Fear or Faith: My Choice

Can you keep a secret? The trainings in which I’ve been entrenched since before the pandemic’s shutdown began are coming to a welcome end and I find myself with a strange amount of time on my hands. But please. Let’s agree to keep this little admission between friends. I don’t want the universe catching wind of my twiddling thumbs because you know as well as I do that empty space loves to be filled. I’d like a chance to see what I do with all this spare time before that happens.

But I’m wondering…now that I have the chance to dive into all those ‘things’ I’ve always wanted to do but never had time for…what’s stopping me?

I’d like to blame the bout of ‘pandemic malaise’ I’m experiencing but to be truthful the malaise I’ve encountered on and off these past twelve months is fleeting. Maybe it has more to do with the weather, which has been unseasonably chilly and wet for mid-March in Northern California. Or maybe what looks like malaise on the outside is really, on the inside, indecision and fear.

Indecision I understand. I’ve always seen both sides of every coin. But why fear? What’s that about?

In a recent coaching conversation I wondered if the fear my client experienced was less about feeling unprepared for the tasks she needed to complete in order to move her project forward and more a fear of wasting time. It was easy for me to share that observation because that is where most of my fear is rooted. I’ve been alive longer than I have years left to live. I don’t want my time wasted. Besides, I need to earn my keep while my jiggly human form still takes up space on this planet. I need to draw a salary. Make money. Pay bills. I don’t have time for flights of fancy.

I wonder, though, if my excuse, “I don’t have time for that”, masks a harder truth. My interests, outside of teaching yoga, require focused attention. Commitment. Awareness of both my strengths and my weaknesses. They require a willingness to learn.

Yeah. Who has time for that? Especially if the final result is an amorphous unknown.

Another friend of mine is an artist. Seven or eight years ago, when we first met, she was learning to paint. Now she wins awards, exhibits regularly and is about to have her work published in two books.

I wonder if she felt her time was wasted while she was learning to turn a flat circle into a sphere? I wonder, when she first picked up a paint brush, if she even considered time?

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we give fear permission to stop us in our tracks? It can be fear of the unknown, fear of time wasted, fear of hard work or fear of financial insecurity. Or, in my case, all four.

Rather than giving fear carte blanche to run our lives, maybe it’s faith we need? 

So. Will turning my fears of the unknown into faith in myself lift the malaise? Will it help me find the motivation and momentum I need to make the transformation from someone who watches from the sidelines into someone who’s willing to take a chance on herself?

Good question. I can’t wait to find out.


In Search of the Elusive Authentic Self

In my coaching practice the issue of authenticity is a featured player. More often than not clients will, at some point in the session, tell me they are either:

  1. Searching for their authentic self
  2. Struggling to live an authentic life
  3. Questioning whether their motives are coming from an authentic place.

What has to happen for the conditions for self-doubt to manifest? When do we begin to feel we’ve lost touch with the image we hold in our mind’s eye of who we believe ourselves to be? And how can we return to the clarity that keeps us grounded and focused on the values we cherish most? When we answer those questions authenticity becomes less of an intention and more of a truth we live. 

When I was a child I was teased for having two left feet. More often than not I had fresh or fading scabs on my elbows and knees from all the falls I took. Like a puppy learning to leash walk I was easily distracted by metaphorical squirrels. I tripped over sidewalk cracks, missed steps when climbing stairs and walked into people, poles and walls in my pursuit of something different from the task at hand.

As an adult, while my elbows and knees have healed, not much else has changed. I’m still easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I still stumble. I fall, enraptured by the aspirations of others at the expense of my own. My admiration for the high bar others set for themselves ignores the higher bar I’ve set for myself and fills my brain with ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that’ at the expense of my heart’s song. This longing to be someone I’m not steals validity from the wonderful life I’m living. It diminishes the dreams I have. It diverts my attention away from the values most important to me and ultimately away from my authentic self.  

The best we have to offer the world is grounded in personal authenticity. When we lose sight of that – when we feel lost – how do we find our way back? The answer to that question is as unique as the journey we’ve chosen for ourselves. But I find these suggestions useful:

  1. Get away from the noise. Take a day to yourself. Set work, obligation and commitment aside and give your heart the space to expand.
  2. Breathe with intention. When you feel unmoored, close your eyes and breathe. Lengthen the exhalation until it’s longer than the inhalation. Imagine the in-breath moving into the soles of your feet and connecting you to the earth.
  3. Trust your instincts but know that the answers aren’t black and white. Some of us choose to listen to our heart. Others listen to our brain. But what about the space in between? What is that space saying to you and how does it align to the authentic life you want to live? Is there an equilibrium to be found?
  4. Honor the truth that journeys change. There are detours, road closures and surprises if we choose to spend some time exploring roads taken less often. It’s these moments that help us take the next step.

