I’ve Entered the Long Jump of Faith

“The woman silhouetted in the painting is leaping – with abandon and joy, it seems — across a chasm. She is looking ahead, at her goal, not down at what is or is not currently beneath her feet. Does she know, I wonder, what lies ahead? I doubt it – it seems clear that this is a leap of faith. Faith that she’ll land safely on the other side. Faith that the choice to leap was the right one. Faith that the time for leaping had arrived. And faith that, whatever awaits on the far side of the chasm, will be worth facing and taking the leap.” 
                   —Jenion, January 24, 2013 “Take a Flying Leap”
“And with that experience and knowing, perhaps it is time for me to become a person of faith, not just a person of beliefs. Time to close my eyes and take a step, trusting that I will put my foot down in the very place I need to be.”
                    —Jenion, April 4,  2013 “Have a Little Faith”

On Monday, April 22, 2013 I finally took the leap of faith that I’ve been working myself up to all year – I resigned from my job without having a clear idea of where I will land when my feet touch down on the other side.

Hopefully, there will be time before May 31, when my resignation takes effect, for looking back and celebrating. But right now, there are so many things that need to be done and prepared. It’s not one of those leaps that happens immediately – it is more like a slow-motion long jump. I pushed off the ground with my resignation, but I won’t actually be out over the chasm of the unknown for a little while yet. I have paperwork, planning, and packing to do before then. Mountains of each. I want to thank the friends and family with whom I endlessly debated my options – your promises that I would never be homeless or hungry went a long way toward lessening the fear of action.

What am I hoping for? I believe it is time to create a different life for myself. One in which I am not as limited by the demands of my job (nearly 20 years as a first-responder, ever on call, others as my top priority) so that I can be free in my off-hours to engage in a variety of pursuits that have been tabled – whether that is creative work or volunteering or exploring. I don’t know what the future holds. How strange is that feeling? I might find right livelihood quickly, or it may take a while. I might stay here or I might go elsewhere. I do not expect it to be easy, but I do expect that I will find my way.

Composing a life is an improvisation, one which calls on us to be clear about what we value so that the decisions we make along the way are made from the right place. Whether we are staying put or moving on, whether we are staying the course or charting a new path, we need to remain centered in what is real as opposed to what is mirage – what is true value as opposed to imposed value (imposed cultural values, such as “more is better” or “busy equals virtuous”). As environmental activist, Julia Butterfly Hill said during her campus address Monday, (serendipitously just hours after I tendered my resignation): “We are all co-creating our world every moment with every choice…Regardless of perceived boundaries. We are not victims, we are co-creators.”

The thing about a leap of faith is that you have to practice actual faith. Faith isn’t the absence of fear, rather it is the knowledge that beyond the fear lies the right path. Faith that, wherever my feet touch ground, I will be walking the path that I am meant to be on.

Dear readers, I hope that you will come on this journey with me – I will certainly be keeping up to date through weekly posts on Jenion! I’m interested in your stories of taking a leap of faith – please feel free to share your stories in the comments section!

Learning to Love Rain

“She enjoys rain for its wetness, winter for its cold, summer for its heat. She loves rainbows as much for fading as for their brilliance. It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”
                          –Morgan Llewelyn

I used to be very selective about which seasons I enjoyed. Spring was too wet and muddy, summer too hot and humid. Fall was perfect and Winter was endurable. When I got active and lost weight, suddenly my experience of the seasons opened up. I began to love summer and winter, as well as autumn. I discovered that I love being outside, that my body can do a lot to regulate its internal temperature so I don’t need to be inside a climate controlled environment to feel comfortable anymore. Turns out, I don’t mind sweating that much, and braving the cold presents a challenge and a gift.

But Spring is still a difficult season, primarily because of that pesky weather condition known as RAIN. Springs in Iowa are characterized by one of two possibilities: no rain or too much rain. Last year was a spring with no rain. We moved from winter almost directly to summer, skipping the renewing season of spring. Springs with no rain are characterized by anxiety about crops (or gardens and lawns, if you live in town). And drought weighs heavily on the psyche of a state known primarily for its corn and soybean production. I remember feeling a dismay akin to loss when, on RAGBRAI last year, we rode on highways bordered on both sides by dead or stunted fields, parched and thirsty.

The dry weather continued, right through most of this winter, leading to drought forecasts for another year, with cities and counties rolling out their drought plans – water conservation being a less common concern in Iowa than in California or New Mexico, where my family have routinely practiced water austerity measures. In Iowa we are, sometimes shamefully, profligate with water.

