I am curious about … spiralizing

I know, I’m late to the whole spiralizing movement.  It was only a month ago that I had a my first plate of zoodles (pre-spiralized courtesy of Whole Foods).  Fortunately, sometimes I’m a quick study and it only took that first plate to convince me that spiralizing needs to be part of my culinary repertoire.  And — who knew? — there’s a whole spiralizing (and peeling, coring) attachment for Kitchen Aid mixers!  Placed an order immediately and as soon as it arrived my husband and I started experimenting with what we could spiralize: apples, cucumbers, squash — the usual suspects.  And then I found it.  A recipe for baked curly (aka spiralized) chili cheese fries.  Seriously.  Even better:  the chili is vegetarian so between the baked curly fries and veggie chili I could seriously up the cheese factor with way less calorie guilt.  I  love finding non-meat/veggie heavy options for meals and this choice gave me a way to add in my new spiralizing adventure — sweet!

After searching the web for a variety of recipes, I mixed a couple together to come up with something I thought would be healthy and killer good.  Since we think chili tastes better if it has a chance to hang out for a while before you eat it, I made the chili first. Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • chopped garlic (i just squeezed in a bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons of cumin
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 can of beans in chili sauce
  • 1/2 package of Beyond Meat feisty crumbles
  • 1 14.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes with peppers (we like spice, but you could use just plain chopped tomatoes for a milder flavor)
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • corn starch mixed with water for thickening

Start by sauteeing the chopped onions in oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, then add the garlic when onions are translucent.  When you can smell the garlic, add in the spices and just let them toast a bit in the oil.  Then add in the Beyond Meat feisty crumbles.  I add them in frozen, but just be careful that they don’t splatter!  Next, add in your beans, chopped tomatoes, and tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, put a lid on it, and let it all simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Give it all a stir when you lift the lid up. If you like your chili thick, like we do, mix about a tablespoon of cornstarch with warm water until it forms a paste.  Then, spoon this paste into the chili and bring it back up to a boil to thicken.  Taste for seasoning; we like to use cayenne pepper (again, more spicy is more better in my house), but you can use black pepper or no pepper — whatever works.

I put the chili in the fridge and then about an hour before dinner I heat it up and start on the curly fries

For the curly fries:

  • 2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes, skin on
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder
  • shredded cheese of your choice
  • salt
  • pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the potatoes and spiralize them.  I use a thicker spiralizer blade, but if super skinny curly fries are your thing — go for it!  Cut the spirals into manageable sizes.  Toss the spiralized potatoes in a big bowl with olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  I just eyeball the amounts, you don’t want them drowning in oil — just coated.  Same thing with seasoning.  Then arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper separating them as much as possible.  Bake them for 25-45 minutes; checking them every 15 minutes or so. While the fries are cooking, pull that chili out of the fridge and heat it up. The fries won’t get super crunchy, but you want them brown and, honestly, if I’m not sure how done they are I just pull one off the sheet and try it!  Once I think they’re done, I sprinkle some shredded cheese on top (we use a mixture of regular cheddar and cheddar with jalapenos) and then pop them back in until the cheese melts.

To serve, just heap up a pile of cheesy curly fries and top them off with a scoop or two of chili.  Utterly delicious and reasonably healthy.  Could a girl ask for more than that??


It’s the little things …

I have a new job.  It’s a job I’ve wanted and been excited about.  It’s also something really new:  new people, new routines, new challenges, new everything.  And I have this internal polarity  where I crave comfort and sameness, but also loathe boredom and routine — it’s a problem.  You know that process for team development:  forming, storming, morning, performing?  This polarity I have usually shows up as a super long, super uncomfortable period of “storming” when I take on new stuff.  This “storming” period for me is also fraught with periods of crazy vulnerability and self-doubts; I question everything I’m doing and am sure I’m just not enough.

Today was one of those days where every sentence I typed, I went back and re-typed three or four times because I didn’t think it sounded good enough.  Worn out with all the newness and all the storming, when a friend asked me to meet up for some thought partnering I jumped on the opportunity, grateful for a fun distraction to get me out of my head and my feelings of “not-enoughness.”  It worked.  Within a few minutes I was engaged and thinking about all the possibilities related to what she’s involved in. Insecurities and self-doubts were banished to the back of my mind for the time being.

