Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

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Questions my students have

NOTE: This page is a repository for some of the more interesting, insightful, and applaudable comments and questions from my students. It will be updated frequently.

At the end of each class meeting this semester (fall 2017), I’m asking students to reflect on what they learned that day that was important or interesting, then to jot down any questions or curiosities they have. What continues to strike me about this exercise is how insightful, piercing, and straightforward some of these questions are. They suggest that those unfamiliar with the government can be enticed to care, if their curiosities are allowed to marinate.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • I don’t know where the actual power in government comes from.
  • Why was nothing done to Andrew Jackson when he went against the Supreme Court?
  • Why is our government still so spineless and unimpactful about issues that don’t matter to the majority?
  • Not a question, necessarily, but I’m interested in reading the Constitution. What does it say? It seems like something most people should know.
  • How can the Constitution change laws?
  • Why were the Federalist Papers written ONLY to the people of New York?
  • What would be a good way for a president to get Congress to cooperate?
  • Why do people always hate the president?
  • Why are there no term limits with Supreme Court justices?
  • How can the president choose to enforce or not enforce federal laws?

Last updated: Sept. 10, 2017

What does a full heart make you do?

Confession: I LOVE Jen Louden. She’s a writer, a writing coach, and just a phenomenal woman who does phenomenal work that I wish I had more time to fully embrace. She recently sent out this quick 3-minute video called, “Writing made me do it,” in which she talks about taking a few moments to journal about the things writing made her do. She then suggests doing the same and seeing what it sparks in you …

… and while I’d really love to tell you that my love of writing has made me do so many wonderful things in my life, things big and bold and important like Jen, in truth, writing has just given me a conduit to explore my world with curiosity and openness, the better to write about it. That’s not nothing, but this line of thought has got me thinking on something else entirely.

Let’s back up a second.

A week ago, I was on Amelia Island in Florida, staying at a beautiful, unexpectedly quiet beach condo with four of my dearest friends, soaking up the energy that being with people who know you well uniquely provides. I left that space on Monday with a full heart (and a body that desperately needed sleep, ha!).

In the week since, I have taken decisive action forward on a plan my heart has wanted to pursue for going on a year now, but I just hadn’t found the courage to leap towards.

A full heart made me leap.
A full heart made me trust my instincts.
A full heart made me believe in myself and my vision.
A full heart made me comfortable going outside my comfort zone.
A full heart made me want to be bold.
A full heart made me desire spreading my happiness to others.
A full heart made me feel more comfortable with my body.
A full heart made me less anxious about the judgment of others.
A full heart made me embrace the fact that I don’t have to be 100% unique in order to be impactful.
A full heart made me love more fully and with less hesitation.
A full heart made me giddy with excitement.
A full heart made me grateful to have the friends I do, the sisterhood that knits us together and holds us tight, even when we’re apart.
A full heart made me feel a stillness inside myself that I haven’t ever felt before.
A full heart made me ready to act.
A full heart made me do it.

Liz Norell Yoga

These women and this place fill my heart. Photo credit: Boston Photography

Jes Baker is my hero(ine)!

It’s the beginning of a new semester AND a new year, so I’m reading slowly this month … but I am slowly reading Jes Baker’s unflinching book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls, and it’s the sort of stuff that makes me want to put down the book after each paragraph and find someone to read it aloud to.

Stuff like this:

I’m painfully aware of the fact that I have apologized for my body for over two decades. Verbally–excusing myself for taking up so much space. Making jokes about what I was eating. Turning down compliments because I didn’t feel deserving. And physically–wearing black, long-sleeved shirts in the Arizona summer. Shying away from anything loud, flashy, or sparkly. Basically doing anything I could to minimize the presence of my body. What a way to live, huh?

And sadly, I think we can all relate on some level. I look back on those years of my life now and shake my head. It’s as if I thought I was keeping the fact that I was fat a secret by attempting to disguise it. As if those who saw me in black would then see me in bright colors and gasp, “HOLY SHIT! UNTIL NOW, I HAD NO IDEA SHE WAS FAT!” Illogical. Our bodies cannot truly be hidden, no many how many black outfits we wear.  (page 22, emphasis mine)

Mind. Blown.

Do you do this? I do this. I try to hide my body by evaluating every article of clothing by how obviously it reveals my true contours underneath the clothing. If I find material that drapes just so, will it obscure the reality lurking beneath?

Is anyone really fooled by this?

