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. 


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.

Solid Gold Goals

Do you have trouble sticking with your plans? Do your routines fluctuate wildly so you can't really call them routines?  

I know all about that, especially in summer where my schedule varies every day and my sweetheart is home more so there's more incentive to work on house stuff or do fun things together, and I mix up vacation-y stuff with work stuff.  Mostly I like the variety and the flexibility. 

But sometimes my most important (yet not urgent) to-do items get shuttled from one day to the next while I make breakfast smoothies, see clients, take walks, fold laundry, do some writing, play with the cats, and check my emails and FB way too many times.

Last week I was talking with my friend and fellow coach, Wendy Battino, and we ended our call by setting some concrete goals for ourselves. 

I kept trying to say "solid goals" and saying "solid gold" instead-- so we came up with Solid Gold Goals-- and then of course I had to spend about twenty minutes looking at old videos of the Solid Gold dancers - that sure was a crazy eighties show!

My idea for Solid Gold Goals (and this is not an original idea by any means but doesn't it sound great with this catchy splashy title?) is to come up with just three things every day - generally things that can easily get put off - things that aren't necessarily part of the daily maintenance or regular routine of my work, and number them 1-3, and make sure I do them. That day. In order.

Ideally I complete at least two of them in the morning. I've also tried this strategy with six things too, with the idea that you move anything not completed to the next day - keeping the order the same, so you stop skipping the to do items when other stuff pops up.

If you pair a strategy like this with relentless avoidance of social media checking, you can really get some things done!  

I'm fascinated by my avoidance - some call it resistance - and I try all kinds of things to address it, from compassionate observance, to sneaking up on it, to just going ahead and facing it head on.

Do you have some items that keep slipping from one day to the next on your to do list? 

Try a short list of three daily Solid Gold Goals and see what happens.

Photo by bodnarchuk/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by bodnarchuk/iStock / Getty Images

Lessons from redwoods

You cannot “capture” a redwood on your phone in that tiny 2x4 inch screen, no matter how hard you try. Even with the panoramic feature, even with your friend in the photo for scale, you can’t fit it into that two dimensional surface.  Even if you videotape and do a 360 degree turn and pan your camera all up and down.  I don’t think you can fully get the sense even if you had an IMAX 3-D camera.

No, you must come and stand next to one,  sit down at its base while raindrops fall toward you from impossibly high heights so you can watch them form perfect spheres looking like tiny glass balls before they splatter on your forehead.  Even sitting surrounded by hundreds of redwoods in a quiet dripping forest, even then your mind will struggle to take in their enormity.  Not only of size but age. 

Trees live slow lives.  They take their time.  They spend entire seasons simply waiting. Their experiences stretch over centuries.  There's a tree not far from my home that I visit regularly - indeed it's the tree pictured on the cover page of this website - the "Tree of Life", they call it.  It's been there since the 1740s.  My mind cannot fathom how long that really is, and how much the planet has changed since that time, and that's not even super-old for a tree.

Something happens to me when I review my own life - I wonder if this happens to you. I have a habit of forgetting what I’ve accomplished.  My mind tells me stories of all of the ways I avoid and hide and fail to act. When April and tax time comes and I review the year in more detail, I’m always surprised at how much did happen - how many clients I saw, classes I led, retreats I created, places I traveled, when my mind tells me I was just sitting around being lazy.

I haven't been writing as much recently.  I’ve been percolating a lot.  Reading. Thinking. There's so much that feels like upheaval in the world. And try as I might to avoid it, the first few months of 2017 I’ve felt a lot of fear. I don't like to write from a place of fear.

So I went to the redwoods. I asked them for help with my fear. My fear that I’m not doing enough, taking enough action to make the world better, making clearer choices to create peace and safety- to serve the greater good. They seemed bemused and puzzled. They did not have advice for me-- a short-lived soft-bodied human with such a fast-paced life and a speedy metabolism. They don't know what that's like. They don't move through the world. They're grounded firmly in place growing large and tall. When they fall in wind or storms, they simply become the building blocks for the new trees who follow. There's no loss, no tragedy, no remorse.  

