Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Category: Life (page 1 of 2)

Perspective need not be dismissive

When life gets hard, try to remember the life you complain about is only a dream to some people.This floated across my Facebook feed last month, and it generated two competing feelings in me that I want to suss out with you. I gave myself a little time before writing about this, because it felt so raw at the time.

My first and most pronounced reaction — as intended (I must assume) by the meme’s creators — is that it’s Not Okay that people live like this. In a world that is allegedly populated with people of compassion, kindness, and love for neighbors, this image belies the truth of poverty, war, and greed. I do believe it’s important for those of us fortunate enough to live in peace and prosperity to remember that not everyone in the world is so lucky. I believe it’s critical that those of us with the means to do so should help those facing incalculable challenges. I believe perspective is one of the more valuable things we can be given, particularly when we begin to feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges. And I believe images like this one can be a very helpful reminder of that.

And then, my second reaction kicks in… because the meme here is suggesting that whatever your complaints about life are, they’re basically complaints of a spoiled population. The message seems to be: “Oh, you think you’ve got problems? Let me show you what problems look like!” This invites shame. It begs us to make comparisons that make us feel guilty for our privileges. It robs us of our ability to feel what are legitimate feelings of struggle and uncertainty. The message seems to be: If your life is imperiled, you aren’t allowed to identify problems in your life.

I object. Each of us has struggles that nobody else will ever know. We fight back against a culture that tells us we’ll never be enough; some of us get swallowed up by the critical voices in our heads that demean, demoralize, and destroy any sense of confidence or goodness we might manage to muster. No matter our circumstances in life, we are all fighting battles. Some of them are for survival in the most primal sense. Others are for survival in a more existential sense. One kind of battle is not inherently ‘better’ (in a worthy-of-fighting sense) than any other. They just are.

I genuinely cherish the perspective I gain when I think about those who live in parts of the world where basic human needs are not readily available. I don’t want to become ignorant of or numb to the very real threats to humanity in our world today.

But that doesn’t mean that I dismiss any challenge I face on a given day as insignificant.

I’m not sure that this post comes with any overwrought message, other than this:

You are not a bad person for feeling the way you do about your life’s challenges. Regardless of how small or large those challenges are.


Incidentally, if you’re looking for a place to share a little of what you have with those who have very little, I wholeheartedly recommend the charity set up by my friend and heroine, Kayra, Art Without Borders. Unlike some very large charity organizations, every dollar you donate to Art Without Borders goes directly to enriching the lives of real humans with real stories. She buys art supplies for refugees to create artwork; she sells that artwork at shows in the US and throughout Europe; the money for the artwork goes directly back to the artists; they use that money to buy food, necessary supplies, and travel to reunite with their families. It’s the very definition of impact. And Kayra does this all between work assignments, using her own financial resources to travel to where the refugees live, waiting resettlement in Europe or elsewhere.

Meeting my future self

Playing Big the book, by Tara Mohr

Click to buy this from Amazon

As part of my ongoing Be a Better Liz work, I’m currently taking Tara Mohr’s Playing Big facilitators training. It’s a program designed for current or aspiring coaches and advisers, and it focuses on helping women find the places where fear and self-doubt prevent taking risks and going after the big ideas or projects their hearts are called to do.

The first step of Tara’s “playing big” process comes in identifying where the voices in our heads hold us back. Calling out my “inner critic,” as she calls that voice, dovetails nicely with so much of the work I’ve been doing over the last two years. As I’ve come to understand how unmoored from reality my inner critic truly is, I’ve found it so much easier to turn down her volume. My inner life is significantly happier and quieter.

But it’s the second step of playing BIG that has fundamentally shifted my awareness of who I truly am — and, critically, who I truly wish to be. That work Tara calls finding your “inner mentor,” or your future self. In a guided, meditative visualization exercise in last week’s group call, I visualized meeting the Liz who lives 20 years into the future. I asked my older self what I need now, to get from here to there. What mattered most to her in the previous 20 years. What I need to know as I travel my life’s path.

Playing big quoteI’m decidedly NOT (!!) ‘woo woo,’ but this visualization exercise was enormously powerful … far, FAR more so than I could’ve possibly anticipated. (NOTE: If you’d like to try this exercise, you can get an audio file of the guided visualization, along with a few other goodies, here: www.taramohr.com/pbbookmaterials/.) My future self has a serenity that just overwhelms you from the very moment you meet. She smiles easily, welcomes you in, and so clearly cares. She has the peaceful air of someone grateful to be alive.

