was super easy! I'm definitely not a measure twice, cut once kind of gal, which worked out great in this project.
- Labyrinth Pattern found on internet
- Weed Whacker bought at Home Depot $39
- Rocks bought at Home Depot $3.97/bag
- Arms pretty great, thanks Mom for the genes
My backyard is relatively flat, and didn't get used for much, because the deck doesn't have stairs - making it more of a one story balcony. We busted up a pinata in the yard once, but that's it. I knew I wasn't using any valuable 'real estate'.
Step 1 - Cut the Grass
- I wanted the path to have good contrast, so I let the grass/weeds grow for about a month so I had almost knee high growth.
- Referencing the pattern image, which I had up on my phone, I imagined how the path would twist and decided the where the turns would go.
- Then I just started walking with the weed whacker, sweeping it back and forth like a Russian hay thresher. PRO TIP: long pants would've been a good a idea, as I got a small gash on my shin from a flying stick! I'd stop, pull out my phone from my pocket, and get my bearings in the yard every 5-10 steps.
- When I got to the center, I turned around and walked back out with the whacker on, this time really going at it, making sure I got all vegetation in the path cut right down to the dirt. This is tough work, so say thank you to your strong arms.
Step 2 - Lay the Rocks
- Bags full of rocks are heavy. Really damn heavy. Who knew? Make sure you have these at intervals around your labyrinth, so you don't have to drag them around (like a ... friend I know).
- Open up the bags, and start divvying up the rocks. I only had three bags, so I decided to just line one side of the path as an accent. If I'd had four bags, I could have lined both sides. I still like it this way, as it ended up having a very Hansel and Gretel bread crumbs feel to it!
- The bags will have a lot of rock dust at the bottom, so when a bag gets close to empty, just pick it up and empty the contents along your path.
Step 3 - Walk
- You're done with building your very own labyrinth! You can now do what I did, and invite 14 of your favorite ladies over to enjoy it, or just savor the meditation on your own.
- Repeat one phrase or word over to yourself with your breath as you walk in, and then change it to a different one on the walk out. This evening after work, I said "I am kind to myself," on the walk in, and "I am kind to others" on the walk out.
- Sing, or listen to a favorite song. Repetitive ones in the round are particularly great.
- Think of something internal as you walk inwards (feelings, emotions), and something external as you walk out (surroundings, other people).
- Just breathe.
At the workshop I appreciated the labyrinth, but I've really fallen in love with it the past few days enjoying it on my own. I've found it to be a great way to prep myself for transition times, either before work to get mentally ready for the day, or after work to decompress from a stressful time. Please feel free to come over and walk it whenever you like!
This is the first post in a series discussing the sessions at the first Wellness Workshop. Last Saturday, Shelly of Shelly Stewart Kronbergs Psychotherapy lead a terrific presentation and discussion about stress management! We learned that stress is the socially acceptable expression of fear: fear of judgement, of isolation, of mistakes. We discussed why and how thinking of stressful events produces the same body reaction as actually experiencing the events, and then learned ways to counter it!
Personally, one of my most stressful triggers is the thought of other people witnessing my mistakes. The fear of course, is that they are judging and will shame me. Making the mistake itself is generally fine, but just thinking about other people calling me out on a mistake makes my belly clench, hunches my shoulders up to my ears, and get's my jaw clenching. Shelly (who's also my mom!) shared that this body reaction happens because of basic brain geography! *
Negative and painful memories are stored in a part of the brain that envelopes the area regulating autonomic functions: digestion, heart rate, and cortisol. Think of your brain as a fist: the tucked in thumb is the brain basics, and the inside of the other fingers is the basic emotions and memory. When a stressful/fearful situation is encountered, your brain will quickly jump from bad memory to body reaction, and completely bypass rationality, which is primarily located in a very different, and far away, part of the brain (the outside of your knuckles in our fist analogy).
This is great when our ancestors were faced with a savanna fire (brain sees the fire, remembers a previous shitty fire experience, heart rate shoots up and legs start running even before the brain rationally thinks 'wow a fire! I should run away!'), but does not serve me as I painfully imagine the disappointment on my partner's face when he realizes that I've yet again forgotten to get an oil change, maybe because I got publicly shamed by a teacher when I was 7. Rationally, Anthony is not Ms. Whatever-her-name was, and of course he won't yell at me in front of my peers. But, that bad memory is immediately triggered, which kicks off the body reaction, all the while bypassing the rational thoughts. Most of the time, you won't even remember the memory itself, and all that's left is the feelings.
