Ten Things to Remember to Live an Awesome Life

After I came home from California last month with my head full of the 12 permaculture principles and the 20 things I remembered while I was away, I read a list somewhere of 9 ways to live a great life. It was a compelling enough list that I wanted to remember the 9 things and try to incorporate them into my every day practice. I envisioned myself creating a journal and pasting the permaculture principles and my 20 things and this 9-point list into the front of it and reading all three lists each morning. But, I didn’t paste them into a journal. I don’t think I even read the list of 9 things more than once. And now, several weeks later, I cannot find the list nor can I remember where I read it! I’ve scoured my email inbox (I did not Star it in Gmail) and my Facebook Wall (I did not post it to share with my friends) and all the blogs I follow, and I absolutely cannot find the list. I cannot even remember if it was written by a woman or a man; there is no energy signature attached to the memory. It is very strange. All I remember is that I wanted to save it and read it every day and that I was impressed that it was a 9-point list, rather than a 10-point list, as this concision somehow added to its astuteness.

I let this memory-lapse really annoy me for about a day; then I decided that rather than worrying about it any further, I would write my own list of 9 things. So I did.

And I was pretty happy with it. But then it occurred to me that my list was in part based on an assumption that was not clearly stated anywhere and that was unacceptable, so, even though it might mean my list is slightly less awesome than the now-lost-to-me-forever 9-point list that someone else wrote, I added a 10th thing so I could include that assumption.

I do not claim that any of the things on this list are original to me. In fact, I am fairly certain this list is just a compilation of the best things I’ve heard or, more likely, read. I will refrain from expounding on each point. Other writers have already elucidated these points beautifully, so I will point you to them and let that suffice – with one exception. This entire blog is about learning how to do number 10 on the list, so more on that will definitely follow.

So here it is. I hope it speaks to you. Please let me know your thoughts, edits, or additions in the comments!

Holden Beach Sunrise 2009

Nine Ten Things to Remember to Live an Awesome Life:

1. You are not a body with a spirit. You are a spirit with a body.

2. You came to this planet – at this time, and this place, in this body, with this family – to learn how to love. (Yes, think Richard Bach here. Even better, think William McDonough’s Prime Directive: How do we love all the children, of all the species, for all time? Make answering that your life’s work and you will definitely live your most awesome life.)

3. All that is required of you in this lifetime is to be fully present with an open heart. You were born in this state, but it may take you all of your adult life to re-learn how to sustain it.

4. In order to maximize the opportunity you have been given to live, take care of your physical body daily. Eat real food, rest, sleep, MOVE!, laugh, and enjoy the company of other beings.

5. Happiness is essential to your own well-being and evolution, as well as to that of the planet’s. If you are not absolutely, 100% convinced that this is true, please visit Dreamsmith  and download and read Kelly Wagner’s free ebook, A Quantum Leap: the Dreamsmith guide to creating a life you love. (Kelly includes her own list of 7 Daily Practices for Creating  a Life You Love in this, too!)

6. Cultivate gratitude in your life in order to optimize your own happiness and effectiveness as well as the happiness and effectiveness of those with whom you interact.

7. Say “no” only if it leads to a more expansive “Yes!” This is slightly different wording than Samantha uses, but I think it clearly states my current thinking. Please take a moment now to visit Samantha Sweetwater’s blog and read her excellent post on this.

8. Do not waste energy comparing yourself to others. If shorthand helps, try, “Keep your eyes on your own paper” or “Stay on your own yoga mat.”

9. Live the life that only you can live.

10. Grow into the light.

20 Things I Remembered

On my most recent birthday, I flew to San Jose, California for a 9-day Regenerative Leadership and Permaculture Design course. I went to learn about permaculture. This was a word I first heard when I was a senior at the University of Michigan in an Eco-Philosophy course taught by Henryk Skolimowski, back in the spring of 1990. At the time, I had a faint idea that maybe it had something to do with farming the permafrost. But, of course, I was wrong. Still, all these years later, I had little idea what permaculture was, just some recurring sense that it was related to the things I am interested in. So, I decided to write a book about it in order to have a reason to dedicate myself to learning about it. Fifty pages into my novel, I flew off to learn about this topic that was calling me – and, I quickly realized that I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Permaculture was essentially a word that could be linked to every thought I’ve had since that Eco-Philososphy course with Henryk.

But even more surprising than finding that I was already at home with permaculture was some of the things I remembered while I was in California that I had long ago forgotten. I have mostly worked alone over the past nine years, with very little feedback on who I am or what I do and so it is always instructive for me to be immersed in a group for any period of time. On top of that, the course concluded with two days of facilitation by Samantha Sweetwater, who helped us know things through movement and meditation and reflection more than through direct instruction. Her smile and her energy were a true gift.

The following is a list of things I wrote to myself on the plane home the day after the course concluded. They are things I think I have known – at least on some level – before, but they are things that are also easily forgotten. I did not want to forget them again and so wrote them down as a permanent reminder. I have tried to have regular contact with this list in the month that I have been home so as to keep the ideas fresh in my mind.

The first thing on the list was remembered while we were meditating on a mountain in Los Altos in late afternoon, sitting on the ground in an oak grove. The light was golden, and it reminded me strongly of the light I photographed this Japonese Acacia tree at Versailles in in October. I need to thank Samantha for providing the meditation space for this memory to come to me, as well as my post-meditation partner Charolett Knapic who smiled and patiently asked, and re-asked, the question, “Why are you here?” while tears streamed down my face and I struggled to find the words to answer. I must also thank Danielle Koppel for the series of conversations several winters ago that led to the articulation of the idea that I am here to hold light. Without those conversations, this meditation might have led me somewhere else completely. And, of course, I must thank the trees, and the sunlight, and the mountain and all of the Life that dwells upon it.

