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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.