Monday, January 30, 2012

Use it, or Lose it or Set Yourself on Fire (Also: I Know Why You Should Go to the Gym)

Ok, maybe not necessarily a gym. It can be anywhere doing anything that gets your heart rate up, makes you sweaty, and forces you to use your muscles for at least an hour a day.

Get your minds out of the gutter. I know what some of you are thinking- though, I'm sure that can count too.

What's the point of this? Activity. Everything that lives is either in a state of growth or decay-- that includes us. All of us- our entire being- our bodies, minds, hearts.... If we are not intentionally moving, progressing, and teaching ourselves to grow, we are naturally going to default into decay. Sucks, doesn't it? Why can't it be the other way around? The answer doesn't really matter here because it is what it is, and either we accept the challenge to grow, or we decay inside ourselves. 

Aside from the physical aesthetics that result from being active and eating well, and more importantly, are the effects activity has on our brain chemistry. Life can leave us feeling broken, helpless, and completely defeated, but the good news? We don't have to be any of that. From the book Younger Next Year, "Remember always that exercise and mood share the same chemistry. They work on each other and through each other." When you feel like shit and the world seems to be caving in on you- go take a walk. I'm not saying you have to be an all star athlete- just go move. DO something. Don't hide away like an ostrich. Show up and live your life.

Our activity levels directly affect our moods and how we perceive life and its challenges. Imagine how you've felt after a great walk, hike, training session, climb, surf, whatever it is that gets you going- you feel excited, empowered, motivated, on fire and downright high. Your mind feels clearer, and even though what was stressing you out before you started hasn't necessarily changed, you have a more rational outlook on the situation.

What brought this all up? Today at lunch I decided to go to the gym to get away from my cube. As I went on my first run in months, I remembered why I started working out when I was 17. Because it helped me transition from really destructive coping mechanisms into productive ones, and also physically manifested some of the battles I had in my head into a form that I could watch myself work through in the course of an hour or three. Is an hour of running or weight lifting the same as dealing with losing something important, heart break, or daily chronic stress? No, but the mentality I developed through those hours translated into the ability to live the rest of my life with strength, courage, and persaverance. I taught myself how to deal with discomfort and pain by gritting my teeth, looking myself in the eyes and saying, "This is horribly uncomfortable, actually, it downright sucks, but it's not going to last forever. Remember the big picture- it's not going to last forever. You have to push through this- you're going to be stronger when it's over. Just don't stop now. Why would you stop?"

Why would you stop? The golden question I ask myself in so many situations. Why would you stop? If I don't have a good reason, I keep going. 

I have spent a lot of years struggling on my own to make some sort of sense out of my life, but I realized it's not about necessarily about figuring out the meaning of life. It's about taking whatever comes your way, no matter what it is, and doing the best you can to grow. In this life you have to have a lot of heart, and fire in your blood to make it through. Don't succumb to decay. GROW.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Matter of Time

I've spent  a lot of my years thinking I had to abide by a certain time frame in many areas of my life- anything from believing I was supposed to graduate within a certain number of years to being finished grieving over the loss of some of my most beloved in an acceptable quantity of months. (I still don't know what that number is as it's been over a decade in some cases, and I still miss them.)

Every time I tried to force myself into the socially acceptable time frame of when things "should" happen, I always ended up taking longer or having some sort of meltdown. I was told when my mother died that there was something wrong with me if it took me longer than a year to grieve. I was so afraid I would take too long that I didn't grieve until 3 years later, and by that point, everything I had shoved aside came crashing down like a tsunami on a small island. I was devastated and took years to recover. I'm still recovering.

Now, as I'm making plans to move I'm occasionally questioned as to why I don't move faster, why I don't go now. The simple answer? I'm not ready. Now that I've made the decision, there are some things I want to do, people I want to spend time with, plans to loosely make, and I want to mentally prepare myself as best as I can. Sure, I realize some people pack up and leave the next day. Right now, I'm not one of those people. You see, there are some other circumstances I feel I need to attend to before I will feel confident to leave. Notice, I didn't say "ready" I said "confident". (Ready being completely prepared to go- confident knowing it's the right decision, but maybe not feeling ready. I imagine it could be like getting married. You're confident that's the person you want to spend your life with, but not sure you're ready to be married. I don't actually know though. This is sheer speculation. And yes, I realize, in the end, you bite the bullet and go for it when you know it's right.) I will never feel ready to leave behind my friends and family, but I feel confident it is something I must do for my own growth so I can be better for me and those whom I love.

