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Human, Being

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Heard the one about the MIT rats who got smarter by chilling out?

In 2006, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) placed rats in a difficult maze to see how quickly they’d find their way through. The first group of rodents, once they reached the cheese at the end of the tunnel, were forced to keep re-running the route until they knew it well and completed it quickly.

The second group of rats was given time to relax in between maze runs. Interestingly, the researchers found that this group, which took breaks and did nothing between efforts, learned the route much faster.

I heard this story from my Positive Psychology teacher Tal Ben-Shahar, who used it to illustrate the notion that all forms of learning require  time off for reflection, integration, and the fortification of new neural pathways.

A related argument comes from Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, who cite research showing that between one and two hours of focused work should be followed by at least 15 minutes of recovery for optimal performance. Apparently, working really hard for more than two hours without a break can actually lead to diminished or negative results.

Deep down, I must have known these things, but only recently did I step out of my own maze to test them out.

I am an entrepreneur, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m self-employed. My income is dependent on my efforts, and this means that I often feel I should be continually marketing, packaging, selling, or delivering my services. This semester I’m also enrolled in two training programs, making my plate even fuller.

Last month, I felt myself spinning out of control with worries about my seemingly endless to-do list of present and future projects and obligations. When I did take breaks from the constant productivity, I often felt conflicted, constantly aware of that overwhelming task list. These nagging thoughts made it hard to focus on my studies, too. I wasn’t giving myself permission to be a student.

One Sunday morning, I woke up to the sound of rain outside my window and made a decision. I was going to stay off the computer, make a pot of tea, grab that novel I’d been wanting to read, and get back into bed. I wasn’t sick. I was just sick of treating myself like a worker bee.

In bed with my book, I felt like a kid again—the little girl who holed up in her princess-themed room with The Secret Garden, Harriet the Spy, or grandma’s Nancy Drew mysteries, and reveled in her own private world. It was cozy, peaceful, and very satisfying.

Later in the day, I put on some jazz and cooked a Sunday dinner full of comfort food for me and my husband. After we ate, I curled up beside him on the couch and watched football, letting go of any need to understand the rules of the game.

Not once did it cross my mind that I should be doing anything other than exactly what I was doing in each moment. As I climbed back into bed that night, I felt a sense of what can only be called contentment.

But that’s not even the best part of my experiment.

The next morning, I awoke and realized that something was missing. Gone was the nagging feeling that there was so much to do and so little time. No tasks or deadlines had been taken off my plate, yet I felt completely calm and confident that everything would get done in time.

I spent that day in a state of efficient, unhurried productivity. I was full of good ideas, checking items off the to-do list with ease and wondering what had happened to the woman who was so stressed out and worried.

Of course, she reappeared within 48 hours, which is why I need to put what I’m learning into regular practice.

This means taking breaks to stretch, call a friend, pet the cat, dance to music, take a walk, or make some tea after an hour or two at the computer. The truth is, some of my best ideas come to me, unbidden, when I’m away from the laptop and enjoying myself.

My new plan also includes scheduling work-free zones on weekends and evenings, and protecting them like a fierce mama bear. When I’m in those zones, I also need to protect myself from thoughts that I “should” be doing something more productive. That inner tyrant is the greatest enemy of inner peace.

Perhaps my best takeaway from that rainy Sunday, besides really seeing the benefits of resting and renewing, is the message that it gave me on a soul level about my inherent value as a human, just being.

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life,  Career and Wellness Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or over the phone.

(Note: This post was written for Thrive, the blog of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and also appears here.)

Building Courage Muscles

by Kim Childs, CPPC

As a student of Positive Psychology, I learned about something called self-perception theory. Developed by social psychologist Daryl Bem, the theory states that we form beliefs about ourselves by watching our behaviors, just as we form beliefs about others by watching theirs. We may therefore think of ourselves as confident after we act with confidence.

I like to think about this theory in terms of courage and risk-taking. When I build courage by doing things that scare me and see that I do, in fact, survive, it gets easier to take risks and feel brave.

Twice in my life, I’ve left the security of a full-time job to follow my heart in the direction of an uncertain but more alluring vocational path. The first time I took this leap, in my late 30s, I had many wide-eyed, stomach-churning, “What the heck am I doing?” moments in the middle of the night. By the light of day, I just kept taking steps toward what I wanted and moving away from what I didn’t, trusting my gut to guide me toward something better.

And it did.

The second time I abandoned a steady paycheck to rejoin the ranks of the self-employed, I was less frightened. I think that’s because I’d survived the first leap intact.

I once had a powerful dream about this. While making my way across tall rock formations in the Grand Canyon (dreams being dreams…), I came to a place where the next rock was too far away for a safe leap. I froze in fear, somehow knowing that there was no turning back. Suddenly, part of me split off like a cartoon figure and jumped, falling to the ground with a sickening splat. As I peered down in horror, I saw a crowd gather around my fallen self. To everyone’s amazement, she (I) got up, brushed off the dirt, and walked away, unbroken.

Up above, the frightened but emboldened me stepped shakily off the cliff. Immediately, a kind of magic carpet appeared under my feet and transported me, Aladdin-style, to the next rock.

And so it went, all across the canyon.