In the course of our conversation, my friend mentioned that she’d read my blog posts and that they’d been helpful.  She then said I needed to know that what I’m doing matters, even if I don’t think it is.  My contribution — however small I think it may be — to find ways I can help women (and myself) find fun and fulfillment in their lives is important.  My message is important.  I am important.

So at the end of a week when I’ve felt like I was drowning in “not-enoughness,”  a friend threw me the gift of a life ring by reminding me that even the things I think are little or insignificant are actually enough; and they matter.  I’m going to work on feeling like enough.  And I’m going to keep in mind that a big life is made up of all those little things.  #grateful #goodfriendsrock #iamenough

Making Practice a Habit

Why is it when I most desperately need to make my practices a priority (for my sanity if for no other reason), that’s when they almost always fall off the list and I backslide into old habits?  So, I took a new job; still with the same company, but I’m now working on a project with a WAY different pace and tasks than what I’ve been accustomed to over the last 2+ years.  I walked in with my eyes wide open and I was (and still am) super excited about the possibilities and the urgency.  But holy crap have I got some work ahead of me to build up my stamina for working a gazillion things at high speed.  You know what would be really helpful?  Those practices, you know the whole “mindfulness, motion, curiosity” thing.  Even though seeking fulfillment is low on the to-do list at the moment, those practices also ensure I have balance and can function without getting into a stressed-out tizzy.

In addition to all of the above, I will be starting my last graduate course this fall.  I think it’s kind of fitting to start this new professional chapter and end my graduate studies studies with a re-dedication to “live big and sparkle,” and to make it happen by consciously and HABITUALLY engaging with the practices I’ve learned over the last two years of this journey.  I’ve done the busy/busy/stress/stress thing the hard way before, but I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience since then.

Here’s the not gonna do it list:  I’m not going to mindlessly stress snack on chips, or cookies, or Pop Tarts (okay, I did kinda do that last week, but only because my husband brought home the brand spanking new Orange Crush and A&W Root Beer flavors for me — damn him!).  I’m not going to come home every night to rush upstairs for my sweats and flop onto the couch.  My running shoes will not sit unused in my closet every night while I shuffle around in my sparkly skull Uggs slippers. I’m not going to be too tired to be mindful.  I’m not going to be too tired to explore and try new things.

Instead, I AM going to take the time for walks, for running, for keeping things organized at home, for working on my blog and my book.  I AM going to take the time to be mindful, to meditate (whether it’s for a few minutes or an hour), to be aware of others and the world around me.  I AM going to take the time to explore vegetarian and vegan cooking, to learn some new arts and crafts skills (many will involved ModPodge!), to check out new activities and new places.  Because regardless of how much is on my to-do list, the reality is my time is precious and I deserve to be top priority on that to-do list.

Tonight’s a great test of my resolve and re-dedication.  My day at work completely blew up.  Everything I thought I was going to do, I didn’t do.  I was running all over the place and when I wasn’t running I was trying to figure out how to tackle a task that felt like one of those crappy, impossible word problems from high school algebra (uuuugggghhhhh!!!).  Today was … challenging.  To top it all off, I didn’t get lunch (a Clif bar had to suffice), I got home late, husband is getting home late, and the dogs are being way needy (rightly so, but still … ).  I have every reason in the world to kick it in, put on my PJs, and vedge out on the couch tonight.  Did I mention I’ve been wearing Spanx for 10+ hours????  Love ’em, but puh-leeze!

I put together a reasonably healthy dinner that’s cooking as I type.  I had a healthy snack.  After dinner, I’m putting on my running shoes and hitting the pavement. Stretches and arms when I get back.   I’ve got my deep sleep meditation queued up so I get some good zzzz’s in tonight.  And I’m making time, while I wait for those tostadas to bake off, to write this blog entry.

I got this (probably).


Love Bubble. Yep.