I'm questioning and examining my motivations and reasons. These next few months are my preparation and meditation period- like that time athletes take before a game or competition to breathe, center, and focus on their goal.  What do I want? How will I get it? What will I do if my initial plan falls through? What if I am completely alone during this entire process? What if those who said they'd be there, aren't?

I know anything and everything I think can (and often does) turn out completely different than I envision it, but I also believe there's something to be said for preparation. Who goes climbing Everest without a plan and gear? Sure, lots of unexpected things happen along the way, but preparation for what can be prepared for goes a long way when the unexpected rolls in.

In all of the years I've been told I "should" be living my life faster, I've learned that's a defeating assertion, and I'm done listening. One person's pace is not always another's, and though my life may not be lived fast enough for others, it's going at the right pace for me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Everything is All Wrong...

...or is it? 

The news is full of gloom and doom, Facebook news feeds are loaded with scandal, hypocrisy, angst, and  general discontent. The majority of mass media could (and in many cases, does) have us convinced the world is in a state of irrevocable disaster. Based on the information out there, it might appear a hopeless mess. 

What are we to do?

Well, first of all, let me assert that by no means am I about to say everything is fine and we should be looking at the world through rose colored glasses. There are clearly issues that need to be addressed directly. That said, I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in what's wrong we forget what's right. We focus on the ugly parts of humanity and the world and forget there's beauty there too, and not just a little, a whole lot of it. 

If all we focus on is what's wrong, what is there to motivate us to change any of it? What's left to work for? To fight for? When everything looks wrong, what else is there to do but throw our hands up and say "What's the point?" Perhaps it's not a matter of finding everything that's wrong and fixing it, but remembering to find what's good and doing our best to preserve it- to cultivate an environment in which it can grow and flourish. From that perspective, it's less daunting and ugly because it's about creating versus destroying. 

This can be applied to anything from wanting to lose weight (think: instead of focusing on how much you have to lose and how much work it will be, focus on how much energy you're creating, how much stronger you're becoming, how empowering it is to have that control to be able to lead a healthier life) to the environment (instead of focusing on eradicating the pollution and degradation of the planet, focus on what's beautiful and work to protect it). 

Again, I'm not saying be naive and blind. I am saying we need to stop hyper focusing on the negative and take a moment to remember why we want change in the first place. We want change because the hearts of us see beauty even when our eyes don't.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Most Important Lesson I Learned in Driver's Ed

It's sophomore year of high school and I'm enthralled to finally be learning how to drive (legally), I buckled up and the driver's ed instructor began telling me where to go. All was going fine until the moment we went through a short, yet terrifying, cattle shoot. I was sure I was going to die (or at least end up scraping off one side of the car) and I clenched onto the steering wheel sitting up like a little old lady trying to get as close to the windshield as humanly possible.

But then came some of the most profound wisdom I carry with me to this day: "Don't focus on where you don't want to be. Focus on where you DO want to be. Wherever your sight goes, the rest of you follows." I sat back, focused on the middle of my side of the road, and to this day, I remember that lesson not only while driving, but in the rest of my life. I thought of it during my weekly visit with my father. As I was thoughtfully chewing on a french fry considering all the potential pitfalls of moving, I realized that was counter productive; if I focus on failure and obstacles, that's what I will find. So, again with the brain retrain, I'm teaching myself to focus on opportunities and possibilities for joy instead of every possible thing that could go wrong.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Motivation is kinda like brushing your teeth... can't just do it once and expect to not have to do it again. I think that's about where the likeness between motivation and brushing one's teeth ends though. (By all means, correct me if I'm wrong.)

I realized awhile ago that in order for me to not become entrenched in my own cozy lethargy, I have to intentionally cultivate motivation and nurture the parts of me that are hopeful and on fire to LIVE every. single. day. It's so easy to let life slide by and think "I'll do that later" or even "Eh, what's the point?".  It really is an every day thing- some days are easier than others. Some days I'm so tired I'm not sure how I'm going to get through the next moment let alone the rest of the day, week, month, year, lifetime. But, those moments are particularly crucial because when we're under that kind of weary pressure, that's where we really get the chance to grow and create positive habits that will, over time, become just that- habits. (Read: the next time we're faced with our lazy unmotivated burned out selves, our response becomes more automatic and less of a gargantuan struggle.)

It takes A LOT of work to train ourselves to not slip into what is so easy; putting life off until tomorrow, next month, next year... but there is no other choice if we don't to one day realize our entire lives flew by us and we know the true meaning of "it's too late". It's never too late. Until that last moment, that last breath, when it is.