This vivid dream came to me nearly 20 years ago during a time of great change in my life. It told me that 1) You may fall (fail) in front of other people, but it won’t necessarily kill you, and 2) When you take a step forward, despite your fears, help arrives.

As I tell my coaching clients, amazing things can happen when we take that first, empowering, inertia-busting action. Or, as Scottish explorer W. H. Murray once wrote, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.”

Each time I exercise my courage muscles, I grow in self-confidence and faith, which are the real rewards of risk-taking. Last year, I had to summon enough bravery to own some really bad behavior and apologize. Recently, I overcame my fear of furniture painting to decorate a sweet little table for my home. While these scenarios differ in significance, each one enhanced my self-perception: I now know that I’m someone who can admit her mistakes and be forgiven—and I’m apparently not too bad with a paintbrush.

I’ve asked others about risks that paid off for them, and heard stories about daring to leave unhappy jobs and marriages, and taking a chance on love. “I followed my own path against the odds, which proved my worth, at least to myself,” says a former client. Another writes that, “A trip to Europe nearly emptied my bank account at a time when work was unsteady, but that trip broke me out of a depression and woke me up to possibilities again.”

A friend echoes my own belief when she says, “The greatest risk I take on a daily basis is being true to myself.”

Over the years, I’ve grown gutsier about taking big leaps. That’s not to say that I’ve conquered my fears about change and the unknown; I just meet them with healthy skepticism and move forward when I know, deep down, that what I’m doing feels right.

In the end, I believe it’s the things we don’t attempt to do that haunt us more than our so-called mistakes and failures. As the poet Mary Oliver suggests, we have one “wild and precious life” to live, and it’s not a dress rehearsal.

Building courage muscles equips us for taking leaps.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or over the phone.

Living on Purpose

by Kim Childs, CPPC

This summer, researchers at UCLA and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that, when it comes to our genes, there’s a difference between happiness derived from feeling good and that which comes from doing good. According to the study, people whose happiness stemmed from having a sense of purpose and meaning in life had healthier gene expression patterns than those whose happiness was primarily linked to pleasure. In fact, the latter group of “feel-gooders” had a stress-related gene pattern similar to those who endure chronic adversity.

Apparently, our genes know the difference between deep and superficial happiness. It took me more than 35 years to learn that lesson.

My own pursuit of pleasure took me on lots of misadventures in my 20s, and many of them centered on food, alcohol, nightlife, men, and fun for its own sake in big, glamorous cities. As I entered my 30s, I brought some of these behaviors with me as I began to carve out a career in radio journalism. Engrossed in my work, I soon took new pleasure from the highs of hearing my stories on the air and becoming a mini celebrity.

About five years later, it all came crashing down when I had a panic attack, on the air, in the middle of a newscast.

The incident sent me on an intense healing journey as I sought to know the physical, emotional, and psychological reasons behind the panic attack, my first and only full-blown episode. I spent the following year seeing healers of all kinds, devouring self-help and spiritual literature, changing my lifestyle and planting myself in therapy and recovery groups to bring my own darkness to the light. These activities quickly became my new occupation, even as I still dutifully performed my job.

A year later, I left my radio career. Not only because I lived in fear of losing it on the air again, but because I no longer had an interest in reporting the news. In fact, I probably never had a “nose for news” so much as a desire to tell inspiring stories. I loved meeting interesting, progressive people and spreading helpful information. My favorite moments in radio were when listeners called to say that they wanted to know more about something I’d reported. Covering corruption and crime stories, on the other hand, left me cold.

Soon after taking the leap to freelance and figure out my next move, I met a man named John who called himself a psychic. We became gym buddies and, one day, John told me that he felt moved to offer me a free reading. Among other uncannily accurate things he told me during the reading, John said, “You will teach one day, in your purpose way.”

His words wouldn’t make sense to me for a few years.

Eventually, it became crystal clear that I was in the middle of a major life change, and not just a job search. I applied to be a volunteer at Kripalu for the summer, having been there as a guest and begun a yoga practice with a beloved Kripalu teacher-turned-friend.

And that’s when my quest for meaningful happiness found its expression and community.

At Kripalu I met people like me, the person I am deep down inside—yogis, spiritual seekers, peace lovers, and hippies born too late to technically be called hippies. I’d found my tribe and felt at home, staying there for two years to live, work, and breathe in this new lifestyle, which included healthy eating, ecstatic dancing, drumming, chanting, emoting, hiking, howling at the moon, and doing lots of yoga. It didn’t include alcohol, television, junk food, cruising, or partying into the wee hours—things that used to make me “happy.”

I left Kripalu a certified yoga teacher, a workshop leader, and a writer whose stories now came from the heart and from my own life. During those two years, I’d barely even looked at the news, noticing that what I needed to know usually found its way to me.

Today my thrills come from helping others who seek the kind of happiness that comes from contributing their gifts and passions to the world and doing what they love to do. My work as a teacher, coach, and writer is profoundly meaningful to me. I don’t know how my genes are doing, but my annual physicals are usually full of good news and I feel healthier and happier.

Recalling John’s cryptic message, I’ve come to realize that I lost my voice on the air all those years ago in order to find it, and use it, on purpose.

(Note: This post was written for the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and also appears here.)