Last Wednesday I got on a plane for Boise, ID for the first Brave Girl Symposium.  Last Friday, I got on a plane to journey home, but this time was traveling with a new mindset, a vastly more open heart, filled with love, and filled with inspiration to DO.

Being new to the Brave Girls Club concept, before I left I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience; but I felt so strongly drawn to their mission:  Life Changing Fun for Women.  I knew this was going to be important.  From their website:

Brave Girls Club is a worldwide community of women (of every age!) who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly live…and that means something different to every single one of us.

I was blown away from the moment I arrived at the airport in Boise — my first sight coming out of baggage claim was a gigantic, turquoise bus decorated with painted flowers and Brave Girl messages. Other Brave Girls were also arriving and we took turns taking pictures of each other outside and inside the bus.  It didn’t matter that we’d never met before, we already had the bond of wanting to be Brave Girls!  And this experience was a far cry from a traditional hotel shuttle transport, once we were underway it was more like a party vibe with friends chatting and identifying commonalities (or as we learned that evening, we were finding places “where our petals touch” — thank you Kallie Maughan for sharing your book’s beautiful concept with us).  And that was just the beginning.

The theme of the Brave Girl Symposium was “What can love do?” and the entire event and its participants were suffused by experiences of love, by stories of hope, and by opening our hearts to the possibilities of what we might do and how our love might change the world.  We sang.  We danced.  We made prayer flags.  We decorated paint stirring sticks with our own versions of “… and she did it anyway!”  We were a group of women connecting at a soul level; our conversations were often incredibly deep given that we’d just met one another.  Honestly, I can’t recall even one that was centered around the usual cocktail party superficialities.  Glennon Melton of Momastery, who was one of our speakers, gave me the perfect description when she said that we were all in a “love bubble.”

The speakers at Brave Girl Symposium were obviously chosen with exquisite care.  What an amazing line-up of amazing women who are giving their love to the world by DOING.  Many of these “gorgeous geniuses” (thanks for that one, Lisa Sonora, I’ll be using it often!!) had experienced soul-crushing challenges at some point in their lives.  And each and every woman who spoke to us shared not only their stories, but also how they found healing and love, and how they are helping others find their own paths to healing and love. From them, we learned what it means to really “sister” one another as women and how vitally important it is for us to do this; important for ourselves and for others.   As we listened to these brilliant women we cried, we laughed hysterically, we took it all in, and then we reflected back to share our thoughts with our new soul sisters.

I’m super shy and introverted, especially when I’m surrounded by strangers, yet I attended Brave Girl Symposium by myself (something I am rarely brave enough to do).  From the minute I boarded that big, blue Brave Girl bus I knew I would not regret my decision to go this symposium solo (it was truly a case of I did it anyway).  I never once felt like an outsider, never once felt like I was alone.  Whether it was the beautiful friendship and love extended from those sisters I got to know well or the equally beautiful friendship and love extended from those with whom I simply had an interaction — I felt accepted and I felt loved.  More than this, I felt empowered.  If there were this many like-minded women who felt the call to come to Brave Girl Symposium, then I know there are many, many more out in the world.  And there are even more women who need the message of love, hope, healing, and learning that they, too, can be brave.  It is my fondest hope that I grow and learn how I can be someone who shares that message.  Knowing that I have so many Brave Girls rooting for me and this goal, how can I fail?

Do you think you might wanna be a Brave Girl?  Do you wanna know more?  If so, click the links below and check out the Love Bubble!

