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.


My Left Wrist: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

IMG_0035Remember when we took walks for the joy of fresh air and sunshine? When the best thing about walking was the unmistakable scent of spring in the air or the sharp, salty brine and the startling launch of an egret?

I do.

But then I wrapped a FitBit Charge II around my wrist and became shackled to the number of steps I took instead of being thrilled by the number of pelicans feeding near the shoreline. I looked forward to the reward of positive feedback from my FitBit’s app when I moved every hour for ten consecutive hours instead of looking forward to and embracing every opportunity to be still. I lived for seeing those celebratory green stars, animated balloons and flashy stripes that meant the goals my FitBit and I set had been accomplished. I was obsessed with keeping my FitBit happy and losing track of the happiness I deserve.

And so, on Monday morning we broke up. I broke free from the device and its freakishIMG_1676 ability to manipulate how I feel. I removed the FitBit and put it in my dresser drawer.

Yes. I know. A FitBit is a simple device. An inanimate object. A tool I use to measure with some accuracy the energy I expend and the energy I ingest. But for a person like me – a woman who likes to have a place for everything and everything in its place – it’s easy to become preoccupied with the numbers, the graphs and the positive reinforcement. Prone to giving human characteristics to machines, at times my FitBit became an encouraging best buddy. Sometimes, though, it was my worst enemy. 

My left wrist feels naked but removing the tracker is liberating. It’s brought me back to the reason why exercise and a healthy diet are important. My walks to work are mood balancing. They reduce anxiety and improve my outlook on life. They soothe me. Good food made from locally sourced ingredients provides my body with ‘clean energy’. Together exercise and an intentional diet have helped me lose the twenty extra pounds that were adding too much stress to my joints, my heart and my pancreas (there’s a bit too much diabetes in my gene stock to ignore).

Ending the relationship with my tracker does not mean I’ve lost my motivation. In fact, let’s be honest. I’ve not ended anything. What I’ve done is reconsidered the relationship. There will be a time when I reach into the dresser drawer and charge up my Charge. It may be that I need a little bit of motivation or that I’ve become so wrapped up in work that I need to re-focus my intentions.  And that will be ok. A tracker as a tool is ok. As long as I remember that healthy living – a life worth living –  can’t be measured in an app.


Turn Into the Spin: Build a Better Me, Part III

IMG_0097Driver’s Education was compulsory in Pennsylvania when I was in high school. Our teacher, Mr. D, was a suave and handsome man with a reputation. The halls that echoed with the sound of slamming lockers were also filled with whispers about Mr. D and a certain senior who seemed to always linger around his office. Then again, Mr. D was popular and there were plenty of us who made excuses to see him. But she was always there shuffling files or helping prepare transparencies for the overhead projector. She was always perfectly put together. Always pretty and always self-assured and apparently unfazed by rumors about the alleged tryst. I was in awe.

And then one day Mr. D questioned my decision to wear a pale blue bra underneath the cheap, white polyester pullover I bought from Two Guys with my allowance money. It felt weird, the attention, and I fumbled for an answer because the truth was I had no idea the color of my bra was at all obvious through the loose knit of the sweater.

After that I stopped thinking of excuses to stop by his office.

But in order to qualify for my learner’s permit, I still listened attentively to Mr. D’s afternoon lectures on safety and shared driving time on the narrow roads of New Tripoli with classmates I barely knew in a car that smelled vaguely of fear sweat, gasoline and pencil shavings.

There are three things I took away from Mr. D’s driver’s ed class. The first, of course, is to consider more carefully my choice in underwear.

The second is to remain aware of the world around me. When I first slipped into the driver’s seat, I was like a horse wearing blinders. I gripped the wheel and kept my eyes fixed on the hood of the car thinking that was how to keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction. Mr. D taught me to see beyond what was in front of me.

The third is to turn into the spin. Pennsylvania has real winter, and a good deal of time was spent learning how to drive through inclement weather. Mr. D taught me that in icy conditions the car might begin to lose traction. When it does I won’t save myself by turning away. I have to fight to regain control.

California doesn’t have real winter. At least not in the Bay Area. But that doesn’t mean things can’t get slippery. I hit a patch of ice life in February and lost control of my ongoing quest to Build a Better Me. The clarity that was coming into focus through January went sideways as I began to spin. My 500 words-a-day trickled to 500 words-a-week if I was lucky. I lost sight of what was beyond and focused on the immediate. Good intentions began to slide.

And to be honest, it would have been easier to let go of the wheel. Except I know how that feels, and I no longer want to feel the restlessness and lack of conviction that a life with no traction offers.

So instead I’m going to practice what Mr. D taught. I’m going to look at the big picture, and I’m going to turn into the spin.


