27 11 2014
I was wide awake from 3-4 a.m. this morning. I’m not sure what woke me, but once I was awake I was very conscious of my stomach growling. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry I was. I was H-U-N-G-R-Y! The more I told myself to stop thinking about it and go to sleep, the less sleepy I felt. My brain was in overdrive, thinking about food, then thinking about the fact that I will be weighing in tomorrow morning, worrying about what the scale would say. After a while, I told myself that I could choose to get up, take a handful of steps to the kitchen, and eat something to stop the stomach pangs. And that thought is what brought home to me the whole point of this challenge — I CAN choose. And what a gift that is — to have abundance when others do not. To be able to choose whether I eat now or eat later or eat at all. These thoughts are what allowed me to relax into the moment and, finally, drift back to sleep. Gratitude, the new sleep aid!  —excerpt from my first Hunger Challenge Reflection on Jenion, 2009  

Today marks the five year anniversary of Jenion.

While I played a bit with the blog format before Thanksgiving 2009, it became a serious undertaking for me when I began The Hunger Challenge – my effort to lose weight while raising money for hunger relief. Every Thursday, beginning that Thanksgiving Day, I uploaded a photo of myself standing on the scale (that first day, the scale read 280 pounds).

I have said before that, in undertaking the challenge, I anticipated losing some weight and raising some money for a good cause. Both of those goals were successfully achieved. What I didn’t anticipate, what I never even considered, was that the project would end up materially altering every facet of my life. Five years on, and everything has changed.

I was recently looking for grammar info online, and came across a post by Grammar Girl that said, “Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, and it’s also a gerund” : a verb to which -ing has been added, thereby making it a noun. In my word-geek heart, it makes perfect sense on this Thanksgiving, on this five-year anniversary, to share five gerunds that exemplify the amazing changes I’m so very grateful for today.

Offering

At a conference several years ago, I heard a young professional say that he is often misunderstood, doesn’t feel listened to, is rarely noticed as having something special to contribute. For most of my life, I would have completely commiserated with him: it isn’t easy for those of us who are introverts, shy or reticent to share our feelings, to experience the sensation that others “get” us. What I’ve discovered through Jenion and the experiences that have flowed from it is that whether others get us or not depends, in great part, on how much of ourselves we have offered for them to see, hear, know.

Friendship, respect, intimacy, connection – how often and how deeply we experience these is in direct correlation to how much of ourselves we offer to those around us. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, we feel vulnerable. Yes, we can be hurt. But oh, yes, it is SO worth it. When I open my heart to you – my friends, my family, my readers – you respond to my vulnerability with kindness, compassion, support and love.

Allowing

Offering and allowing are two parts of an energy exchange – each most powerful when experienced in flow with the other. Early on in this journey, I drew an image in my journal of a stone tower. Each block of stone was a defense mechanism I used to protect myself from hurt. My heart was locked inside the tower. Other people were outside, wanting to get in. But the tower was unbreakable. I envisioned the besieging forces attempting to fight their way in, then, eventually, giving up.

The only way to breach the tower was from within – I had to open the gate.

Letting down the drawbridge was hard. It was scary. It meant I wasn’t in control of everything, it meant others might actually see that I had needs or desires I couldn’t fulfill for myself.  But learning to allow also meant that I could receive kindness, love, and the myriad other gifts that are exchanged in social communion. Learning to allow (and letting go of attachment to manipulating outcomes) has been a revelation to me. Allowing others to be and express themselves, allowing things to unfold, allowing life to unfurl without undue prodding and poking on my part – these are all ways to keep the energy between self and others, between self and community, flowing.

Connecting

I’ve written a lot about connecting – and I still believe that people want to connect with one another. We just don’t always make use of the opportunities that present themselves. I’m so grateful to have learned to do this more frequently in my own life – it has brought some amazing people into my world and offered some incredible experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had. So go out there and, like me, “talk to people you don’t have to”. Follow-up on those conversations. Offer and allow.