Ever since my high school friends and I were forced to confront our mortality, the precarious line between life and death, I’ve tried to live my life grateful for each day I’m given. I want the death of my dear friend before she could even set out into the world to be meaningful, in that it inspired me (and, hopefully, the others who knew her best) to live my life more fully and more gratefully than I might have otherwise. I try not to leave the harder conversations for later. I let the specter of future regret guide a lot of my decision-making. So, carpe diem is a phrase my inner voices go to regularly.

Mimi Kennedy

My inner mentor looked a lot like Mimi Kennedy. And she was happy, like Mimi in this photo.

Visualizing my future self is not the same. It’s not about the little things — whether to take a trip at the holidays, or write a letter to a friend, or some other fairly small choice. No, the future self, the inner mentor, she has a far wider lens to take in the world. She has the innate wisdom that seems to come with age. She has lived. She has loved. She has experienced life, in all its ups and downs. And she is filled, to the brim, with joy.

This work is so incredibly powerful, and in a year or so, I’ll be bringing all I’m learning into a necessarily small coaching practice, helping women like 2017 Liz … or 2015 Liz … or 2008 Liz … or … well. You get the point.

 

Just Add Magic Lessons

I’m a huge fangirl of Liz Gilbert. You probably know her best from her book Eat Pray Love, which was later made into a movie with Julia Roberts playing the Liz Gilbert role. Liz has an incredible gift for seeing through the complexity of an issue to get to its root — and she does so with tremendous empathy, grace, and humor.

Her podcast, Magic Lessons, continues the work she began exploring in her utterly fantastic bookBig Magic (if you haven’t read this book, you simply must: Amazon.)

The first season of Magic Lessons was remarkable, but her second season (now a year old) appears to raise the stakes quite a bit higher. Last week, I finally listened to the first episode; I have to tell you, there were many moments during the one-hour conversation that necessitated a rewind and re-listen. It’s titled, “You have a screaming, not a calling.” How many of us can relate to this — that something inside of us is screaming to be heard. It’s not just a calling… that’s far too week. It’s a screaming.

This is powerful stuff, y’all.

Such as:

  • This reflection: We often feel like pursuing the work we love is selfish. However, if you think about the people who truly inspire you with their work, you’ll find that they could be accused of that selfishness, too … except, look at what they’ve done for you. When we meet someone whose work has moved us, or inspired us, the first thing we say is an emphatic THANK YOU! Yet, you know, they didn’t do that work for YOU. They did it for themselves. Liz Gilbert gives the example of meeting Toni Morrison, about whom Liz says: “She was doing the work that illuminated her to life, and by doing so, she becomes a torch to the world that lights me. … The ones who follow the most selfish path are the ones who get thanked the most. … It’s a community service!” How powerful is that?!  (find this conversation around the 21 min mark)
  • This homework: Write a list of 10 creative people who followed their dreams and light you up. Then, choose one person and write them a thank-you note, in your own voice, and explain why their work has been so meaningful to you. And send it. Keep a copy of it, and when the voice in your head tells you that you’re a failure, you can remind yourself: People who are doing the work in this world that they’re supposed to do are in service to the world, and you know that, because the work of this person (or persons) has served you. (find this conversation around the 24 min mark)
  • This lesson: The work you do in your life before you find the work that truly illuminates you? It’s not wasted. “Nothing we ever study or care about is wasted, or doesn’t get used.” This helped me reflect on the many things I’ve done in my life that don’t seem to apply directly to my life today… the journalism, the library science degree, the work in web development/writing, the Kaplan Test Prep teaching/tutoring. Those things don’t directly apply to my current life, but that work gets integrated into my life daily. It all gets used, and it’s never wasted. (find this conversation around the 49 min mark)

Liz Gilbert is deep, soulful, must-listen podcasting at its finest. I find I have to pause several times and marinate in what she’s said, then restart when I feel ready. So an hour-long conversation can become a MUCH longer listening experience!

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this podcast, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if and when you dive into her work.

Celebrating my 14,610th day on Earth

Today, I turned 40 years old. Forty. Wowzers.

Common life experience: When I was a teenager and my dad turned 40, I felt like that was basically half-a-foot in death’s doorway. At the very least, it marked a passage into being “old.” And now, that “old” person is … me! What?!

