Stepping into Silence

Stumbling into Silence

Arrival was abrupt.  Unpacking my car and starting the klutzy balance of suitcase, duffel bag, yoga mat and other “essentials” into the building that welcomes you more like a prison and less like a resort.  Three steps up into the foyer (very loose concept) and realizing it is 100 degrees inside and there are no elevators would be my first reality checks, this was not intended to be a vacation.  I walk down the hallway to check that the “2” before my room number “200” would suggest that I am on the second floor, secretly hoping that these ground floor rooms were not numbered like hotel rooms. It is confirmed, I am on the second floor.  Lugging my luggage (ironic the two words…ha!) up the stairs and down to the last room in the hall I find room 200 and I am not sure if I am relieved or reticent to see what lies behind the door. 

I open the door to my room I am hit with a more intense wave of heat and am reminded that the website said there was no a/c but “there are box fans for your comfort”.  I immediately open all of the windows and doors and find that luxury item, box fan, that I would power up on max.  As I look around the room I am almost giddy with the realization that this is far from the luxury hotels that I sell for a living.  It is vanilla and nondescript.  This would be the last time I would recall anything about the décor of this room and instead would regard this space as a respite from the intense work we were doing.  It would become a “retreat” indeed allowing me to ground myself and center myself once again. 

The views were absolutely stunning and once the windows were open it was apparent why no a/c would be needed.  The fresh air blowing in from the tops of the trees was magnificent and would have been missed otherwise. 

I set up my laptop and iPad and put all of my notebooks and journals on to the desk as if I was getting ready to work.  That would be the last time I would visit that space.  As it turned out there is much to do in silence and none of it involves a desk, a laptop or books.  Wow, what was I in for, this was going to be an experience for sure.

Here we go…

On day one I wake early and start searching on my Uber Eats app for Starbucks.  Yep, there is one, but there are no drivers.  Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!  I get up and get dressed and decide I will drive down the mountain to get my two cappuccinos.  This would inevitably become my new morning routine for the week.  As with everything that has happened thus far, I would come to realize the gift of being able to experience the drive down the mountain and back up again.  The familiarity of the winding roads and silhouettes of houses as the sun would rise brought me back to the many visits to my mom in Virginia.  I would wake up in the coming days looking forward to this drive.  The gratitude in places I was not seeking would become a familiar theme of this experience.

I would start my mornings with that drive, those cappuccinos a sunrise every morning that reminded me that there is always a reason to rise again. New beginnings and new horizons are always ours for the taking; every 24 hours.

As I make my way down the stunning walk to the place we would practice silence for the week I was joined by 36 other silent-seekers and one eclectic couple that would become our spiritual guides. The room was brimming with anxious energy as we all sat pensively on our yoga mats.  I realize now coming out on the other side how naïve I was on that first day.  As I sat there staring at our instructors I had no way of knowing how hard the next three days would be and the range of emotions that we would go through.  In hindsight, I find the courage of our instructors to be inspiring as they were the only ones in the room on that first day that knew what was going to happen…and they did it anyway.  

In it

After orientations and breathing practices we were partnered up with a “buddy” that had been chosen for us based on proximity.  Our first introduction to our “buddy” would be to tell our life story in ten minutes in the third person. What. The. Heck! My initial response was fear of telling my story to someone that surely could not understand where I came from, how was I going to tell a complete stranger my choices and consequences in this life and still be respected? It was decided that the person in the pair with the longest hair would go first, whew, I was off the hook, at least for ten minutes. She (my buddy) began to tell her story in the third person and I was wholly impressed at how good she was at this and then her story started to wash over me and I found myself sitting, paralyzed by her words. How could this be? Her story was so similar, yet so different. Could it be that this person that had been chosen for me was more like me than different? This would become another proof point that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; on that mountain, in that room, on that yoga mat, sitting in front of her; another moment of divine intervention as my buddy was surely chosen FOR me.

All of this chatting created a cacophony of voices, laughter and nervous energy that of course would lead up to the announcement that we were going to step into silence. We had been in session for 24-hours and now were presumably ready to be thrust into silence as the session was ending. We walked out of our class into silence with little instruction outside of “stay in silence”.  There were hints during the day of the more obvious “rules”, no talking, no phones, no tv, but we were mostly left to our own devices, or not.  I walked back to my room in the dark, wondering where in the world I was that I could be instructed to walk the half-mile up the mountain to my room alone. As with previous themes, this would be the last time I would worry, let alone think, about walking alone in the dark. This mountain was washing over me like a security blanket and in safety, vulnerability is allowed.  As I entered my room I was immediately aware of the sounds around me.  We had only started this journey and it seemed as though everything was amplified.  As I turned on the water to brush my teeth I was acutely aware of the faucet and powerful flow of water.  This heightened awareness of sound would continue throughout my time in silence, at times revealing nature’s wonders and other times annoying the shit out of me. 