Here are some things I've found to be helpful:
  1. Read! Seriously. Read anything and everything that resonates with the part of you that wants to live a meaningful rich life. My poor facebook friends see an infinite quantity of (usually) positive postings ranging from pictures to song lyrics to quotes from books and movies. What can I say? I like to share the love. ;)

  2. Listen to music. You don't have to be a musician to really appreciate the depth and unspoken language music has to offer. I've found that at some points in my life, nothing else could reach me but music. It helped keep me alive.
  3. Write it down. Write what down? Everything- your hopes, fears, wants, dreams, desires, failures, expectations- no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Write down what you want and pay attention to patterns. You will learn more than you thought you could when you realize just how cyclical your brain really is. There is a part of you that DOES know what you want even when you swear you don't know.
  4. Move. Be active. Exercise. Take a walk. Dance. Just move your body for the sake of moving it. We sometimes forget just how important it is to move, not only for the sake of our physical health, but for our mental health as well. It will help to clear your head and can create a sense of liberation because when you move, you breathe. You increase your oxygen intake and feel alive because you aren't allowing your body to become tombed in laziness. That frequently translates from the physical to the psychological more than we understand.
  5. Put yourself out there. Talk to strangers. Go places you've never been before on your own. This is the most uncomfortable and awkward one, for me, anyway. It's also the most liberating. It places you in the position to encounter some of the most inspiring wonderful people and places in unexpected ways. Of course there will be some dud encounters, but putting yourself out there with a pure intention and an open heart goes a long way. I would have NEVER thought I'd meet people who are so encouraging of my journey. They are helping me to stick with it through my fear; many because they traveled a similar path.
  6. Be patient with yourself. There are going to be days, no matter what you read, listen to, write down, or do where you will just simply feel unmotivated, tired, and like giving up. When, not if, when those days happen, be kind to yourself. Let yourself be and feel all of those things. Don't make decisions one way or the other at that point. Rest. When you're ready, you'll get up. I've found I prolong my burned out frustration when I'm only already burned out, but then I berate myself for being so. Completely counterproductive.
It takes intentional effort, strength, patience, courage and a lot of heart to create your story. It is worth every doubting tear-filled night because creating your own story means accepting responsibility for yourself, your actions, your words- your life. There is no freedom greater than owning the power and responsibility to your own life. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Work is Your Love Made Visible

"I GET to go to work today!" 
How often do we hear anyone say that with genuine excitement? without a trace of sarcasm? Well, if you're lucky, you hear it a lot. I'm not sure how it happened, but I am surrounded  by people who LOVE what they do for "work". My own current job is the antithesis of that, for the most part. It is a reminder of what I don't want. Thankfully that is balanced out by my inspiring friends who have spent many years (in some cases, decades) creating the life they want for themselves and, in turn, positively impacting others in their lives. They are finding/have found what they're passionate about- what excites them and brings out the absolute best they have to offer. They make no excuses, take responsibility for their actions and commit to persevering even when it seems it's all going to fall apart. They would do it even if it didn't pay (because sometimes it didn't) for the simple fact they love it. It gives their lives meaning- they do it not because they are forced to, but because their existence has was created for that work- that love.

I'm jealous. I've spent the last few years loathing what I do and couldn't figure out how to change it. It all came to a head after a blind siding heartbreak and a trip to visit a dear friend who happens to be one of those people I was just talking about. Since the day I met him he has radiated a passion and love of life that is not frequently rivaled. I finally realized I can be one of those people. Sometimes we talk about amazing, talented, motivated people as though they are made up super heroes that don't really exist, and so there's no reason for us to even attempt to aspire to follow that path.

I'm about to prove that wrong. Those people are no more extraordinary than anyone else. The difference is they didn't let insecurity and fear stop them from doing what they wanted to do. They didn't allow the odds and statistics of potential failure influence what they wanted; what they knew they were meant to do.

What if you don't know what you want to do? I don't. It's a question I struggle with frequently. It seems SO simple "What do you want?" Why don't I know the answer to that? I'm changing my life without having an answer because I know if I stay where I am, I'll never find out. It's terrifying. I don't have a specific goal I'm going after; I just know I'm going after something different. I'm on a journey to find my love.

I don't know where this path will lead, but I want to find out. Security is an illusion that can be shattered and leave just as much devastation as having ventured out into the wilderness.  I posted this quote on my facebook awhile ago, "Ships are safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." and a friend so graciously pointed out the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Those ships weren't safe in harbor either. Moral of the story?