Brave Girls Club

Brave Girls University

Brave Girl Symposium 2016




Yesterday I was the bravest girl ever.  Seriously.  And that’s what I kept telling myself for the first 45 minutes of my very first stand-up paddle boarding lesson.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for a first attempt: the weather was sunny, but not too warm; the water was practically as smooth as glass; there were no daredevil-piloted speedboats zipping around making big, disruptive wakes.  But I was still really scared about the whole thing.  First off, those paddle boards are BIG and HEAVY and I have spaghetti arms.  Second off, when you see those pictures or videos of people leisurely paddling around without a care in the world what you’re not seeing is that they’re using every single muscle in their bodies.  Okay, I might be exaggerating — a little — but it’s a WHOLE BODY workout.  I work out, but I know full well I’m only using maybe 1/8th of my muscles and feel pretty uncertain about the competency of the rest of them.  Finally, I know how to swim so I’m not sure why the idea of falling off the board into calm, not very deep water freaked me out since drowning wasn’t a risk, but it did.  Thank goodness the first things the instructor talked about were: 1) how to fall; 2) it’s a sure thing at some point you’re gonna fall; and 3) when you fall and attempt to get back on the board, there is no graceful way to do it and everyone looks like a beached whale.

While we walked on the beach with our instructor, I wondered again why I was venturing so far out of my comfort zone and whether it would really bum my husband out if I just sat on the beach and worked on my tan while he did the lesson.  Then I remembered my big realization — that I like to forget — that living big and sparkling usually starts with being uncomfortable.  I really LIKE comfortable.  I’ve also recognized, though, that I can only hibernate on the couch watching Bravo for about 36 hours and then I gotta get up and be brave again.  Paddle boarding is something I’d always thought I’d enjoy.  I wanted to be one of those calm, peaceful women competently paddling.  Achieving that vision, however, would require some discomfort and work.  So, I didn’t sit on the beach.  I wo-manned up, grabbed my board and hauled it into the water.

I’ll spare you the details of my learning how to paddle, then kneeling on the board and paddling, then being super scared about it, but finally standing up and paddling.  I had to go through it, it wasn’t pretty, but I did it.  Every time I was scared, I repeated my mantra to myself about being the bravest girl EVER.  Believe it or not, it helped!  I even learned how to turn myself around by paddling backwards. Booyah!

Once I was standing up and paddling around looking kind of /sort of like that calm, peaceful woman I visualized, I realized how mindful this experience was.  When you’re learning something new, you are fully present in the moment.  Especially if you’re terrified of getting hurt/looking like a moron (equally terrifying in my world).  I paid a lot of attention to our instructor and was continuously checking what I was doing against how he was telling me to do it.  When I was standing up and paddling it wasn’t the end of the mindfulness, either. Being aware of my surroundings, being aware of the wind direction, paying attention to whether I needed to paddle more on the left side or right side, keeping my vision on the horizon so that I could maintain my balance … all of these required me to be focused and in the moment.  All those niggling thoughts that had been cluttering my mind or annoyances I couldn’t let go of disappeared for the three hours I was on the water.  I couldn’t spare any of my attention for inconsequentials.  Not surprisingly, on the way home I realized that not thinking about those things had no negative impact.  My worries and annoyances didn’t get any better or any worse for my not letting them junk up my mind.  Lesson noted and learned.


Moving Beyond “All or Nothing”

Yep, it happened.  I immersed myself in my mindfulness, motion, and curiosity practices; I tracked my progress; I wrote about the experience; and after months of work, I turned in my final Master’s Project.  After all that work I deserved a break.  And I took a break; from my practices.  But I’d forgotten that the practices were not being done only for the purpose of my Master’s Project; I lost sight of continuing these practices as a way of life.  Some of them I maintained; like motion, but I’ll be honest — mindfulness and curiosity totally fell by the wayside.  Slowly the ruminating thoughts came creeping back, the auto-pilot kicked back in, and I began to feel like I was sinking back into the rut.  Yikes!

Have you noticed how people make a point of not talking about diets as much any more?  Instead, they talk about life changes that bring about weight loss.  Same thing with mindfulness/motion/curiosity.  Going all in for a semester and then thinking I didn’t need to continue to nurture and engage with those practices was like cutting out sugar and fat to lose weight and then being surprised when you gain weight after going back to eating them again.  Live Big and Sparkle is a lifestyle, it’s not an event or a one and done; it requires commitment and tenacity and ongoing practice — even on the days when you just don’t feel like it.  And I lost sight of that.  And my immediate reaction?  I should close up shop and just drop this since I am obviously flawed and unable to follow through with my own concepts.  Yeah, that makes sense.  Not.