The Letter I Never Sent

In the field of Positive Psychology, there’s a famous happiness-boosting exercise called the Writing letter to a friend.gratitude letter. Designed by Dr. Martin Seligman, it involves writing, delivering, and reading a letter of gratitude to someone whose life enriched yours. When I heard about this exercise from Tal Ben-Shahar, my teacher in the Kripalu Center’s Certificate in Positive Psychology (CIPP) program, I immediately thought of an ideal recipient: my high-school English teacher.

I met Alice when I was a 15-year-old student in her class on the works of William Shakespeare, the literary love of her life. Alice would jump up on desks, gesticulating wildly as she acted out monologues from Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth. This tiny woman with the giant personality had contagious passion for the Bard, along with a wardrobe of distinctive belts, hats, and vests that could be called upon in a theatrical pinch.

But that was just the beginning of my friendship with Alice, who very quickly became a lifelong “believing mirror” for me—the kind of person who affirms what we’d most like to believe about our capabilities, talents, and significance. Alice told me that I was beautiful when I felt chubby and pimply. She encouraged the writer in me when I was more interested in being popular with boys.

After high school, Alice cheered me on through college, career changes, and the adventures of being an independent woman in the big cities of London, New York, and Boston. A trip home to see my family always included a visit to Alice’s house, where a sign on the front door read, “This door only opens for expected visitors.” Upon knocking, any lucky member of that group would be greeted by a hearty, “Well, hello, darling,” as Alice reached up to give the fiercest hugs and kisses I’ve ever received.

At Christmastime we’d exchange gifts, and hers thoughtfully reflected my interests and pursuits, even when they were counter to hers. Although Alice never understood why I left a career in public radio to teach and write about “that yoga, new age stuff,” she once gave me a statue of a woman, seated in meditation, that now sits in the room where I teach “that yoga, new age stuff.”

In summertime, I’d chat with Alice in her backyard as she sipped Scotch and I drank iced tea. When Alice wasn’t listening to my tales, she was telling her own, including the one about how she met her husband during a business call, when his deep voice and charming wit compelled her to suggest that they continue the conversation “over lunch.” Thus began a passionate love affair between a four-foot-something teacher and a six-foot-something editor. Their marriage was tragically cut short by his death from cancer, and I don’t think my dear friend ever fully recovered.

Throughout the years, Alice was a loyal correspondent, sending cards full of news, musings, and encouragement that always arrived at just the right time. When my first story was published, Alice wrote to me, a then 40-year-old woman, “In my rank book, your story receives an unqualified A-plus. This is what you were born to do.” Later, she told me that she’d saved my letters so that I could “incorporate them into the novel you will one day write.”

The most memorable card appeared after the demise of a romantic relationship on which I’d hung very high hopes. I’d even brought my British beau to Alice’s for a Christmas morning visit, during which she turned on the charm like never before. When she later learned that Michael had abandoned ship, Alice wrote, “My dearest, I looked up the word ‘cad’ in the dictionary and, to my un-surprise, there was a picture of Michael. A second likeness appeared to illustrate the tenor of ‘despicable.’ If you are guilty of anything, my Kim, it is that, like Othello, you ‘loved, not wisely, but too well.’”

Once, Alice gave me a box of very small cards, each one containing a line from Shakespeare. Written on the cover were the words, “There was a star danced, and under that was I born …,” a line from Much Ado About Nothing that conveyed her deep affection and went straight to my heart.

And so I was devastated to learn of Alice’s sudden death this summer, and instantly full of regret that I never wrote my gratitude letter. When I mentioned this to a CIPP classmate she said, “You can still do it. In fact, it could be a very powerful experience.”

I had a feeling she was right.

As I sat down to write my letter to Alice, the tears began to flow. I cried for the troubled girl that I was when I met her. I cried for the 50-year-old woman who’s not sure that she’s lived up to her teacher’s expectations. I cried because I didn’t get the chance to say thanks and goodbye, and I cried because there was now one less person on Earth who loved me unconditionally.

As I finished the letter and the tears abated, I felt a deep peace come over me. A month later I shared my reflections at Alice’s memorial service, where several other former students told me that they, too, felt uniquely seen and cherished by this childless woman who adopted so many of us as her kin.

While I can never repay my beloved friend for her generous love, I can pass it on by being a believing mirror for my own students, family, and friends. I can also live, as she most certainly did, by these words from Alice’s favorite author: “To thine own self be true.”

(This essay was written for Kripalu’s blog, Thrive, and also appears here.)

What if We’re All Doing the Best We Can?

In the past year, I’ve heard from two friends who were disappointed in me because I didn’t meet their expectations or show up in the ways that they wanted me to. In one case, the friendship was already fading and I took the opportunity to own up and disengage. The other friend’s accusations were harder to hear and laced with anger, but I mustered compassion for the fact that she was going through an incredibly difficult time.

Both incidents led me to some introspection and the awareness that I do try to be there for people I care about, not to mention occasional strangers in need, even if my actions sometimes fall short.

But the lessons didn’t stop there. (Read the full post here: http://kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2013/06/29/what-if-were-all-doing-best-we-can/)

Garden Therapy

When my husband and I moved into this apartment, our backyard was a strip of dirt that lay between our stairs and the garage. Construction debris was scattered throughout, and a rusty stove sat at one end. Once the junk was cleared away, I saw that this dirt was also home to a beleaguered rose bush.

