Wish it. Will it. Do it.

“…you will sooner or later experience something almost magical: the moment when your mind, led by your sense of yearning, embraces the next step toward the best life you are capable of living. This is the moment when desire stops being just a story about what might happen and becomes a template of what will happen; the moment when “I wish” becomes “I will.”
          — Martha Beck “The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life”

Earlier this week, I read a post over at “-200”, which made me cry. The post, titled “A life for my birthday”, shares Ben’s story of living in the depths of despair before deciding that instead of taking his own life, he would take action in his own life. I was moved by Ben’s honesty and depth of feeling, and by the fact that I recognized  Ben’s story as my own: different in particulars (of course), but very similar in essentials. (Thanks to April Hageman for sharing Ben’s blog with me!)

I can’t point to one moment. But I can point to a series of moments – and some very powerful experiences of intervention and grace – which led me to that magical point where “I wish” became “I will”…

…I will lose weight…

…I will make exercise a habit…

…I will learn how to eat healthy, whole, nourishing food…

…I will LIVE my life, not just wait it out.

The thing I didn’t realize, that I am still striving to learn in a visceral way every day, is that this particular magic will spur a person on to wishes they didn’t dare allow themselves before. And you’ll want to take these new desires and turn them into action too.

Wishful thinking. I know only too well the ways it can be a trap – it kept me sedentary and daydreaming my way through life for decades.

But wishful thinking can also be a catalyst once you’ve learned the trick of turning that desire into intention, and intention into action. Like all tricks worth knowing, you will have to talk yourself through it again and again (because practice is the only thing that perfects the technique). There are three simple steps:

1. Wish it.

2. Will it.

3. Do it.

Simple, I say. But not usually easy.

Joyful, but sometimes also painful.

Magic — as in “unfolding in wonder and awe”, not as in wand-waving incantations and instantaneous transfiguration. Practical, hard-won, life-changing magic. If Ben and I can do it, so can you.

Let your desire become intention.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Last day of February. Pope Benedict’s last day in office (before becoming Pope Emeritus?). I have friends who are celebrating one year and fifty on this earth (Happy birthday Isaiah and Victor!). An auspicious day.

Wish it felt more auspicious.

Another standard weigh in. Photo below. But first, I thought I’d share the beginning of the snowfall that has lazily been carrying on for more than 36 hours now. It has been a pretty snowfall, despite the gloominess of the light all day yesterday and this morning. (The photo was taken Tuesday evening as I was leaving work.)


And now the weigh- in:


Weird Things From My Childhood (That May Have Warped My Mind)

I went to a Sunday afternoon matinee of the movie Argo this past weekend. I enjoyed it immensely. The movie is set in 1979, the year I graduated high school and began college. I was old enough to have been paying (at least minimal) attention to the hostage crisis and the world events surrounding it, which comprise the storyline of the movie. My companions at the matinee were much younger – in fact, one was born in ’79. The story was familiar to me, yet well-told and performed by some of my favorite character actors working today. And I’ve got to hand it to the moviemakers – they really captured the look and feel of the 70s.

The movie sparked a string of memories for me. Growing up during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 70s was a trip for most people my age; my friends and I have shared memories of some unusual cultural events and/or icons – Watergate, bra burnings…Ruth Buzzi, anyone?  However, as I’ve discovered in talking with my peers from the midwest, my childhood may have included exposure to some things their parents firmly sheltered them from. I’d like to share a few of these experiences with you – if for no other reason than to give you a glimpse of what’s really hidden inside my psyche. In other words, for your amusement (and for those of you not born until 1979 or later, whatever educational value you can find)!