As I so often say, my mother isn’t old enough to have a 40-year-old daughter! Seriously! (She happens to agree!)

When I was a kid, teenager, and even in my 20s, I would lament how young I looked. People didn’t take me seriously, I felt, because I’ve always looked younger than I am. I distinctly remember my (most favorite) Aunt Dalis saying, “Sweetie, just wait ’til you’re older. You’ll be grateful then.”

And to be honest, I’m not sure that moment has yet come. Because if you want to know the truth, blog readers, I don’t care a bit that I’m 40 now. I mean, sure, it does sound different than “I’m in my 30s.” Just as 30 came and went without more than a shrug from me, though, I’ve felt underwhelmed by the sensation of having moved into my fourth decade today.

What I have felt is serenity, though. In those 14,610 days I’ve lived thus far, I’ve had some truly amazing experiences. Allow me to share some of my most favorite moments.

The day I graduated high school — May 1995 — I was milling around outside MHHS preparing for the ceremony, and the man who directed the gifted & talented program (he took it over from its initial director) came up to me, beaming. “It’s so great to see our G&T alums going on to such great colleges!” And I got to say, triumphantly, “Actually, I wasn’t good enough for your program. I never did get off the wait list.” Smug smile, eight years in the making.

In college, I felt overwhelmed by the mass of humanity swirling around me in DC. I was a small-town girl and missed home. I felt out of place. I was prepared to transfer back to a school nearer to home, and then March arrived and I went down to the Tidal Basin with a Descartes reading for my Honors Symposium class and read it on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. As I walked around and marveled at the cherry blossoms in full, explosive bloom, I knew I could never give up the opportunity to live and study in the rich environment of our nation’s capital city. I could so easily flash forward to a day when C-SPAN was covering an event at GW, and there I’d be, watching from hundreds of miles away. I resolved that day to stay. I’ve never regretted that decision.

I remember the moment — the very day! — that I knew I was born to teach. It was (oddly enough) my birthday in 2000. I was at a one-day seminar organized and produced by the marketing firm where I was working. I had put together a skit with my colleague and good friend Tim. We performed the skit, with Tim performing so exaggeratedly that I damn near broke character several times. I then gave a hurried 15-minute talk to the assembled dozens about what I’d learned from my college internship (which just happened to be the very topic of the seminar). I felt a rush of adrenaline and satisfaction as I talked. And I knew. I just knew. I was going to teach, and I was going to love it.

In high school, my senior yearbook quote was one from Joseph Campbell that spoke to me in mysterious ways, even as a teen: “Follow your bliss, and doors will open where there were no doors before.” I couldn’t have possibly known that that quote would come to define my life, at least up ’til now. I have consistently followed the breadcrumbs left for me by my passions and the universe, and I have always landed into whatever job, academic program, or personal enrichment opportunity that was exactly right for me in that moment. At times, I have marveled at how effortlessly my life’s major inflection points have appeared … but I have come to understand that my 17-year-old self was wiser in her bones than I could’ve possibly realized at the time.

Certainly my life has had its challenges — most of them having to do with Campbell’s poetic walls never turning into the doors I so desperately wanted them to become — and I mourn the loss of too many friends and family members who have fallen out of my circle or who have passed on too soon. But what I have taken from those challenges and losses is a deep-seeded appreciation for the now, the today, the moment unfolding Right Now. I am grateful to have learned those lessons. I am grateful that I’ve been able to turn loss into appreciation for all that I do have. That, too, is a gift, and I know those who were taken from us too soon would be proud to know they have served me so well, even if it meant having to say goodbye too soon.

So truly, I would not go back in time and change a thing. I don’t wish I were younger. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’m proud to be here today, stronger, happier, living more authentically and more fully than I’ve ever done before. It took those challenges and those inflection points for me to become the 40-year-old woman I am today. As it turns out, I kind of like her.

I love you too much to cheer on your weight loss / diet / lifestyle change

Because I am a woman, because I live in 2017, and because I interact with other women, I run across someone on a near-daily basis who is seeking affirmation for her latest weight loss, diet, or diet-pretending-to-be-a-“lifestyle change.” Perhaps a friend posts on Facebook something about how they weren’t even trying that hard this week, yet they somehow lost another 2 pounds!! Or maybe another post on Instagram proudly shares a before-and-after shot after a juice cleanse.

