I am willing to feel great!

Scatter Joy

“With excitement comes possibility, the prospect of unprecedented joy I can generously scatter.”

“This too shall pass” is one of my favorite phrases, because I’ve found it to be very, very true. In good times and bad (and everything between), remembering impermanence helps me appreciate, or at least tolerate, the present.

But what if I could always feel okay? For that matter, what if I could always feel good? Or, dare I say it…great?

A YouTube video by Brian Johnson has me seriously considering the possibility. In the video, Brian neatly summarizes The Big Leap, a book by Gay Hendricks that, among other topics, addresses the issue of upper limits.

I learned about what Gay calls “upper limits” back when I read Conscious Loving several years ago, and I’ve been pushing past them ever since.

Basically, an upper limit is a glass ceiling of my own creation, a limiting belief that prevents progress. These limits keep me comfortable, but they also hold me back.

For a long time I was afraid to feel good. This sounds silly to me now, but it also makes sense: feeling good was unfamiliar, and I feared the unfamiliar.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with fear, it’s just not often helpful. But you know what is? Breathing. Love.

“Fear is excitement without the breath,” according to Fritz Perls (via Gay Hendricks via Brian Johnson). This may be my new favorite quote, as it resonates with truth straight to the core of my breath-loving belly.

When I breathe into my fear, it fades. And as I learn to let love’s light dissipate the darkness of fright, I learn to welcome the unfamiliar with open curiosity, even with excitement.

And with excitement comes possibility, the prospect of unprecedented joy I can generously scatter.

In the video, Brian recounts an anecdote from The Big Leap:

Apparently when steam-powered trains were a new thing in the nineteenth century, scientists and other thought leaders wanted to cap the maximum speed the trains would be allowed to travel. “They were convinced that human bodies would explode at speeds greater than thirty miles per hour,” Brian says. “How funny is that? Thankfully some brave souls went for it…”

Thankfully, indeed! Can you imagine if no one had breathed through their fears?

It might seem absurd to consider society stuck at 30 mph, but Brian says Gay thinks “we’re at essentially the same place in our own development, in terms of how much goodness we can sustain, how much bliss we can endure, how great we’re willing to feel.”

I’m excited to find out.

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Bravely blossoming

The onset of NYC spring feels like the epitome of ambivalence. Day after day I wonder: heavy coat or light jacket, boots or flats, umbrella or not?

But it’s more than just my outerwear that fluctuates. My attitude seems unsure as well, a familiar toggle between safe and brave that feels accentuated by the chill in the air and the promise of new life.

“Go ahead and take a risk,” the buoyant breeze seems to say, even as rainclouds frown and suggest I stay inside.

The truth is I’m feeling overwhelmed with possibility and potential, and please note I’m not complaining. Rain or shine I trust in what’s to come; I just wish my circumstances were more certain.

And to some extent, of course they are: I am certain I am cared for, I am certain I am breathing. I am certain I am trying daily, and I’m certain of both failure and success.

On a recent visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I learned a few things about plants. Most of the landscape was still brown, plenty of bare branches and empty bushes.

In early April, a lot of land still looks barren.

In early April, a lot of land still looks barren.

Those plants know it’s not yet safe to blossom—a cold snap could still come and kill, and so it’s wise to wait.

But occasionally I saw bursts of color that delighted me. I felt connected to these flowers, bravely blooming without guarantee of survival. They boldly risked the wrath of winter to show their true colors, and, it seemed, they paved the way for their fellows to follow.

blossom 1

Some plants are carelessly colorful!

That’s not how it really works, my friend frankly informed me. The flowering plants bloom sooner because they’re not native to the region; in their southern climates of origin it’s perfectly safe to open up so early.

In other words, they’re totally in danger, they just don’t know any better.

All right, so it was ignorance rather than boldness that caused the beauty I appreciated. And maybe it doesn’t make sense to personify plants—the facts definitely damage my metaphor—but the vision inspires me nonetheless.

Each day is different, and a cold snap could come, but I can blossom anyway. I can be bold, and choose brave over safe, just like love over fear, again and again, whenever I can.

And whatever the weather, I can wear my heart on my sleeve.

Carrying with care

Sometimes the box goes in the backseat.

“You can put that box down,” my high school boyfriend once told me. We’d been driving for a while, and had a while left to travel, and the whole time I’d been gripping a cardboard box full of…CDs? Books? The contents weren’t particularly important, but having their weight on my lap was comfortable.

I am comfortable carrying weight, all right with responsibility. Sometimes it overwhelms me, but as long as I am honest, I usually feel light, even if my burdens are heavy.