When we look carefully, we discover that the sense of self is not a particle that never changes, but rather a flow, a wave of thought and feeling that can increase and decrease and is therefore not permanent.

—Shinzen Young, “Brief Teachings”


Resolve & Clarity

There was a time when New Year’s resolutions meant everything to me. This is how it typically played out:

  1. In December I begin to create a list of goals impossibly long and non-specific
  2. By mid-January I’m inching toward failure
  3. February arrives and the goals and aspirations I imagined for myself in December are forgotten
  4. Guilt ensues

I’m not alone. By February most resolution loving humans have become fickle wrecks, rationalizing all the reasons why the promises we made to ourselves were broken. Why no amount of good intention was enough to realize change.

After many decades of repeating this pattern I decided resolutions were a fools errand and stopped torturing myself. Until now. This year, 2021, is different. I’m not certain why. Perhaps  the chaos and commotion of 2020 has left me feeling untethered and the only way to anchor myself in the present is to build a framework for the future.

I’ve read that one of the reasons why our resolve fails after a few short weeks is because the goals we set for ourselves are not specific enough. For instance, it’s not enough for me to tell myself “In 2021 I want to be published.” What does ‘be published’ mean? Do I mean a letter to the editor of my local newspaper or a feature in O Magazine? It’s more helpful for me to set this intention: “In 2021 I want to be published in the Readers Write column of The Sun.” That still may not happen, but the specificity of the intent allows me to create a plan of action that moves me forward toward that goal.

In the past, like many, ‘lose weight’ and it’s sidekick ‘exercise more’ has made an appearance on my list of resolutions. Even when my weight was well in the realm of ‘average’ and I was hitting the magic number of steps. It landed on my list this year but I had to wonder why. And so, it’s been helpful to take time to consider what I actually mean when less weight and more exercise land on the list. It hasn’t taken long for me to realize these goals are really not about weight loss and exercise. They’re about health and wellness. They weren’t about fitting into the embossed leather pencil skirt a friend outgrew and passed on to me. They’re about living life with vibrancy. With clarity. Besides, can you see me teaching yoga in an embossed leather pencil skirt?

So how do I find vibrancy? Where is the clarity I seek?

Last year began with the death of my mother. She was an alcoholic. As was my grandfather.  Two months after the local post office lost and then recovered my mother’s ashes (it could only happen to my mom) we shut down and the life we knew became The Before Times. Overnight we were strategizing new coping mechanisms. 

My coping mechanism was wine. What became a glass or two on weekends morphed into a couple of glasses on weekend nights and a glass or two over the course of the work week which eventually morphed into a glass or two every night of the week. Every now and again I took a break for a few days – just to prove I could – but the next COVID graph would send me back to the Pinot. The amount I was drinking was more than I should but I was convinced my nightly habit relieved the pressure of coping in the weird time in which we live. And besides, I only poured the Pinot as a nightcap before climbing into bed. When I started climbing into bed at 7:00 PM I had to ask myself, ‘how much drinking is too much drinking?’

And the cheap Pinot was not supporting the vibrancy and clarity I want for my life. And so, here I go, walking into this new, amazing year as a non-drinker. I’d like to say this is permanent but I don’t know if that’s true. I want it to be true but I’m just a humble and flawed yoga teacher. So we’ll see.


Pop-Up Coaching

What do you envision for yourself in 2021?

This long, difficult year feels like Groundhog Day. Nothing is what it should be and the fog bank of uncertainty that usually rests in the back of our minds rolls in and pondering the future becomes a fool’s errand. The vision we hold for ourselves isn’t clear because nothing is clear.

Where can you go for a dose of clarity?

Coaching.

A coaching session drills down to what matters most to you. A coaching session clears the fog and brings into focus awarenesses that inspire, motivate and move you forward. Coaching is an effective way to create new habits or maintain current ones. It’s useful when facing challenges at work or when considering a career change. Coaching can help you create structure and to regain control if this past year has you feeling a little out of control.

Now that there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine it’s time to reignite our passion for life, for our dreams and for our future.