The redwoods suggested that I simply keep living. They certainly weren't judging me or my choices. They welcomed me and told me they'd probably be there next time I returned, barring storm or human intervention. They can't be worried about it. That's not what trees do. And I appreciate that while I am not a redwood or an ancient live oak tree and cannot live my life that way, I can take a lesson in slowing down, staying present, and appreciating what is before me.  And that when I am afraid I'm not accomplishing enough, the antidote may actually be to take a break, invite a friend or two, and sit beneath a tree.


Maybe you need some juice?

When I was a young girl, my mother told me a story from her childhood about becoming quite ill with dehydration one summer. Her caregivers gave her a tiny cup of juice every 30 minutes, and she described how torturous it felt. She was dangerously dehydrated but the last thing she wanted was to drink. I remember being completely flummoxed by this story.  Why would this happen? Why didn’t she want to drink the juice? How could something so simple and curative feel so hard?


Last week I had a revelation about this dehydration and juice thing, in the middle of a session with a client, where this story of the cups of juice became a perfect metaphor for a universal struggle. We resist our cure, not to be difficult, but because when we’re suffering, the antidote is often the most unappealing thing we can imagine.


Cups of juice. We just need to get them and drink them. We don’t need to believe that we’ll feel better in the moment, or expect that we’ll actually want the juice even though every cell in our body is parched.


 photo credit Mark Adams

photo credit Mark Adams

Maybe we could even have some juice on hand— at the ready—so we don’t have to work so hard when our circumstances get rough or our thoughts grow dark.  


When we are struggling in small or big ways, we expect to be overjoyed to find a solution - like a drowning person would be about receiving a life ring.  How freeing to realize that’s not necessarily the case.  We have to hold our noses and drink the juice, not feeling saved at all, trusting that our relief may come later.


What area of your life is feeling like dehydration? It might be tricky - you won’t always feel the symptoms of dehydration coming on, so you need to get still and listen.


Are you missing time for you while you take care of everyone else? Are you putting off something important that feels too hard or too scary? Is your mind producing thoughts that are mean and judgmental? Are you avoiding exercise or bingeing on crappy food?  Are you ignoring your clutter piles? Are you hesitating to address important issues in your relationship?


What cup of juice might help, even though it initially feels better to be distracted by your phone, extra activities, bingeing on Netflix or avoidance napping?


Is it a walk outside? Making the phone call? Sitting down to write? Going shopping for some fruits and veggies? Throwing out the junk mail? Doing the bookkeeping? Meeting someone for that hard conversation? 


Maybe it’s time to let yourself have some juice.

Lessons from a spider

 This is the actual spider spinning her web by moonlight.

This is the actual spider spinning her web by moonlight.

Earlier this month while I was in Florida I watched a spider spin her web by moonlight. She is the type of spider who makes a fresh web each night and takes it down in the morning, and she was nearly done with her handiwork.  I didn't see what happened, but a few minutes later the web was broken and completely down.  It might have been a breeze that knocked it or one of the dogs catching the guy wire. I felt terrible once I noticed.  She would have to start completely over! 

The spider probably wasn't sighing.  She wasn't worried.  She simply began the task of rebuilding.  And in an hour or so she was done.  With plenty of time to catch her dinner.

Unlike the spider, I can be very whiny about building things.  I get frustrated with formatting on my computer.  I get annoyed resizing photos and taking all the little steps to move things around on a screen. I especially dislike having to re-do things that I've already done once before.  

But rebuilding is part of what we do. And creating fresh. We can be like the spider and just do it, rather than whining about how hard it is or how it doesn't look right. The spider doesn't care if all her threads are completely evenly spaced, as long as they do the job.  They are close enough.

How freeing to focus on the building and the creation.  How lovely to approach my work this way - don't you agree?