Japones Acacia at Versailles, France

20 Things I Remembered While Sitting Amongst the Trees

at Hidden Villa in Mountain View California

February 25, 2013

1. I was born onto this planet at this time because I truly love this place and I want to be here to hold light and spark the transformation needed to preserve the abundance and diversity of life on this planet.

2. I came here to hold light. Therefore, my presence here is all that is required of me. To be here. To be open. To be present. To witness.

3. If I can learn how to BE HERE, perhaps that will be the support others need to be able to learn to be here, too.

4. I am a passionate, articulate, visual, integrated, multi-talented soul with plenty of time in which to create. My life is Yes. My life is Both-And.

5. I do not need to create the one, perfect project (life’s work) to be able to use all of my talents and passions. Because my life is Both-And, I can create a fulfilling, effective, wildly passionate and creative life by pursuing several projects that move me deeply. I may need to pursue these projects in a serial rather than a simultaneous manner in order to achieve excellence and effectiveness.

6. Excellence and effectiveness are two of the core values I want to embrace. These are not to be confused with Perfection, however, which is a brake rather than a catalyst.

7. Moving my body expressively – not just for exercise – is essential to my well-being. As with yoga, dance and creative, expressive movement clear chakras and energy centers and flow joy through my being.

8. A huge part of my knowing lives in my third chakra, at the top of my belly. It is crucial that I keep this chakra clear and open and moving energy.

9. In the past, I have used food inappropriately to numb my full awareness. The upshot has been that I have piled weight, fat, and poisons on top of my third chakra to limit its ability to respond to my environment and communicate important information to the other parts of me who have been driving the ship.

10. To keep all of my chakras, but especially my third, open and clear and fully capable, I must not only move expressively, but also eat a diet that supports the full well-being of my body.

11. I am ready to commit to dramatically reducing or eliminating the most poisonous foods in my diet. These include high fructose corn syrup, sugar, fatty foods, and animal flesh.

12. I am willing and able to commit to greatly reducing my consumption of cheese, eggs, and dairy products to improve my well-being, reduce the planetary impacts of cow and chicken production, and to support my ability to co-create with all beings on this planet.

13. If I hope to re-animate the world for others, I must also re-animate it for myself. One way to do this is to recognize each being I encounter and appreciate its being-ness and power. Therefore, I am cultivating a practice of gratitude for the food I eat.

14. If I truly hope to co-create a new reality with all of the world’s beings, it would be best if I adopted a completely vegan diet.

15. As I move through my days, it is important that I take time to speak to animals, plants, and water in joyful recognition of each being’s innate beauty, power, and intelligence.

16. I am in the process of deepening my energy healing practices and am filled with the intention to give Reiki to myself and my family daily, as well as to share it as fully as I am able with all whom I encounter.

17. I breathe into my life and experience an abundance of all that I need, especially an abundance of time and energy to create and experience in the most satisfying ways.

18. I am powerful. I can hold huge visions with integrity.

19. I am fully capable of creating anything and everything I imagine. Therefore, I will imagine and create excellent things and experiences.

20. I am enough. I am ready. I am beautiful because I am Life and Life is innately beautiful, enough, and always seeking and maximizing opportunity.

♥ ♥ ♥

Do any of those things resonate with you?

Can you create a space in which you can get enough distance from the pull of your every day life to remind yourself of who you truly are and what you need to remember? A few moments might be all you need.

Your Invitation to Join My New Project!

Recently, life has had an air of expansiveness. Have you felt it? The feeling that anything is possible; that there is enough time and enough energy to do the things that bring real joy and not just the satisfaction of crossing something off the almighty To-Do List. The feeling that ample resources have already been gathered and now there is an opening to actually begin doing the real work, not just preparing for it. Seriously, have you felt it? I hope you have! It is an exciting and delicious way to experience the world, and such a welcome relief from the worries and stresses and not-ready’s and overwhelming not-enoughs that can dominate life when we let it.

After several years of starting and stopping various projects of importance to me and surfing waves of manageable depression that rolled in along with feelings of inadequacy and “stuckness,” last July I was rear-ended in my car while I was stopped on the freeway trying to exit during evening, rush-hour traffic in Raleigh. It was the second time I had been rear-ended while stopped during my commute and it was the second car that was totaled as a result. It also turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly I found myself in the kind of depression that was so deep I couldn’t stop crying and I lived my days in dread of having to face even the most mundane of my life’s responsibilities. I got news from my doctor that I was heading rapidly toward diabetes and news from my husband that I had become nearly impossible to live with. I am fortunate enough to have health insurance, thanks to my hard-working (and patient and loving) husband, and in August, I began seeing a therapist who helped me begin to put things in perspective.

By mid-September, I was feeling much better, was taking better care of my health, and had become a pleasant person again. Almost as a reward, I received the Message from the Universe that I had been expecting to receive during the cross-country bike trip I did in 1998 and had despaired of ever receiving. It was an understated-though-profound message and it quietly and suddenly shifted my entire perception of life. It enabled me to rewrite the last chapter of my memoir, Your Mileage May Vary, so the book ends on what I feel is the authentic note on which I always felt it should end. (I posted the new, last chapter on the book’s website and you can read it here if you are interested.)

In October, Hans and I spent an exhilarating and exhausting ten days in Paris. It was our first trip outside of North America and it fired up our desire for more international travel. Despite the months of planning, neither of us was convinced the trip would actually happen. We spent many moments pinching ourselves and saying, “We’re in Paris!” It was a true perspective-shifting experience and it heightened my new feelings that anything was possible.