I would go to bed without tv as I had done the night before only as a trial and now as a sentence.  These would be my first victories as I have always fallen asleep to tv as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, I remember there being a black and white tv in my room that had no reception, I would fall asleep to the sound of “snow” every night.  I am not sure what my parent’s attempt was in that added “amenity”, but it set a habit in stone for life. 

When I woke in the morning, still in silence, I would begin to see the range of emotions that would become a roller coaster ride as warned that it might.  My trip to Starbucks was uneventful.  Our mornings would always start the same with yoga and then breakfast with some alone time in between the break until our 10a session would start.  Somewhere in that “break”, the emotion of the few hours of silence realized and the days of silence pending in front of me hit like a ton of bricks.  As I sat on the side of the hill in front of our classroom I would completely lose it, crying until I was sobbing.  I was grateful that we were in silence as I could not explain where the emotion was coming from or why I was crying.  I just was and at the moment I knew I was “in it”.

Buckle Up

As the days would go on the meditations would as well.  We would meditate for hours on end.  Meanwhile, emotions were on a roller coaster that ranged from the rockiness of a wooden coaster to some, few, that was as smooth as silk.  When you sit in meditation you are doing the “work” you are inevitably here to do.  You are training the mind.  Sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in…and we’re off!  I would spend hours fighting back the thoughts that would flood in like a tsunami of randomness, contemplations and plans for the future.  I would try to swat them away like the flies that they were but realize that when the flies are in the ointment your swatter is defenseless.   

I would find that range of emotions at its height on Day Two as I was ready to quit. Was this normal or was it my typical “MO” of always finding an escape hatch when things got uncomfortable? I was pissed that we were going to meditate again and again and again. I would submit a question for that night’s Q&A asking why we were meditating so much to which our instructor would offer his wisdom after reading the question out loud. His answer was, so appropriate, “Well, you did sign up for a meditation retreat.” HA!!! I would find the ridiculousness of the question and his answer the comical break I needed to let it happen. As the meditations wore on I would come to realize that this is the process of finding the “self”. It does not happen in a few meditations. It happens from the constant practice, one right after another, of quieting the mind. This realization would happen days after this Q&A and when it did it was existential.

Embracing the present

One of the things that became very clear early on was the amount of control that one has to turn over to truly be taken (sometimes dragged) into this process.  The only way to get to the “self” is to allow yourself to be guided by trusting the process.  For many of the people in the room, this was an effort in itself.  “What are we going to do next?”  “How, why, when…”  “What do you mean I cannot go to the bathroom when I want?”  Control; is a bitch.  You come to realize (or you don’t) that you have to relinquish it because all that you are wielding in your own hands prevents you from seeing what you can become. 

To be present is sometimes not knowing what will happen next.  You are aware that there is more on the horizon and you pick your head up for brief checks to make sure you are still on the path otherwise you keep your head down and focus.  This thought of keeping my head down occurred to me many times on my journey into silence.  When I went on hikes, which is one of the very few things we were allowed to do, you had to keep your head down to avoid tripping on a rock or a root, and would only look up to make sure you were still on the path.  Head down = Good. When I would walk around the grounds I would keep my head down to avoid eye contact, since simply pleasantries would threaten my silence. Head down = Good.  Keeping your head down became a “good thing” and as with all things in life what is good is also bad, but in these moments “head down” equaled “focus” and that was “good”.

Breaking the Silence

As the final moments of the retreat had arrived we were prepared to “break the silence” in a ritual that would bring value to the first words that you would speak. It would be ceremonious because after all of the silence surely you would have something to say that deserved to be heard. We gathered in a circle and were asked to say one word that would break our silence.  This would be the most powerful moment in what had already felt like millions of powerful moments.  As we went around the circle each person would reveal their voice in a word and then share why they had come to the silent retreat.  The last part of sharing was not asked of us but something that seemed to come as a release and felt natural after spending hours of silence together.  We had gotten to know each other through wide eyes hidden on masked faces, passing each other back and forth between breaks, finding safety in our silent numbers.  Now we were hearing the voices of those that had come to be our brethren and felt a responsibility of sorts to share.  As the stories came flowing into the circle it created a centrifugal force that was apropos for the roller coaster to come to a final stop. 