Unfortunately, there aren't very many natural neural pathways from your instinctual lizard brain to your lofty Cro-Magnon frontal cortex where all the rational "Is this really happening?" happens. However, the brain is awesome, and is constantly adapting pathways based on repetition. So despite the lack of natural pathways, you can train your brain to form those connection by using a trick. Sticking to the fist analogy, instead of trying to punch your way through your fingers from the lizard brain to the rational brain, you move around the brain, like so.
And the parts of the brains that (roughly) coordinate with the sides of your brain/fist? The parts that govern movement! Your fine and gross motor control centers are perfect helpers in shifting an instinctual bad memory/body combo to your rational thought centers. So standing up and stretching, or even better, activities where you alternate focus from one side of the body to the other (bike riding, walking or EMDR Therapy) are terrific to help shake off stress. I always knew that getting up and moving helped me to feel better, but it was great to understand the actual brain biology behind it. The more you start to move around, sway, rock, or dance when you notice you're stressed, the stronger those neural pathways will become, and then you'll be far better at snapping yourself out of it. You'll be able to talk back to yourself, replying "Hmm, when I say I have no friends, that's clearly not true." Which is always a great place to be!
Conversely, when you stay in the poor memory/body place, and don't break free to rational thought through movement or other therapies, you strengthen the neural connections between the autonomic functions and the bad feelings. The neural paths between body and rationality can fade away. This is why folks with depression can't 'snap out of it', 'just feel better', or 'remember the good times'. Check out this cartoon, particularly the 'dead fish' portion about a quarter of the way down. My brain 5 months ago was stuck in the bad feelings/body reaction cycle over and over again because my pathways had degenerated. I physically couldn't remember the good times. But circumventing the fist still helps. Even in the worst times, if I was able to move, be goofy, and chuckle then there was at least one neural path, small and snow plowed it might be, from the center of the brain fist, back to the outside where reason lives.
Let's return to my own stress example: the oil change. Using the techniques that we learned, I would:
- Feel the stress and fear of another day of not getting the task done
- Notice that I'm stressed out
- Start moving my body, sillier the better. Wave the arms, wiggle the hips etc
- Be able to think rationally! "True, I didn't get that done today. Let's make an appointment."
It was a great experience to learn the science behind stress, and know that we can make a simple, yet immediate impact on our everyday happiness! Thanks Mom!
*I am not a biologist, neurologist, or psychologist, so all of this is a layman's interpretation!
GUYS! You are all AMAZING! I had such a wonderful time today at the first Road of Your Own Wellness Workshop! It was a joy to organize and host, and an even greater joy to experience all the sessions with my attendees. Everyone brought such wonderful hearts and energy and spirit. It was a joy to be in the presence of such beautiful souls. I'd definitely like to thank the facilitators, Grace, Shelly and Carrie. I couldn't have done this without them, and greatly appreciate their time and expertise. Each of these women are welcoming your patronage and accepting clients, whether you're looking for massage, aromatherapy work or yoga; one on one or couples therapy; or intuitive spiritual guidance!
I'll be writing more posts about each session: take aways, how-tos, etc. over the next week, but please enjoy a few photos in the mean time!
So much love to you all!
The Wellness Workshop is Saturday! I'm so excited! It's getting down to the crunch time in terms of final preparations, mostly of the Should I do a salad at lunch?, Wait, I need to get tiny journals!, Eek chairs! variety, but I'm so pleased about how everything is coming together. My house is cleaned and cleared, the schedule is set, my facilitators are ready and getting pumped up, and I feel really good about the two sessions I'm leading. Our final facilitator is Carrie Blanda, an intuitive card reader. More accurately, Carrie is an angel reader. When I first met her, I was a little taken aback by how casually she kept using the word 'angel'. But I felt comfortable enough to ask her about it, and she shared that as an intuitive, she could call the source of her intuitions whatever she chose: Spirit, spirits, a Conscious etc, but that when she read people's cards, saying Angels is what came most naturally for her. It felt the most true. She asked if I'd prefer to leave it out, but as A Road of Your Own celebrates authenticity, I told her it wasn't necessary. I want everyone who attends the workshop to be true to themselves and the own reality and experiences. As such, I'm excited to have her join Saturday's team of wellness professionals!
I'll post a few more 'sneak peeks' as it gets closer to Saturday! Can't wait!!