In November, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and got serious about writing the novel I had spent much of the year outlining. The main character in my novel is going to be someone who becomes deeply involved in Permaculture, which is the application of principles observed in nature to design in the human world. So, in December, when the Regenerative  Leadership Institute in California opened registration for its next Permaculture Certification course, I signed up, justifying the expense and the time away as necessary to the completion of the novel.

And that brings me almost up to the present. On my birthday last month, I was on a plane flying to San Jose, California for a nine-day certification course and just last Friday I received my Regenerative Leadership and Urban Permaculture Design certificate in the mail! Image

Considering that I did not truly know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the course and had given myself permission to not finish and/or not get my certificate if it proved to be too much to handle, I was thrilled to receive the piece of paper in the mail. The permaculture course was an exciting experience, and one I’ll elaborate on in other posts, but I’m going to skip ahead now and tell you about the project I’m excited to be launching!

Starting today, I will be using this blog to write about my Personal Permaculture Experiment. I can see your eyes glazing over from here! I know that “permaculture” is not a familiar or obvious term, but I promise you it is an exciting one. So for my first permaculture project, I will be applying the permaculture principles to my own life and showing examples of how you might apply them in your life on a personal or community-level basis. I will also be blogging about my novel’s progress and, hopefully, also making more regular posts about the other things going on in my life.

I will be back here on Wednesday with a list of 20 Things I Remembered while I was on my permaculture retreat in California and again on Friday with a list of 10 Things to Remember to Live Your Most Awesome Life. Then, every Monday, I’ll be here discussing the exciting art of Permaculture!

Are you ready to take another road less traveled? If so, I’ll see you Wednesday!

Twelfth Night

It is the fifth of January and, in my neighborhood, almost all of the holiday decorations have been taken down. Those light strands and inflatable snowmen that remain have gone unlit and uninflated for several days now. For my neighbors, Christmas clearly was over when all the boxes and trash were hauled to the curb on the 26th. Then it was on to New Year’s, out with the old and in with the new, and firm intentions for Change.

What most people don’t realize is that tonight is Twelfth Night, the night when everything is reversed, when kings are ruled by peasants, and the world is turned upside down. Traditionally, it marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas and is a night for merrymaking, wassail, pastries, and gift giving. It blows my mind that Americans would ignore another excuse for parties, drinks, gifts, and great food, but on the whole we have forgotten all about the twelve days of Christmas. By this point, we’re supposed to be five days into our 2012 diet and fitness program and focused on the projects and goals we have set for the coming year, not still reveling in a holiday that began last year.

When I sat down to write this post, I typed this sentence: It is only the 5th of January, and already I am running out of time! As I sit here, trying to figure out what this post is about, I am realizing that I am exhausted. This season, I didn’t take off nearly enough time from my job to rest and prepare myself for all the hard work that is to come, so already I am feeling stressed, looking at what lies ahead of me, and feeling completely overwhelmed and clueless as to how I will find the time to get it all done.

In my personal life, I’ve been mulling which word to choose for 2012 and, while trying NOT to make unrealistic resolutions I will never keep, trying to figure out exactly what vision I would like to hold for the year. Last night I sat in this same chair with a notepad trying to figure out how many hours are left in the week after a full-time job and commuting eat up about 55 of them and how to divide that remainder so I get enough exercise and sleep to lose weight and improve my health while still having enough time to read and write and explore the ideas that make life worth living and, oh yeah, spending time with my husband and the poor dog whose life is already lonely and mind-numbingly boring enough. So, if I spend five hours a week at the gym and want to write/read/research/experiment/do art sixteen hours a week and take the time to prepare all of my meals at home, I can have 7 hours of sleep per night. Or, I can cut back the writing et al. to 12 hours per week and get eight hours of sleep, but then how do I want to slice up those 12 hours between writing, reading, photography, blogging…. And who am I kidding? There is no way I am going to write from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and then put the computer away and go to sleep by 9:15 so I can get up at 4:45 to be at the gym by 5:30. If the wheels are turning and the words are flowing, I’m going to be up ’til midnight trying to get a draft finished. Then, I’ll get four hours of sleep and maybe go to the gym but probably not and then I’ll start the next day already behind and feeling guilty. Ugh.

In the living room, my Christmas tree is still lit. Outside, the blue icicles and the white LED Christmas lights still illuminate the front of my house. Tonight Hans made it home before I did and plugged all the lights and the tree in for me so I would see them and get happy as soon as I turned onto our street. And I did get happy. The lights were a hug from him before I even turned off my car’s engine. I promised myself I’d stop plugging in the exterior lights after tonight – my way of dealing with the neighborhood peer pressure to pack them away – and take them and the Christmas tree down this weekend. But, if this is truly my last year to live, then that means this is the last night I will arrive home to my family in a house lit by Christmas lights. I will take down the Christmas tree and spend the rest of the winter in a dark living room, waiting for the light to return. And this makes me very sad. If this is my last Christmas, then I am not ready for it to be packed back into boxes.

And, as it is January, if I have less than six months remaining, how do I want to spend my time? Can I really begin the new projects of 2012 when there are still things from 2011 I want and need to do – like writing personal letters to Tad, Carri, Chris, and Patrick thanking them for helping to make 2011 wonderful and writing that recommendation for Martha that I’ve been writing in my head for months and finally writing to Scott to tell him to own his genius, no matter what labels the rest of the world tries to apply to him?

I think this New Year needs a gentler start. I am not setting anything in stone, not spending hours writing out specific goals for every month of the year, not creating charts to track daily actions designed to help me modify my behavior so that I more closely approximate perfection. I’m going to spend as much time as I need looking at my messy life, deciding what is truly worth my time, and exploring what makes me happy. I am going to spend evenings photographing the sunset off my deck, playing with paint with my nieces and nephew, and cuddling with the sweetest dog on the planet. I am going to hold my husband’s hand on the couch and in movie theaters and whenever he’s moving slowly enough that I can catch him. I’m going to call friends. I’m going to finish reading a novel! Then, maybe, I’ll make some plans.

