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When I was in the 3rd grade, we had a dance party in our classroom for the holidays.  As my all-time favorite teacher, Mrs. Feder was warm and kind and knew how to have fun with a class of 8 year olds.

But with my shyness getting the best of me, I didn’t get up to dance.

Towards the end of the party, Mrs. Feder came over to me and said that I had to dance with her during the next fast song.

Of course it never played.  The party ended and I hadn’t danced with Mrs. Feder.  I hadn’t been brave enough to just get up and do it.

It’s a theme that’s played out throughout my life, the chances I’ve had to get up and have fun not taken because of my unspoken fear of looking silly.

I don’t do vulnerability well.

The concept of vulnerability has become much-talked about recently, mainly because of the popularity of the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.  Funnily enough, I’ve started and stopped reading it a few times.

I think the whole subject makes me uncomfortable.  Take, for example, this nugget that Brown tweeted recently:

The greatest vulnerability challenge: Our capacity for wholeheartedness = our willingness to be brokenhearted. #DaringDammit

Just reading that makes me want to crawl under the covers and snuggle with my pillows.

The basic premise is that you can’t find joy—or have a truly intimate relationship, for that matter—without being open to being vulnerable.  I’m pretty talented when it comes to getting other people to open up and tell me about their feelings, but I’m starting to see with crystal clarity that I am an expert at using that as a deflection to being vulnerable myself.

It’s time to open my heart.

The regrets I’ve had over the years were because I’ve let something go unsaid or unacknowledged. I get a stomachache just thinking about that.  I wish I could have told Mrs. Feder how much it meant that by encouraging me to dance, she acknowledged that this quiet kid deserved to have fun, too.

So, for the month of August, I’m dedicating myself to being open hearted and living as gracefully as possible, with gratitude as my tool.  Each day I’ll be posting the thing I’m most grateful for – a picture, a quote, or a story.  And, throughout the month, I’m also planning to send Grace Notes to people who have touched me in some way.  Most days I’ll include a brief summary of what the person means to me.

It’s time to spread a little love.

Heart

The very center of your heart is where life begins.  The most beautiful place on earth.

— Rumi

My nephew was in town visiting last week.  One day as we were hanging out, he picked up my phone and began looking through my pictures.  He marveled at how many there were, and then he took a moment, his nine-year-old mind formulating an unfiltered thought.

“Your pictures are all of FOOD.”

Well, that’s not entirely true.  My cameraphone has photos of landscapes and things that I have found beautiful.

Of course, those are interspersed between lots and lots and lots (and, did I mention there are lots?) of pictures of the meals I’ve eaten.

I justify this by saying how much I love food—it was my first love as a child and has been my constant companion and source of joy throughout my life.  I love food; therefore, I photograph.

As I thought about his observation, it triggered a therapy session in my head.  Where are the pictures of people in my life?  Why is it that I have no chronicle of the fun nights and giggle-filled days?

The truth is life is inherently personal. And somehow, I’ve veered off course in the last few years, focusing on tasks and chores and things on the to-do list, then seeking solace in objects, clothes and, yes, food.

I’m looking to embrace the people in my life a little more.  I’m looking, in reference Rumi in the quote above, to live from the very center of my heart.  I’m looking to make life a little more personal.

In a beautiful text this week, my friend Sandy implored me to “show up and be seen.”  So, in an unguarded moment and an attempt to begin to peel back the layers, here is a moment of joy from last week.  An actual people picture.  A selfie of me and my favorite boy.

Me and the Boy

Personal and full of grace. XO

Sometimes there are events that thrust you into a new way of being, that shake you to your core, that move you out of one state of mind and into another.

For me, it all started with the steam pipe explosion.

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I was about to leave the office, but I’d sat down to talk to my friend Jen as sometimes I did before I left. This was during my workaholic phase, before I’d officially recognized that there was more to life than work. We’d worked many late nights, and we would order dinner and commiserate about what had gone on that day. Sometimes I would lament  the fact that I had to cancel yet another dinner plan because I had to finish something at work.

On this particular day, I was getting myself out of the office at a reasonable hour. I’d shut down my computer and had my favorite Kate Spade red and pink striped satchel in hand, ready to walk out the door. But on my way out, I started a conversation and sat down on a chair just outside of Jen’s cubicle, and we began to chit chat about whatever we needed to talk about at the end of that day.

Later, Jen would tell me that she knew something was wrong just by the look on my face.

I remember it had rained heavily earlier on that steamy July morning, the kind of rain that seems as if it will never end.  The kind that feels like thick bands of water are shooting down as if there was a leak in the sky.  The kind feels abnormal somehow. But then it stopped and the sun came out and life went on as it normally does.

