…And…

11 08 2016

The genesis of this blog was a challenge to myself to make and keep in my mind and heart a connection between my own struggles with weight and the growing numbers of people in the US who were living with food insecurity, if not outright hunger. It began with a profound moment of humility – what right did I have to live a gluttonous life while others starved?

Over the first couple of years, Jenion became a repository of self-revelation: what I was learning about myself in the process of awakening to and changing my life. As I lost weight, I also shed many self-deceptions, delusions, limiting beliefs. In each post I tried to share as honestly and completely as I could what I was learning, discovering, or feeling. Sometimes, it was painful to share. Sometimes, it was joyful. Always, it was as honest as I could make it – what I was experiencing without glamor: shame, vulnerability, binges, loneliness, gassy bloating. (I also shared good and positive insights and experiences!) A number of people, you perhaps, resonated with those posts. I heard from people who felt I’d put their own experiences or feelings into words. Sometimes, people called me brave for sharing so openly and for uploading photos of myself on a scale each week, in order to hold myself accountable to the truth of my choices.

Eventually, my posts shifted again. I had made many changes in myself and my life – and I wanted to keep those changes going. My posts, at least to my mind, shifted toward positive self-talk and inspirational messages. If I look over the past several years of Jenion, key words like perspective, love, openness – pep talks and rainbows – show up quite a lot. There wasn’t less honesty, but there has been less personal sharing – which is a very fine distinction when one is writing a blog that purports to be about truthful self-discovery. I began shying away from the “warts and all” philosophy I originally brought to Jenion. I became less brave.

Why was this the case? In part, I didn’t want to let everyone down. I began to feel like I wasn’t living up to the promise of those early years of awakening. Shouldn’t I be happier? My life, my self, had changed for the better – wouldn’t it bum everyone out if I didn’t continue to express the inspirational joy those changes wrought? I had taken some risks -wouldn’t my friends and family worry more if I wrote directly about how I was struggling? How could I fully share my feelings of failure or depression or anxiety without offering an uplift in the end? That would depress everyone. It would depress me.

Yesterday, I came home after a day at work where every five minutes brought another crap-bomb detonation. I came home after a painful first visit to a physical therapist for shoulder pain. I came home after a disappointing workout at the gym, where I barely managed an elevated heart-rate (in part because I am taking medication which actively prevents an elevated heart-rate).

Who am I kidding? I’m already damn depressed.

I sat at my computer and typed into Google: menopause and…Even before I typed in the word I intended to use to complete that phrase, up came a list:

anxiety

depression

fatigue

hair loss

headaches

You get the idea, even without reading the entire alpha listing of symptoms. Throw in weight gain, fear of death, existential anger, and an incredibly divisive political climate tearing families and friends apart…and you have the picture of my life right now. The difficulty is in parsing out which of these symptoms is physiological in its genesis, which emotional or psychological. This distinction is probably only academic – the real question being: what can I change and what do I just have to find a way to manage?

I never intended Jenion to become a blog about life as a middle-aged woman coming to terms with what that means. As an “elevator speech”, that sentence sucks. Perhaps that’s why I’ve contorted so many posts to end with some kind of hopeful upturn, even when it felt falsely peppy. What I did intend Jenion to be – an unflinchingly honest account of my own quest to be a better person, life a fuller life, make some kind of difference in my world (and if that helped anyone else in their quest in any way, that would be great) – got a little off track. I love Jenion; I love posting once a week – in some ways, it has taken the place of a journal. But I love it most when I speak from my heart, not from my self-delusions. If that doesn’t feel peppy and uplifting enough for anyone else to read, so be it. For those prone to worry about me: I’m ok, just struggling with this ordinary thing called life. Just like everyone does.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

–from “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz

 

 





Never Too Late To Inspire

19 03 2015

Note: In the five or so years I’ve been faithfully posting to Jenion each Thursday, I have rarely written a post to or about a specific individual. When I have, it has generally been with good reason. Today, I want to share about someone who holds a special place in my life. If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you’ve read lots of references to my friend, Mike, but I’ve never devoted an entire piece to him outright. That changes today: on the occasion of his fifty-fifth birthday and in celebration of the two year anniversary of the transformational journey he has been committed to in his life. Please join me in wishing Mike a happy birthday and congratulations!