A month later, the arrival of spring triggered a new desire in me, the perpetual tenant with homeowner envy: I wanted to try my hand at gardening. (Read the full post here: http://kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2013/07/10/garden-therapy/)

 

My Mind is a Terrible Thing to Watch

Last fall, after years of saying, “I really need to start a meditation practice,” I finally did it.

At first it was all sweetness and soothing music, as I joined a 21-day online challenge led by none other than Mr. Mind/Body himself, Deepak Chopra. His calming voice, pearls of wisdom and suggested mantras made it easy to sit on the meditation cushion for 15 minutes each morning and feel pretty good about myself.

On day 22 I returned to the cushion, timer in hand, sans Deepak and his nature-scape soundtracks. And that’s when I faced the real challenge: my own mind.

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet,” Chopra has said. “It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”

And so it has become my earnest quest to access that quiet, which waits patiently beneath the eager thoughts that flood my mind from the moment I sit still.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to meditate!” I yell at my mind, rather missing the point. There follows a moment of shocked silence in which I focus on my breath, remember a mantra or visit the oft-cited “space between thoughts” where champion meditators hang out. For me, that space lasts as long as it takes to click a remote. In an instant, my mind is checking out a new channel.

I now see why they call this phenomenon “monkey mind.” It’s driving me bananas.

So what kinds of thoughts are crowding out my serenity? Well, there’s usually lots in there about the day ahead, yesterday’s remnants and the endless to-do list that haunts a self-employed person. It’s as if my mind decides, “Well, now that I’ve got your full attention, let’s rehearse every step of every thing we have to do this day/week/month/year/lifetime. Oh, and let’s not forget the list of stuff we need at Whole Foods, that weird shudder in the car and…did I return that email from Leslie?”

It’s exhausting.

The more I practice, the more I see what’s going on. It’s a control thing, led by my ego as it fights for its right to dominate my life, arrange every detail and have its say. Perpetually. Author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer has a clever acronym for EGO: Edging God Out. Mine is less profound: Endless Gratuitous Opinions.

Of course, this running commentary isn’t limited to my internal state or those minutes on the cushion. Once I had enough yoga and mindfulness training under my belt to start witnessing my mind, I was rather horrified to see that it has something to say about everyone else, too. And it’s often not very nice.

Walking into Starbucks, my mind starts to chatter about that guy’s bad haircut and that woman’s unflattering top and that kid with too many piercings and the barista’s annoying voice and…“Oh, just hush!” I tell my in-everybody’s-business monkey mind. Another second of shocked silence follows before it finds something new to inventory.

The thing is, the deepest part of me deeply craves that elusive quiet beneath the endless stream of thoughts. I think most of us do, despite (and because of?) all the distractions that tug at us 24/7. I just need to get my mind on board with this desire, give it another job to do while I’m meditating, and be patient with the process.

Ultimately, the point is not to try and walk around with an empty mind. It’s to get more comfortable with stillness, spend more time there, and take it with me when I rise from the cushion. I actually had a preview of this the other day.

Lying on a bed in my parents’ Cape Cod home, I found myself staring out the window, just watching the trees and the birds do their thing on a sunny afternoon. All of a sudden, I realized that I was thinking…about…nothing! It was a triumphant moment.

Of course, my mind had lots to say right away about how great that was, and how I must write about it, and, “What should we eat for dinner? It’s must be past 5 now. Where did I put my phone? Let’s Google that Italian place near the beach…”

Yes, I will keep practicing.monkey mind

 

 

Less is My New More

(Note – this essay was originally written for Kripalu Thrive and appears here.)

Last winter I bought my dream car, a gently used Toyota Prius, because my friend was selling it for a tempting price and our ‘98 Corolla was aging rather ungracefully. I kept my new acquisition off the road for a few months in order to save on car insurance because: I worked from home, my husband commuted by train, and we were managing just fine with one car at the time. At least, that’s what I told myself each time I visited my pretty blue Prius in the garage.

Digging a little deeper, I found a layer of discomfort about owning something that I didn’t really need.

I’m a careful and somewhat reluctant consumer. I have outfits in my closet that make numerous repeat appearances because I’d rather do almost anything than shop for clothes. I tend to wear the same three pairs of gold earrings and the same three pairs of black pants over and over, which means fewer wardrobe decisions and more mental space for other kinds of creativity. Our apartment contains furniture and household goods that were handed down from family members, former housemates and neighbors with good taste (because one woman’s trash can truly be another woman’s treasure). Typically, I buy things in order to replace other things that disappear or no longer work. Period.

I suspect that’s the real reason that I left my shiny Prius in the garage and drove a dented,  rusty Corolla until my husband’s new job officially made us a two-car family.

It’s not as if I don’t welcome abundance. When I do splurge, it’s for trips and travel, special meals, workshops, concerts, organic produce, and holistic therapies. I also love having extra money to treat others. I guess it’s just things that I have issues with lately.

This material aversion could be chalked up to my growing eco-consciousness and thrifty Yankee roots, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In truth, having too many possessions makes me uncomfortable. Our home is small, simple and clutter-free, and this just keeps me calm. Possessions require attention and maintenance, and I simply don’t want to put that much time and energy into stuff when there are more interesting things that I could be doing, learning and thinking about.