Scores of people will respond with laudatory comments, things like, “What are you doing?!?! Share your secrets!!” or, “Keep it up, girl! You got this!”

But I don’t. Instead, I quickly and consciously retract my itchy fingers and sit on them, lest I drift into Sanctimoniously Unsupportive Friend (SUF) mode.

I'm tired, bossLike John Coffey in The Green Mile, I’m tired. I’m so tired.

I’m tired of living in a world where women feel they are only to be celebrated when they lose a few pounds.

I’m tired of listening to women congratulate other women for subjugating themselves to a culture that is always, forever telling women to be smaller, to take up less space, and to be quieter.

I’m so endlessly friggin’ tired of celebrating what is almost always a choice to slim down made on the recommendation of (or as the result of shaming by) medical professionals … a choice that will nevertheless leave my friends LESS healthy.

I’m tired of the world telling the people I love that they are less worthy when they have an extra pound. Or twenty. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

Frankly, friends, I don’t care what you weigh. I see your beauty, and I celebrate it.

How many times has each of us tried to lose weight? Do you know how often diets are successful in helping individuals keep off the weight long-term? Less than 5% of the time — if we’re being really, really, REALLY generous. Is that because we all lack willpower? Is it because we don’t want it bad enough? Is it because we’re inherently lazy?

No, no, no!

If losing weight required only motivation and willpower, we’d all be successful the first or second time around and move on about our lives.

Dieting or trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight means declaring war on your body, turning off your instincts, and forcing yourself to deny the wisdom of the ages. It’s unhealthy, it creates stress, and it rarely works.

So friends, no. I will not celebrate your weight loss. I will not cheer on your latest lifestyle change. I will not join you in making bread, sugar, dairy, or any other kind of food the enemy for the sake of losing weight.

You have more important things to do than lose weightInstead, I will continue to love you for who you are way, way far away from the weight-loss efforts. I will applaud your accomplishments. I will compliment your beauty as a person. I will not applaud genetic privilege, nor will I shame the lack thereof.

Our world is hurting. So many people need our help. The issues that face us as a global community matter far, far too much to waste our time and energy on something that Does Not Matter. Your ability to help others, engage in meaningful action, and love others is not even slightly dependent upon a number on a scale.

Instead, friends, please put away the diet books, motivational Instagram accounts, shakes, cleanses, and orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with “healthy eating”) , and instead embrace your body’s inherent wisdom. A HuffPost article reads:

At its core, food freedom actually has nothing to do with food. Instead, it’s about being in a loving, accepting, and trusting relationship with your body – and with (all parts of) your self.

Think about it. If you truly loved, accepted, and trusted your body, you would listen to her. You’d honor her cravings. You’d allow her to enjoy the act of eating. You wouldn’t cause her pain by eating too little, too much, or foods that don’t make her feel good.

Instead, you’d seek to give her pleasure by choosing foods that make her feel energized, vibrant, and alive.

To sum up, friends, I love you. Right now, just as you are. I don’t need (or want) you to risk your future health by pursuing weight loss, regardless of what “lifestyle change” wrapper you put it in. No number can represent your self-worth.

Listen to your body. It is wise beyond measure.

Find solace where you can

Paul Norell

“Do the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of you.” 

— Paul Norell (my wise father)

Have you ever known a relationship was over — at least, in its present form — but you just weren’t quite ready to let go? You know it’s no longer healthy, and that you’re being obstinate by not just walking away. You know that staying around is really just inviting more punishment; your sense of self-worth takes a beating, because you’re really saying, “Your need to be emotionally safe is less important than hoping someone else will change.”

I found myself in that place for a very large portion of my former marriage. A week after we returned from our destination wedding (ish), my ex-husband first threw an inanimate object at me with the intention of inflicting physical hurt. I darted out of the way. And so began a 2+-year process of convincing myself that the relationship could not be saved. I stayed. I hoped. I gave second, third, fourth, fifth chances. All the while, I knew that if I left before I was certain that our marriage couldn’t be saved, I’d forever wonder if I gave up too soon. I stayed through thinly veiled death threats and an increasingly good aim. But ultimately, I extricated myself fully certain that it was beyond redeemable. I had to leave. I did. My spirit lifted, my sense of security and self-worth returned, and I moved on stronger and much, much safer.

That was the most extreme case of finding solace where I could; I took tremendous comfort in knowing I had done all I could, exerted tremendous patience and compassion, and genuinely tried to make the relationship work. I have no regrets. I really, truly tried.