But it matters what I hold, and why. There is no need for me to balance a box on my lap when I can just as easily put that box in the backseat. It helps to have free hands.

And while I don’t always get to choose my responsibilities, a lot of the time I do. Just because I can carry something doesn’t mean I need to. So I do my best to choose wisely, and if I notice I’m lifting unnecessary weight, I can always put it down.

(And if I really miss it, I can usually pick it up again…)

Patience in snowtime

snowprints

A grounded perspective is a good view.

I was unprepared for snow.

The weather app on my phone predicted chilly sunshine all day, and since I wasn’t expecting to work late, I didn’t check the evening forecast.

So the snow was a surprise. It didn’t seem bad as I exited the subway and went to get groceries, but by the time I left the store it was coming down hard and starting to stick. I was wearing slick-bottomed fashion boots and have a history of ankle sprains, so I decided to wait for the bus rather than walk three avenues while carrying a large and heavy bag of food.

I stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes, taking the time to observe that snow is like friendly rain: it’s soft and pretty as it falls, but you still end up wet. Then, since I was quickly getting soaked and there was no sign of the bus, I reasoned I was better off moving though the flakes than letting them accumulate on my unhatted head.

So often I take walking for granted—it’s my primary mode of transportation in Manhattan. But tonight I had to be vigilant, because there is no security on slippery sidewalks, especially not when wearing unsuitable shoes.

“Slowly, slowly, careful, careful,” I said to myself, keeping my head down and my pace measured. People around me moved faster, but I plodded insistently, lifting one foot and then the other, paying no mind to the progress of fellow pedestrians.

And that’s when I decided to write a blog post, because tonight’s journey home parallels the path I’m traveling professionally. I know where I want to go, but it’s a few avenues away and snow is falling. I will get there if I’m patient, and it’s not a competition, but one careless step and I could be on my ass.

It’s not easy, taking care of every. single. step. Paying attention to the footprints ahead of me while deliberately placing my own. Acknowledging and praising progress while staying focused on moving forward.

But it’s not hard, either, making my way with cautious determination, trusting that I will get where I’m headed. Catching slips before I fall. One step at a time. Simple. Steady. True.

It  was uncomfortable, walking with wet socks and a weighty load. “This suckity sucks,” I said once or twice, but I knew there was a warm bath waiting for me, and hurrying wasn’t going to make me drier. So I stuck with what worked. One foot in front of the other, again and again, and in time I got home.

photo

The view from my front door was a welcome perspective.

I’m so scared

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

I try so hard to be brave. My comfort zone feels like a distant home, a place I love to visit but where I no longer live. And a lot of the time that feels fine. I am excited about where I’m headed. I’m SO excited. But I’m also scared.

And not confessing the fear makes it worse, because then it turns into a shameful secret, and shame is self-hate, and self-hate is harmful.

So I want to talk about this, even though it’s (surprise!) frightening to be publicly vulnerable. It feels like because I am strong I’m not allowed to show weakness; because I have courage I shouldn’t flaunt fear.

But the fact is I’m afraid. And the more I illuminate that truth, the lighter I will become.

I’m afraid I can’t hold all the goodness I’m asking for. I’m afraid to write another book. I’m afraid to look for an agent. I’m afraid I don’t deserve the massive success I envision for myself. I’m afraid I’m a fraud, that my earnest attempts at authenticity are nothing more than ego.

I’m afraid to publish this post, that exposing insecurities is naive and unsavvy. I’m afraid you’ll pass judgment. I’m afraid I’ll be sorry.

And all of that’s okay. Each of my fears and ten million more are not only okay, they’re inescapable.

As a human, I am going to feel fear. A lot. Probably always.

But I also feel love.

Love is my trump card, my winning lotto ticket, my night-light, my soft blanket, my wide smile, my huge hug. Love is my hope, and my laughter, and my promise to keep trying.

Love is what I have to give, and fear is what I face to do so. Neither emotion will disappear, but what I focus on will flourish.

So today I choose love. Awareness gives me the option, honesty gives me the freedom, and with gratitude, I am not so scared.

Enough IS enough

kitchen flowers

These flowers in my kitchen are definitely enough.

I don’t know why I feel so compelled to publish a blog post; there is no reason that I have to. None. Nor is there any pressure. Not externally, at least.

Internally, I admit, there is a voice warning me how easy it is to do nothing with my blog–just look at my track record in 2012. That voice would feel better if I posted twice a month, at least.

Twice a month would be plenty, I think. In 2011 I went for a minimum of weekly and while it worked out pretty well, near the end it began feeling like a chore and that was not okay. When it comes to creating in general, yes, the discipline is important. I show up at the page every morning no matter what, a tangible commitment to self-care. But this blog is meant to be a bonus, content I share because I’m compelled to, not because I’m obliged.