The word Imbolc came to me in a dream a few nights ago. I did not know at the time that it was the name of a Sabbat that takes place at the beginning of February. Sounds like the perfect occasion to take down a Christmas tree.

rEvolution

“I see you.”

When it comes to power, those three words must be on par with “I love you.”

If you are doing something you shouldn’t, those three words can be quite scary. With any luck, they may even set you on a better path.

But if you are feeling alone, invisible, or taken for granted, those three words can reaffirm your value in the world, convince you that you do exist, that you do count, that you are unique and beautiful. These are the words so many of us – even those of us who may not appear abandoned or lonely – long to hear, whether we are aware of our need or not.

As I think about how the economic upheavals of the past 3 years will reshape our society in the long-term and what recent events will teach us, I come down to 1 major lesson: Interdependence. This financial crisis has demonstrated that the governments, institutions, ideas, and people that populate this planet are intricately connected in ways that we have not previously appreciated and cannot fully predict or easily see. The truth is, we belong to a single body, a single organism. We all thrive or, ultimately, we all die. If we deny this, we die.

If our goal as a species is to thrive as part of a healthy planet, this newly focused lens of interdependence highlights the many challenges that exist at every level of human interaction, from relations between nations down to relations between next door neighbors.  In essence, we are being challenged to let go of our Us vs. Them mentality and widen our gaze beyond that of our own narrow experience to include that our neighbor’s–whether that neighbor lives a few feet away or thousands of miles. We are being called to witness the events of the world, how they affect us individually, and how they affect others, as well as to consider the part we play in those events.

At their foundation, the protest movements that have swept around the globe in 2011 have been an answer to this call. Individuals all over the world are stepping forward to shine light on the injustices in their lives and to call for change. They are not all speaking with one voice; they are not all moving in one direction; they are not all pointing to the same problems or proposing the same remedies. They are, however, listening to each other. They are stretching their capacity to view the world from the perspective of others. They are, in essence, learning to see with new eyes.

I don’t have to debate whether this rEvolution is mine or if the protestors in the streets speak for me. I don’t have to take an overnight bus to Wall Street or even leave home. I don’t need to make a sign or chant any slogans. To spark my own rEvolution, I need only truly look at the person next to me and say, “I see you.”

Not Just Any Old Mid-Year Review

Today marks the beginning of the second half of 2011. For many of us, that means it’s time for more boring (or this year maybe even scary) financial and personnel reviews at work, budget reviews at home, and, for the really brave, a check on the progress of those New Year’s Resolutions. (What were those again?) Blech.

What I really want is an accounting of where the first six months of the year have gone. Seriously! Time makes no sense to me any more. It comes and goes and in a blink a whole ‘nother month has vanished. I want June back! Some truly awesome and rewarding things have happened for me in the first half of this year, but they are taking their toll. I am about maxed out with stress and from the creep of my professional life into what I would like to think of as my private life, and I have a whole list of goals for this year that I haven’t even begun to aim toward.

As I am preparing to release a memoir of my experiences during the largest cross-country bicycle event in U.S. history, I now recognize that my biggest, truest goal is to learn to be the Traveler without ever needing to leave home; to be always present and aware of newness and beauty wherever I am; to be my best self in the midst of my life, whatever that life entails at the moment.

At the same time, I really do want to travel more. I joined Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel this year, and have racked up more than 100,000 airline mileage points for myself and more than 50,000 for my husband in the last two months alone. There is a serious trip in my future–I just don’t know where or when yet. (Chris would advise that you have a destination and a timeframe in mind as motivation before you begin travel hacking, but my motivation to Go! and See! and Learn! seems to be all I need.)

I have this sense that I should go into the world to write about environmental issues and amazing places and good work being done by people who inspire me. But do I really need to go to Borneo or Costa Rica or Belize to do that? Can’t I find plenty to keep my inquiring mind busy and my bleeding heart satisfied without leaving my own community? Wildness is everywhere if you look hard enough, and good people do good things every day of the week in towns and cities all around my own country, my own state. And yet, I am driven to experience new places and people, and, maybe more importantly, to experience myself in new situations and locations. The craving to be on the move is getting stronger the farther into my past the Big Ride Across America slips. (I daydream daily about being able to do the week-long “Mountains to Coast” Cycle NC ride in October, even though I know full well all of my vacation time will be gone before fall even begins.)

So, as I look over the impressive (if I do say so myself) but short list of things I’ve accomplished this year and the considerably longer list of things I have not, I am faced with several questions. How do I recognize and express what is already contained within while also seeking to learn more? How do I both “be the traveler without leaving home” and build a life that places more significant emphasis on travel and adventure? At the moment, I have absolutely no idea.

At the library last week I stumbled upon the book A Year to Live by Stephen Levine, and to complicate things further – in order to, ultimately, simplify things – I have decided that today is the beginning of my 365-day mindfulness experiment in living as if this were my last year on Earth. The hope of Levine’s book, I believe, is to help you face your fears about death – and about life – so that you can live fully awake in each moment that you are blessed to be alive. This includes increasing your capacity for gratitude, for forgiveness for yourself and others, and for weathering uncertainty with grace, as well as being aware of (but not necessarily reacting to) the various emotions and urges that drive behavior and shape experience. I am hoping the process will help me act more frequently from an urge toward freedom and joy and less from an aversion to discomfort and fear.

