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Is fishing the answer?

I went fishing with Knuckle on Sunday.  Bright and early.  I got up with the sun shining in a clear Eastern sky, but when I looked out the bathroom window I was surprised to find the horizon looked a threatening gunmetal gray. As has happened before in conditions like this , the trees on the park hill were glowing as if gilt with silver or gold and vibrant against the dark sky.

It was going to be a magical day.

I settled the dogs at home and headed out.  We had agreed to meet at the ponds of Possum Creek.  I’ve never been there before and was excited about the adventure of somewhere nearby that was somewhere new.  As I often am, I was surprised how quickly I left the city behind and found myself in fields of golden wheat grass growing wild against a changing sky.

I took a deep breath and smiled thanking God I was alive.  I waved to the park ranger who was opening one of the entrances and wound my car slowly to the pond parking.

Gathering my fishing gear, I decided to leave my mittens in the car.  How does a person fish with mittens?  What kind of person thinks that’s possible?  And white mittens at that…  Instead of chiding myself, I laughed.

As I climbed the embankment, I saw Knuckle across the pond.

It appeared the west side of the pond was the easiest and fastest way to meet up with him.  Then I noticed the geese on the path.  Maybe the east would be better.  …  No, I’m sure the geese would leave me alone if I left them alone.  As I neared, I calmed myself and then tried to speak as gently as I ever had to greet the geese.  “Good morning.  May I please pass around you?  I promise, I mean you no harm.”  I waited and made eye contact with the goose closest to me.  The lightning I saw in his eyes made me stop in my track, and I briefly realized that if I needed to run that would mean my back would be turned to the geese…a position I didn’t really want to find myself in.

Fortunately, the geese stepped slowly toward the pond and let me pass without any trouble.  Thankfully.

Knuckle and I greeted each other gently as well.  It seemed only right in the quiet stillness of the morning.  We set our stuff on a nearby picnic table.  Knuckle pulled out the tin of earthworms.  I picked up one and admired how long and plump he was.  Knuckle suggested we just pinch off part of the worm since they were so large.  I momentarily wondered if I would be brave enough to do that.  I felt the worm wiggling in my hand and was surprised how energetic he was.  I decided now was not the time to be a chicken.  I pinched and (apologizing) threaded him on my hook.  So much stuff came out of the worm I was momentarily horrified looking at it on my hands.  Knuckle nudged the towel over to me so I could wipe them clean and laughed at the childish disgust on my face.

Then, easily, I forgot that I just killed the worm, I adjusted my lead sinker and my red and white bobber, then tossed hook, worm, and sinker into the mirror-faced pond.  The ripples of the splash subsided as quickly as my guilt for killing the worm, and I could once again see everything happening in the sky above by looking at the water where my bobber lay still and gentle on the surface.  A bird flew high above, and clouds moved over us as if covers being pulled up so early in this morning.

My fishing line coiled across the pond top as if it were a telephone cord.  I almost laughed at the thought that I was indeed “calling” the fish hoping the worm was temptation to connect.

Waiting.  Watching.  Still.

The world was so very still.  The pond.  The air.  My body.  I imagined my mind settling like the worm on the hook hidden below the mirrored surface.  I wondered what I might “catch” if it took the time to let it soak there.

That’s when the swans began making noises that sounded as awkward as the swans were graceful.  I looked over at the pair and suddenly realized how large they were.  I secretly hoped they wouldn’t come close to us.  But they were brilliant against the glass-top pond.

Other fishermen were appearing, all clad in thick coats and hats and gloves.  They seemed overly dressed for what I felt was just a chilly morning.  But Knuckle told me how much he hated being cold, and I was reminded that I don’t mind being cold.  “Cold means no mosquitoes,” I said simply.  “But mosquitoes lure blue gill to the surface because they feed on them,” Knuckle responded.

I was once again reminded how different everything is from others’ perspectives.  I said a silent prayer that my innate curiosity would help me connect with other people and see new perspectives.  Maybe especially with one person who has been popping into my thoughts randomly and often these days.

I shook my head to push out thoughts of that someone far away and perhaps for the future and re-centered my attention on my worm and my brother, both of whom were here in the present at the pond.  Our conversation was easy enough, if superficial.  Kids.  Jobs.  Travel.  Family.  The silence between each topic was comfortable and as still as the water.

The sound of clapping turned both of our heads, and we watched the swans beating their wings against the pond as they gathered speed and height enough to make flight look and sound effortless.  They sailed gracefully a few feet and then sank back into the water on the opposite side of the same pond.

We laughed as we agreed the noise and effort seemed disproportionate to the end result.  Kind of like my life has often been up to this point, I realized.

The wind began to blow creating ripples that broke the spell of the mirror-reflection.  My bobber bobbed cheerfully as it was pushed back toward me.  When it reached the spot where my vision of the rocks below broke into deep green, it gave a significant duck and weave.  I tried to set the hook.  Maybe it was the ripples.  I reeled in the line anyway and discovered my worm was now partially freed from the hook.  Something had definitely been investigating.