Not even a week ago, my parents and I went on a mission to Mission, Kansas, hoping to reconcile a challenging relationship — challenging, because it’s marked by a kind of emotional pain that I’m not sure will ever fade — with my younger brother, about whom I’ve written before (“Grief, all spread out,” Sept. 28, 2016).

Grandma OllieIt all started innocently enough. My mom sent me a text message or email during tax season (relevant because she’s an H&R Block franchisee, so taking the time to communicate during the first 3.5 months of the year is a Big Freaking Deal) suggesting we take my grandma to visit Robert in May. (Aside: Grandma Ollie turns 80 in December, and the fact that she hasn’t seen Robert in at least three years (?) absolutely breaks her heart. She said to me recently, “You know, not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him.” Did I mention? She. Is. Almost. 80.)

I looked at my May calendar and identified a weekend that looked ideal. I cleared my schedule, packed my bags, and drove to Arkansas.

Between tax season and last week, my mom asked me whether we should give him a head’s up that we were coming. The conversation went something like:

Me: “If we tell him, he may disappear.”

Mom: “If we don’t tell him, he will feel ambushed when we all show up.”

Me: “If we make it a breezy text, like, ‘Oh, we’re coming through KC! Dinner?’ maybe he won’t get spooked. We just won’t tell him Grandma’s coming. No big deal!”

Mom: “I don’t want to drag Grandma all the way to KC and then not see him. That would be worse. Do you think telling him she’s coming would make him more likely to see us?”

Me: “There is no right answer here.”

Mom: “You’re right. There is no right answer.”

Ultimately, because Grandma doesn’t do just great in the car for long periods, my parents and I loaded up the minivan and headed north on Saturday morning. We didn’t tell Grandma we were leaving. I’m not honestly sure my parents and I have ever taken a road trip that was just the three of us. We got hotel rooms in KC. We programmed the GPS to Robert’s last known location. We took deep breaths. And off we went.

Saturday night, we went to his apartment. No RobertMobile, no answer at his door.

We went to his friend’s house. Nobody home.

We went to dinner. It was delicious.

We went back to his apartment. No RobertMobile, no answer at his door.

We slept. We ate breakfast.

We went back to his apartment. Bingo! RobertMobile in the parking lot. We were all giddy with anticipation. We found him! We were going to see him! I was fidgety with excitement. I MISS MY BROTHER. He was just a front door away.

Robert's apartment.

He was inside the whole time; the top floor’s two windows are his apartment.

We walked up to the third floor and knocked. No sound. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, as it was somewhat early (like, 10am, maybe? the middle of the night, basically, if you’re Robert). We knocked again. We took turns knocking. We pounded that damn door. We were obnoxious. A dog downstairs started barking.

He. Did. Not. Answer.

I sat down outside his door. My mom sat on the stairs on the other side of his door. My father paced.

His neighbor from across the hall came by and showed us tremendous hospitality, offering to let us hang out in his living room, regaling us with stories about what a terrific person my brother is. All we could do was nod and fake half-smiles.

We waited some more.

We waited two hours. TWO HOURS, y’all.

He never answered.

And like that, the solace came, at least for me. We tried. We legitimately did everything in our power. We drove. We showed up. We knocked. We TRIED. I feel like I can’t say that word enough. There’s nothing more I could’ve done, no missed opportunity, communication method, or intervention strategy I haven’t tried with this young man. He has made it abundantly clear that having a relationship with me, with his family, is not a priority.

The solace isn’t exactly peace, but it is something of a comfort. Although he continues to break my heart daily, my lack of a relationship with my brother has nothing to do with my lack of trying. This one’s on him.

Grandma was so sad when we got back home Sunday night and took her out to dinner, relaying news of our weekend. But she, too, knows we’ve tried. We’ve done what we can. And while none of us is happy about it, we have to let it go.

I slid a note under his door expressing my grief, my disappointment, my hope that someday he will reach out and we can mend this giant hole that has engulfed our once oh-so-close, extremely precious to me relationship. I genuinely hope that day comes, and soon. I miss him.

But here’s one more bit of solace, this one both peaceful and comforting: For the first time in what feels like forever, I had my parents all to myself for a solid 30ish hours. What a precious gift. I just adore them, and nobody can ever take away that time together. Sometimes you have to lose something to realize how lucky you are to have what you do.

