Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Category: Life (page 1 of 2)

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.

You be you

Be you. The world will adjust.Last weekend, I was with my — and I cannot stress this enough — absolutely AMAZING Cultivating Kindness group. These brave women show up each week to explore a yoga practice (many of them having never practiced at all, or never having done yoga in front of other people) and have a heartfelt conversation about what it’s like to be a woman in this world. We talk about the stuff that’s just hard: our bodies, our worries, our fears, our insecurities. It takes tremendous courage for these women to jump into a conversation considered taboo by society writ large, but they do it with grace, kindness, and love. It inspires me weekly. It is my happy place.

But this post isn’t about me; it’s about something one of them said last time we got together. We were talking about the short reading I’d sent them for the week, called “The Disease of Being Busy,” by the director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi. This essay first came into my bubble via a Facebook share by a friend, but it has stuck with me for a long time. He poses the essential question we should be asking people when we see them: “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?”

And one of the women in our group said that she feels like she’s forever busy, but that she rarely actually finishes anything. She says she’s really good at starting, but then something else needs done, then something else, then something else … and so she spends her days feeling ever-so-busy, but at the end of the day, she’s not sure what she accomplished. She expressed a desire to be better about this.

I was so moved by this confession, because what I heard was: “I’ve been doing this thing for my whole life, and I feel like I’m wrong.”

How often do we feel this way? I’d wager you feel this way, like, ALL the time. It’s as though we’ve absorbed this litany of rules about how we’re supposed to be, and when we don’t measure up, we internalize this as failure.

Obviously, this goes deep. And I mean, DEEP. We struggle against our biologically rooted desire to eat the damned cookie, because we’re not “supposed” to. We fight our desire to sleep longer, because we’ve gotta get that day started! We yearn for quiet, but when we get very quiet, we have no idea what to do with it because society values productivity, not quiet.

And so my message to this brave woman was something like: “You are successful. You have a wonderful daughter, a husband who loves you, and a job where you get to help people all day. What about your life tells you that you’re failing?”

The response? The quiet we all need, as the room contemplated whether it might be OK to just accept ourselves as we are, rather than fighting our very nature.

Obviously, we all want to strive to be the best version of ourselves. And if you feel like your inability to see a project through to completion on a regular basis is affecting the quality of your life, by all means strive.

But as I told my group, I spent about, oh, fifteen years agitating about the fact that I never started writing a paper until the Very Last Moment before it was due… in high school, undergrad, and through multiple graduate programs. And then, somewhere just a few years before I finally finished the blasted PhD, I had an epiphany:

My system works for me

Just because procrastination is often described as a plague or a battle to fight, it was clearly not impeding my academic performance or progress. So why was I so convinced I had to change?

What other things do I falsely believe are character flaws or personal failings that are actually working quite well for me?

This shift in thinking for me was profound, and I like to think that sharing this can make your life a little better, too. What if we stopped criticizing ourselves for being who we are, and instead directed all that energy towards doing the things that make our lives sparkle with the happy? Whoa, y’all. That could be a whole lot more happy.

So this is my challenge to you: What about your life or your fundamental nature do you wish you could change? Could it be that this aspect of your life is actually working quite well for you, thank you very much?

What would it mean to let that aspiration go?

What would it mean to accept yourself — nay, LOVE yourself — as you are, rather than as the thing society tells you that you should be?

 

Eating is not a moral activityPS: Not to get off on an entirely different rant here, but … for heaven’s sake, eat the cookie. Maybe not all the cookies (not that I will judge you even a teeny little bit if you do), but if you want to eat a cookie and you feel like eating a cookie, then eat the damned cookie. Forget what people say you’re supposed to do. Food fuels our body. Fuel is good. But food also brings us joy, and joy is GOOD. Food choices don’t make you a good person or a bad person. Food choices aren’t moral choices. It’s just food.

Life is short. Eat the damned cookie.

Books I read and loved in 2016

I was listening to Anna Guest-Jelley‘s podcast, Love, Curvy Yoga, this morning, and I heard her talk about her favorite books of 2016. And I thought — why haven’t I ever written such a list? It’s appalling, really. For someone whose first or second favorite hobby is buying books by the dozens (if you think that’s hyperbole, check in with my postal delivery professional), why haven’t I been doing best-of roundups for DECADES?!

So, without further fanfare, here are my favorite books that I read in 2016 (not necessarily ones that were published in 2016, it’s important to note). There is no rhyme or reason to the order — it’s too hard to choose just a few, much less rank them!

Incidentally, the links below go to Amazon.com with my affiliate ID. If you would like to support my writing and/or yoga teaching, much of which I do without much or any compensation, please use these links to show your support. Thanks!

Fiction
While much of the fiction I read is pretty terrible (I tend towards the 99-cent Kindle “women’s fiction” genre), a couple of the novels I read this year really stood out. Specifically:

  • Dietland, by Sarai Walker
    This book fictionalizes the growing movement of backlash against the diet culture. Plum finds herself on a bizarre mission to earn money for weight loss surgery, only … well. You’ll have to read this gem of a novel to see where she ends up.
  • In Twenty Years, by Allison Winn Scotch
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, and this book was no exception. The characters and their adventures have stayed with me FAR longer than does the typical novel. It tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite somewhat unexpectedly twenty years after graduation. I strongly recommend this book.
  • Me After You, by Jojo Moyes
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, too. They are always well-written and heartfelt, but in a way that lingers with you long after you finish reading. This sequel to her runaway bestseller Me Before You had me ugly-crying quickly and repeatedly. Nevertheless, it was WONDERFUL.
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
    Alternating between the perspectives of a young French girl and a young German soldier during World War II, this book is eloquent and capitivating. I wish I could re-read it for the first time. It just captured my imagination in a way few novels do.