Knuckle brought his hook over and we both aimed for that spot.  The wind picked up a bit more.  The bobbers dipped more frequently, but we were no longer sure if it was from a fish or the wind.  I noticed my hands were stinging.  And every time the wind gusted, even a little, it felt like a razor on the dry skin of my hands.

A clapping noise started and startled me.  We turned to watch the swans repeat their earlier takeoff.  This time, however, we could see that the swans were running on top of the pond as they beat their wings.  Running!  On top of the pond!  They covered at least a third of the pond running on the water before they lifted their legs and the sound of clapping became a gentle whisper of wind.  They circled the pond, then made a wider circle around the lake to the north of our pond.

My hands began to ache from the cold.

Knuckle shared one of his hand warmers with me.  We took a coffee break.  The wind or a fish continued to play with our bobbers for awhile longer.  After an attempt to set my hook, I cast and watched my worm fly free of the hook into the pond area behind me.

I laughed and took another coffee break.  I enjoyed the warmth of my pockets and marveled at how alive I felt.  No, not alive.  I felt positively radiant.  I was thriving.

We agreed to try a different spot and headed to the east side of the pond.  The way was muddy, but also frozen.  The trees encircled us looking sleepy.  I wondered how I could tell they looked sleepy.

We stopped on an embankment between the pond and another pond.  It was unprotected from the wind, but looked promising.  I cast into the deep dark green waters to the East.  Knuckle tossed his line long down the embankment where the swans had started their two flights in the pond to the West.  The wind seemed to laugh and took full advantage of us, whipping, cutting, curling, pushing and biting.

A young man came along with a white curly-haired dog.  We made friendly fisherman talk, and I cooed over the dog who stopped to accept my adoration with the countenance of royalty accepting his fawning subjects.  They moved on.  We decided to move on too to a more sheltered area.

My coffee was cold now and tasted extra bitter in the cold.  My hands ached.  We found a shelter and settled in a bit as the sun came out.  Protected from the wind and embraced by the sun, our conversation warmed up as bodies did.  Dreams for the future.  Revelations about life to this point.  What is the meaning of life?

Knuckle noted that the ice that had covered the corners of the pond had melted.  I noted the parking lot was nearly full.  Our bobbers were careless and listless letting the tiny ripples of the wind move them as it willed without any resistance, and the new worm on my hook looked peaceful.

I felt peaceful.  It was time to go home and warm up.  I tossed the worm into the pond.  And I marveled as Knuckle strode confidently toward the geese in our path without any concern.

Back in my car, I felt the heat burn my hands more than soothe them.  The wheat grass of the field around us was taller than the car.  And the sun was now in full control of the sky.

This is the closest I’ve been to the answer yet.  And yet, I forgot what the question was…

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It’s not about the money.
Until it is. 

In leaving corporate life, I knew I was going to face all sorts of boundaries.  My ego would probably suffer from not being able to answer with a fancy description about my “job” when asked “what do you do?”  My mind would probably go a little stir crazy without so much and so much constant stimulation.  My body might become lazy, binging on all sorts of tv shows I wouldn’t normally watch.  I might become a hermit and forget how to be around people…or I might get lonely again and start a social media habit that would annoy me and my “friends.”  My anxiety about my ability to provide for myself would probably be tested as I watched my bank account level out rather than rise and fall with big paychecks and expensive travel.

I actually WANTED these things to happen.  It’s the reason I chose this year of retreat: “a step backward” (n); “to draw in” (v).  My intent was (and still is) to change my perspective, to challenge my relationship with work and people and money, to choose a different way…a totally new way…that works for me and isn’t dictated by the constraints of childhood conditioning, society or others’ expectations.

I knew it would be difficult, and, at times, perhaps even painful; but in the end, I trusted (and still do) it will be worth it.

And then these things actually began to happen.

Just after the new year, while visiting friends in NYC, someone I was inclined to impress asked me “what do you do?”  Um…can I still say I own my own consulting business leading global launches<<blah, blah, blah>> ?  Should I try to explain this year of retreat?  Or perhaps I should just pretend I didn’t hear the question?  I ended up simply saying “I’m a writer”…which of course IS true, but my ego was unhappy at me for quite a few minutes that felt like hours afterwards.

My mind has spurts of becoming overactive (more so than usual) gasping for information and stimulation in fits and starts that don’t really seem to make sense to me.  I have become extra prolific on LinkedIn lately, which is fine, except I feel the need to see if anyone “liked” what I said, which I DETEST about the whole thing…perhaps I should just delete LinkedIn.  And I admit, I’ve spent 2 days doing nothing but lounging in my pajamas watching Netflix or Disney+ (though out of 49 days, at time of writing, I think that’s not too bad!)