Challenging

One life lesson it took me a very long time to learn – and which I need to relearn over and over again – is that my happiness and satisfaction with my life (and with each day along the way) is absolutely connected to how much I challenge myself to keep learning and growing. For so long, I allowed myself to be a piece of flotsam on the river of life – the current pushing or pulling me in whatever direction it chose. It was the period of my life in which I describe myself as “sleepwalking” rather than “living”.

And while challenging myself has been important, I am also grateful for the challenges that others have presented me with – for the suggestions, the invitations, the gauntlets thrown down by so many of you. (A perfect example: when my friend Colette insisted on a deadline for resigning my job – we were both tired of years of hemming and hawing on that one!)

Thanksgiving

Which brings me to the final gerund: thanksgiving.

There are so many people to thank – too many to do so individually in this post. So many of you who took the time to offer encouragement, who participated in The Hunger Challenge then stuck around to go on this journey with me, who sent cards and gifts when I felt alone or when my flagging courage needed a boost, who responded in agreement or disagreement with things I posted.

In my career in college residential life, I talked about community constantly – what real community is, how to be a contributing member of one, why we need a community perspective. For the past five years, I have felt this so deeply in my own life and in the life of the community you’ve helped Jenion to be.

I can never thank you all enough. What you’ve taught me about being a genuine, loving presence in my own life and in the lives of others is more than I’ve learned from the five gerunds above put together.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

                                                  

 





Traveling Hopefully

20 11 2014

On my day off, I planned a treat for myself as a way to off-set the need to productively tackle a long “must do” list: a rare mid-week lunch with my friend Mike. He selected a location near his office where we were able to order yummy Asian food. I was so hungry that I helped myself to two fortune cookies from a giant bin – one for before lunch and one for after.

Our fortunes were not so much fortunes as they were aphorisms. My first cookie yielded this one:

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The sentiment struck me forcefully, and I half-laughed, half-grunted. Mike raised an eyebrow at me, so I handed him the slip of paper, saying, “This describes my whole life for the past year.”

As so often happens, my flip comment (and the fortune which precipitated it) came back to me later. Long after I had returned Mike to his office, long after I reached max capacity on my “must-dos”  and long after hunger was again gnawing at my belly (despite feeling so full at lunch), I found myself thinking about the concept of “traveling hopefully”.

When I embarked on the journey that brought me here, to Minneapolis and to today, I had a fuzzy vision for my life’s path, but no map or set itinerary.  The lack of these has meant that it  hasn’t always been an easy trip. Or maybe it’s the nature of even a well-planned trip: there have been delays (finding a professional position, connecting with people), break-downs (physical ones such as dead batteries and emotional ones like loneliness), sudden course corrections that have left me feeling disoriented. There have been days when my heart has been travel-weary, when all I really wanted to do was go home…wherever that seemed to be.

Traveling hopefully means remaining open to possibilities even when possibilities seem scarce. It means measuring options against your fuzzy vision and choosing the ones that seem to offer the most promise of clarity in the long run.

Recently, friends urged me to apply for a job back in Iowa – one which they hoped their influence could help me successfully retain. It was tempting: the idea of finally arriving at a destination made me a little weak in the knees. But every time I sat down to complete my application, I became emotional. It just didn’t feel right in my heart. What I eventually realized is that, no matter how difficult the journey has been, it has also been rewarding in ways I’m not willing to give up yet in exchange for an arrival.

There’s a fierce gladness that comes from listening to that small voice inside, especially after a lifetime of shushing it. It may not always be enjoyable to learn both what you are capable of and what you are made of, but it is a deeply moving experience. Traveling hopefully, even if the journey continues further/longer than anticipated, extends one’s ability to see multiple positive outcomes rather than remaining fixated on one preferred destination.

It’s important to note that the fortune says, “It is sometimes better…” Because there are times when arriving may be the better thing. The problem is, until we get really good at traveling hopefully, we don’t know how to differentiate which, in a given set of circumstances, is the better of the two. Like everything in life, we improve our ability to discern the better option the more we actually do it, the more we actually face new options and choose. I wasn’t a good “life traveler” because I stayed safely ensconced in one place for so long. But I’m getting better (imagine me saying that a la Monty Python!).