Perhaps even more important than sticking with the program is being able to re-set and re-start after you fall off the wagon.  When I turned forty I decided it was time for me to learn to ice skate, even though I have no coordination, was absolutely terrified, and certainly had no need to learn to ice skate; but there you have it.  “First thing we’re going to work on, is getting up after you fall,” my instructor said.  At the time, I assumed this tactic was primarily driven by her observation of my terror and lack of any innate skill.  But no, that’s how she starts all of her lessons.  Turns out she starts all of her lessons that way because it’s going to happen.  Because every single one of her students is going to fall at some point.  If you’re learning to ice skate and can’t get up when you fall down, your progress will be pretty limited.  Although Live Big and Sparkle doesn’t give me the same sense of physical fear (not likely I’ll break any bones — although maybe the motion practices?), it certainly requires some bravery to step up and live it every day.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll “fall” again — probably for different reasons.  Maybe next time I’ll remember this sooner and get re-engaged sooner, but even if I don’t it’s important to know that it’s okay to “fall,” recognize it, and know the steps I need to take to get back up.  It was important for me to experience this, because it’s important for me to tell you and encourage you to move past the feeling you’ve messed up and should just quit.

Take this as your advance permission slip and use it as many times as you need to.  You will have times when you just don’t feel like being mindful, or in motion, or curious.  You will have times when you completely forget about being mindful or in motion, or curious.  Those times might last for a while.  Remember that none of this goes on your permanent record because there are no grades.  This is a process and it’s the process that is important.  You can re-start it as many times as you need to.  You can re-start in as small or as big a way as you want.  Just always remember that this is for you and for your happiness and well-being.  And it’s important.  Because you are important.




Sidelined or Putting Process First?

The running part of my motion practice was seriously moving along — pun intended — and I was increasing speed and distance steadily; and then I got sidelined, not just once, but twice.  First, I broke my butt (aka piriformis syndrome if we want to be technical) running in the hills (more like mountains as far as I’m concerned) of an apple orchard for the Hard Cider Run 5K.  Despite my best efforts at stretching afterward and driving the 2+ hours home with the seat heat on full blast, I could barely drag myself out of the car after I parked in the driveway.  I did a lot of stretching that night and the next day, then went to my running training group the next night figuring I could just push through the discomfort.  Three days later, I was on the massage therapist’s table for a seriously not relaxing  working over that ended with an admonishment to not run until I had a pain-free butt.  So, I took a week off to focus on stretching and foam rolling (ugh – these are so not my favorite activities).  Walking the dogs was the only cardio-like activity I was able to do.  Talk about unsatisfying.

A week later, my butt was so much better that I achieved my best pace ever with my running training group.  The rest of that week went well, but ended with a 3.5 mile run that caused a major flare of posterior tibial tendinitis pain in not one, but BOTH feet. I couldn’t even manage walking slowly without serious pain.  I spent a day wallowing in self-pity and frustration with my traitorous body. I was worried I had a stress fracture, I worried  I was gaining weight and losing muscle tone every second of my involuntary sidelining, and I spiraled into a hopeless feeling my running days — maybe even my walking days (sorry dogs!) — were coming to an end and I would be relegated to unexciting, no swag fitness pursuits like yoga.

Fast forward to the next day; I learned a dear friend has been dealing with significant rehabilitation challenges following a surgery we all thought would have minimal to no side effects.  Just thinking about how hard it would be to relearn basic skills like walking, talking, and using your hands drove home I needed to reconsider my perspective that being sidelined from running was equivalent to a death sentence.  And wasn’t I supposed to be focusing on process and not product?  I’d gradually forgotten about the process in the excitement of the product (in this case increased mileage on my Milestone Pod, 5K medals and swag, increased pace), to my detriment.  I’d like to keep running.  My body isn’t physiologically or anatomically predisposed to running so I’m going to have to  be willing to do some extra work so that I can keep running.  I’m (probably) not going to be an ultra-marathoner, but if I’m willing to do the work I will probably be able to run again.  And if I’m not, it’s not the end of the world.