The things I hoped for are also beginning to happen.  I learned that when the sun shines (or at least it’s not raining) it really IS good to get outside and make hay…or lay hay over grass seed that you hand tossed onto your yard after raking and aerating it.  I learned that when it is raining, it feels REALLY good to sit inside and read research reports that have been piling up on my desk for months, or books that decorate my living room library.  I discovered that my body has a natural rhythm, and it knows how to go to sleep when it’s dark and how to wake up at the hint of first light…without an alarm!  I also discovered that when I’m not sitting at a computer all day, I don’t feel the need to eat and drink as much.

Then late last week, I was having coffee with two women I know and they both said the same thing in response to my question, ‘what’s going on in your life?’  “OH! These past few weeks have just been so crazy and busy, you know, with work and family and stuff.”

I don’t know why, but it struck me as being a completely meaningless answer.  Everyone has work and family and stuff…even me, and I’m in “retreat!”  It doesn’t tell me a thing about what’s actually going on in your life.  Simultaneously, I realized I used to say that A LOT!

But what might have surprised me more was the next thought…”that’s you’re own fault.  Everyone has the same amount of time and the same ‘stressors,’ so if you can’t manage it to be less crazy, that’s on you.  It doesn’t make you important or special.”

OUCH!  That seems a bit harsh.  But I can’t deny the truth of it.  And in that moment, I also knew that when I begin “stepping forward,” I will make better choices to manage my time.

Over the weekend, I was teaching qigong to some people I’ve known a long time and one of them told me they didn’t recognize me.  I laughed uncomfortably trying to figure out when was the last time I saw this person and if I changed my hair style or something in that timeframe.  “No,” she said “you look so ALIVE!  So full of energy!  Your eyes are downright glowing.  What are you drinking?  Maybe I need some of that.”

Ahhh…It was true, I’ve never had this much energy, and I had been noticing that myself. The first time I noticed it, I thought perhaps it was because I was resting more, sleeping more, or just generally being more attentive to my physical health.  Then I realized, my workouts have nearly tripled recently, and I’ve actually be working physically harder than ever in my life preparing my largely-unloved plot of Earth for a garden.  I’ve cut down trees, demolition-ed structures, raked, shoveled, hauled, hefted, dragged, pushed, prodded and poked lately until I’ve begun developing calluses on my hands and feet, as well as maybe a few more muscles…and a bad habit of having dirt under my fingernails almost constantly now.

So, if I’m using more energy, how could I HAVE more energy?  Well, because energy creates energy.  It’s a quantum physics rule that I find fascinating…just like the way my body feels accomplished at the end of every day working on the garden.  Perhaps I need “physical” work?

But it was a conversation I had on Tuesday that brought me to a standstill and caused me to question this whole retreat.  It was a conversation about money.

It actually started out as a conversation about other things and turned to money gradually, as is usually the case when someone asks for money.  But what I noticed in myself was that the minute the money entered the conversation, my body began to shut down and any good things that were said prior to that were filed as “inauthentic; sales speak.”  Now, what was said prior to the change in conversation wasn’t all sales speak, and I know that intellectually, but my body believed otherwise.

I literally felt my heart harden, my spine strengthen, my muscles tense and my jaw set.  I might have been turning into concrete, or I was bracing myself, but it was the end of anything useful in that conversation.

For hours afterwards, I felt my face burning, my hands tightened, and my body stiff.  Then I started my daily meditation and, like ice in the sunshine, I melted.  I cried, I shook, I softened.  And I realized money might possibly be my biggest relationship issue.

Intellectually, I know money is a tool — an important tool for survival in 21st century western culture, but nothing more than a tool, regardless.  I believe use of this tool tells a lot about what a person values.  I believe money to be like water — meaning, it must and will flow or it becomes diseased.  I also believe water to be like energy, in that, I know how to make more of it, so I need not ever fear I’ll run out.

YET!  Money may be the currency for more than just cheese and bacon and wine in my life.

I reflect on this as I walk my dogs in the woods for hours and hours, hurting and fearful and angry.  And I begin to see money is a key part of my identity — I am the woman who works hard to have the money to support others, like her children, perhaps a few men in her past, her community, etc. … Which leads to some hidden belief I seem to have formed that the only reason people might like me is because of money.  If my daughters don’t need money, I don’t see them.  If I don’t contribute money to the community, I don’t get acknowledged as part of the community.  If I don’t support the men who I loved when they worked hard and provided for themselves, but then stopped working after we were in a relationship thinking it was okay for me to do all the work without asking me or trying to get working again…then maybe I’m not worthy of love unless I pay.

I stop where I am in the woods, sink to my knees and sob.  It’s true.  I tend to pay for myself and others without them asking or expecting it, even to this day.  My daughters have asked me why I do it?  “Because I like to be generous,” I tell them.  And that is true!  I do like to be generous…I feel like I live in deserved abundance and want to share that with people I care about.  But maybe it’s also true that I’m afraid people won’t want to be with me unless I pay.