I’m pretty sure that my preference for simplified living was born in the summer of 1999, when I went to live at the Kripalu yoga center in western Massachusetts for an extended volunteer residency. I arrived with one big suitcase, a backpack and a sleeping bag for my bunk bed. Nestled in the green Berkshire Hills, Kripalu offered me a place to rest and refresh in the midst of a huge life and career transition. Back in New Jersey, the contents of my apartment were sold, left on the curb, or stuffed into the back of my Honda Civic as I pulled away from my formerly jam-packed life. My load has stayed pretty light since then, by design.

These days when I’m about to buy something, I ask, “Do I need this? Do I love this? Will I use it?” If it’s no on all three counts, it stays in the store. I’m a notorious “re-gifter” for the same reason. One gift that I do cherish came from my dad last year. It’s a solar-powered, revolving crystal that sticks to my window and showers me with rainbows as I pray and meditate on sunny mornings. Priceless.

In the past few years, this “less is more” philosophy has reshaped my schedule. A former activity junkie suffering from FOMS (Fear of Missing Something, in case you’re new to the acronym), I used to be overscheduled to within an inch of my life. Now I leave lots of soothing white space in my calendar, and I guard my free time like the wealth that it is. The words “crazy busy” will never again escape my lips if I can help it, as I keep releasing my need to fill time with activity.

Me and my pretty Prius

Me and my pretty Prius

Embracing spaciousness and “enough-ness” in my home and life has the lovely effect of enhancing my appreciation for what’s already here. Those who study positive psychology call this savoring, and they say it’s good for mental health. I know that when I savor the things, people and activities that I love, life feels very rich indeed. And that’s much more fun than a trip to the mall. Unless, perhaps, I get to drive there in my Prius while cranking my favorite CDs, which is one collection of things that I’ll gladly keep.

 

Fifty Years, Fifty Lessons

50 years, 50 lessons I just turned 50 and, while it’s difficult to wrap my mind around this chronological fact, I think it begs a celebration. I’m therefore inspired to list 50 things that I’ve learned in my five decades on the planet. It’s a gift to myself, really, to honor the wisdom that I’ve received from people and life, some of which I’ve passed on to my students and clients. We all learn from each other.

1) Believe in your worth. It pains me to consider how much time I wasted thinking that I was unattractive, untalented and un-everything-that-I-thought-everyone-else-was. I obsessed about a little cellulite when I had a gorgeous figure. I thought I was insignificant when, in fact, I made lasting impressions on lots of people. Enough of that nonsense. I now affirm my worth on a regular basis.

2) When you know better, you do better. That’s from Maya Angelou. My version? At 35, I abandoned the party crowd to find my spiritual tribe. At 40, I started flossing my teeth and found the right facial moisturizer. At 43, I gave up emotionally unavailable men. This year I added green smoothies and meditation to my life. It’s never too late to start a good habit.

3) Got a compliment on your lips? Let it roll. One day during an otherwise impersonal transaction at a department store, I complimented the sales clerk on her iridescent, multi-hued eye shadow. Soon enough, she was gushing about her passion for style and make-up artistry. We both grinned as she delivered her parting words, “And you really look good in orange, girl!” Voicing appreciation also works wonders in a marriage, BTW…

4) It’s good to be on time. My name is Kim and I’m a recovering latecomer. My old behavior made me, and everyone who waited for me, crazy and annoyed. Chronic lateness does a number on body, mind and reputation. I’ve discovered that it feels way better to arrive on time and un-flustered. If I get there early, there’s my iPhone to entertain me, or a moment of mindfulness to enjoy. Feels so much better.

5) Things can change in an instant. One morning in 1996, I got a call from the program director at a National Public Radio station in Newark, NJ. I’d submitted a demo tape to this man at some point, but I’d forgotten about it as I continued to work my radio production job at another station. The director told that me that his morning news anchor was leaving and he needed “someone to fill in for a while.” Poof! That’s how I became a radio newscaster for WBGO, Jazz88.

6) You don’t have to keep doing something just because you’re good at it. In 1999 I left a “perfectly good” career in public radio to follow my heart. It led me to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I became a yoga teacher and a workshop facilitator. Eventually, I lost my passion for yoga teaching and so I left that, too. Now I’m coaching, teaching and writing messages that help people to live more joyfully and authentically. This job’s a keeper, I’m pretty sure…

7) Every feeling passes. I lived, worked and trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for two magical years in the Berkshire Hills. A chunk of that time was spent processing emotional pain from my past to get to the joy of who I really am. I sometimes felt that I’d drown in those tears, but they always subsided, and my sunny nature always reemerged. Like the weather patterns of the Berkshires, my emotions shifted all the time. Feelings, like clouds, come and go.

8) Comparing leads to despairing. I’ve squandered a lot of time and energy imagining how great other people’s lives are and using that misinformation to make myself feel crappy. No one’s life is perfect, no matter how shiny it looks from the outside. Now I tend to my own garden, harvest the good, give thanks and feast on my life.

9) Taking risks builds risk muscles. Making bold moves and trying new things is scary. But that same energy, channeled as excitement, can propel us into taking risks with love, creativity, right livelihood, authenticity and every other good thing we want. The more I leap in faith, despite my fears, the easier it is to do it again and again.

10) Cultivate a sense of wonder and delight. Paying attention to the beauty of even small and simple things, and appreciating the abundant gifts of Mother Nature, fuels a romance with life that never grows old. I put my inner kid in charge of this one.