 

Mike, doing something he loves, Lake Superior.

Mike, doing something he loves, Lake Superior.

A person’s life story belongs to them. How that story is told, the ways it builds and is resolved, the character revelations, the plot twists and turns – these are all elements of a very personal narrative that each of us should be allowed to share in our own way and with whom we choose. That said, where people’s lives intersect, when they connect, there is a new story written. I’d like to share the story of such a connection in my own life, and what it has taught me about friendship, motivation, discipline, and inspiration.

When we met as college students, Mike and I were both emerging from childhood, a little enraptured with life, a little discombobulated by the exigencies of adulthood. Between us there was an immediate recognition – we moved speedily from introductions to inseparable. Not only were the two of us close, Mike quickly became part of my family. He played piano in my sister’s wedding and, two years later, was best man in my brother’s. But as sometimes happens, time and distance separated us. After Mike moved to California the fall of my junior year of college, we tried to stay in touch. When he, eventually, brought his fiancé to Iowa, I invited them to a homemade dinner at my first apartment (I still remember the menu from that meal!). The last time I saw Mike for decades was at the Iowa reception following their San Francisco wedding.

Often over the years I wondered about Mike. He had been a significant enough person in my earlier life that friends I met years after we lost touch knew him by name from my stories. I was the last person I knew to purchase my own computer – with my tax refund in 2009. Sometime, months later, I joined Facebook. It was only a matter of weeks once that happened before I began reconnecting with college friends. One day, I saw a post Mike had made on a friend’s timeline. I was so excited to reach out to Mike, to touch base again, that my fingers shook as I typed a brief hello.

As with our college selves, both Mike and I were emerging from other phases of our lives. As it happened, we were both finally moving forward, if incrementally, from years-long rough patches. We had each scraped our own personal rock-bottoms, and the road leading from these low points was littered with boulders to be climbed over, black ice to avoid, and quicksand that threatened occasionally to pull us under. Our friendship grew and was strengthened by a sincere desire to be one another’s cheering section and helping hand. “Need help moving into a new apartment or even a new city? I’m there.” That’s how we roll.

Two years ago this week, Mike called me (I was still living in Iowa then) to say he had hired a personal trainer. Mike had previously lost a chunk of weight working on his own, but wished to push himself further in reaching his health and fitness goals. Over the following two years, Mike has made incredible strides – he lost 75 pounds and dropped his body fat percentage to single digits. When he first met his trainer, Joe Cross (Cross Fitness), Mike told him, “I don’t run.” Ha! I was cheering at the finish line when Mike ran his first-ever 5K (and at several since). At each turn of the calendar, Mike has set new goals for himself and blown past them. It hasn’t always been easy, but he has remained both diligent and committed.

But that is Mike’s story, and I don’t want to presume to say I have all of the details or the “skinny” on what was happening in Mike’s heart, mind and soul. What I can, and will, share is what I’ve felt and learned as Mike has faced each obstacle or stepping stone in pursuing his own definition of personal excellence.

First, there are few things more beautiful than seeing someone you love bloom into full flower (sorry, I know that doesn’t sound like a very masculine metaphor but it fits!). The truth about discovering your own inner strength and drive to achieve personal goals, as Mike has, is that it suffuses every part of your life with life-giving nourishment. Not only has Mike’s physical self changed for the good, his whole life has opened up – with new friends, new interests, and a new youthfulness that starts at the cellular level. It brings me real joy to behold this new life of Mike’s – and it never ceases to remind me that this is possible for each of us, if we’re willing to put in the work.

Second, I have rarely known anyone who approached a personal vision with the level of self-discipline Mike has shown on his two-year odyssey working with Cross Fitness. Mike embodies the phrase, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” The number of times Mike’s choices have brought that phrase to my mind have been instrumental in helping me make better choices myself. I am grateful each time that his example inspires me to choose well.

