Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Time for a Rambling Post

I feel a rambly post coming on. I've watched two Super Soul conversations online. Oprah interviewed Stephen Colbert and then I watched her interview with Lin Manuel Miranda. I cried because creative people talking about their craft cracks something open in me every time.

I play a game with myself seasonally. I see how long I can go without air conditioning or heating. I turned the AC on in May and then we had a bout of cooler temperatures and I turned it off. I haven't turned it back on. I know, I know...it's insane. But here are my rationales:

  • We have an attic fan that keeps the air moving all the time.
  • I am gone so much of the day, and am freezing in my office everyday.
  • I've been bit by the gardening bug, and so even when I'm home I'm not inside much.
  • I bought a hammock that's in constant shade.
  • I was gone this past weekend and will be gone next weekend.
  • I'm from south central Kansas. One set of grandparents never had air conditioning and we visited them every weekend. Our summer visits were outside under shade trees.
  • Humans have dealt with extreme weather for eons.
  • I'm on my own more than half of the month during this summer. I'm the Woman of this House and I get to decide.

And now a storm is blowing in, and with the windows open, it feels amazing. I also want to see how much lower my bill is. Unless we have an unseasonably cool July, I can pretty much guarantee that I'll turn it on next month.

What is this blog post even about? I'm not sure myself. I'm writing my way to the answer.

I woke up around five a.m., which is quickly becoming my regular wake up time. I have no idea why, but I'm not resisting it. I've always been a morning person.

Things have felt a little stagnant in my day job world. I am grateful for my colleagues and the benefits the job grants me, so I've decided to not resist the stagnation—at least for the time being. In the interim, I have transformed the way I think of the hours I spend outside of my day job. I am working to make those hours so rich [do not read busier],fuller of the things that are important to me to put my work day hours in perspective.

So when I woke up at 5:00, I decided to get up and spend some time in my backyard working. It would be cooler and I have the most energy in the morning.

I dressed in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, grabbed my gloves and tools and worked for more than an hour. I set out to gather up the piles of yard waste that I had accumulated last summer and never done anything with. I wanted to take advantage of tomorrow's yard waste pick up. I accomplished my original goal in fifteen minutes and moved on to the next pile. I now have a clear path for how to proceed without being overwhelmed by the visual foliage clutter.

On a roll, I went inside, preheat the oven (because without AC it would be cooler in the morning than after work) and baked chicken and roasted veggies to have for lunches and dinner. By this point, I'm feeling like a domestic boss and it isn't even 8 a.m.

Here's where this post is going. I was so productive this weekend during my down hours from yoga teacher training. Having done my yard work this morning, and crossing my fingers that the rain will fall, so I can let Mother Nature do her work, I've got a little time on my hands.

Generally, I love time on my hands. I have a million ways to fill it, but tonight this is what I know I need to be doing and I don't want to: work on memorizing my first sequence for yoga training.

I signed up for this class and love it, so why don't I want to work on it? Because it requires memorization of a lot of words, and I am not strong in memorizing and I am scared.

There, I said it. I am scared that I will devote the next month to this assignment and I will still not make it. I have spent the past three days thinking about all the ways that I can meaningfully work on this memorization and get the words down.

I'm going to have flash cards. I'm going to create fill-in-the-blank worksheets, I'm going to have Mighty Girl and other friends who have offered, be my students as well as my proctors. I'm also going to do the poses and read them out loud as I do them. I believe that may be the most effective tool. I need to use muscle memory in this process.

Do you see what I've done?

See how I answered my own question? How am I going to do this big, scary thing?

I'm going to write to clear my head, pave a path forward, post this ramble, and get on my mat.

There, I did it. I gotta talk this stuff out. And if I'm solo, writing it out does the job. Thanks for reading and joining me on this wild ride.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

YTT - Reflection 2

I haven't been so excited to chronicle something since I celebrated the 40/40 list three years ago. Lucky for you, dear readers, my classes are only once a month—with a few exceptions—otherwise I might bore you with the details of this latest transformational life event.

Two things happened today that will be hard to convey in words. They were so unexpected and also so comforting that I must write about them even if words fail. I am up for the challenge.