And then the rain started. And now, instead of drought forecasts, we are listening to flood warnings (and believe me, since 2008, flood is the “F” word in these parts). In the past 24 hours, rain totals have been high, 3-5″ throughout eastern Iowa. Many people love thunderstorms, but last night when I calculated that it had been thundering and lightening for the better part of 18 hours, I was pretty much over it. As I listened to my house, dripping water from a leaky roof and down the chimney onto the hardwood floor in my living room, I couldn’t bring myself to have cheerful thoughts about the rain. I’m tired of gray skies, tired of the hemmed-in feeling of fog and clouds.

I share all of the above to make the point that, like most people, I experience weather at the practical (if selfish) level of “How does it affect me today?” I like days when the weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans. It has been a lovely gift that, in recent years, the number of days when weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans has been broadened because my tolerance has broadened. But in regard to this earth we inhabit, it is my goal to become like the woman described in the quote opening this post: “It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”

As another Earth Day approaches, I am taking stock of my openness to the natural world and finding pockets of resistance, like my aversion to spring and intolerance for more than incidental rain. This is important, because our cultural movement away from direct experience of the natural world, away from stewardship, has led us to a place which is dangerous for the earth itself. It is also dangerous for our spiritual survival, as well. When I set out to lose weight, I didn’t realize that what it would take was healing the emotional separations I had fostered – between my head and heart, between my body and my soul, between myself and others. And as I reflect on what it will take from me, personally, to participate in the healing of our planet, I realize that I have to heal this unnatural separation between myself and the planet we all call home.

I often go out and troll the internet for information or quotes to support the theme I’m writing about in a post. This morning, I thought I’d look for a Joanna Macy quote to end this post. Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, has been thinking deeply about these issues for a very long time. Serendipitously, I came across the paragraphs below on the first Macy-related page I clicked on. She says what I mean in a much more eloquent and complete way, and I’d like to close with her words (apologies to my friend, Martin, who hates it when I use long quotations):

“In the first movement, our infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. Trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with a living presence as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. In that primal intimacy, which anthropologists call “participation mystique,” we were as one with our world as a child in the mother’s womb.Then self-consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. We needed that distance in order to make decisions and strategies, in order to measure, judge and to monitor our judgments. With the emergence of free-will, the fall out of the Garden of Eden, the second movement began — the lonely and heroic journey of the ego. Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought us great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again — and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.”

Defending, not Defensive

One benefit of entering your 50s (and believe me, I’m on the lookout for benefits) is that you not only know but have learned to accept who you are. With your strengths, your weaknesses, your shiny bits and your warts. In my case, this acceptance came late and as the result of a lot of self-examination – always the late-bloomer! Regardless of how hard-won, or how much forced growth was required, I can now say I know myself well.

When I was 19, this was far from the case. That New Year’s Eve, my beautiful three year friendship with a guy named Richard ended. We fought when he believed his girlfriend, who told him I had gone out of my way at his party to make her feel uncomfortable. I was insulted, incensed, hurt. And I was feeling too defensive to admit that maybe, while not 100% consciously, I may have had a slight motivation to make her feel a tiny bit the outsider. I ended the argument by saying, “If that’s the kind of person you think I am, then maybe we aren’t really friends.” I slammed the phone down. To my lasting regret, we never spoke again. Looking back, the fact that he called and wanted to discuss his concerns speaks volumes. As does the reality that I didn’t want to look critically at my own behavior and motivations.

Thankfully, these days, I am not so easily pushed off-center, nor do I feel the need to be particularly defensive. I know and apologize when I’ve behaved badly; I have little difficulty taking responsibility for my mistakes; I am willing to engage in reflection when someone offers criticism. Occasionally, though, someone fundamentally misconstrues who I am at my core, or accuses me of behaviors which are anathema to me. These experiences are rare, and invariably catch me by surprise, unsure how to respond.

When these interactions occur, they are almost always based more in perception than in concrete experience. Because concrete experience is only concrete in the abstract – it is always filtered through perception in order for humans to apply meaning. A simple sentence, such as “I like blue” can simply mean what it says. But when I say it to another person, they may hear it as “I like blue more than I like all other colors” or “I like blue, not green” or “Blue is the best.”  It doesn’t occur to me to clarify, explain, or qualify the statement, “I like blue”, and so the hearer and I walk away from this exchange with completely different perceptions of what has been communicated. Much later we may have another exchange in which the hearer says, “You only like blue.” I am surprised, because I’ve never said such a thing, nor felt it. However, how do I correct a perception that has existed now since the original conversation? That has been reinforced in the other person’s thinking every time it has been remembered?

There is a lot to be learned by staving off defensiveness and trying to understand the experience or perception through which another person sees you and/or your choices. Most of the time, I truly try to do this – and most of the time insight into my own psyche is the result or reward of maintaining a nondefensive stance. Sometimes, though, it is important to stand up for yourself, to defend yourself. In these situations, how do I manage to be a self-advocate without also giving in to the temptation to go on the offense? When my ethics, values, commitments are questioned, how do I speak on my own behalf without crossing over into the territory of counter-attack?