Third, it has been humbling to be close enough to Mike’s life to witness the inspirational impact he has had on others. Mike has always been an extrovert – he collects friends in virtually every situation he enters in his life. His joyful exuberance, his obvious good health, his visible physical transformation have truly inspired many of these friends who aren’t quite where they wish to be. They have reached out to Mike with questions and received both support and great advice on beginning their own transformations. Additionally, Mike always remembers to praise his trainers, never taking their roles in his achievements for granted. I wish I were half as creative in finding ways to give back to those who have offered me their support and expertise.

Finally, and most important, I’ve had the great gift of being present for moments when Mike has had to dig deep to find the courage to face deeply personal challenges. This work of self-transformation is never a smoothly-paved path. And while I won’t share specifics (those are Mike’s to tell or not), I will say I’ve watched him fight his fears and insecurities and rise to the challenge when the path has gotten difficult. In spite of white knuckles, shaking limbs, and heart in his throat, Mike has repeatedly chosen to move forward when he could easily have retreated. Most others wouldn’t have known, and among the small circle who did, none would have judged him harshly if he had stopped or given up. There are few things more spirit-moving than watching a friend or family member fight their demons and win. There is almost nothing more inspirational than seeing another human being reach for, and grasp, their own great potential.

The point of this post isn’t to set Mike on a pedestal – though there is much to admire. Rather, my point here is to share the story of an “everyday hero” – not a perfect superhuman, but an ordinary person reaching for their best. Each of us carries the seed of that everyday hero within – that best person we have the potential to be. Becoming that best self is hard work. It requires commitment and diligence and vision. It asks us to find a path to our own transformation. And while that sounds like a tough road, Mike’s journey also shows that it is a path toward joyful and energetic engagement in life. Today, on his 55th birthday, Mike is planning to celebrate. But his eyes are focused forward, already taking the first steps on the next phase of his journey to become the best Mike he can be. At 55, he is proof that it is never too late to become the person you hope to be. It is never too late to change. And it is never too late to offer inspiration to those around us.

 

 

 





What Do Adventurous Women Know…and how do I learn it?

9 05 2013

I am a devourer of true life adventure stories by the women who lived them. It started casually, with travel anthologies. Then I discovered Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman and I had a new hero and a new secret passion. Of course Eat.Pray.Love.  More recently, Wild.  And it hasn’t just been books. My friend Wendy and I obsessively watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the summer it came out on DVD (based, if loosely, on a true life adventure story). I’m a sucker for blogs by women on adventures – Travel Destination Bucket List, for example. I began following this blog while its author, Anita Mac, was chronicling her solo trans-Canadian bike journey and have since travelled to Croatia and on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella with her. My latest avidly followed blog is My Meandering Trail, where I am following Jordana on her solo through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Each of these women have great stories to tell, and they tell them well. And while each gives space in her storytelling to moments of fear or self-doubt, by and large the overriding impression I come away with is of admirable courage, self-efficacy, and joie de vivre. They have moxie, pluck…and whatever other old-fashioned words are reserved for women who have a little something out of the ordinary in their make-up. With my life in transition, my jumping-off point only three weeks away and no firm plan in place yet, I find myself looking to these women and wondering if it might be possible to channel the skills and qualities they embody and which I so desperately need. With that in mind, I’ve identified some things adventurous women seem to know that I’d like to get more conversant with:

Adventurous women know how to manage their stuff

I’m mostly talking actual, as opposed to figurative or emotional, stuff here. These women know how to organize, manage and corral the daily items that fill our lives: furniture, linens, shoes, and tchotchkes. They ruthlessly purge, pack, or otherwise pare down much of what they own in order to begin their adventures unencumbered. So far, I have managed to recycle three small cardboard boxes and shred a pile of old credit card bills. To say “I haven’t hit my stride yet” is to make a prize-winning understatement. Here’s an example: I have a decorative item which was given to me as a gift. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d look at, much less choose to purchase, in a gift-shop. But the person who gave it to me is beloved, and it was given to commemorate a special occasion in my life. In an effort to decide if it is worth packing and hauling to storage, I’ve carted the darn thing into every room multiple times this week. It has surely travelled more miles within my house than the paltry few between here and my storage unit. (Which, by the way, I haven’t actually reserved yet.) And I still can’t decide whether to keep it or put it in the “donate” or “regift” pile. Thankfully, my adventurous friend, Sue, came to visit one evening this week. She walked me through the best ways (and which containers to use) to pack my house. Her advice about what to keep and what to divest myself of: “Be ruthless”. Ruthlessness in the management of stuff – the first thing I need to learn to become an adventurous woman!