  • Glen W. Turner: The “grandfather” of motivational and inspirational speakers captured my father’s imagination and set him on fire with the challenge “Dare to Be Great”. As Turner would say, ” “If a man with a harelip and an eighth-grade education can be happy, so can you. I like myself. Do you like yourself?” After seeing and meeting Turner, my dad became a true believer, and was even offered the opportunity to fly on Turner’s private jet. One of Glen Turner’s phrases, in particular, was heard regularly in our home – “Fantastic and amazing! It’ll warp your mind!” In his heyday, Turner drew crowds of 50,000 to his seminars. He also amassed $300 million dollars through his multi-level marketing schemes which, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to a conviction for fraud and a stint in prison. This may be why many of you haven’t heard of this Anthony Robbins of the 60s. But I’m still a fan of all things fantastic and amazing!
  • Lillian Vernon and the Moonwalk: When I was four we moved to the house on Wilbur Lane that my mother had grown up in, to live with my Grandpa Postel. Built on one of the bluffs that define the topography of Dubuque, our house was three stories – two on one level of ground and the third, the basement, a full-storey walkout the back of which was built right up to the side of the bluff. (One cool feature of this location was that we had an “upper yard” on the level of our two stories and a “lower yard” on Grandpa’s level, with steps connecting the two levels.) My Grandpa was a unique individual. For example, everyone in my family has fond memories of the decor of his apartment, since many items were novelties purchased from the Lillian Vernon catalog. On July 20, 1969, we all gathered in Grandpa’s apartment to watch the moon landing. I distinctly recall dozing off from boredom before Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step”, lulled to sleep by the psychedelic multicolored light cast by the revolving shade on the Lillian Vernon pillar lamp on top of Grandpa’s television.
  • The Smothers Brothers: Ok, this team of comedians (and I use that term loosely in this case) was pretty well-known. Many people remember them and their variety show, although some of my peers were not allowed to watch due to the left-leaning politics and anti-Vietnam War sentiments expressed on the show, and which eventually led to its cancellation.  I’ve included them on this list because of the parenthetical statement in this post’s title (above) – the Smothers Brothers definitely did something to warp my mind, though I’m unsure what exactly it was. Over the years, I have had a recurrent dream in which I discover that I am related to Tom Smothers – a.k.a. Yo-Yo Man. His brother, Dick, is no relation of mine. In these dreams, Tom is a real hero of mine and I am honored to welcome him back into his estranged family. What do you suppose caused this odd bit of fantasy to lodge in my dreaming brain? A couple of years ago I actually came face-to-face with Tom Smothers at a casino. My dreams have seemed so real I nearly greeted him as my long-lost uncle.
  • H.R Pufnstuf: This had to be the strangest Saturday morning kid fare ever. The generation after me had School House Rock, in which they learned about the constitution and how to use conjunctions. We had a clearly drug-induced fantasy about a boy and his magic flute being cast away on a a magical island complete with the incarnation of Good (H.R. himself) and the incarnation of Evil (Witchiepoo). The theme song from the show, a rip-off of Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song”, says it all: “H.R. Pufnstuf, who’s your friend when things get rough? H.R. Pufnstuf. Can’t do a little cause you can’t do enough.”
  • Protesting the Establishment, Dubuque-Style: One thing that has always made me proud has been my parents’ willingness to play an active role in their community, especially when it comes to social justice. In the years of my childhood, social justice movements arose overnight. And in the world of my childhood, northeastern Iowa, many people lived as if these movements and the people who populated them were anathema. Not Jack and Shirley Hanson. During dad’s leadership with the Jaycees, they brought both “Up With People” and a traveling cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” to Dubuque. I attended both performances, my parents explaining (though I didn’t really get it) why conservative Catholics were picketing the latter. My parents also participated in the creation and staffing of Cornerstone, a drug half-way house. The other volunteers and counselors were a diverse and interesting group of socially conscious young adults, and we grew accustomed to their presence at our home. I loved sitting at the picnic table, aluminum tiki-torches casting undulating shadows, listening to the political arguments and laughter. I will also never forget the taunts and hateful comments directed toward those involved with Cornerstone from many others in the community. Or the arguments with my cousins on the farm, whose denigrating comments about hippies, meaning people who looked like my parents’ friends, called forth all the ire and tongue lashings my eight-year-old self was capable of dishing out. I was the only 3rd grader in my school who thought hippies were the “good guys”.
  • A purple aardvark named George Wallace:  In 1972 my little sister Anne was in the hospital having her tonsils removed on the day of the assassination attempt against Alabama governor George Wallace. Wallace was known for his Southern populist politics and was a staunch segregationist (though he repented of this later in life). Annie was given a stuffed aardvark by a visitor to her hospital room. As special news reports about the assassination attempt and Governor Wallace’s condition were being broadcast repeatedly, Annie was so moved by compassion for Wallace that she named her aardvark after him. Imagine my parents’ chagrin to have a much loved new member of our liberal family who bore the name George Wallace! We never shortened it to “just George” either. That aardvark was forever and always called, proudly, by both of his names!

