Showing Up

1 09 2016

I have a friend who, for years, has talked with her retired father on the phone each morning. Over time, these daily telephone conversations became a source of jealousy between my friend and her siblings. Her adult sibs would grumble about how she was “the favorite” and that they wished they got daily time with their dad. After listening to their complaints, my friend finally threw up her hands in exasperation. “Go ahead, YOU be the one to listen to him endlessly recount what he said to the guy at the meat counter yesterday, or repeat word-for-word what every single guy at the retired men’s coffee klatch said this morning! I’m happy to let you in on these scintillating conversations!” Faced with the reality of long, mostly one-sided, and sometimes boring interactions – as opposed to the idealized version in their heads – her siblings reconsidered. They told my friend, “No, no. You go ahead. It was your idea in the first place.”

Here’s what my friend understood, that her siblings didn’t necessarily get: what makes her interactions with their dad meaningful is that she shows up for them every day. No matter what else is happening, or what size the mountain of tasks she is facing that day might be – regardless of how mundane the conversation –  she shows up. Her siblings wanted the end result, the closeness, without the responsibility or the tedium of doing the daily thing.

And really, isn’t that true for most of us in at least some of our relationships?

Unfortunately, it is too often true about our relationships with ourselves, as well. This became especially clear to me the other night. A friend who is a cross-country coach posted an invitation on Facebook to come to his annual open meet. I typed the following reply: “I’m too fat to come this year.”

Of course I erased that self-shaming message before I hit send. Besides, what I really meant was, “I don’t feel good enough about myself right now to show up for you.”

That thought gave me pause. I have excused myself from exercising regularly due to tendonitis in my shoulders; I have allowed myself to eat fast food frequently because it is late in the evening when I arrive home; I have treated my minor depression and other menopausal symptoms with snack foods and junk TV. In other words, I have not been showing up for average me, much less my best me.

As a result, I just don’t feel like showing up for my friends or my family if it requires any effort on my part – or when doing so means they might notice how I’ve let myself down.

When we stop showing up for ourselves – when we consciously forego the kind of daily self-care that allows us to feel good in our own skin – we are much less likely to have the energy or ability to be present with, to or for others. And that is no way to live.

“Growing into your future with health and grace and beauty doesn’t have to take all your time. It rather requires a dedication to caring for yourself as if you were rare and precious, which you are, and regarding all life around you as equally so, which it is. ”  — Victoria Moran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Pulling a Forrest Gump

15 11 2012
Forrest Gump: That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.
 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I’ve lived my life, in some ways, a lot like Forrest Gump – at least during his running phase. In the movie, Forrest claims he just felt like it, so took off running and kept going. Until he didn’t feel like it anymore. Plain and simple, just like the character of Forrest Gump himself.

Those of you who have known me for any length of time are likely wondering in what possible way I have been like this image of Forrest – I rarely run, after all. And I am hardly considered simple (recent descriptions have included cantankerous, introspective, difficult and an overthinker – not one simple in the bunch).

As I look at my life and ask, “What next?”, I can’t help but look back and wonder – what the??? How did I get here? It is as if I just jogged along the path of my life, for no particular reason continuing on the same trajectory. When I came to a roadblock or a turning point, I made a minute course correction and kept jogging. I figured that since I’d gone this far, I might as well just keep going. This is how Forrest crisscrossed the continent, and it is how I passed a lot of my days. I just kept going.

Aside from the obvious oversimplification – there were, after all, moments of soul-searching, difficult decision-points, days when striking out in a different direction was a near possibility – this is a fairly accurate description of my adult life. It is only relatively recently that I’ve learned to recognize the truth – the downside of over-identification with your career, your social milieu, your physical condition or your whatever is not that others define you by it. The downside is that you define and limit yourself. You are so far “in”, you can’t even see that there is an “out”.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for “staying the course”, for commitment. But Forrest just ran. He thought he “might as well”, which is hardly the same as commitment. And while he ran, a series of events and adventures happened around him. But they didn’t actually happen to him. They happened because other people were seeking meaning, looking for answers, trying to discover a purpose or a passion. (In the movie, others mistakenly assume that these things will be found by running with or after Forrest. We are meant to see these others as pathetic, but I think that’s open for interpretation. At least they are searching for something.)