11) Yes, I’m sensitive. A friend once called me a “champion feeler” and today I proudly embrace that label. My sensitivity allows me to empathize with people, and my tears invite others to share their own. The downside is that I can be a sponge for the unexpressed emotions of those around me, but I still wouldn’t trade my sensitivity for toughness. It’s a gift.

12) A lack of confidence wastes a lot of opportunity. I regret the times that I let my insecurities hijack and sabotage exciting chances. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” is a chestnut of wisdom that tells me to say yes to opportunities that come my way, even when I don’t feel totally prepared for them. I can always become a quick study, or ask someone for help.

13) Nothing stays the same.  I learned this one the hard way, often when I became attached to certain products (and shades of lip color), only to watch them disappear from shelves when they were discontinued. The good news is that this truism applies to both painful and pleasurable situations, which is nice to remember when the stuff is hitting the fan.

14) I proudly wave my freak flag. I’ve danced ecstatically on sacred rocks, howled at the moon, marched for peace, drummed around bonfires, chanted in sweat lodges and assumed yoga poses in the Grand Canyon. I’ve even been to a clothing-optional gathering or two. I’m a hippie-freak, tree-hugging flower child liberal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

15) God is not Santa Claus (nor is s/he Simon Cowell). As a kid, I “parentified” God as someone who judged me when I was naughty. When I dove into New Age teachings and spirituality, I thought God would reward me for being nice. Now I know God as a source of unconditional and utterly generous love that’s always just waiting for my call.

16) Wish everyone well. Friends, family members, co-workers, the snippy sales clerk and that guy yakking too loudly on his cell phone…what if we’re all doing the best we can with the state we’re in and the mindsets we currently have? Wish everyone well today, especially those who vex you. I find it a surprisingly effective practice.

17) Pause, rest and integrate. I used to rush from task, to event, to appointment with no time in between for rest and integration. It meant that I was always active, yet rarely satisfied or present. Now I acknowledge the need for space and downtime to savor and integrate major events. Life is too rich to live on fast forward.

18) It’s easy to take our talents for granted. I can edit a rambling, 1,000-word mess down to a snappy 450 words. I can teach a yoga class and turn a group of strangers into a sacred circle. I’m also “good with eggs,” according to my ex-husband, and I sing pretty solos. What talents come so easily and naturally to you that you take them for granted?

19) People are my treasures. “Do you collect anything?” someone once asked me. I said no, but that’s not entirely true. I collect people the way some women collect shoes. Special people from my life have special places in my heart, shining like diamonds in my memory long after our paths have crossed.

20) What doesn’t kill us actually can make us stronger. The study of something called post-traumatic growth examines how stressful events can actually effect positive changes in a person’s life. My own hardships forced me to grow courage, wisdom, compassion and strength. Given the chance to rewrite my history, I just might leave a few of them in there.

21) Things often take longer than we like. I’m still working on this one, which involves patience, trust and a good dose of faith. There’s also something to be said for divine timing, divine orchestration, and the lessons learned while waiting, not to mention how our desires can change over time and render some wishes obsolete.

22) A good talk with a good friend is great medicine. I am lucky to have people in my life who let me be a big, fat mess sometimes. They listen without trying to make me feel better, simply holding a space in which I can speak aloud my complaints, confessions, sorrows and fears. Ironically, I do feel better after these talks, mostly because I feel less alone and more acceptably human.

23) Work your circle of influence. When Oprah Winfrey ended her long-running talk show, she told viewers that they didn’t have to be TV stars to have an impact on lots of people. I thought about that, and realized that every person I encounter may be affected by what I do and say. We never know who’s watching our “show,” so we might as well make it helpful, uplifting or inspiring, right?

24) The buzz is not worth the bummer. I just might be mostly done with alcohol, coffee, and sugar. I say “might” and “mostly” because life is full of special occasions that call for treats. Still, I know that the fleeting pleasure I get from these things is often not worth their negative effects on my body, mind and mood. Practicing what works best for me, and feeling the benefits, is my new high.

25) Happiness is an inside job. I’ve heard this sentiment for years, along with Abe Lincoln’s version, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Now I finally get that happiness is a moment-to-moment choice that has less to do with what happens to us than what’s happening inside of us. Choosing to be happy takes courage and practice, and it’s bolstered by an attitude of gratitude.

26) Crazy busy no more. I used to be someone with no white space on the calendar, over-scheduled to within an inch of my life. Behind all that activity was a sense of desperation, a fear of missing out and a discomfort with stillness. Today, I’m very selective about what lands on my calendar, and I guard my free time like the wealth that it is.

27) Parenthood is not for everyone. I am childless by choice. I just never felt the urge to be a mom. I love being with kids and I relate pretty well to them, but I just don’t want to raise one and have that 24/7 responsibility. Maybe it’s also because of my tendency to worry, or maybe it’s because I’m still growing up.

28) We’re ready when we’re ready. Regarding change, I once heard someone say that, “We can only go as fast as the slowest part of us can go.” Not sure I believe that entirely, but I do know that some major transitions in my life took their own sweet time to incubate. While it’s uncomfortable to hang out in the unknown, and we feel impatient to move forward sometimes, readiness is a key to lasting change.