Fortunately, my dogs don’t give a fuck about money, and they don’t feel like sitting in the middle of a winter woods with rain starting.  So they encourage me to get up and walk some more.

Back at home, and more than 24 hours later, I’m still discovering shocking misconceptions about my relationship with money.  I don’t think I’ve found the bottom to this hole yet.  But the good news is that my relationship with money will never be the same again.  Instead of seeing it as a “valuation” of my “worth,” I can already see it becoming a trusted friend who will lead me to a new Way, as well as a better relationship with work and people.

____________________________________________

Just like the seed
I don’t know where to go
Through dirt and shadow, I grow
I’m reaching light through the struggle
Just like the seed
I’m chasing the wonder
I unravel myself
All in slow motion

Suffocate me
So my tears can be rain
I will water the ground where I stand
So the flowers can grow back again
‘Cause just like the seed
Everything wants to live
We are burning our fingers
But we learn and forgive

Feed me sunlight, feed me air
In a place where nothing matters
Feed me truth and feed me prayer (dancing around a shooting star)
And every cell remembers
Feed me sunlight, feed me air (that have taken us this far)
I see images of killer whales
Feed me truth and feed me prayers (sleeping in a desert trail)
Dreaming of a parallel world where nothing ever hurts

You cannot eat money, oh no
You cannot eat money, oh no
When the last tree has fallen
And the rivers are poisoned
You cannot eat money, oh no
Oh no

-THE SEED
Written by Michelle Leonard and Aurora Aksnes
Performed by AURORA

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A new old way

I’m going to be brutally honest today, Gentle Penguin.  I need to speak some hard truth for myself.

Today is my last day working in the corporate world.  Today is my last day living a “corporate” life.  According to etymology (of course), I find corporate “is from Latin corporatus, past participle of corporare ‘make or fashion into a body, furnish with a body,’ also ‘to make into a corpse, kill.'”   

That’s exactly how I feel working in the corporate world.  Like it’s making me into a corpse.

I’ve tried different paths hoping I could figure it out, like:

  • Aspiring to go higher up the ladder
  • Throwing myself into training or focusing on learning new things
  • Switching my area of expertise
  • Becoming a consultant
  • Not caring and just focusing on the paycheck

But at the end of every day, I found myself turning to alcohol, or a hard workout, or crawling into bed and pulling the blankets over my head, or crying, or screaming at the top of my lungs.  And dreading the next day.  The mind-numbing work that doesn’t really seem to move any needles or have any meaning and certainly doesn’t use the skills and talents I have, the fear of layoffs or reorgs that happen annually, the expectation that life centers on answering emails or any of the other thousand ways that the corporation can tell me what to do, the stagnant sitting (or now standing), and the Lord of the Flies environment it seems to promote.

It’s NOT for me.  I do not want to be enslaved anymore.  Nor serve a “master” I don’t believe in.  Money is not the center of my existence.

So I’m going to try something I learned from octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians in some of my most favorite places in the world.  But it started with a seed planted by a young woman in the Eastern fjords of Iceland.

I met her when she led our off-road tour of the area.  I addition to tours, she also led fishing trips; she helped work the tourist info line in the Eastern part of the country; she worked in the local auto repair shop; she worked at the hotel in town during peak travel time; and she drove the ambulance for her village.  Each “job” contributed not only to her income, but also the economy of her community.

This was the way.  Everyone lived this way back generations.  It kept big business out of the area and, therefore, kept their economy and ecology free from the dependency that occurs with big business.  

A seed was planted and took root fast and furious in my mind.  Subsequent visits to rural northern Germany and a remote Greek island encouraged the seed to sprout.

The people I met there also lived with multiple “jobs” that they not only were skilled at, but that they enjoyed.  There was no “corporate career” there either.  And as a result, their land was pristine.

They all had farms that provided produce and maybe wool or milk, but they also drove the local taxi or school buses; they gave horseback tours of the beach or herbology tours of the local forest and bog; they sold knitted caps or homemade goods like bread, honey, wine, beer or herbal teas; they delivered newspapers or mail; they ran tavernas or cafes.  In addition, they served on their community councils; they took turns checking on the ill and elderly; they babysat each other’s children; they helped each other with harvests or home repairs.

Sure, I kept thinking, this works great in these small communities in remote locations, but I can’t do that where I live because…<<insert ten thousand excuses here>>.

Then one day I couldn’t get out of bed.  I couldn’t face another day of mindless meaningless motionless suffocation and suppression all in the name of a paycheck.

The day stretched into another.  And another.  That’s when my accountant said “Monica, you have no debt.  You have a financial cushion.  Maybe you need to take a year off.”

A small spark of hope saved me.

I knew I couldn’t simply take a year off.  I’ve tried “breaks” before.  I return rejuvenated and it might last for a couple years, but I always seem to end up in this same spot.  It isn’t “them,” it’s me.