I have read a little more than half of the book and I have been struck by so many lovely, simple-sounding phrases that seem so elusive, my favorite of which is “we rest in being.” Wow! What must that feel like? Bye-bye to-do list, today I am resting in being. Sounds heavenly! (I know, someone out there is saying, “You’re missing the point! You can rest in being while you knock out the to-do list!” But I’m fried right now, and the luxury of “just being” is so appealing, regardless of the fact that I probably have no friggin’ idea how to actually participate in such a state.) The sentence that sparked this particular post, however, is:

This is the big dream in which we are awake to the nature of our sleepiness, and know that our life is not defined by its experiences but by the heart that receives them.

Doesn’t that just about say it all? This tension between the ego’s emphasis on experiences and the heart’s emphasis on being open to whatever comes fascinates me and seems completely worthy of a year’s exploration.

Last night, as I was preparing to begin my new, only year, I could feel myself begin to pull away from the idea: I’m so exhausted right now, maybe I should put this off until next month after I get back from the festival? Or maybe even until September after I do the Ride Without Limits? It would be nice if I could give such an important experiment my full energy and attention, and now is really not the time for that. Wow. I hadn’t even been given the one year to live “sentence” yet, and already I was trying to postpone facing the possibility of death!

I quickly realized, however, that people who are truly going to die this year don’t get to put off their last year until it fits conveniently in to their work schedule or until they have the energy to deal with it. And putting this off would mean continuing to live much the way I have been: tired, frazzled, motivated by fear at least as often as by joy, and constantly in a state of striving. It would mean putting off facing real fears and continuing to live in a swirl of conflicting ideas about who I am and who I “should” be. A year of living mindfully, I’m thinking, might go a long way toward helping me gain clarity about what direction my life should take next.

And so, today, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn to live this year fully. As Mr. Levine might suggest, it’s time to catch up with my life.

*Your Mileage May Vary

Thirteen years ago this week I was Rider #1514 in the 1998 GTE Big Ride Across America to benefit the American Lung Association. It was a 48-day, 3,254-mile journey by bicycle from the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of lung disease. Thirteen years ago today, Day 8 of the ride, we were traveling between Kooskia and Powell, Idaho, but I was not on my bike. I had been taken to a hospital the night before with three other injured or ill riders and crew where I had been ordered off my bike until we cleared the mountains and had crossed into Montana. I was having an asthma attack that had begun two days earlier and would not break.

Before the ride began, I had never participated in any organized rides. I didn’t even have a bike when I signed up for the adventure nine months earlier. So on the first full day of summer, June 22, 1998, I was an overweight, asthmatic, novice cyclist who was already well acquainted with the SAG (Support and Gear) bus as we climbed along the Lewis and Clark trail through Clearwater National Forest toward a small, gravelly, clear-cut lumber camp at the top of a mountain that would serve as our home for the evening. Many of the riders who had a goal of finishing each one of the summer’s miles astride their bikes would no doubt have deemed my first week a failure. Or, perhaps more accurately, they would have deemed me the failure. I, however, had come to terms with my physical limitations early on and decided that the summer’s adventure happened regardless of my mode of travel. I could be as present, as profoundly alive and awake, on a bus as I could on a bike. I was going to make the most of every moment. For me, Day 8 passed in a sunny, joyful moving meditation spent among friends and ended with a rainbow arcing through the twilight as our camp was bathed in deep, orange light.

Today, I am engaged in the process of pushing Your Mileage May Varya memoir about the Big Ride, out into the world. I had a finished draft of the manuscript by the summer of 2001, but while I received several letters of interest from agents, no one snapped it up prior to my move to North Carolina in 2003. The manuscript got put away as the more immediate demands of finding a job and a place to live took precedence, but it resurfaced periodically for revisions, refusing to let me abandon it altogether. My husband and my friends have lived with me and this manuscript for so long they are thoroughly sick of us both; yet, they keep urging me onward as I complete each step that will eventually launch it.

I need to get this manuscript out into the world because that is how I will finally finish the trip. Publication Day will be my true Closing Ceremony. I did not ride every one of the miles of the Big Ride, but when I publish this manuscript, I will have demonstrated, if only to myself, a different kind of courage and a different kind of perseverance. I will be making good on a promise I made to myself – a promise I, apparently, can’t bear to break.

The problems arise when I forget one of the best lessons I learned on the Big Ride: comparisons don’t matter. I loved my Big Ride experience and finished feeling proud of what I’d accomplished. But, at regular intervals since the ride’s conclusion, I have jumped perspective and started to judge my experiences, my “performance,” and my choices through someone else’s eyes. I’m never sure exactly who that someone else is, but I feel certain that someone somewhere–potentially many someones–will judge me harshly when the book is released. Since “death before SAG” was a mantra for several Big Riders that summer, it is not a stretch to imagine some of the harshest criticism coming from any of the 729 other cyclists who participated in the event.

The fear of these judgments has been crippling at various stages of the writing and editing process. It has only been made worse by agents and editors asking me to “justify” my manuscript’s validity in the marketplace. How can anyone really say that her memoir fills a gap that no other manuscript has filled or argue for why his memoir is better than all of its competition?

To get through this, I have finally realized that I have to take off one hat before I put on the next one. The Writer has to stop being the Rider if she is going to make the most of the material she is given. She can’t spend all of her time feeling guilty for getting on a SAG bus or regretting a thought that went through her head during an exchange with another rider if she is going to get on with the business of writing. The Editor has to stop being the sensitive, protective Writer if she is to shape the words for their best effect. And, the Marketing Manager has to stop being the embarrassed Rider, the shy Writer, and the constantly tinkering Editor if she is to put the book out in a manner that will garner the largest possible audience. Knowing this and accomplishing this, however, are two very different things.

I am at the Marketing Manager stage and yet I am battling the Rider, Writer, and Editor daily. The Rider wants me to publish the book without telling anyone – especially other Big Riders; she thinks (erroneously) that readers will simply stumble upon the book and happily shell out money to read a memoir from an unknown writer. The Writer wants me to wait to publish the book until she is happily ensconced in the middle of her next project and “won’t care as much” if the book gets ridiculed, or more likely, completely ignored. The Editor is the easiest to manage – all I have to do is keep her from opening the manuscript, because if she reads anything, she will want to change it.

The thought that keeps me going is that I have, at each of the previous stages, done the best I could. The Rider was completely overwhelmed and underprepared for the journey she undertook and yet she stuck it out, in her own way, and found meaning, joy, and long-lasting friendships everywhere she went. The Writer did everything she could to tell the story accurately and honestly, to preserve everyone’s secrets but her own, and to shape the actual events into a narrative someone might actually enjoy reading. The Editor hired someone to help her, researched grammar rules constantly, and did the best she could to preserve the language and perspective of the 29-year-old cyclist, despite the fact that she was getting constantly older and more removed from the events of 1998. And, now, I as the Marketing Manager owe it to the Rider, Writer, and Editor, to bring the project home. The book deserves the best cover I can design, the best copy I can write, a fun and appealing website, and someone standing behind it who believes in it. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell people about the book’s existence, regardless of the outcome.

Yes, as a purely literary endeavor, Your Mileage May Vary may still fail. There’s a chance that my experiences really are not worthy of a book. There’s a chance that I wrote a bad book. There’s a chance that the book still needs substantial editing to be worthy of publication. And there’s a chance that, even if I wrote a good book about a worthwhile journey, there is not a large enough audience for my memoir to make it “viable,” or, worse, that I do not know how to find the right audience for my book even if it does exist.

All that matters at this point, though, is that I continue moving the project forward. The contract I have is with myself alone. I have struggled too long to give up now. So for the foreseeable future, I will be keeping my eyes on my own work and reminding myself that in publishing, as in cycling, your mileage may vary – and that’s okay.

No More Tiny Boxes

 

I have always tried to be a good girl.

It’s sad, but true. I have always been the kind of person to learn the rules, follow the rules, and even, annoyingly, expect others to follow the rules.  I have been the park ranger asking you to remove your dog from the marine wildlife sanctuary (the Dog Beach is just a mile down the road, after all) and breaking your child’s heart by asking him to leave the shells he’s so carefully collected behind because they belong on the beach. I have been the neighbor who chases you down and offers you a baggie to pick up after your dog when you try to walk away and leave a fresh pile. I have been the cyclist who yells at you to “use your voice” when passing, and then yells my apologies for your rudeness to the person ahead of me as you also pass her without letting her know you’re there.

It’s not that I love rules, it’s that I understand the purpose they serve.  In general, if they make sense, I follow them and ask you to do the same.  (Believe me, I’ve lived in enough neighborhoods with Homeowners Associations to know that not all rules are good rules! If you want to leave your Christmas lights up until Halloween or hang unlined purple curtains with unicorns on them in your twin daughters’ bedroom with the street-facing window, go for it.)

I have to admit that when it comes to some rules – such as social ones – there is also an element of conformity involved, and with others – such as business ones – a fear of failure.

Take writing, for example. I still remember learning various grammar and punctuation rules in elementary school and I still cling to most of them – even though everyone else seems more than happy to throw them out – because they make sense and help make reading an orderly, coherent experience. Then, I went to graduate school to learn the “business” of professional writing: all the how-to’s and the industry standards and the best practices. I wanted to learn how to be a good writer as well as how to maximize my publishing opportunities and how to build a career. I learned how to format a poem vs. a short story vs. an article vs. a screenplay, how to choose which editor on the masthead to send your submission to, how to read a publication to determine whether your style, voice, or subject is a good match, when and how to seek an agent, what to expect from a publishing contract, how to set rates and ask for a raise, how to track submissions and when and how to follow up with an editor.  In more recent years, I’ve read about how to build a successful blog and how to build a platform before you even begin writing your book. 

All the while, I’ve been so obsessed with “doing it right” that I haven’t done anything at all – nothing of consequence, at least.  Even this blog, which I began with such enthusiasm, has been a victim. I write a blog post and happily send it out into the world, then soon after get reminded that a “successful blog” is one that is targeted to deliver a specific kind of information to a specific audience. This causes me to feel anxiety that my blog is about me (I’m supposed to try to fool you into thinking my blog is about you) and not targeted and really random, and as a result, several months pass before I allow myself to forget that my blog is doomed to “failure” long enough to write another post.  So, not only am I failing to build a successful blog, I’m also failing to satisfy my own needs for self-expression.

And, I’m sick of it.  Constantly trying to color inside the lines is exhausting! So, here’s public notice that, from now on, I’m only going to follow the rules I want to follow.  I’m 41 years old and ready to start making it up as I go along and making my own mistakes.  Seriously, what mistakes can I make at this point that I really can’t recover from?  So maybe I don’t maximize my opportunities or chart a nice, neat line to ultimate success.  At least I’ll be putting myself out there and making myself happy.  Entrepreneurship expert Pam Slim likes to say, “Test often, fail fast.”  I think I could learn to love that phrase.

So, the two cliches I intend to keep at the front of my mind going forward:

1. Rules are made to be broken,

and

2. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission (my husband’s personal favorite).

What I’m really saying here is that there are no “life police” checking to see if I’m following the rules for how to be a good adult or writer or wife or aunt or planetary citizen, and no one else knows me the way I do.  It’s time to stop trying to stuff myself into the boxes I think society expects me to fill and realize once and for all that I’m me and, no matter how I twist or turn or suck in, I’m never going to fit into a box made for or by someone else.  Any role I take on has to adapt to fit me because I’m no longer going to attempt to edit myself to fit into it.

Time to let it all hang out and enjoy doing it my way!  (Sorry! Couldn’t help it – I was a child of the ’70s, after all.)