Early in the morning session, before our two-and-a-half yoga workshop (I've never practiced for so long), I was seated on a bolster (a firm pillow-like prop). Against the wall, with my eyes closed and my hands resting on my knees, I was listening to my teacher guide us through a seated mediation. I repeated the mantra to myself 'so' on the inhales and 'hum' on the exhales. So hum is sanskrit for 'I am that' as, I am part of everything.

I knew that thoughts would come and go, but I was really pleased with my ability to stick with my breaths and keep the mantra top of mind. A few minutes into this, I was so still that I could feel a vibration course through my body. Like I was feeling the automatic functions doing their work, blood pumping and flowing, heart beating, etc. It was a strange sensation and for a moment it made me a little agitated, like I was uncomfortable with the sensation. I kept breathing, repeating the mantra, and then I felt overwhelming emotion. I'm a crier who has been on a hiatus for the past few years. I cry easiest if I'm surrounded by people like when I'm sitting quietly in church. And almost can never cry alone.

This morning the tears came and I welcomed them. I felt a sense of peace and joy and relief. I thought of Grandpa and the tears picked up their pace. I am still grieving him, but his loss doesn't feel so raw. Crying over missing him doesn't come easily. I also thought of a long-distance friend and felt gratitude for our friendship. It was a remarkable moment, and I thought, this is day one! I can't wait to see what is in store in the days ahead as I begin to incorporate seated meditation into my daily practice. 

This the hardest part to convey: As the tears leaked from my eyes, I recognized that the tears were not sadness, but a deep well of joy that needed a way of being expressed. I wasn't self-conscious or worried about whether I was the only student having this reaction. Yoga has become such a safe space for me. I also noted that I was helping to comfort myself. I wasn't looking for anyone else to take care of me. I am enough. In that moment, I was everything I needed. The mantra led me to that awareness.


Some time passed, and the next extraordinary thing occurred.

I have not been actively working on my book for almost two years, but it is never far from my thoughts. I've been busy writing other work, and I trust that when the time is right I will return to this labor of love and complete the novel.

When my character, Astrid, came to me, she came fully formed personality-wise, but her physical attributes were vague. I knew she had short, dark brown hair and that she wasn't petite, but she also wasn't tall. That's about all I knew of her physical description. Then one day as I contemplated what celebrities might play my characters in a movie, I realized that Astrid had taken on the resemblance of a younger Winona Ryder. That description worked for awhile until I realized that Astrid's features weren't quite as defined as Winona's and so Astrid went a little fuzzy again.

This morning, like a bolt of lightening, as I watched my brown-haired teacher address the class the most surprising thought came to me: Astrid's features favor Ellen's. Ellen is your model for Astrid. It was such a random, subconscious thought that it knocked me sideways for a few moments. I remembered that as with all parts of the novel-writing process for me, there has always been magic, serendipity, and mystical overtones attached to my experience. I continued to watch Ellen's beautiful, expressive face and the way she gestured, and I felt another strange sense of peace and rightness.

These two moments of inspiration remind me that everything is connected. All day I kept thinking, this training is the next step in my development. It's going to teach me that I have what it takes to accomplish all the things I want to achieve, even when they are hard and seem daunting or impossible.

I'm going to be able to finish this book when yoga teacher training is complete. The training is another step in this liminal space I have written about so often. It's the gateway between 'what was' and 'what will be.' I haven't been able to devote my focus and attention to my novel because I was still living the story, and most times you can't write about it when you're living it. I feel confident that this training will help bridge the two.

I am physically drained, but my emotional tank is full. It is a glorious feeling. I know I will sleep well tonight and wake up ready to take on the last day of weekend one. It's so exciting to consider what comes next.