Additionally, the thought of having to return and start over would become an anchor.

That’s when the seed that had sprouted began to grow and grow and grow.

Turns out there are ten thousand things I could do to live like the tour guide in the Eastern fjords of Iceland, or the farmers in Northern Germany, or the Taverna keepers on Greek islands.

I’m already a writer with income coming from that work…which I LOVE!  I already make some money as a diplomatic protocol officer hosting international officials in my community or at events.  Also helping small businesses with their sustainable success.  I used to make some “pocket money” singing in a band.  I’m certified to teach qigong and tai chi.  I could finish my training to teach ballroom dance.  I could be a bartender or a barista.  I could drive for Lyft.  I could lead walking tours of my town.  And grow a small garden.  And nine thousand nine hundred and ninety other things!

But first, I’m taking my queue from my inspirations and starting with the question every single one of them — regardless of location or language or talents or jobs — told me the started with.  “What matters most?”

It turns out that the is the key to success.  And it must be at the center of whatever comes next.  When you know WHY you’re doing something, and it MATTERS to you, anything is possible.

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I was talking with a friend over a beer the other night when he lamented that he hadn’t done hardly anything this year, and the year was almost over.

“How can that be?!” I asked incredulously.

This friend is one of the busiest people I know, frequently doing things that make you wonder what YouTube channels he’s watching or what Pinterest boards he subscribes to.

I started naming a few things I knew he had done that year, and he began to think of other things.  The more thoughts he had, the more things I remembered.  By the time we finished our second beer, he was laughing, “no wonder I feel so tired, I’ve done so much this year!”

And so it’s true for all of us.

What did you do, Gentle Penguin?

Below is an account of what I did – not for you to compare or compete with, but as a reminder for myself that each year is an absolute treasure chest overflowing with valuable memories and experiences and lessons.  So feel free to stop reading now and make your own list.

In 2019, I traveled the USA more extensively than ever before visiting Kansas City, Indianapolis, Orlando, St. Louis, San Jose, Frankfort (Michigan), Sedona, and Boston, to name a few places.  And in these American travels, I visited nine National Parks (including my first trip to the Grand Canyon) and five National Forests, where I fell in love with trees all over again.

Speaking of falling in love, I fell in love with Iceland during a lengthy stay exploring Her wild beauty.  And I discovered a new sense of “being at home” during an extended stay in rural northern Germany, the homeland of my father’s ancestors.

Many of my travels this year were connected to deepening my training in martial arts.  As such, I learned to strengthen my tendons, breath into my bone marrow, let mantras chant me, recognize and smile at my organs, travel through space and time with my mind, breathe through my skin, feel the energy of the air all around me, release tension and negative emotions through pressure points and postures, conduct my own inner alchemy, create an iron shirt, expand my aura, multiply my life force energy; and defend myself from punches, kicks, knives and guns as well as verbal and emotional attacks.

I learned how to ignore what everyone else was doing and listen to myself.  I let the Qi move me.  I picked up a new weapon.  I doubled my standing meditation time.  I graduated two belt levels in kung fu.  I was certified in and began teaching qigong, meditation and tai chi.  I shared life-force energy with a redwood tree, listened to stories of time from red rocks in the desert, rooted into sand dunes on the Great Lakes, and matched the frequency of my life-force energy to the Pacific Ocean.

I also connected more deeply to my loved ones.  I climbed glaciers with my daughter, a niece and sister-in-law.  I witnessed a lunar eclipse with my brother and his family.  I went to musical theatre with another niece and shared a love of Star Wars with another brother and one of my nephews.  I vacationed with my parents, all my brothers and sisters and their families, my other daughter and her boyfriend.  I camped with my dogs in a thunderstorm.  I had several dates with one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.  And I had countless dinners, coffees, and glasses of beer and wine with friends.

My writing business focused almost exclusively on writing about herbal teas across Europe, Iceland, and the USA—including an awe-inspiring experience learning about Native American herbal connections to my own hometown.  But it was water that provided the highlight of beverages this year as I drank the most amazing water across Iceland from glaciers to volcanic springs to naturally carbonated water at the base of the most powerful vortex I’ve visited yet.

And in deepening my knowledge of natural health options, I connected my Ayurveda self-care practices to Traditional Chinese Medicine — a shift that also connected my martial arts practice to my personal health and changed forever how I see my body and how I live.

My consulting business also provided rewarding connections this year.  I helped clients in Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States create new connections with customers.  I negotiated with clients in Israel over a medical device stock issue.  I guided more than a dozen small businesses through business or product launches.  I mentored half a dozen independent consultants in setting up sustainable financial and environmental business practices when working with corporate America.  I helped negotiate issues associated with new trade restrictions in Asia that ultimately helped open new opportunities in Eastern Europe caused by those trade restrictions.

But you should know 2019 was not all sunshine and rainbows and candied unicorn poop.