Adventurous women don’t hesitate to ask

In the past nineteen years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, “I could NEVER do what you do!” Often they follow this comment with something about how they hate conflict. And it’s true – my career has been full of high-conflict, high-stress moments when the issues at hand have been incredibly difficult to navigate. And I am proud of how I’ve handled these difficult situations. But I have a secret to share. In spite of a reputation for direct and honest communication, I cannot make a cold-call to a business to ask questions. Additionally, I am terrible at asking people for help if what I need help with carries an emotional component. Adventurous women are curious, and ask questions because it is part of their nature. Part of how they successfully navigate their courageous lives is their willingness to ask for what they need. How can I plan a whole new more adventurous life when it takes me three days to work myself up to contact storage companies? I think of Jordana, contacting companies to ask for sponsorship of her trip – and getting some awesome support and swag as a result. I definitely need to get me some of those questioning cajones! (Hey, has anyone heard of companies willing to sponsor a middle-aged woman’s career/life change?)

Adventurous women have a specific plan

Well, I’m just plain screwed on this one. I can’t seem to think past vacation, which is the first step of my journey to a new life. I have a vague plan. No specific dates, no specific locations. Just a gut sense that I have to take most of the summer to feel my way – unless right livelihood presents itself. In which case, I’ll know it and change my trajectory.

At this point, my parents and many of my friends are reading this post and beginning to hyperventilate. Please don’t. I am holding enough fear, panic, and fear- and panic-induced motivation at bay to satisfy all of us. But it is back there, behind the voice telling me to take my time. Cheryl Strayed had never tried to lift her backpack until the morning she planned to set off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Foolhardy? Probably. But did she survive? Hell, yes – even thrived. Sometimes, adventurous women know what they need, and they move toward it even if they haven’t got all the answers in advance. My whole life, I’ve been an answers (and fool-proof assurances) in advance girl. This feels like my opportunity to step forward with trust instead of surety. Eek!

Adventurous women don’t sweat the “solo” part

When I’ve lamented being alone in life, my friend Layne has tried to comfort me by asserting that everyone is just as alone. Her approach is unique; most of my friends try to convince me that I’m not alone because of the large number of people who love me. The truth is, when it comes to making decisions and living the consequences of those decisions, I’m on my own. I have no idea whether it would be easier if I was part of a couple, or if it would be harder. I look at the women whose adventures have inspired me, and I see that they have struggled with the same things – and yet, they’ve found ways to be empowered by the solo nature of their adventures. Empowered because they’ve remained open to meeting new people, to having new experiences, to learning about themselves and the world around them. I’ve lived “smaller” out of fear in the past. One of the things I want to learn from adventurous women is how to live “larger” in spite of the fear. As one blogger says, “I will never be fearless, but I can choose to fear less.”

Adventurous women dare to go “all in”

In every one of the true-life adventure stories I’ve come across, women have let go and jumped in with both feet. For some, this has meant the start of a completely new life. For others, it has been a shining experience which stands out from the ordinary life lived both before and after the adventure. Perhaps my coming adventures are on a smaller scale than selling my home and all my belongings and living the rest of my days as a world-travelling nomad – but they are still a stunning departure from my previous life-choices. My friend, Sara, put it this way for me, “You’re not really the ‘leap of faith’ type, are you? But you’ve been risk-averse for so long, you’ve probably stored up some really good risk karma, so why not use it now?” Not exactly an “all in” mentality – but close enough to get me started!