We heard a loud noise outside, which at first sounded like thunder, though the sound went on longer than thunder normally does. It wasn’t immediately alarming, because of the heavy thunderstorm earlier. But I was facing the window, and suddenly I saw a massive plume of smoke billow upward from the street below.

At that moment—and for the people who were not near a window, I still don’t know how they knew to move—everyone ran for the exit.

This being New York, where no matter how far we are from September 11, 2001 it still remains in the collective consciousness of every day, so that was the thing that instantly sprang to mind. Some act of terror must have occurred at Grand Central Station, just across the street from our office.

We ran down 10 flights of stairs, hysterically at first. Some people were literally pushed down the stairs, and then we all realized that if we had any chance of getting out of the building we needed to take care of each other. We began to move in orderly, but speedy fashion.

As we got to the bottom of the stairs, someone shouted, “The doors won’t open!”

You don’t know panic until you’ve heard that.

My friend Judy turned to me and begged to use my cell phone so she could call her boyfriend. “No, no, no,” I remember saying. “We aren’t doing that. We’re going to focus on getting out of here.”

I momentarily wondered if that made me a bad person and if I would later regret my words.

Thankfully after finding another exit, there was a set of doors that did open. Jen, Judy and I reached it at the same time. Unexpectedly, and completely out of character, I had a paralyzing moment of fear of what was outside. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. Suddenly I wasn’t sure if we were safer inside or outside. Jen took a beat and then said, “Just go!”

I cannot remember details of what the street looked like when we finally emerged, except for the thought that it looked like the aftermath of an incident in a war zone.  We later learned that there was not an act of terror; there had been a steam pipe explosion across the street from our office building, probably triggered by the heavy rain earlier in the day.

It didn’t lessen the intensity of what we’d just been through.

I look back on that experience and marvel at how this one event changed me. I was changed in ways that were uncomfortable and life altering.

Loud noises began to unsettle me, where they hadn’t bothered me before.  I met a friend for breakfast the next morning, and the fire alarm went off in the restaurant. No one moved or seemed concerned, which I found disconcerting. My friend showed up a few minutes after I got settled, complained about our table and had us moved. Then she grew annoyed because her coffee hadn’t come fast enough.

I sat there, trying to act normal though it felt like my frayed nerves were hanging out of my body, while I wondered if I should keep this person in my life.

Trauma brought me a startling and heightened clarity to what was important.

I also had far less tolerance for unkindness and rudeness. I became impatient with other people’s impatience and with their hysterical need for everything to be done immediately, particularly at work. It was a major catalyst that led me leave that job a few months later for one that afforded me a better quality of life, though I still struggled (and continue to, even now) over how to let work go once I left the office for the day.

At the same time, it was the beginning of a series of events that would shape my adult life, many that I still feel in the aftermath of today. Like the family crisis that following year. And the job, and the job after that, that seemed to continually force me to face the question of who I wanted to show up as in the world and where I really belonged.

Those events were all triggers in getting me to this point in my life. These were the events that fully ushered me into adulthood.  The numbers on the birthday cards may confirm that you are an adult, but life pushes you into the lifestage through its changes, only when it is ready.

Change can be good.

A few weeks after the steam pipe explosion, I was having a conversation with Judy, and I mentioned something about that day. I said that something would happen and would take me back to that day. That I felt a bit scarred by the whole thing.

“But, Dena,” she said. “It’s over.”

It was time to move on to our new normal.

Oh, Mary Oliver.  How you haunt me with the beauty and grace of your “Summer Day” poem, with these words that I’ve written about before:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  

These are the words that week after week I stumble on—in magazines, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, even on the Gluten Free Girl blog—constantly imploring me to live the question so I can find my route home.  Every day has become an attempt to understand what the words mean in my life, with my brain and thoughts and emotions trying to wrap themselves around their significance.

It’s overwhelming.  How do you create a life all at once?

The answer to that is, you don’t.

What I do know is that when you are depleted emotionally, physically and spiritually, it’s difficult to hear the call of your spirit.  So with a week off from work and nothing planned, I decided to spend my one wild and precious week re-learning the art of self care.

With my social media feeds peppered with my friends’ vacations in Hawaii, Italy, and various islands, I felt (very jealous, but) perfectly happy to return to myself at home.

My staycation wellness retreat included:

The Spa. No self-care program would be complete without a trip to the spa.  Armed with a gift card and a free afternoon, I treated myself to a 90-minute aromatherapy massage.  As the therapist got to work, she marveled at my knotted muscles and declared that I needed something more intense that the treatment I’d booked, so she brought out her major weapons—hot stones that aided her as she untangled my knotted back, legs and neck and melted some of the stress that has kept my body captive.