It might be good to point out that traveling hopefully is not the same as traveling joyfully, happily into the bright blue yonder. When you travel hopefully, you are reaching beyond today’s circumstances toward something perhaps only you can see – a destination worth working (and hoping) for. There are days when joy is the last emotion you feel, way at the bottom of a list that begins with emotions like grief, anger, dejection, fear. Or worse, days when joy is buried beneath a pile of whines and whinges and complaints. But a hopeful traveler isn’t sidetracked by these for too long. The internal victory is won by hope, and we travel on.

I must also say I’ve got nothing against arriving. Arriving is a great opportunity to stop for gratitude, to take time to enjoy the moment, the place, the state you have achieved. But “arriving”, I’m learning through this life experience of traveling hopefully, is only a way station on the path. Arriving is temporary, it turns out. Traveling is more our natural condition, the way we learn and grow and become. The journey needs, therefore, to continue. In spite of everything, it has grown more clear to me with each passing week that there’s no reason to travel with anything less than a hopeful heart.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. -Lao Tzu
One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. – Henry Miller

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Choose Your Own Jenion

13 11 2014

Make a wish and blow! Loring Park. #dailypicofmpls #minneapolis #dandelion #fountain #brightraincoat

A post shared by Jenifer Hanson (@jhnsn728) on

I’m actually not feeling very well today, Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

As usual, I have pushed off writing my blog entry for Thursday (tomorrow) until it is so late that I should be headed to bed (especially as I have an opening shift in the morning). And did I mention that I am sick? Minneapolis’ sudden jump into mid-winter has left me with a bad enough cold that I’ve lost my voice. I’m achy and, last night, tweeted that I wanted my mommy (which is a true, if a silly admission).

Therefore, today’s post is “Choose Your Own Jenion”. I’ve given you links, below, along with brief descriptors of what you’ll find at each link. Simply click on the link(s) that piques your interest. (If none of the links interests you, then you’re almost finished reading my blather for this week!)

Think of this as my first foray into “choose your own adventure” blogging! And, in case I haven’t said this as often as I should, thank you so much for continuing to follow me on this meandering path!

  • #dailypicofmpls : For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram, this link takes you to my instagram site. The #dailypicofmpls hashtag was born on September 3, 2013 as a project to keep me productive and creative while trying to find my place in Minneapolis as a new resident. The winter of 2013-14 was brutal, and I’m not just talking the weather – it was perhaps the hardest season of my life to date. To say that my Instagram project, born of a desire to become intimately acquainted with my new city, may have saved my life in the depths of that winter is in no way an exaggeration. It kept me interested, active, and braving the outdoors throughout the worst winter could throw my way – and it helped me to fall deeply in love with this city I now call home. When I browse through the pictures, I remember virtually every moment. Photographically, there is a huge variation in quality. But even the worst of these photos is meaningful to me. I hope you enjoy clicking through them – if you’re curious to know more about any of them, just ask!

 

  • Stealing Joy  In addition to this blog, I have written several pieces for the MSP Biking blog. Stealing Joy is my bike-love story. If you enjoy this piece – which involves thievery, weight-loss, and rediscovery – feel free to browse the site for my other pieces (on my first alley-cat race and on the ways I’ve changed as a cyclist in my first year in the Twin Cities).

 

  • Soul-Restoring Soup  A few years ago, I made this apple-parsnip soup during a howling rampage of an ice storm. I trudged through snow drifts and up treacherously slippery sidewalks in the dark of night to leave some on my friend Layne’s doorstep: it was so good, I just had to share it with someone I loved! So, here’s the recipe – just in time for another winter’s worth of dark, cold nights!

 

  • Say Voldemort  OR  Don’t Rain on My Parade  These are both classic posts from the first year of Jenion. I didn’t select them after careful consideration of all the posts, but they are both pieces I remember well from a time when I was learning many profound lessons on managing a reawakening emotional life!