And it seems I just answered my own non-question: I feel compelled to publish a blog post because I feel compelled to! In fact, I’ve felt compelled six times since my last post–hence the six drafts I started and haven’t finished. Some of them I’d still like to complete.

The thing is, it usually takes at least an hour or two for me to write and polish a post for publication. And all month long I haven’t had that kind of me time.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, yeah, but it’s also what happens when you make plans and show up for them. And lately I’ve had lots of plans. Kind of like an anti-hibernation, I guess, since it’s begun to feel like winter will be over by the time I catch my breath.

But tonight I caught my breath. My scheduled activity fell through, and I came home to an empty apartment, and I chose to breathe. Unaccustomed to solitude and free time, at first I wasn’t sure what to do. Then my tense shoulders told me, so I rolled out my yoga mat and started moving.

I didn’t worry about a sequence. I didn’t bother playing music. I just dove into downward dog until I was ready for something different. Because I do attend a class regularly, a familiar structure presented itself, and I followed it loosely, breathing into each pose for as long as I wanted (and then a breath more, for growth).

And for those calm and steady minutes, where my muscles and lungs were making friends and my mind was on the sidelines, I felt no judgment, no doubt, no anxiety or fear. I was just enough.

Kind of how this blog post is enough. I haven’t said any of the stuff I intended for drafts one through six, but these words are honest anyway, and it feels good to type. To claim some cyberspace and assert my online existence.

And though my perfectionism might prefer me not to impromptu publish,  I’m going to persevere. Because this is enough for now, it really truly is, and I’m grateful to feel sufficient.

Self-care on the slopes

diamond snowflake sample2

“Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.” I learned that affirmation in Week 7 of The Artist’s Way, and I have made use of it often since.

But last Sunday I felt strong already, and I didn’t want to listen to my bruising body. I wanted to treat myself like a sturdy object rather than a precious one. I wanted to go skiing.

I wanted to ignore the fact that my knee was sprained. After all, it wasn’t a bad sprain. I wasn’t in much pain, and the joint could bear weight, and it wasn’t nearly as swollen as the day before. So why not make use of my lift ticket?

Because my knee was sprained, of course. The smart part of me knew this–understood as soon as I saw the swelling that my time on the slopes was over. But the rest of me desired a different outcome, wanted permission to push myself, to prove my resilience and ability.

The day before I’d been rewarded for boldness and bravery: I’d intended to start out slow on the beginner slopes since I hadn’t skied in six years, but a rush of come-what-may confidence prompted me to launch myself onto an intermediate run instead.

To my exhilarated delight, muscle memory and courage kept me on course, and soon I was dashing down a black diamond. It felt good to face my fear of steep and icy terrain, and even though I fell a couple times, I was impressed with my performance.

The final descent of the black diamond slope I skied.

The final descent of the black diamond slope I skied.

And then I got punished for taking it easy: I next decided to take a break and glide down a long and winding beginner trail, and as I cruised around a curve, I crashed into a snowboarder who was standing still.

I knew something was wrong right away. Thankfully she was okay, and I said I was too, but I also said something like, “I’m pretty sure my knee isn’t supposed to twist out like this.”

Turns out I was correct. Within two hours the tissue above my kneecap was the size of a golf ball, and I wisely accepted a friend’s lunchtime assessment that I was done for the day.

I was less willing to accept that I was done for the weekend. But the group of great people on my ski trip included an ER doctor, and after assessing my injury that night, her diagnosis was clear: It was a sprain, and additional skiing was absolutely inadvisable.

And yet Sunday morning found me justifying, rationalizing, and minimizing. Yes, I had a sprain, but it was a very mild one. I could walk with no trouble–so why not a wee bit of skiing, on only the easiest of trails? It would be a serious shame for already-rented equipment to sit idle, and as long as I was extra careful…

If I was extra careful, I would stay inside. I would not make a minor pain worse. I would treat myself like a precious object, and I would grow stronger. The truth was I had nothing to prove, to myself or anyone else, and as soon as I accepted reality, I was able to focus on self-care with compassion.

Looking at my phone also helped.

VT ski temp

Because inside, it was a lot warmer than zero degrees. And I’m very okay with not feeling numb.

Rightly wrong

mistake

I like to be right. I’ll admit it: Not being wrong feels amazing. But being right is not important.

In truth, it’s acting rightly that matters, choosing to be “in accordance with what is just, good, or proper.” It’s actions that make a difference. And sometimes I act wrong.

Just now, for example, I should have said “wrongly”–that’s the correct way to use an adverb. But I didn’t care, because I liked the sound of the sentence better when I wrote it my way.

