Does it count?

Have you ever told yourself, "Well, that doesn't count," when working toward a goal?

I’m fascinated about what we consider to "count" when we're keeping track of a goal or intention.  I hear this phrase, "that doesn't count" from clients regularly - so it might be something you're saying to yourself too.

When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, the only miles I cared about were trail miles. I knew I had over 2000 miles to hike and I wanted to preserve every bit of my strength for hiking those miles.  During town stops, resupplying my food and doing laundry, I hated having to walk any distance further than I had to, because those miles "didn't count." I remember at the time thinking this was so silly, how my mind only saw the trail miles as worthy and valuable. If I wasn't careful, this line of thinking would keep me from taking a half mile detour to a beautiful overlook. Eventually I learned to appreciate miles that "didn't count" when there was something beneficial to me, whether it was an ice cream stand or a waterfall just off the trail. I needed to teach myself that those miles counted just as much; they were part of my journey even if I couldn't officially record them in my accumulated mileage toward my final goal.

Failing to "count" things can happen in regular life too. For example, every year I prioritize taking walks to immerse in and appreciate nature. Some days, when I'm walking short distances through beautiful New Orleans neighborhoods past blooming camellias and stately oak trees, on the way to a meeting or running an errand, I tell myself, "Well, this doesn't actually count - I didn't purposefully set out to take a walk in nature."  

Isn't that silly? Why not allow these small walks to count? Then I could marvel at all the wonders I might normally wait to notice on a longer "official" walk. I could tune into the quality of the light, the tiny ferns growing on tree trunks, the smooth texture of the crape myrtle bark, and the mosses living in cracks between the bricks. I could greet the sparrows flitting through the maple branches, the crows perched high in the water oak, and the squirrels chasing each other in the cypress tree, all in the few blocks between my car and the coffee shop. I could breathe deeply and gain the joy in the moment that I'm seeking from longer walks in nature.

What in your life are you not allowing yourself to count because it seems too insignificant? Is there a way you can give credit to pockets of quiet meditative time that might not look like "official" meditation? Or quality moments with family members that aren't formally scheduled? Or ways you move your body or care for your health that your fitbit might not be recording?

How might your internal state change if more of your daily life "counted"?  You'll find yourself doing spiritual practices in the grocery store (a great place to send lovingkindness to strangers) or stopping to see pollen-laden honeybees in the flowers, like this one in the camellia that I saw yesterday on my "unofficial" nature walk. 

 

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It's probably not too late.

Is there something you've been agonizing about - something that you wish you had done but you didn't do yet?  That your mind tells you it's too late to do? This happens to me all the time with all kinds of things. As I work on my writing, as I plan to send letters that I don't send, as I consider options I haven't taken yet. My mind cries, "Too late! Too late!" Another version of this is being "so behind." As in, "I'm so behind. I'll never catch up." It could be laundry, it could be a training or a course you're taking, it could be sharing or organizing photos, dealing with your email or planning a trip.

The thing is, telling yourself it's too late or you're behind does nothing to motivate you, and doesn't solve the problem. If it really, genuinely is too late, then let it go, with compassion. Face forward and see what's before you, and choose your path from the options that are available. If it's not too late, then take a step. Take any small step. This is the main way I get things done, with a series of small steps that occasionally bloom into a bunch of really big steps. Early this morning, just before writing this, I went out into the front yard to enjoy sitting in the grass with the cats, and there was our resident box turtle, striding across the lawn and into the petunias.  She gets far with her little steps; if you go in to get the camera, by the time you come out she may be impossible to find again! Here's a photo of her in the back yard a couple of weeks ago:

 
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Right now, think of something you've been berating yourself about - about being behind or too late with. Can you either kindly release it or take a small turtle step?  I promise you will feel better. Quiet the part of you that wants to shame you for taking this long. Instead, honor your fallible humanness, and honor all the things you have been doing instead of this particular step.

Finding reverence in a giant pile of trash

Years ago, I made a rather silly claim that when I became an old woman I would spend my days picking up trash and pointing out the moon to people. I could see myself perfectly, doing exactly that. This January, while not yet being an old woman, I set an intention to walk in nature every day and to pick up trash during my walks. There would be plenty of moon sightings as well, with the month bookended by two full moons and even an eclipse.

It was a small goal, but quite meaningful to me.  I invited others to join me and we picked up a lot of litter, especially along the Mississippi River. Litter is like laundry or dishes - there is always more to do, so you have to approach it with that mindset.  Something you cleaned up yesterday will require a clean up again today.  It's wonderful spiritual work for me, and a great meditation into finding compassion both for myself and for all the people leaving the litter behind. And for questioning how we live today and how we might live more in alignment with what we believe.  

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Do you feel that the world is at a turning point? That what we seemed to be able to get away with in the past is no longer working? That what we could turn away from before, no longer feels ok to ignore? 

I have had the word "deepening" percolating throughout my intentions and journal writings for the past couple of years, and as the new year approached, I was excited to see the word in the musings of others in my circles. We are feeling the pull towards Deepening.  What would that mean, to deepen? There's so much skimming on the surface, so much to attend to, so many distractions and requests for our eyes and ears.  What does it look like to deepen? What would that mean for you? Would it mean slowing down? Letting go of some things to focus more intently on others? Setting down the technology? Taking a stand when you're usually quiet?