Daring Greatly

Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, takes its name from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in April 1910. He said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Does this speech leave you as breathless as it does me?

LionAs I read this, and imagine the great TR speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris in his uniquely passionate and animated fashion, I imagine a great lion staring down battle, prepared to fight as long and as hard as he must.

TR is the man who, in 1912, was shot in the chest … and went on to give a rather lengthy speech (you can read the full text — and it is FULL! — here), because, as he said, “there are just a few more things that I want to say to you.”

TR fought in many arenas in his lifetime; his battles had unmistakable national and international import (to take one minor example, he traveled a river never before fully explored in Brazil, nearly dying in the process; it now bears his name).

To be sure, Teddy Roosevelt remains my most favorite president of all time (I’m hardly alone in this), and stories of his bravery and leadership abound. His willingness to put himself in the arena, as it were, was unmatched in his time (and rarely matched since). When I think of daring greatlyI think of TR.

I won’t ever face nearly certain death at the hands of rainforest; I won’t maneuver international politics to make way for a vital canal to join two great oceans; I won’t have a timeless child’s toy named after me. But I do take my inspiration to step outside the lines of the comfortable from TR.

As I think back over the last nine years, I recognize the evolution of my willingness to dare greatly. Nine years ago, daring greatly meant spending the better part of eleven months trying to extricate myself from a poisonous relationship. In TR’s words, that effort was replete with error and shortcoming; ultimately, though, I was successful in extricating myself with minimal collateral damage. I dared to imagine a different life for myself. The intervening years have been filled with their ups and downs, but the through-line has been a steady increase in both my capacity for and willingness to engage in daring greatly.

And yet, there’s still so much more I want to do; more daring ahead, more risk-taking, more coloring outside the lines. For someone who, fundamentally, fears change and worries incessantly, embracing TR’s challenge of daring greatly does not come naturally.

I believe that our life has many seasons; I believe that we are ever-evolving and changing to meet our current season, with its unique challenges and opportunities. I have never been very good at sitting still in life and just letting the present be what it is; I’m always looking for a new growth opportunity or cool way to stretch myself. As my dear TMP so often says, “You tend to overcommit.” And yet, as he also recognizes, it is that tendency to overcommit that makes me uniquely Liz. Who would I be if I weren’t constantly going out of my way to help others? What would my life even look like? Perhaps it would be calmer, but it would almost certainly also be less fulfilling and far less interesting.

These are the twin impulses: All change is bad, but stagnation is unacceptable. The yin and yang that comprise the soundtrack of my inner voice.

For the last week, I’ve been listening to these two voices battle it out over a choice I’m weighing. I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to explore a completely new skill set, one that has no obvious fit with my life as currently constructed and that would require significant sacrifice of time, emotional energy, and cost. A big part of me thinks that now — having JUST FINALLY gotten a tenure-track teaching job, ha! — is probably the exact wrong time to take on a new, consuming  project with no clearly obvious benefit to my life at present. Can I not just be content with a new, awesome job with completely amazing colleagues and students?

Can I even type that sentence without a snort of recognition?

Because I am Liz.

I summoned a dear friend to breakfast yesterday to talk this out. I did a brain dump with TMP at dinner last night. Ultimately, they both said similar things: There is no ‘right’ answer, and whatever choice I make will be the right one. They’re both right.

As I’ve sat with this today, though, I keep coming back to one thing, over and over … this challenge, daring greatly, ultimately comes down to taking the leap and entering the arena, even when you’re not sure how successful you’ll be in the fight.

I haven’t totally decided to move forward, but I’m definitely leaning that way. And once I get it all sorted out, I promise, I’ll tell you all about it.

 

Letting go

Sage used for smudging ceremony

For the better part of this academic year (at least since September or so), I’ve been struggling with the twin impulses calling me to to let go of something … and how completely terrified I am of doing so. I’ve been talking about this to friends, to family members, to dogs, to myself in the car, to coaches, and just about anyone or anything that crosses my path. Although I’ve never felt that someone else will be able to tell me what the right action is, or give me permission sufficient to let go of the fear, I’ve known that letting go of this thing is inevitable … when I’m ready.