Take coaching for a test drive on Saturday, January 2 or Sunday, January 3. Thirty minute appointments are available between 9AM and 3PM. Book your appointment here.

What do you envision for yourself in 2021? Let’s find out.


A Fresh Dawn

IMG_6311My bookclub met via Zoom on Wednesday. The book up for discussion was Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. It was published fifteen years ago but the gifts it offers are timeless. In these extraordinary times we would be well served to keep a copy nearby to dip into when life teeters on the precipice.

Something that was said last night has stuck with me. It was one of those observations that takes us from one point in the conversation to another. Just a toss off – nothing that we lingered on. In the book Pema advices us to breathe. We all agreed it’s easier to watch the news or scroll through Facebook or find a hundred other reasons why sitting still and taking a simple breath is not an option. This morning it’s the plaintive mews from Bruce the Cat.

My alarm rings at 5 AM. Bruce the Cat receives a bit of attention and a dollop of Oh My Cod or Salmon Enchanted Evening.  I’m at my desk with a cup of coffee by 5:15 AM. Five mornings a week I gift myself this wonderful hour of quiet solitude but the truth is that, until today, it’s been wasted on me.

My intention is to use this hour that glows with the breaking dawn to write or meditate or do both but as I sip my brew I’m reading daily briefing emails from Huff Post, CNN and the New York Times. Then I’m responding to messages that landed during the night. I cuddle Bruce the Cat for a moment and the next time I look at the clock that golden hour is gone. It’s time to say good morning to Ben the Human, to strap on my running shoes and begin my day.

Distractions. The emails, the social media, the news – during the first hour of my new day they fill my brain until there’s no more room for what fills my heart the same way eating candy before a meal leaves no room for nutrition.

What distracts you from the calls of your heart? 

My morning cruise through the news is nothing but a habit. The solution is simple. Break the habit. Create a new routine. Answer the call. Breathe.

We can find the motivation to do this by asking ourselves why it’s important. When we lost the structure to our days a few months ago we laid a new foundation and built a new structure. The foundation for my new reality is this hour. When I choose to scroll through emails the foundation weakens. When I answer the call of my heart – when I write – I feel strengthened.

This dawn hour is important to me because the discipline of writing sets the tone for my day. What do you do to set the tone for your day? To keep your foundation strong?

The 5:40 train to San Francisco rumbled through ten minutes ago and Ben’s alarm just rang. Red finches are spreading their wings and with raucous chirps are bullying their way around the feeder outside my door. The world is waking up and my hour is winding down.

It was a good hour. I think I’ll do the same thing tomorrow.


I Need a Daily Practice

imagesAccording to one of my teachers, adults who are returning to a school environment find learning a new skill difficult because of a ‘know it all’ mindset. It’s a shock to the system when we discover that, in fact, we do not know it all. 

Hearing this spurred a moment of self-awareness for which I wasn’t prepared. For some reason this annoying little factoid has added an element of negative self-talk to my already challenging course of study. And although learning is exciting and fun, my negative self-talk has been detrimental to the process.

Thank goodness I’m cyber-surrounded by fellow peer coaches who will, with curiosity and empathy, ask the right questions – questions that will encourage me to look below the surface  to find the root of ‘mini-Mimm’s’ assault on my fragile confidence.

Last January, when I began course work to become a coach withInternational Coaching Academy, an ICF certified online training school based in Australia, I knew it would be a cake walk. My attitude was based on previous, less than satisfying online learning experiences and the truth that while I have always been intrigued by coaching my Pavlovian response to the words ‘life coach’ was a dramatic eye roll. 

As it happens, online learning has changed in the last ten years and my Pavlovian response was unwarranted. Coaching – whether it’s life, executive, health or transformational – is a powerful tool for shifting the perspectives and the mental blocks that keep our goals just out of reach. My mentor, Merci Miglino, is a masterful coach. In a recent group session she repeated something that was taught to her, “Coaching is about what can be, not what was. It’s personal archeology – you don’t go in with a backhoe. You use a toothbrush.”

The simple but powerful questions posed by a masterful coach help us gently discover the underlying beliefs that inform our behavior (and our negative self-talk). The right questions help us bring into focus our unique truth.

My goal is to be a masterful coach. I expect this to take years several lifetimes. I guess coaching is like yoga in that way – we’re forever students, dedicated to our practice. In the meantime I will be a good beginning coach. In order to meet that goal, just like yoga, I need a daily practice.

Care to help? I’m offering pro bono sessions through August. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about coaching and perhaps a bit more about yourself leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch.