I Am a Runner … Yes, Really

I’ve always believed exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.  I also know no matter how strong that belief is, I still have a heck of a time motivating myself to get up, go out, and just do it.  So, my preferred workout is one requiring only the barest minimum of prep and little to no travel.  In my late teens and twenties, that activity was running.  All I needed was a good pair of shoes, shorts/sweats, and a top.  Back in the day, I wasn’t running 5Ks or marathons or even on the cross-country team in high school or college; I just liked to get outside, run til my mind cleared and calmed, and come home relaxed, happy, and sweaty. In my thirties, though, my body started rebelling against the running that had previously come so easily.  Hip pain developed that defied diagnosis (turns out it was/is tensor fascia latae issues), knee pain, ankle pain, and foot pain soon followed.   I tried step aerobics with a girlfriend, tried Jazzercise, did some yoga classes, joined the Y and used the elliptical, treadmill, and weights; but none of these endured and all had the drawback of requiring me to get in the car to get to them (and kind of look decent).

A few years ago, at a high stress time of my life, I knew it was either figure out a way to work it out through exercise or start drinking a lot of martinis.  Drinking martinis didn’t seem like a mature approach to the situation, so I started walking … a lot.  Over time, as my mileage increased,  I lost weight, gained fitness, and drastically decreased my overall levels of anxiety and stress.  I’d found a good solution to my workout needs and gained that elusive peace of mind in the process.  I thought I’d put all thoughts of running behind me at last.  Then, last November my husband and I walked a Turkey Trot 5K.  For those not conversant with the lingo, a Turkey Trot is one of many cutesy names given to Thanksgiving Day 5K running events.  These events usually have equally cutesy logos and shirts associated with them as well — I made sure to choose a Turkey Trot that was convenient AND had a cool race shirt because let’s be honest — swag is important to me.  As I watched the runners rushing by, though, I started feeling nostalgic for the days when I, too, was a runner.  It started me thinking that perhaps I’d too hastily shelved running.  I wondered if perhaps there were a way I could try again.

After the holidays, I confided my Turkey Day 5K wistful wish to a friend (who also happens to be a runner and a running coach) and also shared my concerns about sustaining injuries and being sidelined.  She immediately responded, “You should do interval training.”  Huh?  Interval training?  She explained that interval training was simply running and walking.  It sounded reasonable, but also kind of lame. “But I wouldn’t really be a runner then,” I blurted. This incredibly fit woman who was my running icon and was preparing to leave for Florida for the “Dopey 50 Mile Challenge” just smiled and said, “Well, I’m a runner and that I run all the time, even marathons.  I kept getting sidelined too and realized this was a way to run without injury.”  I was gobsmacked. Real runners actually WALKED sometimes during their runs?  And it was considered legitimate and not lame?  Wow.

At her suggestion, I downloaded a free interval timer app, set it up for 3 minutes walking/1 minute running, laced up my shoes, bundled up the rest of me, and hit the track.  At first, I wasn’t sure about this.  I kept remembering how I used to be able to just knock out five miles without even thinking about it.  I was certainly having to think about it on that first dark, cold run around the elementary school track.  Then it happened – I forgot about how I used to run and started just feeling good that I was running.  About ten minutes in, I started smiling and I kept on smiling for the next fifty.  I didn’t run fast.  I didn’t run pretty.  I didn’t even run the whole time.  In the end, none of that mattered — I was running again.  After an hour, I stood panting at the side of the track and had a moment of perfect clarity and happiness.  I was truly ME.  And if that isn’t living big and sparkling, then I don’t know what is.

Since that first night, I’ve built up my mileage and speed slowly; I’ve been kind to myself and when I overdo I give myself and my body a break.  Since that first run around the track, I’ve completed four 5K runs and have gotten over my sense of somehow being less than other runners.  I’m not the fastest, I’m not the slowest, and each event is a mini-celebration of my ability to move past old assumptions and beliefs.  I continue to set new goals, which gives me a sense of accomplishment, and best of all I’ve added that deeper sense of calm and peace I’ve always connected with running.  Happiness?  Check.  Well-Being?  Check.  Creatively working past challenges, seeking new perspectives, coming up with new options?  You betcha.