I alienated myself from people in all parts of my life with a bad habit of not minding my own business.  I insulted my own teachers and mentors with an arrogance I labeled as “personal development.”  I felt the confusion I create for others when I avoid conflict and cannot deliver a clear “no.”  I found about fifty wrong ways of dealing with frustration and irritation and anger.  I struggled with the idea in both martial arts and in life that yielding does NOT mean giving up and giving in.  I fought a battle with burnout and anxiety attacks and migraines.  And burnout finally won; a battle I’m just starting to recover from.

So did this match up with what I said I wanted to do?

Last year, I said 2019 would be the year of deepening my knowledge of Natural Health and listening.  In reflection, I see that what my deeper knowledge of Natural Health taught me is that listening isn’t just an auditory experience.  This year, I began to learn how to listen with my entire being.  And in doing so, I connected.  I connected with places, and people, and ideas and the Earth.  More importantly, I finally connected with myself.   And I realized this is where I should have started so very long ago.

Gentle Penguin, if you’re still reading, I must admit it’s rather humbling to realize I’m probably past midlife and I JUST met myself.  But this was the seed for selecting my theme next year.

In 2020, I already now I want to continue connecting with myself and connecting myself to the Natural cycles of the Earth–and the Earth itself.

Not too long ago, while struggling to understand what “yielding” DOES mean, I found myself in a rabbit hole where I discovered that the Proto-Indo-European dhghem, which means “earth,” is the root of another word I struggle with.

Humble: (adj) submissive, respectful, lowly in manner, modest, not self-asserting, obedient

Truthfully, this word both annoys and frightens me.  And I guess that’s exactly why I believe I need to embrace it next on my Path.

What do you think?  2020: The Year of Humility.

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Change in the Weather

For the past two years I’ve been traveling across the United States of America studying how I can live a more healthy and fulfilling life. And regardless of what system I’ve learned about (Aryuveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Native American herbology, Blue Zones, School of Life, Yoga, Qigong or Taijiquan), there is one thing they all have in common, or rather that they all have at their core—Nature.

Over and over again, the message was the same. “Nature is the ultimate truth.”

Fortunately, most of these adventures were located near beautiful nature. So I went into nature to practice what I learned. And while I learned a LOT of amazing things, one thing I learned has been bothering me.

In every location, it seems the weather is changing noticeably and significantly.

For example, as I wait for my flight in Boston, some of the locals tell me that the costal flood alerts blowing up the weather alert system on my cell phone is normal.

“I’ve lived here for more than 40 years, and the weather over the past three has been unbelievable. Storm surges, coastal flooding, blizzards, hurricanes…these used to be once-in-a-rare events. Now, they are the new normal.” One local told me.

In looking into it, I find the Boston government agrees and has created a full-city plan for addressing not only long-term rising sea levels and increased flooding, but also increased snow amounts and extreme heat.

The federal government, however, believes Florida is the place most likely to suffer dire consequences from rising sea levels, coastal flooding and storm surges. (USA Fourth National Climate assessment.)

And several locals were saying that’s no new news to them. “I told my husband a few years ago we should sell the house and buy a houseboat,” an elderly lady told me, “but he told me I was silly. Earlier this year, he said we wouldn’t have to because with all the flooding our house just may become a houseboat! We came down here for the sunshine and sand,” she said, “but lately all I see is rain and water.”

Locals I talked to in Snowbird, Utah, have noticed the opposite problem. “We depend on ski tourists for our livelihood,” one ski instructor told me when I told him how excited I was by a surprise snowstorm that dropped almost a foot of snow while I was there. “But it’s the middle of November, we should have snow and more of it! Our season has gotten shorter and shorter with less and less snow every year since I’ve worked here.”

Data from nearby Park City and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography agree, with statistics that show not only are winters becoming shorter and drier in the region, but that summers are also becoming drier and hotter.

Another place I visited recently is also becoming noticeably hotter. This past September in Sedona, locals I met were abuzz with concerns about the economy, which is struggling as people leave to escape the extreme heat — or rather stop coming as tourists. I discovered this is part of an ongoing discussion centered around a 2017 study published in the journal Science. This article summarized that Arizona will suffer more deaths and economic losses than most of the country under current climate change projections, mostly due to increasing temperatures…which continue to rise since records have been kept.

But my hiking guide in Sedona was talking about other changes in the weather. “We like to joke that monsoon season is now, like, ‘monsoon week’. It used to be months. This year, I’m not sure it happened at all,” he said. “You know, I used to pray for things like toys or money. Now I pray for rain.”

Locals I met on Lake Michigan’s Eastern shore were also praying when I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes that same month. But not for more rain.

“Beach? What beach?” a local laughed when my dogs and I went in search of a nice place to walk along the shore only to find that the stairs leading down to the water actually led into the water. “You don’t want to go down there anymore anyway,” he told me. “It’s dangerous now. Rogue waves, strong riptides, submerged junk…it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I’m going to stay…I mean, if I even get the option since my house may not be here if this continues.”