Guided Autobiography: My Aunt Mimm

One benefit of the lockdown: a calendar that has room for classes I’ve been wanting to take for more than a year. Cheryl Svensson’s Guided Autobiography class has been on my radar for over a year. Here’s one of my stories from the eight-week class.

 

IMG_6225My Great Aunt Mimm’s small apartment in Allentown, Pennsylvania had the soft scent of age with a dusting of Shalimar. Her’s was one of several apartments in a pale pink two-story stucco complex built in the 1930’s on one of Allentown’s broad, tree-lined boulevards.

When I close my eyes and wander back to that time and place I remember black out shades and Venetian blinds, a spinet piano in one corner and an early Hammond organ in the other. I can see her long hallway painted with shafts of light from the late afternoon sun. I can see the oak barrister bookcases, with a complete set of Harvard Classics and Aunt Mimm’s collection of tiny porcelain dogs.

These are my memories. But memories are nothing more than stories that change with each telling.

What doesn’t change is the warmth that I feel in my heart for Mildred Matilda Barber. As a young child surrounded by a strange cast of characters, my Aunt Mimm was a soothing constant. She was the one who read to me from storybooks she always seemed to have with her. She was the one who played Heart and Soul with me for hours on my grandparent’s upright or, in winter, suffered through Jolly Old Saint Nick as many times in a row as I asked, until I was certain that Johnny would get his skates and Susie her dolly.

Aunt Mimm was a slight and gentle woman. Her personality illuminated a room not with a frenetic sparkle but soothing glimmer.  She had a solid sense of adventure but was not the type to convince anyone to take a risk. After graduating from Allen High School in 1916, and determined to continue her education, family legend has it that young Mildred visited the local bank seeking a loan to pay for college tuition. They say she pestered the exasperated manager until terms were agreed to and the papers signed.

6E34D4B0-66A3-4B12-B614-4F5025F5C42D_1_201_aShe attended Keystone State Normal School and began teaching with the diploma still hot in her hands. Aunt Mimm loved children and any child would be lucky to have her as their teacher. She loved dogs, too, and often brought her Jack Russell Micky with her to the classroom.

After retirement she traveled. Most often with friends. Once she brought me a tiny steel drum from a trip to Barbados. 

I don’t recall her ever driving. In my mind’s eye she is always dressed in a brown wool skirt that hits just below the knee, a matching cardigan over a white cotton blouse with a pixie collar, thick flesh colored stockings and sensible tie-up shoes. She never married. She never had children of her own. 

My Great Aunt Mimm was buried the morning of my ninth grade algebra final exam. A few days earlier I sat at her viewing with my mother, sister and grandmother on the funeral home’s hard mahogany folding chairs. Four women from the Order of the Eastern Star stood in front of her open casket and sang. I stared at the ruby red carpet not knowing what to do but certain that I didn’t want to cry.

It had been awhile since I’d seen Aunt Mimm. I was in the throes of becoming a hormonal teenager and she was old. My love for Aunt Mimm was muted by pimples and first periods, schoolgirl crushes and broken hearts. I didn’t have time to notice  when she became so lost to herself that a care home was the only option.  It was there that she passed in her sleep.

After her apartment was emptied my mother arrived home with a small bag holding a few porcelain dogs and some jewelry. I was given the gold mechanical pencil she wore on a chain around her neck when she was teaching. I still have that pencil. Her initials are engraved on the side. The spinet piano arrived for me, too, but before I left home for college my mother told me it had to go. And so I sold it to a music teacher for $200.

When I was thirty-five, I was an artist living rent free in exchange for light janitorial work at an art club in Palo Alto, California.  While I swept floors and cleaned studios, my friends were finding partners, having babies and beginning to make money in a fledgling Silicon Valley. 

IMG_6227People knew me as Robbi then, because that was my nickname, having been given the name ‘Roberta’ at birth. I put up with being called ‘Robbie the Robot’ – the character from the move ‘Forbidden Planet’ – in grade school, ’Roberta Flat’  – a play on singer Roberta Flack’s name – in high school, and ‘Rotten Robbie’ – after the chain of gas stations in our country’s middle – while attending college in Nebraska.

But in the summer of 1993, I decided to change my name to the only one that fit: Mimm.

Changing my name did not change my life the way I thought that it might. Still, I take comfort in knowing that twenty-seven years ago the universe had wonderful plans for me to which I was not privy. I also take comfort in walking through life with the same name as the one true and happy constant in my young life.