Or this:

Happy people don’t try to purposely hurt other people. (page 52, emphasis in original)

This statement stood out to me … and not just because of the bold typeface. Jes was talking about the episode of This American Life wherein she reveals how she confronted an internet troll (listen here). This feels incredibly relevant here at the beginning of a new presidential administration, where internet trolling is rampant. When you let yourself read the comments, you must keep this simple truth in mind: Happy people don’t troll others.

Happiness is more fun, and remaining happy means staying away from those who are purposefully trying to hurt other people.

Or one more:

For those of you facing any kind of body hate, do me a favor: Ignore those people who tell you loving yourself is not okay. Have empathy for the people who hate you for being happy; we all know what that kind of self-loathing feels like. … Acknowledge that people spreading the animosity are simply regurgitating deception that’s been fed to our culture for decades; they just don’t know anything different. … In the words of Tess, don’t forget to “surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who support you. It’s crucial to your happiness and well-being. Never compare yourself to others and celebrate what makes you, YOU.” (page 59)

Jes Baker book coverIn that paragraph, Jes (and Tess Holliday, a plus-size model and body-acceptance role model) perfectly describes why I’m enamored of my Cultivating Kindness yoga series in Sewanee. I am trying, four weeks at a time, to create a community where women can be around positive, like-minded women who support one another and understand, deeply, what it’s like to feel less-than in this world. This is why I do what I do, and why I will keep on doin’ it.

So what I’m saying is: If any of this resonated with you, you should absolutely read Jes Baker’s book. You can buy it here from Amazon.

The gift of crisis

Thirty-four days ago, my life was shaken by an earthquake of the metaphorical sort. A relationship I thought to be rock-solid showed significant signs of deterioration, perhaps beyond the point of saving. An email arrived in the late afternoon of August 1, 2016 that threatened my understanding of my place in this world. It threatened to take away those parts of my life I love most, and I never saw it coming.

I felt hopeless.
I felt out of control.
I felt panic rise up in my chest.
I reacted from that place of panic.
I yelled at the world, to anyone who would listen, a sharp and defiant: “NO!”

It’s in moments of crisis that we find out what really matters to us. Most days, we’re just bopping along in this world, keeping our head down and trying to muddle through as best we can. Well — maybe you don’t, but I certainly do. I focus on the thing or the person who’s yelling me right now. What student emails need answering? What classes need a teacher? What do I need to make for dinner? Again and again, echoing over and over, the question in my mind is simple: What do other people need from me?

What I lost sight of is the need for balance. Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others. It’s so commonplace it’s very nearly trite: You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Dismiss this fact, and you’re headed for a place that’s replete with burnout, hurt feelings, and … well, crisis.

I hit the crisis at full speed forward. It was the first day of my fall semester; I was on campus for my HR orientation, and I had spent the 30 days prior lamenting long and hard and loudly that my summer had gone by too quickly, that I’d accomplished too little, that I wasn’t ready for school to start. I worked too much over the summer… which is really easy to do when you live a life, as I do, where you’re always working too much.

I have a very hard time saying no, you see. I don’t like to feel like I’m letting others down. I crave their approval, their gratitude, their praise. I say yes in the hopes that I will become the most dependable person they know.

In the process, I lose myself. (I’ve talked about this before, specifically in the most terrifying thing I’ve ever written.) I become unmoored, drifting from one person’s needs to the next, one fire alarm to another.

Who gets left out? I do, of course. More importantly, though, the ones who get most left out are those who need me, but who don’t consistently raise their voices to ask for my time and energy. They stand by, silently appreciating my commitment to others, perhaps not even recognizing that my lack of energy and engagement is gnawing away at the cartilage making our relationship joints move more smoothly. And then, something happens — and snap! The whole thing breaks.

It broke.
I broke.
I nearly lost everything that matters.

It was a humbling week, that first week of August. I had to own up to my lack of presence. I had to admit that I was prioritizing things that, in retrospect, aren’t actually all that important to me.

I decided to declutter my life. I gave up two classes. I cut back to almost zero my hours at my longest-running job (10+ years now!). I promised to make time and space for those things that matter. I spoke out from a place of love, from a place made possible by demanding free time for myself and others. I cleared away some mental clutter. I reduced the emotional demands. And I felt … renewed. Free. At peace.

This passage from Glennon Doyle Melton’s insanely good book, Carry On, Warrior, resonates with what happened to me last month:

You have been offered the gift of crisis. As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift,” as in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away.

The rest fell away, and I’m left with a renewed appreciation for the most important things in my life. I am so filled with love, with gratitude, with peace.

Sometimes, we need a little crisis to let the rest fall away. I was offered the gift of crisis, and I snatched it up … cautiously at first, with gusto eventually.

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