I am Curious About … Judgment

I admit it, I am a “Judge-y McJudge-ster” (hope I spelled that right).  It’s not a characteristic of myself that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.  And the few times I have thought about it, I’ve not considered it a necessarily bad part of my personality because I believe I judge myself as much or more than I judge others.  I’m not the crazy person publicly calling people out on their bad behavior nor am I the virtual arsonist instigating flame wars on social media, but inside I often find myself shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, [that person or group of people], really need to get themselves together.”  Or I’m thinking something along those lines with more specifics and  sometimes with bad words.  Sometimes I might share those thoughts with other friends and often we’ll all shake our heads and wonder at how people can do what they do.  With that said, though, I do play by the rules and withhold judgment when I’m supposed to — like in brainstorming sessions or when I’m listening to others’ troubles; I mean I’m not an animal.  I didn’t know that this habit of judging was actually limiting my perspective and also cutting into my ability to connect with others until my curiosity led me to a whole new way of looking at it.

One of the ways I’ve been indulging my curiosity has been exploring Brene Brown’s work around shame and vulnerability as a student in her “Living Brave Semester” program.  As part of the program, we were given the assignments to read Brene’s books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.  Ordinarily, I read relatively quickly and have been known to devour entire books in one sitting (I have also been known to devour entire sleeves of Oreo thins in one sitting, but that’s a whole other topic).  With both of these books, however, I’ve had to read them more slowly than usual because with each one I’ve need to take frequent reading breaks to either think deeply on what I’ve just read or to cry because what I’d read had resonated so strongly with me.  Yeah, to say her books have had a strong impact on me is an understatement.

In Rising Strong, Brene details a frustrating situation and her difficulties dealing with it both in the moment and afterward — and judgment was a part of this.  In fact, Brene characterized those she was judging as “sewer rats and scofflaws.”  And as I read, I was totally cheering her on and thinking, “Damn straight, who does he/she think he/she is?!?!”  Or at least that’s what I was thinking all the way up until she shared an alternate perspective offered by her therapist:  What if those we’re labeling “sewer rats and scofflaws” are really doing the very best that they can do?  That they are not acting under a conscious effort to behave badly, but that they are simply doing the best they can do within their own abilities.  Whoa.  Yep, I had to stop reading so I could spend some dedicated time considering how my judgmental tendencies might be in opposition to my goal of living big.

By judging and labeling others, regardless of how quietly or internally I’ve done so, I’ve been creating my own limited circles.  By judging and labeling others, I have been easily dismissing and putting some people outside of my circles.  It’s not an attractive realization to make.  If I choose to stop that judgement process, however,  and instead approach situations from a default mindset of believing that most people are doing the very best that they can do I am invoking compassion, not judgment.  By halting judgment, I’m leaving open the possibility of connection and not further insulating myself into a known and unambiguous environment.  Being angry and self-righteous comes easily to me, but I find that compassion is complicated and if I’m truly being compassionate and believe others are doing the best that they can do, I can’t just shrink-wrap, label them, and stick them outside my circle of concern. How can I say I’m living “big” when I’m knowingly creating constraints and smallness with my habit of judging?

I didn’t expect a simple exploration of my curiosity to bring with it a breakthrough and whole new way of thinking, but it did.  Indulging in curiosity opens us up to new ways of looking at things, can inspire new ideas and creativity, and in general keeps those neurons creating new connections in our brains by forcing us to think in ways that are different from our defaults.  Curiosity expands us and isn’t that what living big is all about?


Ditching Plans, Being Present = Mindfulness

When I started this Masters Project, I approached it the way I approach any new project– I built a plan.  And while a plan is one of the necessary components of a Masters Project, at least per my syllabus, I realized within a few weeks that I was going to need a much more flexible approach to this personal development effort than the strict and rigid schedules I use for my professional work.