Yoga Teacher Training - Reflection 1

Hi! Welcome to YogaHour. My name is Julie. The word of the day is healing.
We sat in a circle and stood to make our introduction when our turn came. I like speaking in front of people, but I get a little flummoxed when there's a script, so I was grateful for so many introductions to come before mine.
YogaHour is a sweaty kind of yoga. I was curious if I'd actually sweat because I normally do not. I did. And it was great. The class. The challenge. The knowing I'd signed up for six months of this.
After the public class ended, the yoga teacher training(YTT)students brought out journals, pens, more water and we settled into class. The first night was an overview of what could be expected as well as the criteria for certification.
I was delighted to learn that much of the training is journaling and sharing what we've written in small groups. I was daunted to learn that we'd have pages of script to memorize each month for half of the trainings in order to attain certification. I am keeping my head and heart open to this task. Memorization is not my strong suit, but I have time to prepare, and many friends have offered to help me as I make my way through the training.
Expectation creates tension...” this is part of a quote that was read last night and it reverberates still this morning. I can hear how it was meant in the context of first-night-of-class jitters, but it also frames some of the little heartbreaks I have weathered in the past few months and years. I set expectations that weren't reasonable for the circumstances. I am ready to practice letting go of expectations and allowing life to unfold before me. One teacher said something about being okay with not knowing or having the answers and I smiled. I've been saying that I'm comfortable with the unknown a lot lately.
I sat on my mat and thought, “This really was the best decision. I am exactly where I'm supposed to be tonight. And for the next six months.”
A while before Grandpa died, he told me he wanted me to find a hobby so that after he was gone I'd have something to keep me busy. To keep me company in his absence. I told him at the time that I had my writing, and that I'd be okay.
I had no idea at the time how much I'd wish I could tell him that I now also have my gardening and this training. They are filling my life, my time, and my heart in the most beautiful ways.
I have my cooler bag packed with snacks and drinks. I'm bringing a second journal because I'll fill journal #31 today. I had to wait for my computer to finish its updates, so I cleaned my room, read a few chapters of The Light We Lost, started a load of laundry, and planned the ways that I'll spend the post-class hours this afternoon and evening. And still was able to get this blog post written in advance of having to leave for class.
Life is good. Namaste.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

On the cusp

I sat in a circle on the floor of the yoga studio where I practiced. We weren't practicing yoga this particular evening. We had gathered for a goal-setting workshop.
I hadn't been practicing long, but I had already begun to feel the effect of how yoga can and will transform one's body, mind, and spirit. And so in that space, I began dreaming BIG: I was going to write a book and I was going to teach yoga. I may have also dreamed about being able to do the splits by the time I turned 40.
Those first dreams seemed impossible at the time, but in the spirit of yoga, anything is possible. I wrote them down. I went home and put the worksheet paper up on the wall where I could see it. At some point, I took down the paper, but I did stop thinking of those goals. Writing them down made them something real to work toward.
If memory serves, in five years I would take yoga teacher training and in ten years, I'd write a book. Life got a hold of me and did some things different. In under five years, I'd written a book-length manuscript.
Tomorrow, I start yoga teacher training.
I feel jittery. Like standing in line for a roller coaster that looks equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. I also feel ready. I know it's time to get a little rattled. I've been here before, but this time I know that when it's over I'll be wiser, calmer, and more grounded. I KNOW IT.
The jitters come from a place of knowing that I won't be the same person when these six months of intensive training are behind me. What will these practices, poses, and the new knowledge of how to use them create in me? How will I move differently in the world? How will I interact differently with people?
For once, I like not having the answers. I like being on the cusp of something good that will challenge me in ways I've not yet experienced.
It's going to be so good, and it's going to be so hard. I am getting so much more comfortable—comforted even—in this dichotomy. I am going to bend myself, physically and metaphorically, into new shapes, knowledge, and spaces.
This is proof that goal-setting works. I am making those words, on a paper I no longer have, come to life. It is going to be an amazing journey. 
I've also learned that we don't have to achieve all the goals we set. Like the splits. I decided I didn't need to accomplish that one. Yoga has taught me what I can let go of too.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Progress, Neighbors, and Paying it Forward