Two mornings ago, I woke up with another word floating in my dreaming/waking state: reverence. Reverence. How could I frame my life around reverence? I revere wild nature, freedom, balance, sustainability, kindness, peace. How am I living life to show that these are the things I revere?

What do you revere? Take a moment to consider. 

We can find reverence as we pick up the trash - whether that's a metaphor, or a genuine action we're taking in the world. 

Fifty is the new fifteen, or how I am aging backwards by being more myself

Two days ago, I turned fifty. It seems absolutely impossible, but it’s true.

It’s completely liberating.

I’ve loved my life up until now— I’ve experienced and enjoyed so much.  When I was 21, I was living in Kenya. When was 25, I met the man I’d marry. When I was 30 we bought a house. When I was 40 we paid off that house and I quit my teaching job that had served and inspired me for 16 years. At 41 I hiked the whole Appalachian Trail. At 45 I became a certified life coach. At 47 I joined my first dance troupe. In between all those milestones there have been so many little wonders. Tons of travel, exploring, camping, learning, reading, being, dancing, playing. Of course there’s also been grief, sadness, worry and anxiety, but there’s been far more joy.

The older I get the more I’m interested in simplicity— in less doing, more being. I'm learning to be fully present in any situation, rather than constantly surveying the horizon for the next opportunity or experience.  I'm looking internally to decide what's important.

I'm writing this from the beach in Destin, Florida, here for our annual Thanksgiving trip. My friend Amy stayed with me last weekend - we have known each other for 28 years, more than half our lives. We reminisced and remembered younger, sillier and sometimes wilder days, and also allowed ourselves to feel young and silly and wild. 

I baked homemade rainbow-colored cupcakes and Amy impulse-bought me a giant fuzzy caterpillar at the grocery store.  

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It was the perfect gift at the perfect time. Amy says I still look like I'm 12 and she can't understand how that's possible. A friend wrote on a photo I posted yesterday, wearing my new rainbow flowered swimsuit ideal for a teen, (see pic below) that I looked "15 and 90 - radiant and wise." What a compliment.

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There might be many reasons for this.  One, I've been very lucky to live a relatively easy life.  I haven't been aged much by trauma and outside circumstances. And then there's something I can't quite describe or understand, but I feel young inside. I always have and maybe I always will.  I'm not much for pretense or putting on airs. I'm pretty much a truth-teller.  I used to worry that I needed to be more "grown up" to be seen as "legit" by colleagues and clients, but I'm no longer so sure.

Being myself seems most real and most genuine.  And now that I'm 50, I'm excited to step into the power of being completely me, even more.  I can't wait to see what that looks like.

What I learned From The EClipse and A month off Social Media

I took the month of August off from social media.  I tried for a break from all media, realizing how much I immerse myself in the printed word as a form of distraction, soothing, entertainment, ease of boredom, placeholder activity, mind quieting method, etc. In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron recommends a week without reading because she notes that reading is a form of consumption that can get in the way of creation. She is sure correct.   

What I found is that even if I take away the reading, I will find some other way to avoid what I don't want to do.  It was truly fascinating to watch myself seeking, seeking seeking something for relief and distraction so I didn't have to focus on a big project. Taking away one's prime distraction only does so much. You also have to nurture the other side - the process of finding joy in doing the work. I'm still learning this.

My media-free month was not completely media-free.  Around week three I fell into a tumbling vortex of Vanderpump Rules, the absolute and most ridiculous opposite of being media free. It's a long story. There were other transgressions too, but that one is the funniest to me. If you don't know the show, look it up and you will see what I mean. It's the danger of having downloaded Hulu to my computer a few months ago so I could watch The Handmaid's Tale. It was like candy sitting in front of me and I'm sorry to say I ate it. A lot of it. I guess I can call it "life coach research" - ha!

During that media-free month, I was also super-lucky enough to travel unexpectedly with dear friends to Tennessee to see the "total eclipse of the sun". And yes, we sang "You're so Vain" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and any other songs with sun or moon in them the whole way there.  

By now you've read plenty about the eclipse, and how incredible it was.  I told myself I wouldn't take a photo, that I would simply be present, but again, I couldn't help myself, so this is what my  iPhone saw.  It was quiet.  It was awe-inspiring. The whole day and the days leading up to it felt like a remembrance of childhood when everything was new and carefree and each new season felt like a reason to celebrate.  It felt like childhood summer.  Cooking out, fresh cut grass, and happy people simply being. 

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The eclipse itself also had a quality of being something experienced before. A sense of time stopping and of deep yearning.  It was special and other-worldly. I'm glad I shared the moment with my husband and with good friends.  

Afterwards, I was the same person.  The land around us, atop a wild mountain in the Appalachians with a very magical overgrown golf course, was the same.  The animals went back to their regular lives.  The sun looked exactly the same as it always does. The message I received from the whole experience was this:

"You do not need to wait for a celestial event.  You do not need to wait for a message from the stars or planets.  You do not need to wait for any sign, signal or permission.  Everything around you is simply here to support you in connecting with your life and with the present moment. No special equipment, incantation, outside blessing, or initiation is needed.  No certification, no training, no reading, no preparation.  Simply be present and live."

The eclipse in all its glory had come and gone and here we were.

In that moment, I made a promise to keep doing the best I can to stop waiting for any special moment coming in the future, and to keep waking up, every moment possible, to the wonder of being alive, whether the feeling in the moment is happy or sad, frightening or amazing - to be alive and feel it.