So, I have my work cut out for me – both with the actual activities associated with leaving my job and my house and with the mental and emotional preparedness for leaving. I’ll figure out the stuff, develop the plan as I go, and remind myself to cultivate curiosity so that asking for things (even if it is only information) gets easier. I’ll continue to be inspired by other women who’ve taken courageous and adventurous paths, hoping that the reality of living with less fear of the “what ifs” will translate into living more completely, more fully. Maybe someday other women will be reading my “true life adventure story” and deciding they can choose differently too. That would be an amazing end to this story, wouldn’t it?! I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens with each turn of the page.





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.”





Berries (not pearls) of Wisdom

25 10 2012
“…autumn berries hung like clusters of coral beads, as in those fabled orchards where the fruits were jewels . . .” – Charles Dickens
 

On a photo excursion with Mike this past weekend, I discovered that nature has more lessons to teach me than I realized. This particular day, the lessons were about how we view the world, the filters and perspectives through which we look at our lives or the events that comprise our days. And my teachers? The bright autumn berries that abound in the woods through which our path rambled.

Shortly after hitting the trail at Prairie Park Fishery, both Mike and I noticed luscious red berries. They were lit by the sun and glowing red amid yellow and green flora. I wanted desperately to photograph them, but they were on the wrong side of a chain link fence. So, I attempted to photograph them through the fence. The result? The fence got in the way, giving the berries second billing.

Berry Lesson #1:  In order to see things clearly it is important to clear your field of vision.

Remove or get past extraneous stuff that clutters up your thinking. This is so much easier to say than do, even when taking a simple photo on a Saturday afternoon. But when you are contemplating decisions about big things – your relationships, your livelihood – it is easy to pile nonessential pieces into the picture. Suddenly you’re focusing on something tangential, and you’ve distracted yourself from the central issue. Clear out the psychological and emotional clutter, and your vision will clear as well. Trust me, the end result is worth it.

A bit further along on our walk, I noticed a tree with vines curling around its trunk. I loved the look and the texture of the bark, the  symbiosis between tree and vine. So I took a photo…

…and continued on my way. Eventually, Mike and I turned around and began to retrace our steps at a leisurely pace. Mike moved ahead when I stopped to get a closer look at something on the ground. When I caught up with him, I noticed Mike was avidly shooting pictures. As I moved up next to him, I saw that he had in his viewfinder a profusion of bright yellow berries which contrasted beautifully against the brilliant blue sky. As I admired his find, I suddenly recognized what I was looking at – the tree I had already photographed. I had been so focused on the textures and the winding vine, I had completely missed the presence of the berries!

Berry Lesson #2:  There IS such a thing as being too focused.

While focus and single-mindedness can be great, we’ve all heard cautionary tales of people who were so focused on achieving a particular goal that they missed out on some beautiful opportunities in their lives. When I was originally photographing the tree, I would have sworn there were no berries in the  vicinity – yet, take another look at the tree photo and you’ll see yellow berries. They are clearly visible to all (except to me as I honed in on the trunk and winding vine).

On our photo excursions, Mike is forever reminding me “Don’t forget to look up!”. It’s a great reminder to change my perspective, to switch up the view from which I am looking at things. Too much focus keeps our eyes locked straight ahead, causing us to miss important things in the periphery.  When I finally did look up, thanks to Mike’s example and exhortation, I saw this:

After a while, I began to think I had already snapped photos of every possible view or item on the Fishery trail. Then the low battery light started flashing on my camera, and suddenly I was in a frenzy to grab a last few pictures before the camera shut itself off. This led to some hurried and/or random shots, such as this one:

What’s it a picture of? Its just nothing – no interest, no composition, no focal point. When we are in too big a hurry, momentum takes over. Sometimes, momentum carries us forward, sometimes it just keeps us moving. I often think that our culture, obsessed as it is with multitasking and speed and noise, mistakes all this activity for meaningfulness. As I was racing along, hurriedly snapping, I didn’t take one worthwhile shot.

Berry Lesson #3:  In daily life, and photo excursions, you’ve got to slow down and breathe deeply in order for the best things to happen – and to recognize them when they do.

After I snapped the shot above, I looked up to see Mike standing still. His camera, however, was clicking rapidly as he tried to capture a moving target. He said that several blue birds were chasing each other around a particular thicket. I joined him, but I was no match for those little birds – I couldn’t find them with my lens no matter what I did. I trotted back and forth across the trail for a minute, in an unproductive attempt to outrun the winged critters.