My “word” changed numerous times as the emotions of their stories came tumbling out in front of me.  “Acceptance”, “fear”, wait…no, the words, every one of them said by the 22 people that stood in the circle before I applied, how could I choose one?  When it was my turn, I stood up holding on to the column beside me and said the only thing I felt at that moment “OVERWHELMED”.  It is not only what I was feeling at that moment but inevitably what brought me to that circle.  Overwhelmed by my thoughts and my emotions now in front of these warriors and ironically also the reason I had driven up the mountain originally.  I was overwhelmed by life, my life, thoughts that had no longer become a choice to act on but instead, had become a directive summoning emotions and reactions at a dizzying pace, literally as I was suffering from vertigo brought on in silence.

There I stood and spoke my testimony.  “My word is “overwhelmed” because that is how I feel right now.  I am brimming with energy feeling a tingling sensation throughout my body.  My word is also “acceptance”.  I realized I was in good company on Day One and that allowed me to be vulnerable to this process.  My word is also “responsibility” because I owe it to myself to carry everything I have learned into my life and I take the responsibility of each and every one of your stories as mine to keep in solace.  My final word is “fear”.  Fear is what I felt when I was driving in and realizing that the last time I was in silence was as I sat at my mother’s bedside the last three weeks of her life until she took her last breath.  I did not know if I could ever sit in silence again, but I did.”  …and then I sat down into a puddle of my own tears. This must be the definition of cathartic…

This word has always fascinated me and at this moment of release, I fully came to understand not only the definition of the word but the weight of it.  This word would become a defining word for the “silent” retreat to be used for me and only me. It is not a word I would repeat or use to describe my experience to others but acknowledge deep within.  We use “heavy” words to express our emotions, to place emphasis on our stories without ever truly understanding the true meaning.  I realized in this moment of “catharsis” that there were very few times in my life that I had been here, truly.

yOUR Story

Everyone has one, a story, your story, our story.  All of our stories begin with “Once upon a time…” and inevitably we spend all of our lives seeking our “…happily ever after”. 

So many themes revealed themselves this week as a final conclusion to a novel that had more ups and downs than a harlequin romance.  Your story is my story and my story is yours and by telling my story I share OUR story.  We have all been through something, everything and ironically nothing.  Every single one of us can tell a tale of tragedy in our lives as easily as one of victory.  The degree to which that story affects us is personal.  Your story is no less tragic, better or mundane than mine, it is simply your story, which is ours collectively. 

“When all you have is eye contact, devoid of speech you see yourself through the eyes of others.” – Lori Kiel, silent retreat revelation. 

I saw myself in the exuberant girl so full of energy she could barely contain herself in silence.  Her giggles, moans, grunts and loud motions drew the attention of the room.  At first, what felt like a distraction soon came to be a mirror of myself.  I recognized myself in her “bull in a china shop” persona and immediately knew why she was there. 

I saw myself in the woman two yoga mats over from me that would look at me as if she could see into my soul.  She was just a bit older, a tad wiser, summoning me with her gaze that told me “she saw me”.  As we broke the silence she would come to me to sit and share, of course, she would because surely she felt that energy as well.

I saw myself in the “buddy” I was assigned the day I first laid eyes on her on Day One.  Tattoos, gorgeous skin, long flowing hair and a fierceness to her eyes that let you know, she was not to be messed with; just like me.  As we were tasked with sharing our life story (in the third person, in ten minutes) her words would flow so eloquently from her soul revealing a life that was shattered, shocking and leaving me absolutely speechless.  It would be my turn to tell my story and I would fumble for the words, not even sure of my name in the third person.  What she could not know is that as she told her story, it was mine as well.  How could that be?  I am immediately reminded that we are all more alike than different.  She was as shocked as I revealed that I too had walked a similar path.  Her assumption of me, my appearance, my demeanor, never let on that I too had seen life like hers, we were safe, together. 

I saw others, those familiar to me my mother, my friends, my kids, in those warriors that surrounded me in silence.  I saw my friends in the eyes of three others as we were tasked with a “gazing exercise”.  We sat in front of three people and could only stare into each other’s eyes to reveal if we were ready to come out of silence.  The first two people I sat in front of were new to me.  We had not come into contact during the retreat and in gazing into each other’s masked faces I recognized their eyes.  The first was younger, scared, kind eyes that were holding back.  So familiar to me and reminded me that the kindness behind those eyes should not be confused with weakness, I know her and she is fierce.  The second was familiar.  She looked like me, 35 years of me.  Round, soft, sweet, flowing hair and a gaze that seemed to create compression on my heart.  It was physical.  I could feel her squeezing my heart, how, what was this…later when she spoke her final word I would come to know her name.  Of course, it was that of my childhood best friend.  Of course.