29) Contentment is underrated. Maybe it has a lot to do with being middle aged, but I’m pretty content to be content these days. It doesn’t seem to be a very popular sentiment, so I sometimes feel out of step. But savoring who I am and what I have brings me peace and joy, and that, to me, is more satisfying than the latest gadget.

30) Tell on yourself. Last year I published something with a major typo thatDoh! made me cringe. I couldn’t fix the error, so I told people about it. The outpouring of support that followed was astounding to someone who once thought that mistakes made her a target for ridicule. Screwing up is evidently something people relate to, so we might as well admit that we do it.

31) To-do lists are good. Ta-da lists are better. This idea comes from Julia Cameron, my guru in the work I do as a creative living coach. She recommends that we write “Ta-da!” lists to honor what we’ve done in the course of a day. When I acknowledge all that I’ve accomplished, I feel good about myself and energized to do more. After a little reward, that is…

32) Turn your defects into assets. My brothers would probably tell you that I was a bossy big sister. But a tendency to be authoritative comes in handy when teaching yoga and creative recovery classes (“Lift your sternum, drop your shoulders, write your Morning Pages, breathe…”). Likewise, my overblown sense of responsibility makes me pretty reliable. What character “defects” can you see as assets?

33) Walking is cheaper than therapy. One day I was all worked up about stuff and my ex-husband asked, “Did you take your walk?” in the same tone someone might use to inquire, “Did you take your meds?” So I took the hint and went outside to walk off my stress and get out of my own head. About 30 minutes later, the knot in my stomach dissolved and I smiled up at the big, blue sky, grateful for this free and gentle remedy.

34) One man’s dirt is another woman’s dishes. I’ve lived with people who had different cleaning habits than mine. I’d go nuts when the bathroom was grungy, and they’d nag me to do my dishes before bed. One day after much grumbling, I got it: they didn’t see the dirt and clutter that I saw, and I was oblivious to the pile of dishes in the sink. What if no one is wrong and we’re all just wearing different lenses?

35) Don’t believe everything you think. I was 32 when I first heard those words from a guru. Today they make a lot of sense, as my meditation practice causes me to watch the tireless parade of thoughts that march across my mind, many of which are repetitive, judgmental, fearful and banal. Were I sitting next to someone voicing this chatter, I’d move away. Watching my thoughts gives me perspective on them, and the chance to shift.

36) Nature is the ultimate thriller. I’ve seen skyscrapers, cities that never sleep and award-winning movies and plays, but nothing thrills me like a hummingbird, a breaching whale, a Technicolor sunset, the full moon rising, the power of the ocean, a majestic mountain or a sky full of shooting stars. Mama Nature is the original artist, and she is such a diva.

37) I dare to love my imperfect self. Our brains are wired to look for what’s wrong; it’s how we’ve survived over the ages. But while that impulse was designed to protect us from real danger, we often use it to pick ourselves mercilessly apart. If “God don’t make no junk,” as the saying goes, who am I to nitpick? I’m willing to love myself—warts and all—even as I acknowledge that there’s room for “new and improved.”

38) Be a good receiver. The other day a friend told me that I looked beautiful and I simply said “Thank you!” because my intention for this year is to be a better receiver – of compliments, assistance, money and all kinds of blessings. This can be challenging for those of us who are hardwired for self-sufficiency and used to deflecting, but receiving keeps good things in circulation, and I’m doing my part to keep that energy flowing.

39) Season, reason, lifetime. Those words refer to the length of time, and purpose, for which certain people are in our lives. It took me a long time to get this, and maybe longer to accept the fact that some friendships and significant relationships do not last as long as I want them to. I can only appreciate whoever shows up, try to receive the lessons and gifts they bear, and really value those who are with me for the long haul.

40) I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I use that idiom because I’m an avid tea drinker, but the point here is that some people may never like me. Ouch! So I have to ask myself, “Well, aren’t there people who leave me cold, annoy me or push my buttons?” Well, yes. “What if it’s because they mirror a part of me that I don’t want to see, or some part that I’m uncomfortable expressing?” Could be. Or, maybe tea just isn’t everyone’s beverage of choice.

41) I believe in a good cry. It turns out that tears are actually good for us. They lubricate the eyes, remove bacteria and toxins from the body and reduce stress. But even before I knew that, I believed in the power of a good cry to release pent-up feelings of anxiety, anger and grief. I don’t always feel great right after a big cry, but eventually I do feel lighter, clearer and less afraid of my feelings.

42) Rituals matter. My childhood rituals included going to church, sitting down for family dinners and celebrating birthdays and holidays. As an adult, I create my own rituals based on what truly nourishes me. My mornings now consist of prayer, meditation and journaling. If I skip them, I feel “off.” Rituals ground me, enrich my life and connect me to what’s meaningful.

43) I forgive myself. I’ve made choices in life that caused me pain and suffering. I’ve hurt people and said things that I wish I could delete from the universal record. Today I forgive myself for making mistakes and causing harm. I make amends when possible to those I’ve hurt, including me, aiming to be kinder and wiser.

44) I forgive them, too.
Resentments, grudges and grievances are like toxic waste piles that litter my mind and poison my spirit. Forgiveness, on the other hand, feels liberating and clean. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that I condone bad behavior or want to become best buddies. It means that I no longer let another’s actions hold me hostage or define me. It also opens the way for healing.