Obviously, I’ve tried to stick with the weird and warping experiences of my childhood that can be referred to in humorous terms. As I was dramatically reminded at my viewing of Argo last weekend, there were so many events that shaped those turbulent years that cannot be construed that way: MLKs assassination, race riots, body counts from southeast Asia on the nightly news, Nixon’s resignation. I am certain that each of these impacted me, as they did the rest of America. However, as I spent time thinking about some of the stranger moments and memories from my formative years, I have not only found myself immersed in laughter and wishing my siblings were here to talk about it with me – I have also felt profoundly grateful. Grateful that my parents could provide a reasonably stable, normal childhood (I went to Catholic school in uniform daily, attended church and family gatherings on Sundays, among other hallmarks of a fairly straight midwestern upbringing) while also offering an education in compassion, justice and openness to the wider world. Not such a bad way to be warped, in my opinion!

Flashback Friday: Two Women You Should Meet

m and n

The photo above is from years ago – 1996 or 97. Naomi Corridon and Melissa McCrory, two students I worked with and grew to love dearly as friends. These days, Naomi lives and works as a massage therapist in her new studio in Wisconsin. Melissa (whom I have always affectionately referred to as Monkey) lives, works and works out in beautiful Hawaii.

Both Monkey and Naomi arrived at college as beautiful, gifted young women. They both had journeys of self-discovery ahead of them, and in the process each has truly become a woman I am proud to know.

Recently, they’ve each started their own blogs, so if you’re interested, check them out:

Monkey can be found at  http://hungrygirleats.com/2013/02/15/hubba-hubba-day/

Naomi can be found at http://somethingaboutnaomi.wordpress.com

A Valentine from Me to You: You’re Not Alone

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine…

—Steve Winwood and Will Jennings

When I was a child, then a teenager… even into the decades of my twenties and thirties…I never questioned that my life would be like most everyone else’s. I would meet someone, fall in love, get married, have a family. As I got older and it wasn’t happening, I told everyone that was a-okay with me. I didn’t want it. So what if it was a lie? I shrugged it off and didn’t dwell on it.

By my early forties, I’d told the lie enough times that I was comfortable with it. Besides, at that point I’d gained enough weight that mostly people didn’t ask me about it anymore – whether I was seeing anyone, or wished I was, became a moot point. We all knew no one wanted someone like me. We didn’t talk about it. Ever.

Later in that decade, when I decided to change my life, to come out of my lie-induced trance, amid all of the incredibly beautiful, powerful and positive experiences came this realization: my supposed “okay-ness” with being alone was the biggest crock I’d ever sold myself.

Around that time, at a wedding, one of the bible readings opened up a pit of anger so vast I almost couldn’t contain my ire and join in the celebration. The reading didn’t beat around the bush – I thought they were the most cruel verses I’d ever heard. From Ecclesiastes 4:9:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

I stayed in that pit of anger for a long time, unable to claw my way out. At or to whom could I direct my wrath? I was just learning not to despise myself and that felt good enough that I didn’t want to turn my rage inward. So I directed it at the only other entity I could think of: God. And let me tell you, I am certain it was no coincidence that, during this time period, everywhere I turned people in my life were vociferously thanking God for the amazing partners He gifted them with. How that pissed me off, and fueled the fire I was burning up in!

At some indefinable moment, my angry defiance gave way to angry tears. I cried until the pit I was in filled with my own salty water. Suddenly, instead of being trapped in a pit I found myself swimming in an ocean of grief. After literal decades of choosing not to feel anything deeply, I felt every second of my mourning over what had never come to be. It wasn’t merely that I had no significant other at that moment, lots of people share that predicament. It was the fact that I have never had that. Never been cherished, wanted in a mature romantic relationship. Its a bit harder to find people who share that life experience – in part because who wants to admit that out loud? It feels defective. Deficient. I astonished myself with the number of tears I was capable of crying. I surprised (and frightened) my friends; seriously, we would look at one another in astonishment when yet another crying jag would take me in the middle of a seemingly innocuous moment. I was SAD. SAD. SAD.

One day, my feet touched bottom. On an emotional level, I was still doing that sniffly, hiccupy thing you do after a long hard cry, but I had come to the shore of that particular ocean. I wasn’t laughing it off, by any means, but I wasn’t in danger of flooding the midwest any longer.