Driving Down the Mountain

I thought a lot about what the departure from silence would look like, would I talk, would I stay silent, turns out much like life, it just happened. When you are in a cocoon, enveloped in silence, safe on the top of a mountain, the idea of driving out of that space is daunting. I had been warned before going that how you come out is as important as the work you do during the retreat.

As I got into the car to take the 9+ hour drive home, I was incredibly energized.  This again was to be expected, or not, as expectations are “the thief of joy” as one of the many lessons I have learned this last week.  Having experienced the range of emotions and feelings I had come to know I was grateful that today I was energized where days before I was exhausted. 

GPS set, water in the cup holder and let’s roll! 

I call my husband first to tell him I am out of silence and find my first attempt to explain what I had just experienced.  I had already decided that I would not share, at least not verbally, this experience with many others as putting it into words would only fall short.  He of course knows why I went and was ready to listen and of course support the changes I am coming away with.  He is relieved to hear that my resolve is much of what he has told me, begged of me and offered in wisdom through the years.  Ironic that it takes a silent retreat to get it to sink in. 

The next phone call comes in from my youngest son interrupting my husband and I’s call to tell my husband that he has locked the keys to his car in the trunk.  AND HERE WE GO, cue the song “…back to life, back to reality” – Soul II Soul.

After solving his crisis my youngest son, who is now driving the long ride home from his friends, calls and just wants to talk.  This is golden.  As a parent of three sons, you come to learn that conversations like this one are precious.  They are not the “What are you doing today?” calls, they are not trivial, these are the ones that when they happen you cherish and stay present.  This time I am present on an entirely different level, good for him, awesome for me.  This is a gift. 

The last call on my drive home is my oldest son and his wife to “check on me”.  They are always light-hearted and make it easy to share without effort.  As he is the quieter one in our family his first question is if I made it through the silence without talking.  We share some laughs about my experience and I am left feeling loved, as always.  He is so gentle with me.  This word “gentle” is one I would hear many times throughout my meditations and would remind myself again and again.  This is a tattooable word…not that I would…but noting in the case I ever get the itch. 

She’s SAFE, Sliding into Home

In between the calls from my family, the best call I had on my drive home was from the one person I had just experienced this retreat with, Jill. 

She and I met 15 years ago when working for the same company.  We came fast friends and long after going our separate ways and career paths we have remained close.  We have an affinity for wellness and Buddhism and we are each other’s “go-to” for retreats.  When this idea of going on a silent retreat came to me she was the first one I called to see if she wanted to join me.  Of course, she said “yes”. 

It’s interesting going through a period of silence with someone as you cannot communicate verbally yet you soon realize that knowing each other is all the communication you need.  The energy, the eye contact, the moments…are as comforting and telling as the words you cannot say.  We would hike the mountains around us every day using sign language and caveman-like grunts to communicate. We laughed, a lot! We would even get into a bit of trouble as we accidentally wandered off of a trail and onto the land of a very disgruntled man and his two very loud dogs! Uh Oh…

As we were not able to speak until the very end of the retreat we had a lot to talk about in downloading our shared experience on our long drive home, she back to DC and me to Orlando.  Jill had left before me and had already experienced “life” in her new mindset.  She shared her few experiences with me as a warning of what was to come. 

As we downloaded it was a resolve in closing the experience and unexpectedly necessary.  My very wise friend and fellow meditator dispelled her wisdom and takeaways with me with her best advice being…

“You can now access silence anytime you want it.”  Ironically I always could. 

As it turns out silence was always available to me.  Accessing it was not.  I have now been equipped with tools to truly access that space in which the quiet can resolve and ready my mind for the noise as I decide to allow it access.

What I am taking away

There were many lessons through stories that were told to us throughout the retreat. Again the facilitators had a captive audience; we sat like kindergarteners on the floor looking up at them as our teachers. We were captive indeed, voices silenced and seeking wisdom by the two that seemingly knew how to find peace. I would later tell them (when granted my voice again) that I was in awe of their courage to take a group through this process as the emotions that would bubble up would sometimes be focused on them; anger, disbelief, love…yes by end of this retreat I would come to love these two courageous humans.

While we were not able to use pad and paper during silence I would have to remember the lessons I learned based on what resonated and “stuck” versus what I voraciously consumed in notes. This as many that know me is tough. I rarely sit and do anything without a keyboard in front of me allowing all that enters to produce on the page in front of me. Again, another blessing in disguise as I realized that much of that notetaking was more about keeping “busy” so I did not have to simply sit within myself. Lessons learned. One at a time. Here are some that were taught and others that I came up with within my own observations of the “self”:

  • When the water hits the rock, the water is not interrupted, it is not harmed by the rock, it remains unfazed.  It simply splashes back unto itself and proceeds to flow around the rock. The rock does not stop the flow, it changes it ever so slightly but it still flows.  Be the water, not the rock.  I am the water.
  • When you walk like a flame everything you come into contact with becomes fuel. 
  • The body is the wick and the mind is the glow.
  • What we resist persists.
  • Vicious cycle involves thought that evokes emotion that elicits reaction. Allowing the thought to present itself dismiss itself without emotion or reaction is the key to peace.