One day, Forrest stops running and begins a new phase of his life. Who can say why, for sure? The same thing happened to me. One day I realized that I was just mindlessly running on a treadmill and calling it “my life”. I decided to stop doing that. Many people have asked, primarily wondering about my weight loss. “What was different? Why did it ‘take’ this time?” I don’t have a ready or easy answer for that. The day I stepped on the scale and decided 352 was a really high number felt, otherwise, like any other day. So did the day I started working out. I refused to begin with a solid statement of commitment, “This is the day I change my life!”, because I’d done that before and it hadn’t been true. I began with more of a “Meh. Maybe I’ll give this a shot.” I might as well.

If that’s how it began, very much in the vein of Forrest’s running phase, that’s not how it continued. Stepping off the treadmill I’d been running on took daily effort, and continues to take daily effort. I wake up in the morning and decide to exercise. Decide to eat more veggies and less dessert. Decide that I can go one more day without pizza. And in the other areas of my life, my emotional and professional and spiritual selves also have to make active choices, set goals, decide. There is no room for “I might as well” or “for no particular reason”. Because that old treadmill (or hamster wheel if you prefer) is still in working order and, even after several years of wakefulness, it is easy to step onto it and forget to choose. To just jog along with the status quo, to somnambulate at pace.

Steve Jobs famously stated that you can never connect the dots moving forward in your life. You can only connect the dots looking back. We still have to move forward, trusting that the dots WILL connect. There are periods when living consciously is exciting – we feel our own forward momentum and it is exhilarating. And there are periods when making deliberate choices day in and day out feels really hard. Sorry, Forrest, but as endearing a character as you are, I don’t want to be like you anymore. I would rather choose the hard way and stay awake, live with purpose, than look back at my life and say, “I did it for no particular reason.”





An Hour, A Trail, and a Camera

23 08 2012

August 21, 2012. Twenty one days down, ten to go. On-lookers may reason we’re on the downhill side, but August is a lopsided mountain in student affairs – the climb, the long-haul, just keeps going until it suddenly stops somewhere in the vicinity of Labor Day (if we are lucky and our students stay sane, safe, and sober).

I was at my desk. I had reached the limit of my ability to reason clearly and push forward with the paperwork that has piled up while I’ve been training the Resident Assistants. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:20 on a beautiful afternoon. No evening session planned. I wasn’t on call.

So I bolted.

I was possessed by a sudden, single-minded energy. I had not planned it, nor had I thought of doing it until that moment. It just popped into my brain as a whole thought, and I practically tripped over my own feet in my attempt to move quickly (the fear of getting stopped by someone’s need as I try to leave campus is a very real one in August). I was home, changed, and on my way within minutes.

I saw others setting foot on the path as I pulled into parking at the Indian Creek Nature Center. But once I set out on the trail, camera in hand, I did not see another human being for a full hour. As I walked, I felt my entire body relax. My breathing deepened, and I felt my soul open up, not like a flower to the sun but like a jack-in-the-box, swiftly and all at once. I have never been a  “granola” girl, but as my physical fitness has improved I’ve discovered that getting out in nature, on foot or by bicycle, has the automatic effect of releasing any tension I carry. I relax completely.

I’ve also discovered that taking my camera has an interesting impact on my experience of nature. I feel myself expand as the tension leaves my body. And the camera exerts an opposite pull: that of focusing my attention. It would seem that expansion and focus are opposites. But in the context of nature photography, they not only coexist, they paradoxically enhance one another. As my being reaches out to the natural world surrounding me, my camera lens selects something on which to focus and I see the place and the moment in striking detail. I see light, color, texture and find I am also more grounded, able to use my other senses more extensively.

I spent one hour on my own – just me, my camera, and a few critters (both seen and unseen). By the time I returned to the parking lot, my shoulders were no longer hunched up to my ears, I was breathing normally, and (best of all) no sense of panic or worry remained in my head or thumping heart.