I floated away, had lunch by the spa’s pool and took in the awesome city views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park.

Peninsula View

The grace of wellness: Surrender to being cared for and the universe will do the rest.

The Spin. I used to be a spinning class freak, carefully planning my work days around my class schedule.  Of course, my work days were more flexible back then, and as my life got more hectic, cycling went by the wayside.

This week I got back on the bike. I tried my first SoulCycle class.

SoulCycle_2

It was quite possibly the most insane class I’ve ever taken.  You cycle like a crazy person in candlelight to high energy music, and then do abdominal crunches and lift 2 pound weights WHILE you are cycling.  But I went at my own pace, alternately slowing down when I needed to and then pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do.  Oddly, I felt energized and strangely happy after the last song, Fun.’s Some Nights, with the lyric that twisted itself in my soul like the Mary Oliver poem:

What do I stand for?  What do I stand for?

Fitness is religion. My wellness mantra, that is what I stand for.

The grace of wellness: Getting back in the saddle again can be a literal pain in the you-know-what, but if you push through, euphoria is waiting on the other side of that ache.

The Yoga. I discovered yoga almost 20 years ago and though I stray from it, I always return to it like a soul mate.  For those who think it’s a lot of breathing and stretching and not a real work out, it always shows up for me a a seriously athletic undertaking that leaves me breathless.  And it teaches you to breathe through the difficulty, even when you think you cannot.

Never mind that my favorite yoga tape was eaten by the VCR (lest you think I’m a relic from the 80s, it’s actually a DVD-VCR combo…but I understand if that doesn’t change your mind), I rediscovered the joy of finding my breath in the face of some ridiculous looking contortions.

The grace of wellness: The deeper you breathe, the more your body—and mind—will open and release.

The Hugger. I’ve heard about Amma, the “hugging saint”, for a while and was intrigued by the fanfare around her.  One of India’s most highly regarded spiritual leaders, her religion is love.  She spreads joy and comfort through a warm smile and a loving hug. In New York for a stop on her North American tour, I lined up early on her first NYC morning for the chance to be embraced and blessed by her.

While in line and waiting for my friend Corey, I somehow found myself (uncharacteristically) making a new friend.  The lovely woman in front of me, on her own North American journey, was able to come that day because of a delayed flight back home to Australia.  Caryn and I both agreed that delays sometimes open a door to beautiful and transformative experiences and that she clearly was meant to come to see Amma that day. We chatted and found ourselves sharing details of our lives as only strangers with no agenda can.

As we talked and were lead into the hall to meet Amma, I was surprised by the thought that popped into my head.

I feel at home in the world.  

Because she had to catch her flight, Caryn was ushered up to meet Amma a bit earlier than my friend and I.  She looked radiantly transformed when she came back to say goodbye.  As we bid farewell, she kissed me on the cheek and gave me a hug—a real, tight and full-bodied embrace that felt like we’d always known each other.

Spirit draws people together as strangers so they can leave each other as friends.

I feel at home in the world.

When it was finally my turn to meet Amma, she smiled, pulled me in close and held me for what seemed like a full minute, chanting something in my ear while her energy gently pulsed around me.  When she was done, she put a Hershey’s kiss and a rose petal in my hand and sent me on my way.  I had the chance to sit on the stage while she hugged the people that followed me.  I took a few precious moments of my wild life, meditated and got swept away by the rhythm of the music that filled the hall.

Amma

The grace of wellness: When you allow yourself to be embraced, life presents sweetness, beauty, and the grace of new friends.

The Ladybug: Earlier in the week, I noticed a ladybug hanging out around my windows.  I’ve read that ladybugs are good luck, so I just let her be.  (Which probably makes me kind of crazy, but let’s just go with it, shall we?) She must have hung on for three days, playing around the window shades, flying around and just chilling in the summer sun.

On the fourth day, I realized I hadn’t seen her all day.  Then, I discovered her, lifeless, but snuggled just in front of a framed picture that my nephew drew from me a few years ago.

ILoveYou_2

The grace of wellness: Be open to signs.  Even a ladybug can offer a message of comfort.

How fortunate am I to have surrendered to the beauty of my own city? As I woke this morning, I realized today is my last weekday of this vacation and felt sad.  How do I keep up my good self-care intentions when I return to my hectic work life?

As with all good intentions, it all comes down to the measure of the commitment behind them.

And that is how I begin to draw the road map for my one wild and precious life.

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