Jill’s favorite story of wisdom is that of the “empty boat” and I have been regarding it since coming home as well so I share it here as taken from the web for better clarity:

There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first, it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes right at him faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.

The other boat is always empty, even when there’s someone steering it. There is never anyone to get angry with. Even if the person steering the other boat deliberately rammed our boat, his behavior had nothing to do with us. Anything anyone else does is done for their own reasons, and much of the time they don’t even know the reasons. When we see life as it is, rather than our thoughts about it, we see that every time we look for an enemy, someone to hate, someone to blame, there’s never anyone there. Just an empty boat on a foggy lake.

My own epiphany occurred on the final sunrise. Of course, it did. As I was sitting at the very top of the steps of the main meditation hall, two cappuccinos beside me, shivering from the 40 degrees of cool air blowing I took these pictures and the following came to me…

As the sun rises we can see more clearly what was always on the horizon. The clouds that were there don’t go away they are just part of the scenery not the scenery, itself. Clarity is not removing the clouds all together but instead seeing that there is more to see if you step back and center.

Life as I live it – L.

Everything Means Something…

I was pushed recently about why I think everything needs to mean something.  Why can’t something just “be” what it is without having meaning.  I have explored this thought for many months now since it was originally asked of me.  I find that life with meaning is far more valuable, at least to me, and makes sense of the unfortunate things that happen to make them feel like there was fortune despite what seems random.

Better explained, giving value to all things, is simply my way of getting through this life.  I prefer optimism and in order to stay positive, I have to believe that things that happen, that would otherwise be defined as bad, have meaning.  I also like to believe that there is more to life than simple misfortunes.  My most recent application of meaning includes two thoughts I had this week.

  • Recent surgeries have left me with a literal cross on my abdomen.  While there are so many things that these scars represent the visual from my perspective is a cross.  I choose to believe that this cross on my abdomen is a reminder of how blessed I am to have gone through these surgeries and come out better on the other side.  I have healed remarkably and have only been left with these scars.

This is a perfect example of my perspective in finding meaning. It would be too easy to be distressed by the literal disaster that my abdomen has become however I have no control over it, never did and never will, and hence can do nothing about it. Would it be better to lament about the physical disfigurement or simply embrace it as the blessing that it is? I choose blessings over curses every single day.

Another example:

  • I have a cross that I wear daily that reminds me of my mom.  My husband gave it to me after her passing and I typically don’t take it off.  As this month is the month of her passing two years ago I always find August to be the most difficult month. While I try to stay busy I am triggered by many things that occur in the month.  This August has not been as difficult, yet I still find myself searching for that cross around my neck.  The other night when getting out of the shower, the necklace broke.  As I took it off it immediately occurred to me that this was God’s way of letting me know that I no longer need it because I am okay.  Anyone else might have just been upset that the necklace broke yet I refuse to allow such simple or unfortunate explanation and instead choose to believe it is a sign.  A sign that I am moving on stronger.

Again my thought about the cross could simply have been to be upset that this month when I need it most my most frequent reminder of her is broken. Not in my world, there is enough wrong in this world without me allowing my own journey to be a part of that sentiment. The sweetest part of this story is that my husband noticed that the necklace had broke and without me asking he took it to get it repaired for me. That is LOVE.

Everything means something to me. Everyone means something to me. I believe that this life is a journey and the stops along the way enrich the journey. We are taught by those people and experiences around us, if only we choose to see it that way. Ultimately like I have reminded so many times before “YOU decide” everything in your life. I decide to see things with meaning because a life without it is simply not worth living, in my opinion.

Live as define it – L.

P.s. To the person that made me ultimately think hard enough about this topic that I made it a blog post you should know that YOU have elicited “this” in me in knowing and loving you. Everything indeed means something as you have taught me there is more to life than what you see on the surface.

Seeking Normal – Day 24

Day 24 prompt:

My husband’s favorite saying is, “nothing ever goes smooth.” That’s his response to things outside his normal.

What is your response to a disruption in your normal?

My answer:

I try to think through why something is not going right and the way to accept that fate is to believe in fate overall. This is confirmed for me when I am late getting somewhere only to realize that if I had been on time I would have been involved in an accident that I am now passing on my route. Yesterday I was sharing this reasoning as I forgot an important ingredient to a recipe at the store and had to drive back. As we were driving back to the store I said out loud, “I wonder why we are fated to be back on the road? What is going to happen?”. As it turned out the “reason” was not going to be as obvious and therefore it was just an extra errand…and that was just fine.

