Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Advice Column

I have really been missing my friend Lois lately. She was old enough to be my grandmother, but we never considered our age difference. We simply loved each other, laughed a lot, and had great conversations about important, deep matters. I've encountered a tricky situation recently. One that no matter what I do, or don't do, it won't seem to resolve itself.

I have daydreamed about what discussing this issue with Lois would sound like. What questions would she ask? What advice would she offer?

Last week I got a text from another dear friend who writes an advice column. "I have a favor to ask. No questions were submitted this week. Do you have a question you could submit?" I immediately thought of the scenario I wanted Lois's help with, typed up my question, and sent it to my friend.

This columnist has a knack for writing thoughtful responses to often times tricky situations. I read every column knowing that I will read grace in action, measured yet firm responses to people's questions, worries, and quandaries. I was excited to pose the question and to read what advice she had for me.

She did not disappoint. The next day her column was delivered to my email inbox. I read her words and was stunned. In the midst of her beautiful prose and thoughtful contemplation, she included these words: "To thine own self be true." This was Lois's favorite phrase. She used it all the time.

I couldn't believe it. I knew instantly that God, Spirit, Universe, call it what you want, had given me what I had been seeking through another friend. It was marvelous and mysterious, comforting and calming. Of course, that's what Lois would have told me. To thine own self be true.

The serendipity was undeniable. I called my friend. I had to tell her this story, how uncanny it was that she used the exact phrase that Lois would have used. We gushed about our wonder and awe and how happy we were that we both had a special part to play in this particular story.

I've been struggling lately with the intersection where organized religion and spiritual encounters meet. I feel disillusioned by the loud voices that get the most air time. The voices that do not articulate my experience of God, faith, and wisdom. I've pushed against feeling misrepresented and wondered how to navigate that uncomfortable territory.

Finding Lois's beautiful phrase in another friend's approach to my problem confirmed that the struggle I'm having is not with God, but with the man-made elements to approaching and knowing God. As I articulated all of this to my friend, I heard myself say, "I may be confused by a lot of things, but one thing I know is that God and me, we're okay."

Okay? With the gift of Lois's words handed to me, I'd say I'm more than okay. I trust that the situation will sort itself out in its own time and that my responsibility to it is more patience, more kindness, and leaning into the discomfort and avoiding the inclination to go out of my way to "make it better." And as far as my doubts go, I know I'm in good hands. God can handle things while I make my way through my doubts.

I'm going to be true to myself and trust that everything will fall in place.

Thank you Lois and M. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Few Words about Posture

One of my first memories of self-improvement occurred in the basement of my elementary school. It was the hub of technology of its time: it housed the film projector science and social studies lessons were dispensed. We littles would descend the stairway into a big empty room with maroon and grey checkered linoleum. Our teachers would help us form rows where we would sit knee-to-knee next to our classmates, hoping we hit the jackpot in the sit-next-to-or-near-a-friend lottery.

That linoleum was hard. Especially for my bony little bottom. And those filmstrips flickered across the screen went on forever. I noticed that the longer the film played the more my back would ache. I was a ballet dancer, and I knew a few things about posture. Sitting on this floor, I exhibited the worse posture. To get my mind off the discomfort and the long-winded science film, I challenged myself to sit up straight for as long as possible. It took practice, but my back grew stronger and the film viewing became more comfortable.

Surprisingly, this habit stuck. I've maintained good posture. This school basement scenario rushed back to me as I sat in my office churning out end-of-year acknowledgment letters. It's a daunting assignment. Hundreds of gifts arrive in the final weeks of the year and my job is to prepare the letters in a timely manner. In his memoir, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, Haruki Murakami writes about the similar stamina required to train for a long-distance race and to sit at a desk and write long passages.

This insight resonates for me. Each year as the letter deluge approaches, I strategize how I'm going to improve the process, so I am not frazzled by the end. 

In the past I'd noted that as my energy waned and fatigue set in, I would assume a deep slouch. On those days, my energy wouldn't rebound. This year, I employed good posture and would you believe, I never experienced the level of fatigue I had in previous years. Sure, I was tired at the end of the day, but I was able to produce a good number of letters every day.

One day for a brain break, I googled “health benefits of good posture.” At this blog site, I found an answer to my query and an explanation for why I was getting through this season's high volume better than in the past, “Sitting upright makes you more alert, concentrated, and productive. The reason is that when you slouch, your body takes in as much as 30% less oxygen than you’d take in with good posture. This means that when you slouch, it is much harder to keep your energy up.” As the weeks worn on and I cranked out more work, I corrected every time I felt myself starting to slouch.