45) Jealousy is a messenger. For years, being jealous of people who had what I wanted was something I just did. Once I became aware of my jealousies, I felt bad for having them (compounding the misery). Now when I catch myself feeling jealous of someone, I know it’s pointing me toward my own desires. I then remind myself that it’s an abundant universe, and only I can block my good.

46) Find the good and praise it. Author Alex Haley used these words to sum up his philosophy, and they describe a practice that I’ve been building on. It’s called savoring, and it’s related to the “glass half full” concept of looking for what is good and what’s working in our lives, aiming our focus there and giving thanks. This is especially useful when times are hard, and it’s a great relationship tool.

47) I love my body and it loves me back. I haven’t always been a wise or well-behaved inhabitant of this precious body, but it has steadily performed for me nonetheless. I’m amazed by what it can do, heal and repair, all by itself. The older I get, the more I want to reward my body with healthy food, lots of water, good supplements, massage, ample rest and movement. Whispering words of love also helps, and so I do.

48) Easy does it with expectations. There’s a saying in the 12-Step world that expectations are “premeditated resentments.” Translation: Don’t hinge your happiness on what other people do or don’t do. My unmet expectations of people and life have led to many disappointments and pity parties. A more useful attitude is to be grateful for what is given, cut everyone some slack and keep filling my own well.

49) I turn to face my shadow. Wisdom teachers say that if we don’t acknowledge and integrate our darker impulses and internal saboteurs, they’ll thwart our best efforts, tarnish relationships and trigger lots of bad behavior. Failing to see and own our shadow sides, we end up pointing fingers instead of looking inward. I’m willing to explore the aspects of myself that I’d rather not see, and shine a loving light on them.

50) Life is for learning. Agenda for the next 50 years: quiet my inner critic, calm my inner control freak, grow my gratitude and patience, be of greater service, appreciate the heck out of my parents and family, be more generous, stay curious, keep asking for what I want and have more fun. Not necessarily in that order…

The Human Side of Sandy

I lived in Hoboken, NJ, for 15 years during my late ’20s and 30s. It’s a mile-square city, a so-called bedroom community to Manhattan, and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. It was also one of the most close-knit communities I’ve ever called home, full of people who still occupy a special place in my heart.

The last time I visited Hoboken was October 2001, when I returned to empty the apartment that I’d been subletting and pull up my roots for good. I’d been away for two years, and out of the country during the attacks on the World Trade Center. As I walked around Hoboken that week, I saw dozens and dozens of “Have you seen…?” fliers with desperate, handwritten appeals and the haunting faces of those who were likely buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers. The city felt bruised, sad…and surreal.

On October 30, 2012, my heart went out to Hoboken again as I saw arresting images of flooded streets, destroyed property and stranded residents in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. When I heard Mayor Dawn Zimmer crying out for help on CNN, I started to follow the situation on TV and Facebook.

Hoboken residents share their power with those needing a place to recharge

Hoboken residents share their power

What I saw next was a different kind of surge, as the beleaguered people of this small city began sharing their precious power and resources, opening their homes to moms with kids for extended play dates and movies with snacks. People in neighboring Weehawken offered their showers, couches, spare bedrooms, kitchens and vacant apartments to complete strangers who were suddenly homeless.

The Hoboken Facebook page became a place where people posted all kinds of urgent appeals and generous offers. Kids and adults came out to clean up homes, parks, streets and businesses. There were block parties with free food and activities for kids who couldn’t go to school. People were dropping in on isolated senior citizens while making trips to donate furniture, diapers and flashlights.

And help arrived from beyond the Garden State, too, as revealed in a post that said,  “Super amazing. Heritage Academy from Monterey, TN, sent up a bus of 59 students and teachers to assist in our efforts at the High School. They were a huuuge help! Thank you!”

Across the river, New York City was grappling with its own devastation and loss. Again. Just as they did on 9/11, so many resilient New Yorkers rebounded as quickly as they could and rose to the occasion. “When something like this happens, it’s as if  you’re suddenly in a small town,” said a friend of mine in upper Manhattan. “A lot of people here are housing friends and relatives and colleagues who lost their homes. There was so much worse destruction in some places that my friends downtown say they felt lucky that they only lost power. One of them joked, ‘It’s like I’m camping, except there are no trees.'”

Making the best of tragedy is what a lot of Americans are really good at. And compassion often comes biggest from the smallest of us. In Bullitt County, Kentucky, three hundred elementary school kids mailed their Halloween candy to the children of Hoboken last week. Their teacher reported that many of these children, who themselves receive public assistance, donated all of the candy they had. “One student told me that he’d only donated ‘the good stuff,'” she added.

That candy was distributed at yesterday’s Ragamuffin Parade, Hoboken’s annual Halloween event for kids and kids-at-heart that was delayed, but not destroyed, by Sandy.

Two weeks after this massive storm, too many people in New York and New Jersey are still without power. Thousands have lost everything they owned, and more than a hundred people lost their lives. I have officially closed down my personal complaint department for 2012, as I’m reminded every day to feel grateful my home, heat, electricity, running water and abundant food and clothing. For those of us who were unscathed by Sandy, Thanksgiving is a month-long celebration this year, and a chance to remember and help those who were not so lucky.