Sure enough, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory data showed that Lake Michigan was having it’s highest water levels on record, with the high-water record topping at 582.18 feet on July 23, less than a month before I visited.

But the data from the Army Corps of Engineers showed something even more interesting: in 2000, Lake Michigan fell below its 100-year average, and continued to fall until it reached a record-low mark of 576.02 feet in 2013. Then, it began to rise. And it hasn’t stopped rising yet taking over the shore as it rises.

Unprecedented fluctuations were also the topic of a long-time native of Central California last year when I visited Yosemite. The tour guide who was driving me through the “bread basket” of California pointed out the number of farms for sale. While I didn’t count them, the number of farms for sale was equal to, if not greater than, those that weren’t.

“Farmers depend on the land and the weather for their livelihood. They’re smart people. They know there will be cycles of drought and rain. But these cycles are becoming so destructive it’s almost impossible to make a consistent living. The droughts we’ve seen here in the past 10 years have been so bad it’s killing the trees, which means when we do have rain — or snow, the trees and the land just wash away.” And as if planned, just then we passed a farm where downed trees lay scattered among a muddy mess at the edge of the road.

Looking into the data at UC and UCLA, I find that in the past 100 years, the drought and rain cycle in California has intensified significantly, with the driest season on record happening between 2011 and 2014 and the wettest season on record occurring during the winter of 2016-2017.

And with these dry-wet fluctuations in California, I find that other weather changes are accompanying them.

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a dark library in Northern California without electricity because of wildfires. One of the librarians told me “sure, wildfires seem common around here, but the damage they’re doing lately is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Maybe this is how it will be from now on.”

Since the state of California started keeping records in 1932, 15 of the 20 biggest and most destructive fires have happened in the past two decades (out of nine decades), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Climate researchers agree these fires are precipitated by the droughts, but also by the increasing wind of the area.

In fact, the day before I was cautioned by park rangers at the lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore as they were tracking wind gusts nearby of up to 90 miles an hour!

Research published in the journal Science in 2014 showed wind speeds and strength in several costal regions of the world, including California, were increasing year-over-year for the past 60 years with a marked increase in the past decade.

But according to a 2017 survey by Yale University, “a majority of American adults don’t believe climate change will affect them personally.”

What does this have to do with health?

I don’t know, but I have a couple questions:

  • If the truth about health is related to an understanding of nature, and a majority of Americans don’t even acknowledge how nature is changing around them, could this also explains why the majority of Americans have some health issue? (Only 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, according to the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, November 2018.)
  • What does Climate Change tell us about how to fix our health and perhaps the health of the planet?

Next year I intend to find out.

I’m taking a break from corporate America to resolve my own heath issues and find a new Way to live in connection to and harmony with Nature. This will certainly include what I’ve learned from some amazing teachers and practices, but also what I hope to learn from Nature.

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In Transit

Do you ever have the feeling that you’re ready for change, but you don’t know what change to make?  Or you know what change you’re ready to make, but not sure what to do next?

In these moments, I have — in the past — put together spreadsheets, made action plans, gave myself tasks and schedules, and did something.

But I’ve had this feeling a LOT in my adult life, usually around the same two questions, making me wonder if maybe I’m going about it the wrong way.  Maybe in my drive to do something, I’m doing the wrong thing, which is why I find myself ready for change on the same two things again and again and again.

It was during a long flight home from vacation that I discovered a different option.  With lots of time on my hands and nothing to do but look out the window and listen to music, I found that though my thoughts were seemingly random, I was becoming vaguely aware of a solution to one of the questions I have struggled with.  Not able to reach my pen and notebook and not having brought tech, I had no choice but to just let it be.

I took a deep breath and continued watching the clouds slip by below me.

Many hours later, I not only had an answer, but one I would have never found in a spreadsheet or in an action plan.  And I was absolutely certain it was the right answer — something I hadn’t felt while making my task list.

So I decided to give it a try on the second question…a bigger question.  Finding my Sunday completely open–no body at home, no events scheduled, no pressing projects–I went to my secret outdoor inspiration point and made myself comfortable in the grass.

I watched a honey bee prying open the petals of clover flowers to gather nectar.  I watched a beetle weave his way through the blades of grass.  I saw a moth flit about in a seemingly haphazard path.  I listened to the birds chirping and turned over to watch them swirl in the sky above me.  I soaked up the sunshine and swatted at a bug buzzing in my ear.  I hummed a little.  I sighed a few times.  And I let my thoughts just move about, much like the moth had.

When my stomach growled, I wondered what time it was, but I had left my phone locked in the parking lot quite some ways way.  And I didn’t feel like moving…something was taking shape in my random thoughts. I couldn’t tell how long I laid there, but sure enough, the answer emerged.