Here’s the thing: even in the middle of my deepest anger and my soggiest grief, I was happy in a way I had never been before as an adult. Some days were downright joyful. Let me say that again so we all can feel the magnitude of what I’m saying here: some days, when I was angry beyond my ability to articulate it, or when I was so sorrowful I sat through dull work meetings trying not to cry, I was AT THE SAME MOMENT happy and sure of my own well-being.

How was that possible?

How is the reason I am rehashing all of this in a post on Valentine’s Day. In the three+ years I’ve been posting to this blog, I’ve discovered that the more honestly I share my true experiences, the more likely it is that someone – reading what I’ve written – will recognize him- or her- self in my story. So I feel confident that you’re out there. You know who you are – the person feeling so desperately alone. Unworthy. Defective. I want you, whoever you are, to know you don’t have to feel that way. Or at least, that isn’t the whole picture of who you are, or what your life can be.

First, it was possible to be both enraged and joyful because the more I opened myself to others, sharing my triumphs, failures, angers, and even my grief…the more others were willing to offer me love, friendship, and support. Incredible, amazing people in my life were able to understand that I was experiencing something profound. They couldn’t experience it themselves, not being me, but they could walk through it with me – and they did.

Second, it was possible to be both deeply sad and happy at the same time because the sadness was residual – left over from the past. Oprah (and therapists everywhere) always says that if you don’t let yourself feel it now, you’ll feel it later. With interest. So whatever you’re feeling, let it be felt. I ate to cover up my feelings, and while it seemed comforting at the time, it made things infinitely worse. I’ll take angry, crying, healthy and happy Jenion over my old dangerously overweight and sleepwalking self any day.

I came, eventually, to the shore of my ocean of grief with this realization: when you focus on what you don’t have, you will always feel deprived – even if you are surrounded by riches. And I am surrounded by blessings. When you focus on what you don’t have, you devalue not only the gifts you do have, but the givers of those gifts: the people who do care, who are there. And that includes my nemesis, God. This realization has recently allowed me to make my first, tentative, overtures of friendship toward God again. Don’t get me wrong. I still blame God. I am just learning to grudgingly accept that I don’t know everything God knows (including the big picture of my life).

In all of this I see the workings of a higher love, and it fills me with gratitude. That it would be possible to change my life never occurred to me until it started happening. That I could discover it possible to be happy with myself – even though I might wish some parts of my life were different – was a revelation to me. I know that since it was possible for me, it is possible for others, too. Possible for you.

There must be higher love, as the song says. Without it, life is wasted time. Look inside your heart and…stop wasting time. You may have to do work with yourself that is truly hard. And you may have to deal with feelings you buried in the past. But while romantic love, married love, is a beautiful thing – it isn’t the only thing. You are more than your relationship status, so much more! And you are not alone, no matter how utterly single you are this Valentine’s Day. In fact, you are loved.

Yes, alright, here’s the video…

If I had thought it through more carefully, I would have posted the original video of me with yesterday’s post (please read it here if you haven’t already). However, I had never tried to link my own video to a blog post, and was unprepared to figure out the tech side of that in the time I had to work with. I did have a number of comments and helpful suggestions about how I could make the video available – some of which were focused on increasing my technical competence, others of which were simply from people who desperately wished to see video of me dancing and being silly.

When my friends (Wendy, Dani, and Katie Dennis) and I came up with the idea, it was at the tail end of a conversation about how inhibited we are in life, how difficult it is to set aside notions of how we are “supposed” to look or act – and yet, the moments when we set aside these inhibitions and just fully enter into the moment, swim in the “flow” (like Wendy’s Show Choir girl did), are the times when we are most truly aligned with who we are, and are meant to be.

That was the spirit in which I filmed the video, and I hated disappointing everyone by not sharing it. So I sent it to my brother, Matt, who offered to upload it to You Tube and send me a link so I could post it. However, if you knew Matt, you’d know he would be unable to resist putting some polish to it! So, what I am presenting today is the spruced-up version – thanks to Matt! It made me laugh out loud when I saw how he took my silly quiet little recording and turned it into a fan video! Please notice the genuine smile that takes over my face at about the 0:23 mark (and try to ignore the sassy face that takes over at the 0:44 mark). Letting go and enjoying the moment was definitely worth it – I only ask that you keep the spirit of the exercise in mind when viewing the result!