The difference between my husband and I is that he frequently feels a victim of his circumstance while I don’t feel as affected. Instead I am always looking for meaning and that search for meaning allows me to accept the deviations in life without harm.

Life as I live it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 20

Day 20 prompt:

At what point in your life are you in striving and how far away is being content?

Entire prompt:

Joel Osteen notes, “We spent all this time striving and and now can’t be content where we are or with what we have achieved. Enjoy where you are right now.”

My answer:

We are certainly challenged to sit back and take-in all that we have achieved and who we are in this pandemic. Do you find yourself content with your observation? I am although it has been hard to see the forest for the trees at times due to the nature of our current state of being in a place we have never forced to be in. In my case, I look at the home that we have created and I am grateful for it because regardless of stay-at-home orders there is no place I would rather be today and always.

I watched a sermon on Sunday and the pastor said, “the normal you are praying for today, is the same normal you were pray away (yesterday)”. May this time remind us all to be grateful for what we have and who we are in this moment.

Closer to content – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 11

Day 11 prompt:

How many variations of normal do you have in your life? For example today you may be happy or sad or ill – are they all “normal”?

My answer:

Interesting topic as it may be it about what is YOUR normal and my normal is obsession over diet and exercise and anxiety about things that others don’t even think about. This is MY normal. It is not what I embrace but it is what is true.

My normal makes me crazy as I just want to be free of a mindset that is always counting a calorie and pushing to be more disciplined but I am grateful deep down as it is what keeps me healthy. My normal also overthinks everything all the time. This has its pros and cons. It doesn’t allow for time to relax but it does force change.

I do check for “normal” in other areas of my life as I see conditions recurring I worry that those conditions look, from the outside, to be my normal. In the last year I have had a number of health problems and while I know they are not the norm, I worry that from someone else’s perspective it may appear that I am “not well” as a norm.

Last and worth mentioning is much like noted above in what my normal looks like from the outside, I like to be held accountable to “my normal” and find that when I share my intention, I create accountability to become my new norm. This is important as you decide to change your life. It takes work and time to make a habit a norm but by representing it as your normal; you have already pushed beyond a “want” as now it appears to be a need and so it is.

What is your norm? Be honest. Look from the inside and define normal but more importantly take the time to look from the outside. What does your normal look like from someone else’s perspective?

Life as I live it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 9

Day 9 prompt:

People talk about the “new” normal. What was the “old” normal?

Did that label ever fit you?

My answer:

Well once again I could not have known when I wrote this prompt that I would one day be answering it in a world where the “new” normal is a daily condition. My “new” normal is working from home, seeing my grand-babies every single day or better yet as my husband reminded me today, spending more time with my spouse now than in the 24 years we have been married! Ha!

So what was the “old” normal; well the obvious answer would be the world as we knew it. Working weekdays, lounging weekends, socializing with friends and family and sometimes so routine that it felt like a dreadmill that we called “life”. Now I get the benefit of looking back and wishing for that “dreadmill” of “life”. There is something about deprivation that makes you want back what you took for granted so easily before.

If I am being honest with myself the “new” normal has become the “old” normal that I did not like. I always preferred weekdays as I found my life more routine and my habits more disciplined. Weekends lacked structure and a sense of urgency and now my “new” normal is like a never-ending weekend. I mean, it is different, it is more chaotic, it is more, simply put it is “more”. There is no break, because the environment stays the same 24/7. I am less health-conscious which is so ironic because I certainly have the time to do more; exercising is doable, eating right is accessible and yet I am doing neither. Why?

“New” normal, “old” normal; what does it really matter? Well it does because normal is truly defined as, “the usual, average, or typical state or condition” and in this world nothing is usual, nothing is average, nothing is typical and the only state we are in at this point is a state of stillness to the point of stupor. Those that are truly among the disciplined maintain their “normal” despite the environment and that is what I now long for; that is my new goal. Better said, I choose to create a normal that is neither “new” or “old” but expected despite the environment.

Wishful thinking for a “new” normal – L. (HA!)

Seeking Normal – Day 8

Day 8 prompt:

Is wanting control in every single aspect of our life normal? Control over every emotion, person, stressors, etc. that are in my life…

My answer:

I could not have known a year ago when writing this prompt journal that it would be put to the test in a pandemic that has taken our entire idea of normal and turned it upside down. Control is what we do not have right now and it is truly showing the character of a nation. We cannot go outside of our homes, or shouldn’t, and that is where the control in our lives exists. Controlling our exposure to the virus means doing our part to stay isolated.