Then I stopped, laughing at myself. I let my shoulders relax into the warmth of the sun shining down on them. I smelled the crisp and slightly decaying scent of the leaves piled on the ground. I thought, briefly, “I am happy”. I could see some movement in one tree, so I lifted my camera until I could just barely glimpse something that didn’t look like a leaf. I didn’t care about the end product; I cared about the fact that I was – that second – where and with whom I wanted to be, engaging with my surroundings in a fully conscious manner. And in that moment – CLICK!  – one of the best things happened:





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):
















Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart

5 07 2012

In the early 1980s, I wrote a poem about driving around the deserted city streets of my home town at 3:00 a.m. on the 4th of July. No one but me ever really liked that poem. It was a snapshot of a moment in which I was consciously aware of my own being. I was fully in the moment, though it was a truly unremarkable one: two people, a pack of cigarettes, a Chevy van, a dying blue collar town.

I remember thinking, self-consciously, that it was like we were living in a Springsteen song. But I also remember thinking that, someday in the distant future, I would look back at that particular moment and be really glad for it. Glad for the friendship, and the cool night breeze off the river, and for the opportunity to really know where I came from. Now, decades later, I do remember, and I am glad for all those things.

Tonight, 4th of July 2012, I was driving home in the evening light, too hot in this heat wave to have the windows down. I haven’t smoked in decades, nor have I lived on the mighty Mississippi since the last millenium (and my hometown refused to die; in fact, is currently experiencing a renaissance). I was thinking about past Independence Days, when I heard a song on the radio that imposed itself on my conscious mind and drew me out of my reverie. It’s a song about a kid falling in love with music, and dreaming of creating a life playing and singing. The repetitive lyric is, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.

I’ve written before about the distinction Parker Palmer makes between a heart breaking into pieces, and one which breaks open. Beauty and memory can both be occasions of breaking the heart open. As I listened to this song on the radio, I realized that dreams can, as well.

When I was a kid, I had a recurring nightmare in which nothing happened other than the tragedy that my siblings and I all grew up and stopped living together. I would wake drenched in tears. Ever since, I have had a dream of home which includes roots deep in a community, friends and family surrounding me, a house filled with love and laughter. I have realized all the pieces of this dream in my life, though never the whole. In lonely moments, this breaks my heart in pieces. Almost always, though, those moments are short-lived. They give way to the “broken open” heart. The heart that welcomes people into my life joyfully, the heart that fills with gratitude when I am welcomed.

We all dream of loving and being loved. Again, this dream causes many moments in life in which we feel broken apart. And then there are those moments when we become present to the ways our hearts can be broken open – open to capacity, open to realignment, open to acceptance. I had one such moment a couple of weeks ago while visiting the Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. I found myself taking a pinch of the “holy mud”, famed for it’s miraculous healing powers, and smearing it over my heart with a prayer for my willingness to remain open to this dream. And a second prayer, to remain open, in gratitude, to the ways the dream is already fulfilled in my life.

This morning, I stood in line for a pancake breakfast, an annual fundraiser for the Ely, Iowa fire department. Behind me stood a group of older people, most in their 70s and 80s. They were talking about all of the fun they were having these days: volunteering, getting together with friends, keeping busy. One woman said, “I could stay home feeling sorry for myself. But I’m not going to!” It was a slow moving line, and the group kept all who stood around them entertained. When they discussed whether anyone was attending the evening fireworks, one gentleman (who had proudly proclaimed his age as 92) said, “Nope. After this, we’re going home and making our own fireworks.” Everyone, including the eavesdropping bystanders, laughed aloud. I found a new dream taking shape in my heart – the dream of a life well and truly lived to its very edges. This is a dream that requires effort and choice, no matter what happens in life to break your heart.

Some dreams stay with you forever
Drag you around and bring you back to where you were
Some dreams keep on getting better
Gotta keep believing if you wanna know for sure…
 
…Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart.
 
(You can check out the music video of the Eli Young Band performing “Keep On Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart” here)