This thing is a safety net. It’s a job I’ve held for more than a decade (I’m approaching my 11-year anniversary, in fact). It was there waiting for me when I got back from my wedding in July 2006, and it’s carried me through a difficult marriage, an isolating divorce, years of genuinely not knowing if I’d be able to scrape together enough money to feed myself this month (for several months in there, Totino’s $1 frozen pizzas were my nightly dinners), and a new era cobbling together a sustainable income through a massive variety of part-time teaching jobs. Had it not been for this little job, I would not have made it as easily as I did. I wouldn’t have had a network of smart, wickedly funny, kind, generous people there to keep me intellectual company when I left my marriage. I owe so much to this job, and letting go of it now, when I neither need it nor find quite the same joy in it that I once did, feels like betraying a longtime friend.

Yet, like so many things that hold us for a decade or more, this safety net is tattered at the edges. It’s losing its structural integrity. And by that, I mean simply that I don’t need to be held in this way anymore. I’m so much stronger, clearer, and purpose-driven today than I was eleven years ago. I promised myself I’d hold onto this net until I knew about my long-term, full-time career aspects in my current role. Now armed with the knowledge that I’ve got a more permanent home, I’m not searching out ways to find a tenuous hold on financial security.

Honestly, the only reason I haven’t let it go yet is the deep — and I do mean DEEP — and abiding affection I have for my colleagues. We’re spread out all over the country — the world, even — and I’ve come to know, respect, and love them through many, many hours of collaboration and support. They are truly bright lights in my world, and the thought of leaving our often magical collaborations fills me with the sad.

Yet, staying connected — even when I work almost never — exacts a price. The mental and emotional energy invested into staying current, being ready to work, and occasionally picking up a project to stay plugged in, deviates energy from the things that are truly calling my heart these days. I only have so much energetic bandwidth to engage with other people and activities. The time required to stay even minimally plugged into this world depletes what’s available for things like designing fun yoga classes or writing or practicing yoga myself or going on retreats or planning retreats or …. well, SO Many Things that I want to do right now.

This past weekend, I participated in a smudging ceremony. This ritual involves a clearing out of things that no longer serve. It involves taking dried sage, set alight then reduced to smoking embers, which are then waved around you to help draw out the things that need to go. They rise to the heavens with the smoke. As our retreat leaders Shari and Mandy moved the group of women assembled through this ritual, I called to mind this job, this safety net, this life force that has meant so very much to me. And, as the smoke of the sage rose around me, I let it go. I let it rise.

I don’t mean to wax melodramatic about what, essentially, is a business enterprise. I do work; they pay me. Yet, as Rachel Cole pointed out to me, this job has embodied safety for me. Until she said that, I wasn’t thinking about safety as the reason I was holding on … but she was So Right.

It’s scary to let go of the known and jump into the wide world of the unknown. And yet, I feel filled with hope, inspiration, and optimism. I feel lighter, knowing that my heart now has a little more space to explore and experiment and grow.

What in your life needs to be set free? What can you free within yourself by doing so?

Rags writes his first and only email

Rags at the river

Rags at the river

In 2004, I had a first date. It went okay, but the guy’s intensity freaked me out and we never went out again. However, intense people rarely go quitely, and in trying to convince me we should go out again, his dog, Erwin, wrote my dog, Rags, an email.

Why am I telling you this story? To be honest, I hadn’t thought of this in years… but then yesterday he wrote me to inquire: “So, what ever became of your life?”

Rather than respond, I went back and read the email of which I may still be most proud of writing. Here it is:

—–Original Message—–
From: Norell, Elizabeth
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 4:03 PM
To: ‘Erwin’
Subject: RE: For Rags

Dear Erwin,

When my male two-legger provided me with your e-mail, which my foodslave and personal assistant Liz apparently forwarded to him earlier today, I was a bit taken aback. I have always made it clear to my two-leggers that they are to handle all administrative matters for me — that is, after all, why I have assistants. However, they insisted I reply myself — apparently, their attempts to stymie this situation have failed, and only my heavy-pawed correspondence will suffice. Very well then. I must keep this short as my paws are too delicate for typing.

I don’t know who these people are that you call “mommy” and “daddy” — my canine parents, while noble in descent, are hardly known to me. If you mean to imply that I, Rags O’ Muffin, am in some way indebted to or owned by these imbecilic two-leggers, I suggest you consult the Daily Drool for affirmation that I, in fact, am in charge here. A hound of my stature demands a certain respect and humility from those surrounding him and would never refer to his staff in such a familial manner.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn what your foodsla… er, “daddy” wants with my personal assistant. The only thing I care about is her uninterrupted, undistracted attention to my every wish. I’ll admit she did slip up on her duties a week ago, which I was quick to punish with a certain “surprise” on the floor she’s responsible for cleaning. I’m sure you understand her neglectful behavior had to be nipped in the bud forcefully and immediately.