World Politics
This year, in an effort to become a competent instructor of world politics, I significantly expanded my knowledge of hot spots around the world… largely through reading narrative nonfiction accounts of these places. Here are my absolute favorites, books I think everyone should read:

Social Science
Y’know … the day job. I read a few books in 2016 that generally sharpened my thinking about politics and American government:

Yoga, Intuitive Eating, Being You, & Body Image/Acceptance
The biggest passion of my year has been this inward quest to understand, accept, and be present in my body. These books have resonated with me at a deep level:

  • Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life, by Kelsey Miller
    Holy moly, this book seriously changed my life! It was my first exposure to this thing called “intuitive eating,” and while it’s memoir (not manual), Kelsey’s refreshingly honest voice captivated me from the moment I began reading. And yet, I forced myself to spread this book out, because I found my mind so thoroughly exploded as I read that I needed breaks to process. I will never be the same person I was before I read this amazing book.
  • Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon
    This book also changed my life in extreme ways. It was so powerful and paradigm-altering that I bought nearly a dozen copies to give to women I knew would find its message similarly empowering. If you’ve ever struggled with thinking your body was the enemy, you simply MUST read this book.
  • Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, by Glennon Doyle Melton
    Every woman should read this book. It’s an incredibly honest accounting of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world, beautiful and brutal (or brutiful) as it is. Glennon Doyle Melton is a force to be reckoned with, and I loved this book so much I went to see her speak live… my only life author event of the year.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown
    Everything Brene Brown writes, speaks, or does deserves our attention, but this is the book of hers I fully read in 2016. Her message of self-acceptance and the need to be vulnerable is one we can all benefit from hearing. I will reread this book many times before I fully appreciate its nuances and wisdom.
  • Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by Judith Hanson Lasater
    This book was the first required reading for my yoga teacher training program, but its lessons have far broader resonance. The message of Lasater’s book really grounds our yoga practice in the simple acts of everyday that keep us present in our lives. I think everyone can get something humbling and profound out of this little gem.

One person at a time

I’m hardly unique in my desire to be known, to be seen, and to be remembered. I think so many of us in our teens, twenties, and maybe even into our thirties imagine these desires will best be realized if we achieve some measure of fame–if not People-magazine-cover fame, at least a level of recognition by those we see regularly, be that in our personal or professional lives.

My initial thoughts on how I would impact the world always flowed from my writing. If I could turn a phrase especially well, perhaps my writing would earn me recognition and the ability to impact the lives of others in positive ways. Maybe that would be in novels (my friend Edward continues to ask after my first book, long loosely titled Conversations with Myself), or maybe I’d write a particularly accessible explanation of how American government works (the aspiration of May/June 2016), or maybe I’d just blog myself to fame.

Earlier this week, I finally let go of these notions of achieving fame as a measure of my impact on the world.

I remember the moment it happened. I was teaching a yoga class to some coworkers, and one of them suggested I might come do a workshop in their division in the new year: “maybe as part of a self-care unit? Work-life balance? That sort of thing?”

And it clicked for me: My calling in this life isn’t to write the Great American Novel or the narrative version of my college class introducing people to the machinations of the American political system. I may still attempt to do those things, but they’re not where my strengths lie right now. Instead, I see so clearly that my immediate place in this world is to help the people who are around me right now, those who may not orbit in the same social network spheres as I do, who may not be aware that there is this fantastic, growing movement of women who are challenging the age-old norms about what women are and are not supposed to look like / act like / be like / feel like.

When I have even one single person come to a yoga class I’m teaching and leave feeling more in tune with her body, I have made a difference.

When I can show someone who’s been afraid of trying yoga for 40+ years that her body can, in fact, stretch in ways that feel nurturing and kind, I have made a difference.

When I welcome someone full of anxiety into a space that is warm, accepting, and supportive, I have made a difference.

Armed with this new mindset, I spent the balance of my week observing all the many ways I can make a difference on a daily basis. A kind remark, a warm smile, an invitation to be present … these are all gifts we give one another. They say, “I accept you. I welcome you. You are enough.”

Imagine the change we could see in this world if more people genuinely felt accepted, welcomed, and like they were enough.

For now, this is my mission: Spread the love, spread the kindness, spread the presence. The other stuff — the writing, etc. — it can come later. For now, this work is just too important. There are too many people in our bubbles who need it.

….

Hmm. After rereading this draft, it occurred to me that this post screams, “I’m so amazing! Tell me how awesome I am!” Haha. That’s not at all why I wrote this.

Rather, I think we each have the ability to make a huge impact on other people, one person at a time. I hope you will look for ways your presence and whole-heartedness can similar find those who need a message of love and kindness in this difficult time. If the very essence of being human is hoping to belong, to finding our tribe, to feeling accepted, we are living in an era that promotes the very opposite. We divide ourselves into groups and fight endless battles with those who identify differently. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to fight for what you believe in. Yet, when those battles obscure the humanity of our opponents, we have gone down a dark and dangerous path. We must recognize the humanity of all, to let them know that intelligent, kind, generous people can disagree and not hate one another.

Ultimately, this message of reaching out to others, one person at a time, is what animates everything I do in my life: My teaching, my yoga practice, my yoga teaching practice, and my relationships all center on how I can be present for others. When I stopped to think about what an incredible blessing it is to be that presence to those I love, I realized that no fame or fortune can replace the simple act of loving another.

Older posts

© 2017 Liz Norell

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