Getting My “Gangnam” On

You’ll have to take my word for it, mostly because I wasn’t willing to pay for the $60 upgrade in order to upload my own video (even in HD) to this blog. But it really does exist: video of me, kicking it “Gangnam Style”. And here’s how it happened:

After a long and mentally exhausting day at the office, I got in my car and thought about all of the things I should spend my evening accomplishing. But I was tired and somewhat demoralized, so I decided I needed a “buffer” experience – something between the office and my house that would allow me to shift mental and emotional gears before going home to “be productive”. As has often happened over the years, my car seemed to steer itself in the direction of the Dennis family. When I arrived, Wendy answered the door in her pajamas (it was approximately 6:00 p.m.), having just arrived herself after an 8-hour day in a graduate school classroom.

We made romaine, cucumber and feta salads with a spicy side of wasabi peas, and talked about our days. Wendy had lots to share about treating patients with anxiety and depression – and how all those “shoulds” we put on ourselves can take things from bad to worse. Then, after discussing a particularly gruesome crush injury she treated at her clinical site, Wendy moved on to a topic even more painful (from her perspective): her youngest daughter’s first Show Choir performance.

Wendy is a practical, concrete, achievement-oriented person. Plays, musicals, show choir performances…not really her thing. She told me she was sitting in the audience wishing it was over – approximately 10 seconds into the first song, mind you – when her eye was drawn to one girl in particular. This middle-schooler was so animated and so clearly in the moment, no inhibitions holding her back, that her demeanor and palpable happiness changed Wendy’s entire perspective on the show. Suddenly, Wendy’s consciousness of the moment shifted from harried distraction and lack of enthusiasm to one of communion, of shared joy.

Wendy’s Show Choir “A-Ha” got me thinking about what kinds of experiences we can intentionally create in order to bring about a shift in perspective when we need one. Obviously, Wendy’s shift came as the result of a serendipitous moment rather than a specific plan, but we can’t count on serendipity occurring each time our internal tank is on low. If we did, we’d surely find ourselves stranded somewhere emotionally far from where we wish we were. Here are a few suggestions for quick energy reboots or perspective shifters:

Crank up the Music:

Music is powerful as a mood enhancer. If you don’t believe so, just try to watch a feature film, or complete a difficult workout, without a soundtrack. We’ve all used music to get jazzed up, to relax, to set a mood. Unfortunately, we often only think of doing this for specific or special occasions. But it works for the every day situations, too!

Move It, Move It:

Working in an office setting means I do a lot of sitting. At my desk, in meetings, at lunch in the cafeteria. When I leave work, sometimes it feels like all I want to do is go home and crash – meaning sit some more, just in a new location. Movement of any kind, from rigorous exercise to yoga to a stroll through the neighborhood, can really rev things up. In particular, I’ve found that moving my body outdoors actually gets my sluggish brain going, too.

Find the Horizon:

There are days when I start to feel closed in, as if my life has shrunk to a small box that includes work, stress, and all the “should” messages I give myself. That’s a pretty cramped feeling. I’ve found that a simple drive west, out of the city far enough that fields give way to an actual horizon line, opens up the box and I can breathe deeply again. Obviously, this works best during daylight hours – but the evenings in February are lengthening, and a quick escape after work is becoming more possible.

Reach Out:

Find people who allow you to break free from the energy-sappers of your day. These people can be your chosen family (like the Dennis’ are for me) or they can be a book club, people you encounter while volunteering, occasionally I’ve even found myself re-enegized by a talk with the guy behind the Hy-Vee meat counter. The point is, reach out to other people and think about, talk about, laugh about something new.

Which brings me back to the whole video of me dancing “Gangnam Style”. As I was leaving the Dennis’ home, we were talking about what I would post on my blog this week. And, as silly conversations have a way of doing, our discussion veered wildly until we were all laughing at the idea that I would simply post a video of myself doing the pony dance from the Psy video. I knew that neither Wendy nor her daughters (Katie and Dani were part of this conversation) believed I would do such a thing: which made me want desperately to do it. So, when I arrived home, I found an instructional video which took me through the dance, step by step (I only learned the gallop and lasso-ing movements). I practiced for about five minutes, then hit record on my computer. The position of the camera was such that it only captured my dance from the waist up. Still, I collapsed with laughter when I watched the recorded results, especially my facial expressions as I galloped and lassoed!

Was this what I had planned for my “productive” evening? Not at all. But it was the kind of productivity I needed – it produced relaxation, laughter, and shared joy. A perfect reboot for me!

And, while you’ve likely all seen this video, here’s a little something to ease your disappointment at not seeing my version of “Gangnam”: