Month: January 2015

lazy joy

Just when I thought I couldn’t love my sister ANY more than I already do . . . she went ahead and agreed to write a blog for me this week. Here we go!

You know how people hire life coaches? I would like to be a lazy coach. Do you know someone who can’t slow down? Can’t under-achieve? Can’t just be in their PJ’s for an entire day? I can help them find peace in just sitting in front of a TV. Because, sometimes, I truly believe it is healthy to binge watch an entire season of House of Cards on Netflix in your robe and slippers, comfortably reclined with the shades drawn. Eating and drinking whatever makes you feel good at the moment with absolutely no more thought put into the decision other than that. What makes you feel good at that exact moment. Dishes in the sink? Laundry? No biggie. R-E-L-A-X. Zone the fuck out and not think of anything but what you are watching and putting into your mouth. Total solitude. Total abandonment of all issues. Just some good old fashioned couch potato entertainment. There is plenty of joy in that.

I reckon she’s really tapped into something here. After all, we already have a robust slow food movement and even slow communities are gaining traction across the globe – why not add a slow coach to the list?! Nicky, you truly fill me with JOY!

a glimpse of grace

I had a mini break through last night while continuing to learn proper freestyle swimming. During my previous five attempts or so I found myself gasping for breath during each sideways inhale. Rationally I convinced myself I needed to fill up my lungs to their fullest capacity each time in order to complete three solid strokes before turning my head to the opposite direction and once again opening my mouth as wide as possible to gulp in a full breath of air. This was fraught on many levels. First, the wide panic of my open mouth often consumed not just new air but sea water as well. Also, the undercurrent of panic is never a good energy to have while trying to learn something new. And finally, the repetitive gasping for BIG breaths of air made the entire attempt quite exhausting and I couldn’t make it one full ocean pool length before needing to stop and properly capture my breath.
Last night was different. As I entered the pool I seemed to make it one full length with relative ease. Only after I reached the wall did I think about what I had done differently. Since my chest wasn’t heaving like a fish out of water, I could see that instead of gasping for the fullest breath possible down the lane, I had simply taken a breath after every 3rd stroke. There wasn’t anything remarkable about each breath, only that they delivered the right amount of oxygen to my lungs during each cycle.
Somehow, intuitively, I gave up the struggle and found ease in its place.
Perhaps when life feels hard . . . it shouldn’t be. Maybe we’re just pushing in the wrong direction or simply applying too much force. In yoga they teach the interplay and awareness between effort and grace. Last night I had a small glimpse of that and JOY definitely followed.

life path versus purpose

Growing up within the decades of a hyper aware Oprah influenced culture, its impossible not to contemplate why we are here and what is our specific life purpose. Bookshelves are filled with experts willing to share their techniques in helping you fulfil your destiny and articulate your purpose. Its a daunting question for most and can often lead to negative thought patterns of not contributing to a noble enough cause. An unfulfilled dream or lack of purpose can be a dangerous backdrop to life. I’ve been through a few of these fleeting stages in my own life. Finding myself navel gazing and contemplating my role in the Universe – challenging myself to do something with real meaning and purpose versus pursuing the career that has brought me great levels of professional success and varying levels of fulfilment.

But recently there’s a growing sense of personal discontent and even slight annoyance with the notion of identifying my purpose in life. Instead, perhaps the WHAT we chose to pursue is infinitely less important than the HOW we conduct ourselves no matter the location, situation or audience.

Surely there are those who choose a grand and admirable WHAT such as saving the whales . . . and yet perhaps they do so with anger and negativity that becomes toxic. Just as surely there are banking clerks who serve with so much levity and kindness that it overflows onto each customer. For me, the HOW we behave and make others feel in our wake has to be more important than our identifiable “WHAT do you do?”

Maybe our real purpose on this planet is to let go of our obsession with WHAT we are doing as a career and instead be aware of HOW we effect each other. Our guiding light could be kindness, compassion or even to be a positive force. Imagine performing every task and greeting every stranger as well as friend with those intentions. For me that sounds like a solid path to JOY.

being embarrassingly bad

I’ve never been so bad across so many things at the same time. It all started with the best intention. I’m a self-proclaimed neophiliac and harbor a deep love for all things new. Not in the ‘gosh those new shoes are going to change my life’ sort of way, but more about embracing new experiences. These experiences tend to come along with some dimension of physical challenge. Perhaps my adoration of heroic Evel Kienvel in my childhood has never really subsided.

This drive to try new things has led me to attempt ocean kayaking, freestyle swimming, unicycling, and sailing all within the last 12 months. Its also resulted in endless unexpected mouthfuls of sea water, bruise inducing dismounts and scrapes, crashes into innocent bystanders, and a new appreciation for the speed of Sydney ferries and their right of way status.

I’m a big believer in sinking into a ‘beginner’s mind’. Especially as we get older and excel at both our career and hobbies. Perhaps unknowingly, we tend to seek out things that attract positive reinforcement from both others and ourselves. But the reverse is just as powerful. Knowing that you will fall over. Knowing that you can’t yet swim one full lap in the pool. Knowing that you still can’t remember how to fasten that knot correctly. And also, knowing that we can choose our perspective regarding these mini failures and even tinier steps forward.

Being an absolute beginner offers a certain amount of freedom and letting go of expectations. We have the chance to redefine our own personal meaning of success. Mine currently includes not crashing (as often) and being able to keep up with the very senior swimmers in the pool. It’s a true gift to recognize your own gumption and ability to continue to try, try and try again. And importantly, when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, we’re offered endless opportunities to laugh at ourselves!

Humility is a powerful teacher. If we can look at our miniature missteps with levity and kindness . . . well, the ego has no hope of victory. So what the heck, give something new a go. Don’t let fear of embarrassment stop you from finding a new source of JOY.

finding beauty

Its fair to say I’ve seldomly, if ever, been excited about rubbish bags. That’s all changed and it has nothing to do with durability or perfect fit. Instead, these little parcels of purpose have come loaded with an unexpected message of JOY. Waste is such a compelling topic. I believe our world in general has become more disposable. Our greed assumes that resources are limitless. We give things up, pass them by entirely, or convince ourselves that both things and people have expiry dates in our lives. How often do we disregard something that could be uplifting? If we look at something fresh can we find an unexpected layer of beauty? Let’s not waste these precious opportunities to increase our daily dose of JOY. Or at the very least . . . smile while taking out the rubbish!

getting soft

I love yoga. There is no real surprise in that statement. But with further introspection, its interesting that I tend to narrow my yoga experiences – being drawn towards the most dynamic forms of yoga. Fluid movements that stretch the body and mind and tend to generate a fair amount of heat capture my attention and time. If its full of action and energy I seem to excel and truly thrive on the pace and physical challenges of twisting and turning my body into various asanas – typically held for a series of 5 breaths.

Lately, since I’m focused on physical healing and tuning into my body, I’m working hard to listen to what I truly need . . . and rather surprisingly, the notion of yin yoga continues to surface. After trying to disregard these internal pokes and reminders, I eventually gave in and signed up for a 2 hour yin workshop.

Turning up I had forgotten that yin yoga includes a seemingly unusable amount of props. I was given multiple bolsters, blankets, blocks and pillows. These soft support mechanisms don’t readily equate to yoga in my narrow yang driven mind. But after getting past my fear of drowning in endless props and slowness to the point of stillness, I started to sink in and fully appreciate the surrender of holding asanas in a static state for over 5 minutes each. I experienced a juicy release in several postures that left me feeling quite soft and floating up towards the ceiling. After 2 hours of ‘release’ I left my mat in a loopy euphoric state and it struck me, perhaps its only when we are fully supported can we fully let go and sink into the juiciest chapters of our lives and bodies.

Find your joy and seek out what supports you and your physical health. With it comes the best bits of life I reckon.

Ambition Overload

We seem to live during a time where achievement is celebrated above all else. I’m a big fan of being productive and certainly believe that goals play a critical role in our self-growth and happiness. But when ticking off a list of achievements starts to creep into your ‘free time’ it might be time to reassess your well being.

I remember my Dad and I talking about one of his attempts to retire from the teaching career he loved. I asked him what he was struggling with most during his self-imposed retirement. He answered,

“the hardest part is doing enough each day to answer Jan’s question at the end of her working day which is always ‘what did you do today?’”

My Dad didn’t suffer from achievement overload, but he did feel the pressure to meet some unspoken expectation of being productive.

Finding the right balance between accomplishing things and just listening to what your body needs in the moment is a big step forward. Perhaps its time to do less and be more.

What if being productive were more selfish? What if we prioritize our own energy levels and mood? Tune in, listen to what the body and soul need and then deliver. Maybe you need to dance around your living room to your favourite tune, head outside and just take pleasure in watching a bird for a very long time or even give in to that temptation to nap.

Nurture yourself. Sink in and listen. Let your measure of productivity be about producing more JOY. After all, its very contagious.

Decider’s Guilt

The first pea-sized spots appeared on my face and legs soon after the retrenchments. As the months progressed, so did the sores, soon covering my neck, chest, back and legs, growing from peas to red and itchy plums.

My rash became angry welts as the next round of retrenchments loomed. The burning sores on my back made sleep elusive. Not able to hide, my face and eyes become swollen blotchy reminders of being unwell. Naturopaths, Acupuncturists, Dermatologists and Chinese doctors couldn’t agree on cause nor treatment, but one thing was certain. I was suffering from adrenal fatigue and given my cortisol levels, stress was the primary suspect.

When I took the role as CEO I had no forewarning (perhaps naively so) that I would feel so responsible for so many. Emotionally I was internalizing every last bit of stress connected to the tough decisions. And you simply can’t continue to do so without your body eventually revolting.

After retrenchments there is well know syndrome referred to as survivor’s guilt. I felt another layer – decider’s guilt. Looking at my internalized stress and declining well -being, I had twisted the responsibilities of my CEO role into a ball of guilt. And while working through major agency restructures can be a bit soul destroying at best, surely there must be a way to do so without causing your body to crash into adrenal fatigue and display open wounds.

My mistake was to shoulder too much weight. Not to let others into the pain and feeling of overwhelm and simply not to have enough avenues of releasing my stress in a healthy fashion. I needed to be more vulnerable, wag the white flag of surrender and call for reinforcements more quickly. And I also needed to forgive myself. Guilt is a powerful force and can eat away at an otherwise healthy body. Knowing there were many failings on my part, but also recognizing that I operated with compassion and selfless ness has helped my chapter of forgiveness unfold.

So where is the layer of joy in this tale of woe? I think it begins with self-care. Our glorious bodies give us so many signals of being out of balance and we simply need to tune in. And having the courage to truly evaluate our actions, their causes, and effects is a powerful practice. For me that evaluation crystalized my need to resign. Not because I had failed, but because I had much to absorb and needed to focus on my well being.

We can’t avoid stressful situations but we can learn to spot the signs and better manage our responses. During times of stress it’s incredibly important to recognize what is draining your well being while it’s happening. And, to ensure you have recovery time to fill back up your reserves. The longer we stay caught in the web of stress, the greater the chance of becoming totally depleted.

So what are your early warning signs to stress? Can you listen to them and change your course of action or thinking? How do you recover and fill back up your energetic tank? Do you need to offer yourself forgiveness?

These are all questions that help us back onto the path of self-care, wellbeing and even more JOY.

May you be Happy

There is a lovely practice I cultivate most days which quickly diffuses a brewing grey mood. Throughout the day there are both situations and people that can trigger a possible annoyance. These triggers can take many shapes and forms. A barista that muddles your order, someone jumping the cue in a long line, or even overhearing an angry customer giving the staff a serve of negative attitude. When I encounter these chapters its quite natural to get a bit miffed and perhaps even cast some form of quick judgement about their character or rudeness. Instead, I try to interrupt this auto pilot reaction and replace it with a silent wish of happiness pointed their way. I tend to use the phrase ‘May you be Happy’. I’ve made a bit of a game of this practice and frequently find myself seeing how quickly I can shift from a space of judgement into one of happiness.

The results are fantastic! Its a quick mood booster and it shifts any negative bits of energy that could linger around and start turning my own mood a bit sour.

During times of extreme triggers – moments of conflict with a colleague; a motorist cutting you off and causing a near collision; its quite challenging to remember to offer people a blessing of happiness. But these seem to be the times that it has the most calming effect. If we can quickly move through fear or feeling hurt, and offer someone a bit of peace and well being . . . well, it feels like that’s when JOY really starts to multiple and stress melts away.

And why not offer someone a slice of positivity when they are under duress? After all, we’re all striving for the same things I reckon – less stress and more JOY.

Give it a go. How many times can you catch your autopilot reaction and which situations are the easiest or hardest?