I don’t know if “wanting control” is normal but it creates comfort because when you are “in control” you are not a victim of other environments. Having the choice is a pivotal characteristic of control. When you can choose, you have control. It is where we don’t have choice that we find ourselves victimized. I don’t want to be anyone’s victim and that has as much to do with how I react to those things that I do not have control over as having control. I guess it is fair then to say that having or wanting control over all things is “normal” because ultimately no one can take away your control.

Ironically outside of this time in our lives where everything is about the virus that is holding us prisoner as a nation you always ultimately have control. Taking control is about responsibility. Where do you assume responsibility? Where do you surrender? Ultimately you decide and that is control regardless of environment.

Life as I control it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 7

Day 7 prompt:

Is your normal the same as someone else’s? Why? How do you separate the expectation? How does someone else’s normal inspire, intimidate or disappoint you?

My answer:

I like this prompt as much of what makes something normal is that it is what everyone else has, does or is. The very act of getting up every morning, going to school or work, coming home having dinner and adhering to a bedtime is “normal” because it is what most people do. That routine is what has set the expectation for normal for most of us. If others don’t do these things that we see as commonplace then they or it is “not normal”.

When we shift the conversation to how someone else’s normal inspires, intimidates or disappoints us it requires the acknowledgement that their normal is NOT ours but we see it as “theirs” because it is something they do routinely. I am inspired by others that create their normal around things that I realize take huge discipline. Waking up at 4 am to get a workout in, is inspiring because it takes discipline beyond what I choose because of comfort-level. Conversely I am disappointed only by those whose normal does not serve them, and those around them, positively. When we see those that are living a life that causes them or others around them “harm” it is disappointing.

I have seen more social media posts in the last weekend about “what is normal” as we were all faced with our first holiday during this pandemic. Easter was not at all what most considered “normal” because we were not supposed to go to church or gather for family dinners. However it is/was still possible to create an alternative holiday that inevitably will create a new normal or a fond memory. We will always look back and remember “that” Easter we were in our homes and not able to get out to do those things that we consider holiday protocol.

For now I hope that as you are exploring this “new normal” that you are finding the parts of it that you appreciate, enjoy or are finding a refreshing change to carry-on with long after life returns to “normal”. This time would be wasted if we did not pay attention to those things that we are learning along this journey.

Life as I live it – L.

The Angst that is Anxiety…

I like so many others are dealing in anxiety daily. It creates an angst that makes you want to run but what exactly is stirring inside of you and where you want to run cannot be identified. It is a whir of nervous energy that unlike excitement breeds a feeling of doom. It feels like the world is going to crash down around you. Angst as it is defined is…

…which is exactly as I have described. So now that we know the feeling, what do we do about it. What I find is that while I KNOW what to do when the anxiety hits I rarely do what I know. I instead sit in it which compounds until the point that it can make you feel like shutting down. It is for this reason that today I bring you the “list” that you can turn to when you feel that angst and in doing this I am serving myself as well as this list I need to be reminded to turn to as well.

Here are some of the things that I know work:

  • Don’t predict the future! You have no idea what is coming and cannot control it so focus on what you can control. Prophesizing what might happen does not serve anyone.
  • Don’t “sit in it”! This is about moving on from the thing that is causing the anxiety. In our case at this time and place that equates to getting stuck in front of the news that is reporting 24 hours a day the doom and the gloom that is paralyzing us! Limit the information stream.
  • Create routines. We are a species that thrives in routine. Where we have routines we have resolve. This is what is causing the most anxiety at this time is that everything that we know is upside down. We are no longer following a routine that we know so well we sometimes do it without thinking. We have to think about everything right now because nothing is routine. The most mundane of routines like going to the store or leaving the house requires thought. Create a new routine and follow it.
  • Get moving. Exercise solves anxiety in a HUGE way. Take a walk, turn on music and dance, do yoga, or just do anything that gets your body moving which helps your mind process. Personally I have to push myself to start but once I am in motion, I feel better almost immediately.
  • Call a friend. As we find ourselves isolated reaching out and talking to others creates a fellowship that reminds us that we are not alone. Even better is to utilize technology and have a video call so you can see the smile on the faces of those that you cherish.
  • Create your own peace. Turn on music, practice breathing exercises, sit in nature (even if that is in your backyard); create peace around you. Meditation can create that peace and there are numerous resources online to use if you are unsure how to meditate on your own.

Like everything in our lives anxiety comes down to a lack of control or indecision. We cannot control everything around us and ultimately that is affecting us. We have to identify what we CAN control and exercise our ability to DECIDE. You decide what you will do and ultimately you can ease the angst. You may not be able to totally remove the anxiety but relieving it is a start. Do what you can by first identifying the feeling and then deciding to do something.