“My way” and “wrong” have a knack for finding each other.

Most recently my selfish will–which I’m still striving to let go of–tricked me into making a mighty mistake, one that has caused a lot of pain. Fortunately, pain is not pointless. Unfortunately, knowing this does not make it less painful.

What helps with the pain is compassion. Because there is a right way to be wrong–a loving way to accept mistakes. Feeling sad sucks, but this too shall pass. As long as I don’t harbor self-hate.

Self-hate wants me to suffer. It believes in punishment, in penance, in perpetuating pain.

Self-hate needs healing too, I know. I won’t banish it from my  “Guest House”–but I don’t have to offer it a cozy chair in which to curl up. I can give compassion the seat of honor.

I made a mistake, it’s true. I acted wrongly. And compassion says, okay.

Compassion says, be kind. It says, you tried. You did your best to be just, to be good, to be proper. And you failed. It’s all right. You are still worthy. You are still loved. Always, anyway, no matter what.

What a relief, amen.

Better together

Together

It’s important for me to feel okay alone, to trust that I am always loved and cared for, whether or not I’m connecting with another person at any given moment.

But oh, man, it is nice to have company.

Life is so much less lonely when I make the effort to build relationships. Reaching out is not always easy, but it is always worth trying. We all need to feel supported and affirmed, and it feels delightful to actively cultivate connection. For example(s):

At a holiday party last month I hit it off with a coworker of the host, and we decided we were friends. A week ago we had coffee and encouraged each other.

Then last Friday a Facebook update prompted me to message a college pal I haven’t seen in years, and consequently we met over the weekend for brunch and inspiration.

In both cases, instant rapport allowed for easy and open comfort, and I left feeling understood and uplifted.

Sharing time with others who are similarly invested in self-care, living well, and honoring creativity feels invigorating, and it is refreshing to trade stories and ideas with honesty, respect, and humor. Fulfilling relationships are tremendously important!

And if these sound like simple observations…they are.

What seems to be harder is choosing to make space for quality connecting. I frequently find myself at odds with a busy schedule or an I’m-on-my-own attitude, so it takes awareness and action to avoid isolation.

Thankfully, awareness and action are impressively effective, and because of them, I’m getting a lot of what I ask for these days–pleasant company, fresh perspectives, provocative conversations. Connection and support. Understanding and affirmation. And gobs and gobs of gratitude.

Brighter than my blues

Kelley and Matt, doing what they do–singing “a song that’s true.”

I am so grateful for good music, for true sounds from the soul and the chance acts of fortune that lead me to them.

I don’t remember how I found out about Noisetrade, nor do I know why I listened to Kelley McRae‘s album two years ago on a January day. Maybe because it had “Brooklyn” in the title and I live in New York, or maybe I just had the curiosity to click and listen. Noisetrade sends me lots of emails, plenty of new sounds to consider, but rarely does an artist hook me like she did.

I was hurting that winter, and I found solace in her singing. I didn’t have a ton of downtime for reflection since I was working full time and also training to become a yoga instructor–basically a second full-time job–but whenever I showered I’d listen to Kelley’s music, and whenever I heard “Sparrow,” I felt heard.

That would have been enough, connecting to a random recording that helped me heal, but my relationship to Kelley’s music grew stronger when I ventured to see her play that March on the Lower East Side. She and her husband/bandmate, Matt, announced that they had just traded in their Brooklyn home and belongings for a VW camper van and were preparing to tour America in order to share the art they had to offer. I was inspired.

I introduced myself afterwards, and in my journal the next day I described Kelley as “a lovely personality and performer” and noted that “it was a pleasure to see the show.” Plus, “she played ‘Sparrow,’ which basically made my night.”

From then on, whenever I got an email announcing an NYC performance, I did my best to show up for it. We struck up an email correspondence because Kelley was looking for venues for house shows on the road and I have friends in other states. After seeing her play again in May, I gushed: “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear a singer/writer who has chops, soul, AND spirit.”

Chops, soul, and spirit–that pretty much sums up Kelley McRae. When it comes to life and love, it’s clear to me that this girl GETS it. And I am grateful. This past spring and summer she recorded an album funded entirely by supporters, and it overflows with love and energy (just like her!).

After we chatted at the release party for Brighter than the Blues in September, I had to let her know: “I feel so lucky to have discovered an artist who not only creates music I genuinely connect to, but who is personable and communicative to boot!”

And I do feel lucky, to know her and her music, to support someone with the courage to be authentic and follow her heart, who lives a human life with good intention. It’s true that we ain’t got much time, and it’s important how we spend it. I’m happy I get to use some of mine listening to talented truth, told with an open heart.