The men's volley ball coach at the small Iowa college I attended was like an older brother to me. On occasion, we'd go out to dinner. I'd tell him all the things swirling in my early twenties head and heart. He'd tell me he trusted me and my decision making and to stay the course. Whatever course that was at the given time. He wouldn't let me pay. He always told me, “When you have an opportunity to help someone else, pay this meal forward.”
I've never forgotten those kindnesses, and I keep an eye out for ways I can pay him back by paying it forward.
The first summer I was divorced I felt like a terrible neighbor. I was generally the last one in the cul-de-sac to mow my lawn and sometimes I let it get TALL before I handled my business. I was so emotionally drained and physically exhausted. The idea of working all day and then coming home to more work felt daunting. I did what I could and extended an extra dose of grace to myself on the days I couldn't do anymore. I was in the thick of figuring out what solo homeownership looked like for me. At this point, things didn't look good.
A few times that summer I pulled into my driveway and realized that someone had done the job for me. I could have wept with relief and gratitude. I thanked my neighbor profusely (after I figured out which one had done the good deed.)
Tonight marks a new chapter. We had something to attend right after work and then I planned to come home and mow when it was cooler and still light out. I'd have one major responsibility done before the weekend kicked into high gear. Our event ended later than I'd expected. I came home and changed into my yard-dedicated overalls. Undeterred, I pulled out the mower and made a few swipes in my front yard. Suddenly, I pushed the mower into my neighbor's yard and decided this was an opportunity to help my neighbor.
She is a mama with three children and is newly separated. She's in the thick of mothering her children and figuring out what solo life looks and feels like for her.
I mowed about half of both of our yards when she came out and asked, “What are you doing?” I told her I was mowing while I had a little light. We talked for a few minutes, the light dimmed more, and then I resumed my task. She ran back out a few minutes later with plastic container of pasta.
My heart swelled. Ahh, we're taking care of each other. This is when life is at its best. I accepted her gift knowing what it feels like to accept help and want to exchange the kindness.
This is a big night for me. Not because I did something nice for someone else, but because I proved to myself that I am whole in a way I haven't been before and it feels so, so good. I am in a place that doesn't feel so depleted, confused, and endlessly long. I have the energy to help my neighbors in a way I wasn't capable of three years ago.
I really have the best neighbors, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to return the kindnesses they have extended. Being neighborly feels so good. It helps make sense of a world that most days feels senseless. Progress, indeed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The New Walking Season

This summer marks the third summer that I have walked around the neighborhoods near my office building. The first summer the feature of the route was a beautiful fountain outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. I started there, took in the beauty of the sculpture within the fountain, closed my eyes to trick my brain into thinking I was near an ocean, and then resumed my path.
The following year major construction near the fountain discouraged me from taking that path. The clanking sounds of metal work did not induce feelings of relaxation and getting away, so I mapped out another route. One that had lots of shade and also featured a lovely little park, also possessing shade and a drinking fountain.
This summer I've chosen yet another path. The features of this route are the hills for more of a workout and another park. What is notable about this park is that it was my destination early in the summer four years ago before life as I knew it fell apart. 
I enter the park this summer from a different street. By this point in my daily walk, I'm ready for a rest. There are two cement benches flanked by two enormous trees. There's a name and tribute etched into each bench.
From this vantage point, I look south toward the bench that I sat on four years ago. I marvel almost every day at how different I feel from the woman who sat on the wooden bench those years before. This realization helps explain also the reason for my different routes each summer. It's intentional. When I walk the old paths, I remember the old thoughts and worries that accompanied me on those walks. It's a accurate measure of how far I have come in a few years. I don't really want to revisit those thought patterns and so a new path is the blank slate on which this season's thoughts can imprint.
This summer I feel freer than in years past. I use the time this summer to listen to audiobooks—the surest way for me to whittle down my ever-growing reading list.
I have also taken up gardening as a new pastime—initially out of necessity—but now after three weeks of hard work and pure enjoyment, I can't wait to get out to my hard after work and on weekends. Over the months, I have plans to write more about this, but for now I have this to say. My walks have taken on an explorer-like quality. The other years had an archaeological quality. I was digging deep to figure things out. This summer, there's less work and more play woven into my lunch time reverie.
Yesterday, as I passed the front yard that plays host to a raised bed made of stone,I saw the gardener responsible for the ingenious design. I told her that her raised bed of stone had inspired me to consider how I could repurpose a stockpile of pavers I have stacked up in my yard. That statement set off a lovely conversation. I asked random questions as they came to mind and she was free with her knowledge and information. Her biggest gift, aside from the offer of giving me some of the cuttings she will have when she thins out her flower beds, was when she said, “I don't always know what will work. I give it a try and see what happens.” I needed to hear someone who clearly knows what she's doing to take such a playful approach to gardening. Playful approaches. That's what I'm after in most areas of my life these days. It's a new way of being for this serious minded woman, but I have every indication that the playfulness of my youth is right below the surface and only needs a little urging to blossom. Like the plants I've already planted and the seeds I will sow in my garden this weekend. 
In this season of learning as I go, letting the path lead where it will, I plan on taking her up on her offer.
So many good things have happened to me since I added walking to my regular routine. I look forward to what this summer holds.