And now that I’ve used my words to describe the experience, I thought you might like to see some of what I saw on my short journey of expansion and focus (I took 100+ photos, so this is truly a sampling):
















The Sunday Roast: Guest Post by Susan Stork

17 06 2012
When Sue and I met, in graduate school at The University of Iowa, we kept trying to figure out how we knew one another. Eventually, we came to accept that while we had never met before, we were clearly meant to know one another in this life. We have been friends and professional colleagues for 26 years now, and the things we could share about each other…well, I’ll leave it at that! Trust is a huge part of this enduring friendship! I am truly excited to introduce you to my friend, Susan Stork!

Growing up, I didn’t have much confidence in myself or my body.  The reasons are immaterial at this point, but suffice it to say that I was awkward, and seemed only to reinforce that when I tried to do things that others did very naturally.  As a result, I tried to avoid doing anything remotely challenging – like throwing a ball, doing a sommersault, playing dodgeball or dancing.  It’s a wonder I ever learned to ride a bike!

Once when I was 8 or 9 years old I was rollerskating on the sidewalk in front of our house when I hit a crack where the sidewalk had heaved up.  I hit the pavement so hard it knocked the wind out of me.  My dad saw it happen and ran over to pick me up.  I can still remember the panic of being breathless and the shame I felt about not having seen the sidewalk crack.   That lack of confidence only increased throughout my childhood.  I was the uncoordinated kid who was picked last for team games at recess, and while I learned to swim, I was anything but smooth in the water.  At school dances I don’t know which I feared most – not being asked to dance or being asked to dance!

There were brief hints of the physical gifts I would later discover I possessed.  After high school graduation, I took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with a friend and climbed Long’s Peak.  We started in the dark of early morning (so we could be down before afternoon thunderstorms were a risk) with little more than some advice from hikers we’d met the day before, a flashlight and some water.  We didn’t “summit” – altitude sickness leveled us “flatlanders” – but before we turned around we knew we had done something physically challenging in getting to around 13,000 feet in elevation.  The peak is 14-something.  Not bad for a couple of out-of-shape Midwestern girls whose only prep for the trip had been hours of dreaming during breaks in band practice our final semester of school!  What we lacked in skill, we made up for in endurance.

Miraculously, I had learned to ski in high school P.E. class at our local ski hill, and it was skiing that provided the enticement to go to college in Montana. I loved the active, outdoorsy, and athletic vibe in my environment. Maybe I hoped some of the athleticism would rub off on me…?  I became a good skier during those years, but surprisingly, that didn’t bolster my confidence in my body.  I continued to think of myself as clumsy, soft and weak.

A few years later while in graduate school, my advisor asked me to be on the staff at a summer leadership camp.  Her confidence in my academic and social skills was encouraging, but I was worried about embarrassing myself if I had to do anything too physical.  When I arrived at the camp, I was asked to fill in for a last-minute staff resignation to team-teach a group of about 40 high school freshmen and sophomores for the two-week session.

One of the lessons on teamwork was to be conducted on the camp’s challenge course or ropes course.  This activity presents small groups of people with controlled physical challenges at a series of stations, each with a different goal and many potential solutions.  The learning comes as group members identify potential solutions to the “problem”, recognize and utilize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and encourage each other to trust that the group will respectfully support each individual’s effort and contribution to the task, regardless of the nature of that effort.

Ropes course day was anticipated by campers and staff with both trepidation and excitement. I was so nervous I was unable to eat breakfast that morning.  A lifetime of angst, shame, and fear about my body and its shortcomings was about to be laid bare to a group of kids, a co-teacher and the ropes course staff.  I considered not going, but only briefly.  I felt obligated as a leader to demonstrate my faith in the power of teams, so I went.  What I learned about teams and about myself that day altered my confidence in ways from which I am still reaping the benefits.

I don’t remember much about that morning, except the station that required us all to cross an imaginary river full of piranhas using nothing more than a series of tires hung by ropes and suspended from a cable.  The first step was to launch yourself from a platform on a knotted swinging rope, and grasp the first tire.  I immediately slipped off the rope and into the “river”.  The entire team goes back to the beginning when one person falls off the course.  But somehow, my team supported me emotionally, got me back on that platform, and when I launched the second time, one of my teammates was there to hoist me up by the back of my pants onto my tire, while another person held his tire steady.