So now I’m traveling again.  And I notice, flight delays, international flights, missed connections leading to long layovers, they feel like gifts now, instead of frustrations.

I count the number of couples holding hands and the number of parents holding their child’s hand keeping a tally for fun.  I notice how most of the groups in the airport are made up of 20-year-old men or 60-year-old women.  I see that the current fashion is nothing like what I’m wearing.  I smile at strangers and note what books are being read on the plane.

I smell the perfume at the counters and the cologne on the men walking by, the bread being baked and the meat being grilled, and coffee.  I listen to the conversations around me and marvel at how much life is happening outside my daily perspective.  I stand so a group of 60-year-old women can sit together and feel the stretch in my back, my legs and my shoulders.  I stretch some more.

And all the while, solutions to issues I didn’t even know I was thinking about coalesce and shift and spiral and come together.

Now I sit in the fifth-story floor-to-cieling window of my hotel room watching the sun set over an endless horizon of trees, while birds circle in the sky as it becomes pastel shades of blue and pink and orange…not because I have questions, but because I realize THIS is the answer.

 

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When people find out that I do Kung Fu, they’re often surprised. Then they make assumptions that I do it because I don’t feel safe, or I want to feel tough, or I’m displacing my aggression. Trust me, I don’t want to be a man, and anyone who knows me knows I have no aspirations to be aggressive or tough. Rather, in doing Kung Fu, I have discovered that martial arts makes me a better woman.

I actually started my martial arts training in Kenpo Karate when my daughter’s pediatrician recommended it as a way to help her learn to focus. She did learn to focus. And so did I. I had no idea how much my body and mind craved stillness. But also I fell in love with the power of moving into purposeful action from stillness. Those moments of stillness could be nanoseconds or minutes, but they made a huge difference. And they came more easily the more I practiced.

Soon I discovered those same moments of stillness in my everyday activities–at dinner with family, or comforting a (focused) angry child, or defusing political conversations with friends, or keeping cool during tough negotiations at work.

In this age of fast, easy tech, we are all multitaskers, but these moments of stillness and focus have proven to be immensely better for me when it comes to choices about work, relationships, and life.

The more I learned to focus, the more I started “hearing” my body. I realized somewhere along my Way, I had learned to live most of my life in my head and not connected to my body. When you’re learning to move your body in relation to others, like you do in martial arts, you learn quickly how your body is connected, how it responds to invasions of space, touch and force. In other words, you learn how comfortable it is in relation to others and what movement means to that relationship to others.

For example, I learned what it felt like to be grabbed, hit, kicked, thrown, choked, pushed and pulled.  That might sound awful, except it wasn’t.  It was empowering because I was learning how to handle those situations without panicking.

Another example, I learned that my personal comfort bubble was HUGE and when someone else encroached in that bubble, I would immediately begin to stress. However, the more I listened to and learned from my body, the more my bubble shrank. It might sound like a small thing, but now I can relax instead of freak out by people pressing in on me in a crowded bus in Eastern Europe.  Or confidently maneuver midtown Manhattan to get to an early-morning meeting with a thousand of other commuters.  Or enjoy ballroom dancing with men I don’t know.

While all this focusing and listening to my body was going on, I also noticed my relationship to my body changing.  Like many of the women I talk with, I have learned to dislike my body because it’s not perfect—I’m not thin, I have blemishes in weird spots, I have crazy hair, I think my knees look odd, etc.  I’m not a model by any stretch of the imagination—however, I have a new respect for my body.  It’s healthy, strong, flexible (mostly), fully functional…and it tells me important things about making good decisions, if I listen.

Also, when you respect your body, it’s hard to let anyone else disrespect it.

With this new respect, it wasn’t long before I began to understand how to challenge my body.

So many times my sifu would ask me to jump a stick held at waist level, or attack an opponent twice my size, or fall down on the floor safely.  My brain would always say “that’s not going to happen!”  But I would try.  And I always discovered I could do exactly what I thought I couldn’t.  Sometimes the activity required modifications or practice, but it was never impossible.

There is nothing more empowering than that kind of training.  Especially for women, whom I have still heard referred to as “the weaker sex.”  Recently.

All this focus, listening, respect and challenge came with discipled practice. For those who think that means long, hard hours of torture, I have to disagree.

Yes, martial arts class can be hard, and sometimes it still feels long, but I enjoy my martial arts practice pretty much more than anything else I do. Plus, discipline comes with great benefits like comradery with the others in class, learning new skills, and even laughter.  It’s true, Gentle Penguin, I have even learned to laugh at myself. 

I also have to disagree when people tell me martial arts will make me more aggressive or argumentative. If anything, martial arts made me more diplomatic, because now I have more tools to evaluate and respond to any conflict or discomfort with a range of options.

And most of the time, I find myself choosing more traditionally “feminine” options, like empathy, compassion, listening and diffusion. This comes with confidence–not because I think I can beat someone up. But because I know where my true power lies…in being myself.

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