As for your suggestion of a future rendezvous, I have always believed that a dog’s home should be his castle, and my staff operates under strict guidelines to let no beast — man, child, or dog — into my castle without my prior approval. As I am a very cantankerous ruler, this approval is rarely given. I don’t wish to sound inhospitable, but we have all accepted that I require much more sleep, playtime and attention than I get, and as a result I am rarely in a welcoming mood. Furthermore, a hound as noble as I hardly sees it necessary to make travel a habit, as my assistants cater to my every whim here in the comfort of my own home. When my entourage does travel, the two-leggers tend to get distracted, which you will understand is hardly acceptable behavior.

In the future, please direct correspondence through my assistants, as I do not believe in attending to these matters myself. Now you must excuse me, as it is time for my 4 p.m. nap.

Rags O’Muffin

A time for compassion

You know how sometimes, you get the sneaking suspicion that the universe is sending you a big, bold, messy message? That the world needs or wants you to hear that message, or to learn a lesson, or to bring forth one of your strengths or gifts?

Practice compassionYeah, so that’s been my February thus far. And the through-line is just one word: compassion.

I like to think of myself as a compassionate person, generally. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, to act from a place of kindness and acceptance, to stay present. But, of course, I fail — we all do. I fail most often with those who mean the most to me; it’s too easy to find my attention buried in a task or digital device, to tune out the voices of those in the house when they want to engage with me. Merely being present with those around us is one of the best ways to show our compassion. Presence says, “I’m listening. You are important. How is your heart today?” (Aside: This last question comes from Omid Safi’s essay, “The Disease of Being Busy.” It’s delightful.)

So the world sends me these nudges that hammer home to me the importance of practicing compassion.

For example, the world’s sweetest, most gentle black lab puppy showed up in our neighborhood last week. He took an interest in all of us — my family, our neighbors, our dogs. Eventually, I caved and pet his sweet face, and he has been glued to my side almost constantly since. He has heartworms; he’s not microchipped; he needs a family. He just wants to be loved. And the universe says: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

I turn on the news in the evening and I see the carnage of the day. An executive order or action that has brought pain and suffering to those in the world, and my heart just aches. But an achy heart does no good, so I instead channel this energy into speaking out, writing letters, looking for ways to spread compassion within my bubble. Eventually, I will find a way to identify and help local refugees who desperately need a kind face and an open heart. (If you know of a way I can help, please do tell me! I can’t get anyone to return calls or emails.) With each newscast, the universe says to me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

A week ago, I had just one lone student come to my Saturday yoga class. She had every expectation that I’d call the whole thing off, but I saw no reason for us both to just leave without doing anything. So we had a quiet, peaceful Saturday morning yoga practice. At several points, she just couldn’t stop herself from saying, “I’m so grateful you’re doing this for me.” But she needed a yoga practice, and I could clearly see that. The universe was saying to me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

An endless wave of students email me with messages about how they’ve caught the flu, have to get a car repaired, or have any number of other issues that preclude their best performance in class right now. It would be too easy to dismiss these students; instead, the universe compels me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is how compassion with others, almost by design, requires compassion with self. Kristin Neff is the expert on self-compassion (you can see her work here). Ultimately, compassion is about recognizing pain or grief, putting aside any judgment or critique, and doing what you can to nurture and support someone who is feeling pain or grief. Without compassion towards yourself, it’s much harder to truly remain present for and supportive of the pain others feel. But how to find that compassion for self in a world that is chock full to bursting with shoulds? Kristin Neff writes, beautifully:

Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings. In other words, even though the friendly, supportive stance of self-compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering, we can’t always control the way things are. If we use self-compassion practice to try to make our pain go away by suppressing it or fighting against it, things will likely just get worse. With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain. (Read more here.)

I just love this. At its root, compassion is about acceptance, kindness, and care. It’s support. It’s comfort. It’s presence, recognition, and kindness.

Over and over and over again, compassion just keeps springing to mind. The world needs so much more of it right now, and I hope you, too, will listen to the universe asking you to spare what compassion you can… both towards yourself, and towards others.

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