The Power of Complexity

I have this habit of choosing to do something because it’s difficult.  Then, I find a way to make it more difficult.  Then I blissfully jump in to tackle the big, scary, very difficult thing.  This is great for awhile; sometimes, only for a very short while.  Then problems begin to arise.  Usually, they come one at a time and for the first several that crop up, I will doggedly attempt to find a solution and be quite proud of myself when I succeed.

Eventually, however, the number of problems that have arisen reaches some unforeseen tipping point at which the problems suddenly feel overwhelming.  It doesn’t matter that I have solved several of them and that only one or two problems are present currently, the process of trying to achieve my goal only to be continually thwarted by complication after complication becomes simply exhausting.  At this point, I throw up my hands and declare the complexity of the problem is just too great for me to manage.  And sometimes, I will drop the project completely.  Or at least for several months or even years before returning to look at it again with fresh eyes.

Sometimes, however – rarely, really – I realize that it is exactly because something is complex and difficult that it appeals to me.  If it didn’t have several layers of problems to solve, I would get bored and probably drop the project quickly.  When I realize this, there is a happy explosion in my brain and I am able to dive right back in and continue knocking down problems.

The most recent case of this comes from the fact that I recently signed up to cycle 200 miles in 2 days with The Ride Without Limits event to benefit Easter Seals – United Cerebral Palsy.  I have been on the email list for this ride every year since its inception, yet I never felt up to taking on the challenge either of fundraising or trying to get back up to that level of cycling skill. This year, however, I developed a pretty bad case of plantar fasciitis that limited my ability to walk far or fast and completely knocked me out of any chance of competing in triathlons this summer.  I have been afraid of cycling in North Carolina since I arrived eight years ago, but had started doing a thirteen mile route last summer to prepare for the two sprint triathlons I finished. Without really thinking through how much preparation a ride comprised of back-to-back centuries might require, I impulsively signed up with only seven weeks to train and raise the $250 donation minimum.  My first day back on the bike was a 52-mile group training ride of which I was able to complete 41 miles.  I was pretty impressed with myself and decided I was definitely in.

The challenges started coming almost immediately: what routes to cycle? how to manage water and bathroom stops when riding unsupported? how to get my stomach to accommodate Gatorade when the temperature was over 100 degrees without making me sick? how to get rid of the foot numbness and pain I experienced around the 30-mile mark?  how to manage the lower back pain I also experienced around the 30-mile mark? how to manage the frequent and numerous saddle sores that made consecutive days of riding especially painful (oddly, a relatively new problem for me)? how to find the time in my week to get in twelve to seventeen hours of training? how to manage my asthma?

I have not been satisfied with any of the routes I’ve tried.  My favorite option, though definitely the most boring, is to ride the same 13 mile loop I used for training last year four, five, or six times in a row until I’ve put in the miles I need.  This route, even though it has no shoulders and uses one road with regular, high-speed traffic, ensures I’m never far from my car and a cooler of water or a soccer field with porta-potties.  I’ve tried the American Tobacco Trail a couple times, but this can be challenging and slow (and actually quite dangerous!) due to the number of walkers, runners, and families who fill its narrow lanes on the weekends.  Plus, driving an hour to the trail and another hour home turns a six-hour ride into an eight-hour day, and I’d probably get more benefit staying closer to home and cycling those extra two hours instead of commuting.  I also learned about http://www.bikely.com and was able to find a “50-mile” route that went right past my house, but the route turned out to be 60 miles and includes stretches of roads that I don’t feel safe riding, so I haven’t repeated it beyond my first attempt.

I got new shoes – two sizes larger than the ones I used to cross the country 12 years ago! – which seems to have solved the foot pain and numbness, and I raised the handlebars in an effort to relieve the lower back pain that made me get off the bike every five miles to stretch after mile 35 but the back pain persisted.  On a long ride on my fourth weekend of training, I realized that one of my basic assumptions – that I could cycle 100 miles simply by staying on the bike 8 to 10 hours – was flawed because there was a very real chance that my core was not strong enough to allow me to sit on the bike that long!  If I had to get off to stretch every 5 miles for two-thirds of the day, I would not have enough time in which to complete the 100 miles, let alone be able to manage the constant pain.  So I immediately found and began practicing core exercises recommended by Active.com and, after only a week, I saw an increase in my strength, a decrease in my pain, and the happy ability to stay on the bike for twelve or thirteen miles at a time during this past weekend’s sixty-mile ride.

The moment I fell apart, though, and nearly threw in the towel came last Tuesday at about 5:45 a.m.  Just the day before I had seen a pulmonologist/lung specialist who said my lungs sounded perfectly clear and questioned my continued need for the daily dose of Advair that has completely changed my life since the prolonged asthma attacks I suffered on The Big Ride.  On Tuesday morning at 5:40 I climbed on a spin bike for an early class and realized I was having an asthma attack!  I nearly cried right there on the bike because I realized how many systems you have to manage in long-distance cycling–feet, ankles, knees, body/seat contact points, back, neck, leg muscles, stomach, lungs–along with the variables associated with heat, hydration, nutrition, and recovery.  It was just too much.  My lungs, apparently, were always going to be a wild card and an asthma attack could knock me out of any event at any point.

As it turns out, I didn’t cry, I just got really, really angry.  I finished the class, spinning at a constant tempo when my lungs prevented me from doing speedwork or climbs, showered, went to my car, called my husband – and cried.  I was so ready to be done.