I don’t remember getting across the “river”, but I do remember talking about what that support had felt like as we de-briefed.  For the remainder of camp, whenever I was free, I was at the ropes course helping other groups through their adventures and encouraging the kids in whose eyes I recognized that familiar mix of fear and shame.  By the end of the week I had shimmied through a web of ropes, balanced on a log see-saw, climbed telephone poles and fallen backwards off a platform into the arms of a bunch of kids below.  On purpose.  More than once.

Now let me assure you, I was not a latent athlete waiting to come alive.  I was, and still am, kind of awkward at a lot of physical things.  I still hate dancing.  I still have a rotten throw.  I’m still not coordinated well for things like team sports.  But I am strong and I don’t quit.  I rarely back away from a physical task.  I can push wheelbarrows loaded with rock, carry heavy boxes and furniture up flights of stairs, grow things, stack hay bales and step safely from a dock into a boat.  I can assemble IKEA furniture, kayak two miles across a lake and back again, climb up and down a ladder all day to paint, nail shingles to a roof, and dig out old tree roots.  I like to ride my bike.  I like to train with weights.  I am proud of what I can do with this body.

I will not likely run a marathon, or dance gracefully, or golf.  But that’s ok because I can help the marathon runner unpack boxes and be completely settled in her new home in one day.  I can plant and grow a flowering landscape that the ballroom dancer with a brown thumb needs only to water to enjoy.  And I can skillfully drive a cart so the golfer can play 18 holes despite painful arthritis.  Yes, I am proud of this body.

My ropes course experience happened 26 years ago.   In the years since, I have led countless groups of students through challenge course activities in the name of teambuilding.  I am always conscious that on that day, in that group, there is someone who feels about his or her body the way I did about mine.   And I hope to catch his or her eye at some point and silently, confidently, offer the strength in my body to help them swing to that tire and grasp the power, as yet undiscovered, in her own body and mind.





Gutcheck 2012

12 04 2012

Last night I was invited to participate in an annual event: Gutcheck 2012. The event begins at The Irish Shanti in Gunder, IA with a feast – each participant devours a Gunderburger (a 22 ounce burger with fixin’s, click here for photos). After eating the Gunderburger, participants go for an 8-mile run through the nearby countryside. The 8-mile run is followed by the ingesting of a giant tenderloin. As the invitation says,

“Gunderburger + 8 miles + Giant Tenderloin = Gutcheck. Take as much time as you need, but you can’t yak.”
 

While it may sound strange, I have to say I’m honored to be invited. The crew who plans and participates in this event are all alumni, all were student-athletes (track and cross country), and all are decades younger than me. And while I am not a runner, and not likely to begin a running career with Gutcheck 2012, I have to say the concept appeals to me.

Not the part of the challenge that is all about not throwing up. But the concept of an event which requires you to push beyond the limits of what you have thought yourself capable of doing. That kind of exercise is valuable in many areas of life – not just the novelty run arena. Just imagine…

  • …if you pushed your limits by asking for what you want. In your job, in your relationships, from God. So often, I find myself holding back from articulating what I want – whether what I want is something I’ve already earned, something that should be accorded to anyone with whom we interact, or is simply something I want. Where is it written that wanting things is inherently wrong or selfish? Or that in order to have the things we want in life we need to wait in silence for those things to be given to us? I’ve come to believe that asking is often an eye opening experience for both parties, in part because until we say it to someone else, we often don’t know for sure what it is we want. But also, others cannot assist us in achieving the things we want if they don’t know or we don’t ask. And I have truly found that, by and large, people actually want to assist others in getting what they want in life.
  • …if you pushed your emotional boundaries and reached out to new people and new kinds of relationships in your life. How might your days be enriched by including a diversity of ideas, styles, personalities? Pushing the limits of my openness to others has brought amazing gifts to my life in recent years. The results: incredible people, wonderful experiences, nuances of friendship and relatedness I hadn’t known were possible. It isn’t easy to maintain openness, to push emotional boundaries. After all, we set those boundaries for a reason. But boundaries are meant to shift over time, and it is healthy to test and reshape them.
  • …if in the grand tradition of The Gutcheck, you pushed your physical limits beyond your comfort zone? What might you be capable of if you got out of your head and into your body? Here’s what I’ve discovered: my body, abused and tired as it was from years of excess weight and sedentary days, is AMAZING. Resilient. Strong. And capable of more effort, endurance and courage than I ever understood.