Having a strong back requires having a strong core. As I sat at my desk, I could feel my core muscles engaged in ways I recognize when I'm practicing yoga on my mat. Strong core muscles are integral to a healthy, straight spine. As I wrote my “Dear Donor” letters, I felt a metaphor for life bouncing around in my mind.

My straight posture and strong core were demonstrating the positive effects of what my mind needs to weather the stresses of daily life. Hard things come our way all the time: difficulties and misunderstandings in relationships; longing to see friends who live long distance; idle time spent in slow-moving commuter traffic; a stone thrown through the screen of your kitchen window (this really happened this week, and the subject of a future blog post.)

What my body is teaching my mind is that approaching these difficulties with a strong mental posture prevents fatigue from setting in—even when I'm tired and I think I can't take any more. Yesterday, I finished the back log of letters. The final tally was 779. By the end of February I may hit 800 letters. While I am weary from the volume, I am not gutted with exhaustion. I have found a strategy that works—for my writing and my life.

I'm forging ahead poised with a straight back.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where Will I be in Two Years? A Post of Rambling Thoughts

I've written about it before. God whispers to me through the books I read and guides me to my next epiphany. I will have passed over a book on my to-read list for ages and then one day, I look at its title and know it's time to check it out at the library. Between the covers of these books I will find EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO READ IN THIS MOMENT.  What's remarkable is knowing--and trusting--that I would not have had the same experience had I read the book at an earlier point. That's what makes being led by the Divine Librarian such a rich, beneficial experience.

I woke early and devoured the last forty pages of the latest book in my reading treasure hunt. I have long been a fan of Martha Beck's work. My journals are peppered with her words. Her words have been a steadying force in my pursuit of a life of peace and joy and service.

I am in that in-between place. Avid readers know it: the book is finished; the story is over, but you can't resume regular life. Nothing seems worthy of your time--not unloading the dishwasher or starting a new title. Her book, Leaving the Saints - How I Lost the Mormons and Found my Faith is a riveting story. I was gobsmacked by her ability to tell such a difficult story especially knowing the pressure she was under to keep things under wraps. She mentored for me how to tell hard things, how to trust yourself and your story, how to have hard conversations. Our stories are vastly different, but we share the same human quest for God and meaning. She gifted me with another role model for bravery and courageous living. I will refer back to her words for a long time.

Her writing gives me the courage to stay on the path I have launched for myself and to know that whatever happens, I will be a-okay.

This has been quite a week. I had an unexpected exchange with someone that left me shaky at first. But with a few minutes reflection, I knew I had written the words I wanted to convey and that the earth had not shattered. Not long after, I passed a colleague in the hallway and she told me to keep owning whatever I was owning. I was gobsmacked. She has NO IDEA all the inner work I am up to these days, and her comment confirmed that the work is showing.

Then yesterday the FaceBook memory vault reminded me that two years ago I had written this. I re-read it when it popped up, and I was stunned. I remember writing those words, but I feel so distanced from that woman who trembled as she thought those thoughts and wrote those words. Dan and I reflected on that essay this morning. "You'd barely scratched the surface of what you had to write. Well, not even scratched the surface," he said.

"Right. In that moment, I was blowing the dust off the surface."

When I "girded up my loins" (my favorite expression for bracing myself and moving forward) and strung those words together, I could not imagine the peace I would feel in two years. I was wracked with worry and anxiety because I could not fathom what shape my new life would take.  I couldn't foresee the hard terrain that would unfold ahead of me. I traversed that rocky path. I persevered. I got a grip on my fears and discarded them as I walked forward. And hey, here I am! Thriving and writing my way through. I am so grateful for this blog and the chronicle of my journey it has become. I am grateful every time I had the sense to write where I was--no matter how unsure or vulnerable I felt.

I have always bristled at the career development or interview question, Where do you see yourself in five years? I've never been good at answering the question. I would blame the limits of my imagination, but now I understand it's because I rely so heavily on serendipity to guide my next steps. There is so little of life that can be planned. I certainly couldn't have imagined that I'd be a divorced writer-mama. And yet, here I am. I feel more "who I really am" than at any other point in my life. And the way that feels will guide me for the rest of my life.

I have no idea where I will be in another two years, but I am thrilled by the prospects and the adventure of the unknown. It's the reason I am writing this post. Another entry into the record of time. Another mark on the measuring stick of how far I have come.  What I do know is that yoga, writing, and traveling (or dreaming about the next trip) will be part of the mix.

Writing really is the solution for all my troubles. When I started this post, I didn't know what to do with myself. I wasn't sure how to move forward with my day in the happy glow of a great reading experience. "Go to your blog" was the whisper I heard. I followed my gut, cranked up the John Mayer playlist on Spotify and started typing. And again, here I am! Happy, grounded, and ready to do to what I love best--read a great book.