But somewhere along my 75-minute commute to work, it occurred to me that I had chosen long distance cycling–just as I had triathlon–because it was a complex problem and one I had little assurance of mastering.  If it were easy, I wouldn’t bother with it. By the time I arrived at work, I was nearly giddy for having figured this out and completely dedicated to seeing the challenge through.  That evening in the 6:00 spin class, I had another asthma attack but instead of getting angry and frustrated, I remembered that I could up my dose of Advair from once daily to twice, dose with my albuterol inhaler every four hours, and try nasal lavage to decrease my chances of future attacks.  Realizing I had a plan I could follow–or the resources to find one–when a problem arose was comforting and has given me more confidence in the last week of training.  With ten days left to prepare for the ride, I am extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished with my training to date, but I know that on some level my ability to finish 100 miles two days in a row will be out of my control.  I’m going to show up, make a valiant effort, and be as surprised as anybody at how it all turns out.  I need a good surprise right about now!

As I have considered my penchant for taking on complex challenges, it occurred to me that maybe it’s time for me to create my own complex challenge with which to wrestle instead of accepting challenges defined by someone else.  I don’t regret for a moment having agreed to cycle on behalf of those with physical disabilities, but I do wonder if I don’t bounce from event to event in part to distract myself from the reality that I am not pushing myself hard enough in other areas of my life that matter most.  Is the challenge I really want to take on too complex?  Am I really not ready for it? Or am I refusing it simply because I am so emotionally invested in its “outcome” that I can’t bear to fail at it?  (Or maybe I can’t bear to succeed?)

What about you? What level of complexity do you find appealing? Do you experiment with different levels or find that there’s a fairly consistent level of difficulty in the challenges you set for yourself?  And, like me, is there a challenge sitting in front of you that you have yet to accept because it is one of your own definition and it somehow scares you more than others?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!

What I Can

I haven’t been doing enough yoga. I haven’t been on the mat since Danielle, chakra yogini extraordinaire, returned to Portland two weeks ago to lead her students there for the next nine months. My body needs the work. My shoulders and back are beginning to hold tension; my hips are tight. When I’m sitting at the computer or walking from one room to the next, I find my arms spontaneously floating over my head, palms touching, inviting me to engage in a series or two of Sun Salutations. But I don’t. I do a quick body scan instead, determine I can go another couple days without practicing before my body really needs it, and go on with the business at hand.

What I forget is that even if I think my body can go without it, my mind can’t. What I can’t immediately see is that tension builds up there, too, and this tension is even more dangerous. When stress accumulates in my brain, my picture of the world and my role in it gets distorted, my sense of my own power diminishes, my ability to stay grounded in the moment nearly disappears. Worry and fear-based thinking overtake calm and joy and the knowledge that I am exactly where I should be. I begin to strive which I experience as an attempt to mentally bend a situation to my will while becoming emotionally exhausted and even more frustrated in the process. Striving to change rather than accept. Striving to speed up rather than follow the natural rhythm of a process. Striving to have it be done rather than patiently, systematically doing. Wanting it all, fully formed, and perfect NOW rather than enjoying the organic unfolding and growth. Needing to check it off my list so I can move on to the next piece of the Universe with which I must do battle. Because that’s exactly what I’m doing–battling the Universe.

I didn’t go willingly into Danielle’s class this year. I had participated in her Energy Healing classes last year and been blissed to the max after each 90 minute session, but I balked at the idea of sweating in public and doing more strenuous work in a true yoga class. I prefered to do my Power Yoga at home by myself, doing the exact same poses in the exact same sequences every time I practiced without any witnesses to my body’s limitations. But the classes were given to me as a gift from my boss, so I went. It was frustrating, exhausting, maddening. The top of my yoga pants would roll down compelling me to pull it up after every pose, I couldn’t breathe in Child’s Pose, I couldn’t kick my feet over my head into Plow (well, maybe I could, but I would probably never walk again if I did), my shoulders were too tight to attempt Wheel, there was just too much of me to squeeze into some of those poses. And to top it off, when I thought I was so exhausted I couldn’t possible do another sequence, Danielle would invariably say, “Step or hop back to Plank,” signalling the beginning of yet another series of movements. At first, I could actually feel anger and rebellion well up in me when I felt she was pushing me beyond my limits. The Universe had shrunk to just my mat, me, and Danielle. I had two choices: lay down on the mat in protest, i.e., continue to battle the Universe, or step back to Plank and push myself through another series. This is how I learned to surrender. To let go of the anger and just keep moving – because with the exception of one day when I hadn’t yet recovered from the flu, invariably I could keep moving (regardless of whether I wanted to) – until Danielle finally said I could stop.

At the end of class I had been wrung out, physically and emotionally. My will had been reduced back to a reasonable size and I was too exhausted to worry or strive for anything more that day. I could move through the world in a state of peaceful presence, do my work without judgment, and enjoy being in my body.

Tonight, I’m awake typing this because when I went to bed worries about my finances wouldn’t let me fall asleep. When it comes to money, in some ways I feel I’ve been caught in a one step forward, two steps back situation (which is not really a fair assessment because, by any measure, I’ve been blessed), and I’m frustrated that emotional issues, and the same old time-management issues, have kept my writing and publishing from progressing more quickly. I see a happily creative professional future but I can’t seem to manifest it fast enough to satisfy my expectations. But like it or not, I can’t draw the right tenant for my house to me any faster through worry. I can’t control whether a publisher has the funds or the time to take on a new writer right now or whether an editor has already assigned a story very similar to mine to another writer. I can’t instantly materialize clips I haven’t done the work to earn.

So it’s time for more yoga. Lots of yoga. Yoga to melt my body and my fears. Yoga to shrink my will back to an appropriate size. Yoga to compel me to write every day without worry about outcomes. Yoga to support my efforts to adopt a healthier eating and exercise plan so I don’t lose my eyesight – or my life. Yoga to refocus my thoughts and actions on what I can do, experience, explore, and be, rather than what I can’t.