So, I may not participate in Gutcheck 2012: The Event. (Although I’m keeping my fingers crossed there’s a video again this year!) But I think it is important to occasionally stop and do a personal Gutcheck. In what areas of my life have I allowed myself to grow too comfortable with mediocrity? In what ways can I stretch myself in order to discover something new or to enrich my days? Sometimes, we might take too big of a stretch and end up yakking. So what? Yakking happens. It may not be polite to put it in these terms, but I’d rather throw up, make a mess, and move on than not make the attempt to stretch further in my life.





Stress Fantasies

25 08 2011

It is no secret to anyone who knows me: August is my least favorite month.  This sentiment has everything to do with the annual opening of the fall semester. To put it in perspective, August is the tax season of Residence Life (I’m sure any accountant reading this blog will fully appreciate what I’m saying.)

In August, when things blow up at work and I find myself either in the office or working at home/the coffeeshop evenings and weekends, I find myself fantasizing a lot. In fact, every quiet moment finds me longing for something I can’t have or do in August.   One definition of fantasy is “…the free play of creative imagination”. However, these stress fantasies are both strange and a little embarrassing, because their content is…not right. One should never give one’s imagination license to play freely and then come up with…

…laundry. I can’t believe I fantasize about taking the time to run multiple loads of laundry through my basement machines. Mostly, in August, I decide what I want to wear the next day and before falling into bed throw a load made up of exactly that – including the underwear, socks/stockings, and outer garments – into my washer. In the morning, the whole load dries while I shower. I dress in scalding hot garments, standing on the cold cement floor.

…sleep. Sitting at my desk after RA training activities, slogging through the entire day’s emails, I dream about sleeping. I imagine myself crawling into bed in a dark room and…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

…falling down the stairs. Ok, this is my dark fantasy in August. They say visualization works – athletes use it to successfully achieve their physical goals all the time. This is the month every year when I visualize myself falling down the library steps when my arms are loaded down with binders, balls, and coffee. I see it happening in my mind, then tell myself that this is an effective technique only if I actually WANT to fall. And I don’t, because I can’t be assured I will hurt myself in a manner that would require me to get more bedrest.

…going to the bathroom at the moment that I actually need to.  Let’s agree, no one should ever have to fantasize about this.

…winning the lottery. Enough said.

In past years, August has managed to derail my good exercise and eating habits. Suddenly, there are not enough hours in the day, and the management of work-related concerns leaves me exhausted and stressed out. This is a terrible one-two punch to the core of my healthy lifestyle. This year, though, my exercise habits are well enough incorporated into my life that I am finding time time for exercise regardless of the rest of the schedule. I feel stronger and more energized as a result. Yes, the sudden availability of a wide variety of delicious yet nutritiously damaging foods is a temptation (the dining room reopens, RAs and other staff bring treats, we bribe – I mean thank – them for their hard work with icecream and candy). Luckily, I am tempted one day and able to manage appropriately the next, so I am hopeful that I will be able to maintain recent losses.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I do have one appropriate August fantasy: the one where I survive the month feeling confident, strong and healthy. Perhaps this one will come true if I visualize!





Triple Word Tuesday

7 06 2011

LET’S GET PHYSICAL!

I had an awesome class this morning with the TRX and weight bands. I was so jazzed, I found myself dancing to the music during the instructions, waiting for everyone else to change stations, and a little bit while I was lifting. I don’t know why this video came to mind – after watching it, I know I look more like Olivia’s “victims” than like Olivia. But I was having WAY MORE FUN than the men in the video!