This is where being in my 50s becomes an asset. I’m more comfortable sitting with the situation for a while before responding. Letting the “feedback” sink in first, especially if it is hurtful or  potentially damaging to me. In my 50s I’ve learned that not everything leveled at me has merit, and this pause lets it sink in far enough to gauge whether merit exists or not. I’ve finally learned that not everyone launching stuff my direction has the best of intentions – and when this is the case, I don’t have to be touched by their criticisms or accusations in the tortuous, self-doubting manner I would have in my youth. This understanding is critical to engaging in the appropriate level of response. I don’t have to attack, I simply have to stand in the truth.

In my 50s I’ve also come to understand that I can’t control the outcome of these events. I can only control my response to them so that it is in alignment with my Self: my commitments, ethics, integrity, beliefs. Holding to my own center is such an important component of feeling empowered – especially if, despite my mature and reasoned response, I get smacked down by false attributions and/or the outcomes are crappy. As Dr. Wayne Dyer has famously said:

“How others treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.”

I opened this post with the observation that knowing myself well is a benefit of being in my 50s. I am going to hold fast to that idea – in part because, in my 50s, I finally believe that the person I am is worth knowing and standing up for. There will be no hanging up on people who challenge or criticize me, neither will there be laying down to be walked all over. Instead, knowing me, there will be more standing centered in my truth.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


No scale post today, because I just didn’t feel like it. It has been a rough week and I am bone tired this morning. This photo was taken on my Easter weekend trip to Chicago. That’s my brother, Matt, walking out of the train station down the block from his house in the Logan Square neighborhood. We had just returned from a trip downtown with our cameras to photograph the city at night. The sign caught my attention, and seems so appropriate a reminder for a snowy, cold Thursday in mid-April. Let’s go out there – and remember that today is ours!

Have a Little Faith

“Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere.  We can’t always understand them, but we have to trust in them.  I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.”  ―Lauren Kate


Having faith is something that doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. There are things I believe, things which are pretty steady and unshakeable: that God is; that love is our most pressing action and responsibility in this life; that there is a point to our being here. Faith is different – faith is about trust, which isn’t one of my natural responses to the world, other people, or my own efficacy.

The amazing people in my life regularly encourage me to trust that the right path will reveal itself to my feet. And while I believe that it will, I struggle on a daily basis to keep the faith. To trust enough to relax and let it unfold.

But my own recent history should inform me here. This blog began with the “Hunger Challenge” and has led to uncountable gifts that were never foreseen or promised. This morning I posted my 500th post! That’s quite a milestone, given that I began with only a vague idea what I was doing!

In his “Letter to a Young Poet”, Rilke says, “Keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.” Blogging through the most difficult issues of emotional denial and repression – the things inside me that I had never brought to the light – proved to be incredibly powerful. Telling my own story in my own voice has been more healing, more central to my weight loss and current physical health, than the changes I made in diet and exercise. Rilke was on to something important which in our crazy, loud, rushed world is often overlooked. Silence and solitude allow what we carry deep inside to bubble up to the surface – if we are listening, we hear our own voices, and we learn.

Voice. I had been using my voice in journaling most of my life, and I still appreciate journaling as reflection. In posting to Jenion, though, I discovered the powerful nature of voice in dialogue with others. We live in a time when people are quick to share prurient details but slow to openly speak what is truly in their hearts. The incredibly amazing gift of this blog has come primarily from readers – both friends and strangers – who have listened to what I had to say and responded from their own deeper selves. It still feels like such a humbling grace when someone comments on a post – either sharing their experience or simply saying, “Thanks, I needed that”. I am not special or different, as I assumed in my younger years when I felt so isolated from others. I am blessedly ordinary. When our hearts are able to speak together honestly about our experiences and feelings, something extraordinary grows from that conversation.

As a teenager, I often looked for the perfect quote to share as my favorite with my senior portrait in the yearbook. (Never mind that, as it turned out, I didn’t take a senior portrait and was certainly not asked for a quote!) I thought I would probably use, as had countless others, the famous proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I believed this to be true. But I hadn’t the life experience to have faith in it. Jenion has taught me the visceral truth of it – along with the unexpected knowledge that you may not know that you are taking an important first step. A step that will lead you someplace you didn’t know you wanted to go…but which is exactly where you need to be.

And with that experience and knowing, perhaps it is time for me to become a person of faith, not just a person of beliefs. Time to close my eyes and take a step, trusting that I will put my foot down in the very place I need to be.

Friends, family, readers: thank you for coming with me on this Jenion adventure! Hopefully, we have many more experiences and exploits to share!