What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Have you ever thought about something, or maybe saw something totally outside the realm of normal and then, for whatever the reason, it’s everywhere? Sort of like when Uno won the Westminster Dog Show and then suddenly we were running into beagles around every corner. 

That happened to me three times this past week. Three times in the span of five days this question appeared: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. I first saw the question in an article I was reading online. Then I heard the same question posed to an audience during a TED talk. Finally, the question shows up in the tome my book club is reading,  David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.

It could be that I’m riding the edge of a wave and by the end of next week we won’t be able to turn around without bumping into posters, bumperstickers and tee shirts imploring us to contemplate the answer. Or maybe the universe is directing the question to me and me alone – a little bit like the freeway sign who talks to Steve Martin’s weather man in the movie L.A. Story.

Either way, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to contemplate. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?

Maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe not. Does it matter?

I’m all for living fearlessly but the suggestion that we’re holding ourselves back from full self-actualization because we’re afraid is annoying. Why? Because it feeds the idea of individuation during a time in our history when, more than anything, we need to connect. The question encourages us to be selfish during a time in our history when we should be selfless.

Yes, sometimes fear keeps us from walking a certain path but is that always bad? I’ve often thought about getting a tattoo. With a great sigh of relief I happily confess that fear has kept me from the artist’s needle. The saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is not one I choose to embrace. The intention of these ideas, on the surface, do not encourage community building. Instead, they lean us toward a narcissistic variant of introspection.


Singing Dragons and a Better Me

Putting together a ‘little something’ for a blog and wanting to be a published author are different mental activities. I arrived at this obvious conclusion two different ways. 

On August 8, 2018 at 5:00 PvTOk5zX4QYi1IByBEiHxVAM I submitted my first book proposal to the wonderful Claire Wilson at Singing Dragon Publishers. I met Claire at SYTAR, the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research I attended in Virginia last June and from where I  wrote my last post for Practically Twisted. The process of creating a non-fiction book proposal is intense, time consuming and, at times, thrilling. It is also a process that forces you to question your goals and motivations. The process asks you to look at what is real and what might be possible.

I pressed ‘send’ that afternoon and am now waiting. I feel a little empty – as if the act of creating the proposal drainedany desire to write anything ever again (as I, of course, sit here writing).

After I submitted the proposal I began to ask myself questions. How would my life change if Singing Dragon picked up my proposal? Where would I find the time to write? How long would it take me? Would I have to quit teaching? Abandon private clients?

This long list of irrelevant questions, instead of rooting me in the present, dragged me into a unpredictable future. They interrupted the flow of oxygen and almost extinguished the little flame that keeps me searching for a way to tell my story.

Today I found myself, at 6AM, still in bed, sipping coffee and scrolling through the news headlines. Remember when I vowed to break this habit? I intended to build a better me. The truth is, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a better me. It implies that the me I am isn’t good enough. But another truth is that I miss those dark winter mornings when I wrapped myself in words to stave off the cold. 

And so, here I am again. 


Morning Light and Failing Better

fullsizeoutput_746Since it’s Memorial Day, Ben is off from work and is enjoying a lie-in. I, on the other hand, am set to teach my Monday morning class at Samyama. So when the alarm rang at 6AM Ben, blessed soul that he is, continued snoring while I stumbled first to the bathroom and then to the kitchen where I fed Bruce the Cat, boiled the water and ground the beans for the morning brew.

It wasn’t until I was at my computer checking the record low number of emails that fell into my inbox during the night that I remembered. When I wrote, so many months ago, about re-awakening my writer-self; about reviving discipline and being present – this is not what I meant. What I imagined was my waking early, sitting down and arriving for the work I do for me – the work that feeds me.

Which makes me want to pause and ask – what work feeds you?

I managed to honor those good intentions for a few months and then, as happens to so many of us so often, just when the habit was beginning to set it slipped away. It’s easy to understand how that happened. Maybe, one morning, instead of answering the first call of the alarm I hit the snooze button once then twice. Maybe, one morning, I became distracted by something that had happened in the news while I was sleeping. Maybe, one morning, I was pressed by a deadline for work and had no choice but to set aside the ‘other’.

It doesn’t matter. The sweet rhythm of hope that tickled the heart of me stopped beating. So here I am again, charging the metaphorical defibrillator and starting again.

What’s that wonderful Samuel Beckett quote? 

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

And so I shall.