About four weeks in, I noticed that I was starting to feel irritated at having to taking time to “make marks” in my Thoughtlog each night before I went to sleep.  I also recognized that filling out a daily log evaluating each and every mindfulness, motion, and curiosity activity was seriously sucking the joy out of the process.  Typically, I would shove those emotions aside and just push my way through whatever was irritating me.  And I was well on my way to doing exactly that, when it finally it dawned on me THIS was an opportunity for learning: “live big and sparkle” is not a way of being that I can achieve by rigid scheduling and programming.  By doing so I was falling into the same old traps that have been limiting my ability to be truly present and enjoy life.  Managing (aka controlling) activities (aka everything)  is my way of dealing with uncertainty.  Or perhaps avoiding having to deal with uncertainty.  Not really a good way to be present and in the moment if what I’m being present in is actually a carefully orchestrated performance.  Collecting data is still an obligatory element of this Masters Project and collect data I will.  It was clear, though, my  original regimented method for doing this conflicted with living a truly mindful life.

The reality of all of the above was driven home when I traveled to Buffalo, NY last week to attend SUNY’s “Launching Mindfulness” academic conference. It ended up being a big growth and learning experience for me, particularly in those areas of being flexible, staying open, and being okay with ambiguity/uncertainty — and not just because of the conference!  Here’s what happened:

I was traveling with one of my besties and we’d decided to forego renting a car since the conference was within walking distance of the hotel.  Being the planner I am, I’d checked my MapQuest and Google Maps to ascertain the conference location (University at Buffalo) was indeed within walking distance.  I’d also scoped out the distance from the hotel to some of my fave spots in Elmwood Village (near MY campus, Buffalo State) and planned for us to taxi in for a late lunch and shopping after we landed.

The cab ride to Elmwood Village ended up being I don’t know how many miles more than what I’d researched and cost almost $45.00.  I could feel the annoyance rising as the fare on the meter continued to tick up, but I worked to keep my focus on the moment at hand.  We chatted with the driver about different types of yoga as he wended his way through Buffalo, I pointed out sights to my bestie, and realized when we arrived at our destination the annoyance was gone and I was just happy to be there – regardless of it taking quite a bit longer than I’d anticipated for us to get there.  Nothing would have been gained by becoming frustrated or berating the driver, but by recognizing what really mattered in the moment I was able to make the additional time enjoyable and interesting.

I’d also carefully planned my wardrobe for this trip and had worn a very practical outfit of leggings, boots, sweater dress so that I would have no issues transitioning from flight to cab to walking in town.  Except I had somehow grabbed a pair of what must have been ancient leggings.  After lunch in Elmwood village, before we had walked even a block, my leggings were halfway down my butt — and for the record, these were Spanx leggings, which I love and they NEVER behave this way!  Not only was this happening on a busy street, it was happening underneath a sweater dress and a down coat.  I ended up having to forego my polished appearance  and hike up my bulky coat and haul my leggings up — several times.  And you know what?  We laughed like lunatics about it,  indulged in a little shopping, marveled at a passing snow flurry, and had a blast.

The ultimate blow to my supreme organization and planning came the next morning when we headed off to the conference. It was cold — I was prepared for that.  It was icy — I was prepared for that.  And due to our less than stellar Google map reading skills we were heading in exactly the wrong direction to reach the conference.  We returned to the hotel to get the RIGHT directions and set out again, only to find that while University at Buffalo was indeed within walking distance, we were kinda sorta walking on a pretty busy four-lane highway that didn’t have any shoulder.  We happened across a blue University at Buffalo bus that had “EVENTS” emblazoned on it, explained our plight to the driver, and hitched a ride.  Another entirely unexpected foul-up in our best-laid plans, but instead of an annoyance or something to agonize over, we made it an adventure and reached the conference in high spirits.

Ordinarily, this much havoc wreaked upon my plans and schedules would have sent me into a tailspin.  Instead, by relaxing into the unknown and uncertainty, by being okay with staying open and being flexible, the trip ended up being an incredibly rewarding and fun experience for me and for my friend.  The conference was wonderful and I learned a lot,  but the biggest and most powerful leaning that took place for me was in experiencing the joy and happiness that comes from just letting life happen and being there for it.