 

  • Bad Faith And lest you think there is nothing new or original in today’s post, I give you this fragment. Written for my Rider Writers’ Group, on this month’s assigned theme of “bad”, this is the beginning of a longer personal essay. It is also a first draft with lots of issues to be resolved.

So, there you have it – a smorgasbord of Jenion from which to choose. I’ll be back next Thursday, hopefully well and with an all new post. At least…that’s the plan!

 





What happened to you?

6 11 2014

A regular customer came into the store the other day and, while waiting for his order to be finished, said (referring to one of my coworkers), “I can’t believe she was a homecoming queen.” I smiled, and said, “She is a lot more rad than you’re giving her credit for.” He didn’t let it go at that, saying “In what way? Tell me.” So I responded with a few really cool facts about her and her life.

That’s when the customer said, “So, what happened to her?!”

What I wanted to say (a partial list, in no particular order):

  • She got stuck in a service industry job being judged by pricks like you;
  • A really crappy ex-husband;
  • It’s tough making a living as an artist, despite being incredibly talented;
  • Anxiety about how to feed her kids and keep a roof over their heads.

What I actually said: “Life.”

And it’s true. Life happens. Among other things, it brings challenges and disappointments, dangers and hurts of the kind that drain us of energy, tarnish our sparkle or steal our mojo: leaving us shell-shocked or bewildered as we shamble on through each day.

And yes, many of us end up shambling through our lives like sleepwalking bears – clumsy, unfocused, breaking things. Even if we believe that we create our own destiny by making our own choices. Even though we know that our own attitude and “positude” can be major determinants of how fulfilled or happy we are each day, not to mention in the long-haul. Even if we believe in inspiration and motivation and all the quotes and memes we post to remind us that we believe these things. Even then, life happens and it can bring us down.

When other people judge us or find us lacking, it hurts. But the truly hard moments are when we stop shambling and wake up enough to look at our lives and judge ourselves as lacking. We ask, “What happened to me?,” and the answer is both “Everything” and “Nothing”.

“Everything”, because if we take the time to tease them out, we can follow the threads of experience that lead to each moment when we felt ourselves fail, discovered we were not up to the task, were diminished by hurt or the actions of others. Mostly, the everything that happened which drained us of inspiration, motivation and resolve just feels like an amorphous blob that blotted out our inner spark.

But that’s only half of the answer. “Nothing” is also part of the answer, and it is the hopeful part. Because despite the things that have happened to us, the talents, gifts, experiences – the spark that is our true self – is still there. Obscured by the grime of daily living, perhaps, but capable of sparkling again.

I’ve seen the truth of this in the lives of some pretty incredible people who managed to turn their inner lights back on after they were dimmed by life’s “everythings”. And I have the proof of my own reawakening to life after years of shambling along (where do you think I got the image of the sleepwalking bear? That was totally me!).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through both observation and personal experience, it’s that not one of us gets back to our true self without the help of others: friends who become our cheerleaders; personal trainers who address our wholeness, not just our bodies; loved ones who set aside their own fear of change in order to help us realize the changes we hope to make. Synchronicity and serendipity get involved too, bringing us into contact with virtual strangers whose guidance and support touch us at the very moment they are most needed.

When our customer asked “So, what happened to her?”, I felt defensive on my co-worker’s behalf. And I realized in that moment just how important it is to look for ways to support the spark in those around me. To dig deep and find a well of compassion for the “everything” that has happened to them – and, when appropriate, to use that compassion to help the other person breathe new life into that spark. To help them remember that “nothing” has also happened…they are still talented, gifted, and have a wealth of life experience to draw from.

I also intend to use that same compassion with myself. When I look in the mirror and ask, “What happened to you?”, I intend to acknowledge both the “everything” AND the “nothing”. And then nurture the heck out of the intact talents, gifts and experiences that are the stuff of my own inner spark.