Live your best life. Do what you love. If you don't know what that is, go find out. Do it for you because the irony in doing what is best for you frequently results in being what's best for others too. Think about it- when we're unhappy, what good are we to anyone else? 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

live YOUR life

Anxious midnight text to my sister: "How do I know if I've just got 'the grass is greener on the other side' complex??? What if I'm just never happy?" Her response, "You won't know until you step out in faith. And no matter what the results from it, use it to grow. It will become part of your story." She's right. I've never done anything like this before. The only way I'm going to know is to trust that gut instinct that has been coaxing me down this path for years. It's no coincidence that any time I said to a close friend "I have big news to tell you!" they immediately responded, "you're moving!".

I spent the last few years doing everything but what I felt in my heart was the thing I needed to do. I found every reasonable distraction- no one ever questioned what I was going to do with my life once I took a stable well paying soul sucking job. I had constructed a solid facade, and it appeared I had it together- except for the spreading cracks indicating the structure I built was about to crumble. I developed migraines, claustrophobia, numbness in my arms and hands... my body was manifesting my discontent. The very heart of me was rebelling against being forced into the tomb of what I "should" be doing with MY life. 

This week has been a reality check of just how short life is... from banter about the end of the world on December 21, 2012 to a story of a woman who was violently murdered by her husband to the funeral of a family member, I am reminded that the length of my life could be decades or moments. An unexpected conversation in a salon with a vibrant woman in her 70s (if I recall correctly) explained the reason she looks decades younger is that she has fun. She is happy. That is not to say there hasn't been heartache and a lot of difficulty, but beyond any exercise, eating habits or trendy new age reversal solutions- finding the happiness life has to offer, even in dark moments, is what really matters. It's not our life experiences that carve themselves onto our faces; it's how we respond to them. The lines on our faces silently tell the story of our lives.

I want the lines on my face to tell a story of a life well lived- one that was lived by me and for me and not dictated by social "shoulds". I want a life full of laughter- the kind that communicates that, in spite of (or rather because of) heart break and tragedy, there is healing.  

Life will be as rich and meaningful as you want it to be. You have to be the one to create it. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Crawling Back into Bed... or not.

"I'm going to vomit. Did I really tell people I'm getting rid of most of my stuff, packing up my car and driving 30 hours away?" was my first thought when I woke up the other morning. I covered my face with my hands wondering "What was I thinking?? Can I really do this? Can I be one of those people I've always admired for seemingly fearlessly heading off into the wild unknown trading a comfortable miserable familiarity for a chance, not a guarantee, but a chance to have a more fulfilling life?" Fuck. I can't take it back now. I said I'm going to do it, and I don't want to say things I don't mean.

I did that on purpose- I told people because it would hold me accountable.
I knew when I made the decision there would be many days when I would question it and want to retract, or as my trainer calls it, crawling back into bed- back into that warm, safe, comfortable place. "When you have those days, just watch, something will happen to call you out" she told me as I tried to pretend I wasn't about to keel over from the torture I joyfully pay her to inflict weekly. She was right. Sometimes it's an encouraging word from someone, a song, a quote or even a not so desirable encounter reminding me why it's time to go.

I've realized a few things the last couple of days:
  • Sadness and fear are a normal part of this process. This is one of the most comforting quotes I found  regarding the transition: "All changes, even the most longed for have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." -Anatole France
  • I talk a lot about LIVING life, about dreams and how it's never too late to change course. If I'm going to talk about it, I myself need to be an example. I have to be brave and lead the way. No one can effectively influence others if they aren't living what they're speaking.
  • There are no guarantees. "Leap and the net will appear" doesn't mean that every risk is met with success. If it was, it wouldn't be a risk.
  • If it so happens my figurative net doesn't appear, my friends will. Part of why I never did this before was because I saw it as something others would look at as stupid and irrational. How could I expect anyone to help me if I failed? One of my closest friends said to me, "Laura, it's no more of a risk than going to college, buying a house, or getting married. We are here to support you through all of your decisions." Another said, "I can't imagine anyone thinking you stupid- if anything they'd be jealous because most don't have the guts to do it."
  • There is no failure here. Only choices and consequences.
  • There is nothing stopping me from being one of those people I admire- one of those people who decides to take control of their life and, in turn, the responsibility for it. This path requires complete commitment, and there is no one else to blame or expect to make decisions. We get one life. Why would I allow anyone else to dictate what my story will be?
I have no doubt there will be other days when I feel like crawling back into my figurative bed, but in the end, I know what I must do. I must bravely get out of bed and be ready for any uncertainty that comes my way. I want to live my life in such a way that each step can be an example and an inspiration to others to bravely write their own stories- to own every.single.moment.

It is time to astound myself. I hope you get out of bed and astound yourself too.