We are in this together as a globe! Never have we been reminded how equal we all are as in this moment as titles, roles and identities will not remove us from this reality. Coming together and realizing that we are more alike than we are different is the resolution we have always needed. Embrace who we are…

…one nation under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Life as I live it…anxious – L.

Who are you…really?

This moment in our lives when everything we thought “was” “is” we are faced with many questions about life and who we are. We walk around in this world in “roles” as defined:

the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation

When that assumed function or part is no longer relevant because the situation no longer exists who are you? The situational roles cannot “define” you as they are only relevant in those situations however those roles that are truly defined are who we are regardless of situation. Mom is a role we play regardless of situation, if you are a Mom you are and will always be a Mom. “Director of ______” is a title that becomes a role you play in a situation. That “title” does not have relevance in all situations.

Why do I go into all of this? Well because I think it is easy to identify with these titles that truly cannot define us however when we lack definition of who we are we claim these titles as identity. The issue in a time like this when we are stripped of those titles, roles or fantasies of who we tell ourselves we are or better who others think we are, is that we are forced to face what is left…who are you? Who are you…really???

This is the time to look inward, reflect, revisit your plan and start over again. As Swizz Beatz, an American hip hop recording artist, DJ and record producer said, “everyone should have a 2.0 version of their game-plan. If you don’t use this time you never will. How many times have you heard people say, “only if I had time to do…”. This is the TIME.”

He is right, the time is now to define who you REALLY are and then decide who you want to be and make the game-plan.

I want to offer you an exercise to try-out as you are exploring “what’s next” in this journey, building your 2.0 version of who you and who you want to be. This was offered by Tim Ferris in a 2015 TED Talk and can be very revealing if you just give it the time, the idea is not goal-setting but FEAR-setting…let’s explore.

  • Fear-Setting – 
    • Ask yourself the following “What if I…?” and then do the work to “Define”, “Prevent” and “Repair”.
      • Define – write all of the worst things that will happen if you take that step. Write at least 10 things that you fear will happen.
      • Prevent – write down the answer to prevent each of these from happening or decrease the likelihood. 
      • Repair – what can you do to repair the damage if the worst thing happens.
    • What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success in your “What if I…” scenario?
      • You could build confidence and/or develop skills and ultimately everything is a learning experience. 
    • What is the cost of inaction (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) in 6 mos, 1 yr or 3 yrs? 
      • If I avoid this action or decision what might my life look like?

I like this exercise because it forces us to face the reasons why we don’t act on those things we say we want. It is more revealing than goal-setting because goals can at times become ethereal and allowing a sort of “hall-pass” if we don’t reach them. Fear-setting requires you to face IT, reveal IT and solve IT.

Who is it that you WANT to BE, what is it that you WANT to DO, what is IT? We are all at a proverbial START LINE, we are ALL starting over at some place and now is the time. If not now, when? Are you staying where you are because _______________ (fill in the blank)? How does that serve you today and how will it motivate you tomorrow?

Who you really are is here and now. You are no longer the titles that are bestowed upon you but are faced with who you are in “real” life. You are Mom, you are sister, you are friend or you are not. Only you know what you and who you really are and ultimately how much it matters to you to be that person or want for something more or different.

A close friend and mentor of mine called me the other night and as we were reminiscing over 21 years of friendship she reminded me of who I was when she first met me. She recounted, “You had no confidence and doubted yourself because of an education that at the time you did not have…” but in her eyes an education I did not need. She went on to recall that she could never understand why I thought so little of myself and thought so much of college/education as the person she saw before her already had the knowledge. You see it was not enough what someone else thought of me if I could not see it myself. I had to do the work, I had to define it and decide on it. She was right, I put so much weight in education that not having it discounted everything I DID know, everything I WAS. Three college degrees later I AM confident, I AM educated however I know now that I always WAS. It took time working on me, believing and proving it to myself because it was important to ME despite it not having relevance to anyone else.

I tell you this story because it is imperative that you decide for YOURSELF as you define yourself. Not as others see you, not as you are titled in the outside world, not based on your reputation. Who are you…really?

John Wooden, famous UCLA basketball coach, says, “Your reputation is what you are perceived to be and your character is who you really are”…I leave you with this thought, this exercise and best off I offer all of this to you in a time that I KNOW you have the time to do something about it. Whether you do or you don’t, well that is yours to decide because ultimately it always comes back to that simple point of control…decision or indecision…ultimately you always DECIDE.

Who are you…really? Me? I am still working on it, every day…Always Starting…The Art of Never Giving Up – L.