If You Want to Write, Read

CIMG1201

A list from a 2011-2012…I’m exhausted looking at it.

It may have been at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference about eight years ago where I was told that if you want to attract readers then you have to be a reader. Not only that, but you have to be a reader that leaves comments. That seems fair enough. But it’s a huge cyberverse with ‘billions and billions’ of blogs. Navigating our way to the stories that mean the most to us – the words that either inspire, educate or entertain – is like trying to find glitter glue at Walmart. You have to walk past plenty of dreck before you find the craft aisle.

I follow a healthy scoop of blogs written on topics that are of interest to me: art, yoga, writing and wellness. New posts fill my inbox every Monday morning. I read with reasonable regularity just two, on a good day maybe three of over a dozen blogs. The rest – and I’m cringing as I admit this – I delete. And the comments I leave on those blogs I read are few and far between.

What can I say? Life is short. And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. One too many adverbs and I’m outta there. If this is self-sabatoge I’m willing to take the risk.

I don’t believe there’s any way of knowing if my ignoring the advice handed to me at SFWC changed the trajectory of my non-existent writing *ahem* career. I’d like to think good writing is good writing whether or not there’s a thread of replies (I’m not just a curmudgeon – I’m a naive curmudgeon!). If I practice and polish my craft it shouldn’t matter how many blogs I read or how many comments I leave behind.

Should it?

On the other hand, writing is lonely. It doesn’t hurt to make a few friends. With that in mind, here are the three blogs I read regularly. Two I’ve been following for some time. One is a new addition.

Caitlin Kelly writes Broadside. She’s a journalist and author whose writing is crisp and clear. I wish I wrote half as well as Caitlin. She posts on a variety of topics with humor, passion and conviction. Her latest post was an exploration of gratitude – a simple list of moments that make her happy. Prior to this she wrote about a recent health scare – a post all women should read.

Sawson Abu Farha is the culinary master behind Chef in Disguise. I’ve tried several of her middle eastern recipes. Her latest post teaches the reader how to make Sahlab, a sweet and milky elixir featuring orchid powder and orange blossom water. Warming and delicious, Sahlab is a magical moment of awe for the tastebuds.

Anonymous Sadhaka is the student of yoga I will never be. I don’t know the author’s gender or full story but I love reading the deep explorations into their personal practice. Struggling with a knee injury the posts seem to be written not with the reader in mind. In that way, they feel as though we’re given permission to break the lock on a friend’s diary.

I hope you’ll dip into these writer’s diverse body of work. I hope you’ll also dip into my not so diverse body of work.

Happy reading (and commenting).

 

 

 


Building a Better Me, Part II

IMG_1317I realize Building a Better Me is wrong. Not what I wrote, but how I named it. I am not challenging myself to be better (although there’s always room for improvement). I’m re-structuring my life in order to return to the joys that define me.

So how’s that working out? I’m about fourteen days into the journey.

The habit I am in the process of releasing is that of hearing the alarm, reaching for my iPad and then staying in bed for another twenty minutes reading the news. This habit is not helpful on two levels. The first is that the habit steals time. The alarm chirps at 6:00 AM for a reason. On a deeper level, waking up and immediately turning to the headlines – which are rarely good – sets an energetic tone to the morning that is unhelpful. In these last fourteen days I have given in to habit once. I chose to stay put.

I am cultivating three new habits.

The first is to not feel bad when I choose to stay put.

The second is this: when the alarm rings I stand, I stretch, I kiss Ben good morning and sip my coffee. And then I sit down and write. I’ve made a promise to myself to put down 500 words a day. Sometimes the words end up as blog posts. Sometimes they end up filed away in some dark corner of cyberspace, never to be seen again.

The other habit is this: keeping a planner. The amount of money I have spent over the years on journals, diaries and planners that have promised to change my life would probably feed me for a year. And yet, even when I consider my past experience with planners, I am attempting, yet again, to use one. These calendars that ask us to define our goals and ambitions have an unsettling effect on me. I feel set me for failure and yet, here I am, giving it another go.

My new planner, so far, is different. Or maybe I’m different.

I can’t over-think this. It doesn’t matter if it’s the planner or if it’s me. What is important is that here I am, wrapping up five hundred words (give or take an adjective or two) for the fourteenth day in a row (cue balloons and streamers). Yesterday I submitted a short creative non-fiction piece to a small writing competition for the first time in about five years.

Heady days, indeed.

We’ll see where I’m at in another two weeks. So far, making room for my creative heart’s desire has made every facet of my life shine a little brighter.

And now, while I get ready for my first client, it’s time to see what the world got up to while I was sleeping.