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I err on the side of being a Pollyanna. It’s my nature, to try to see the positive in everything. And sometimes, I know, it can be annoying.

But, this year. This year has been hard, y’all. When you are being stripped down to the core, when you are sitting in the muddiest of mud pits, let me tell you, it’s hard to see the world through those rosy lenses.

Still, it happens. I’ve been blessed with moments, in the middle of darkness, that help me to see there is always light.

This week, I found beauty in the unlikeliest of places.

Basically, everything I need to know about life, I’ve learned on a SoulCycle bike. Things like…the hill makes you stronger; keep climbing. When you need to sit down, let yourself recover. When you lose your way, just move to the beat. When you think you cannot turn up the resistance higher, try a little more. When it gets too hard and you think you can’t go any farther, keep going. And when you keep going, you will be surprised at your own strength.

And so on.

I tend to take the same instructors week after week, mainly because I love their energy. Energy, I’ve learned, is the key to so many things in life.

Before class at the end of the week, I chided myself for not canceling it. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home and hang on my couch. But I showed up anyway. SoulCycle taught me that.

As class started, I found myself worried about keeping up. I became concerned about not having eaten enough. I felt a vague hunger. I was mentally exhausted.

And then, my energy shifted. Suddenly, I was happy to be there and in my body and in that moment. The music was loud, and as I cycled and moved with the choreography, I felt grateful for it all.

I had one of those moments where everything felt right. I felt happy. Genuinely, deep into my core, happy. I looked around and could feel the joy pulsating through the room. I thought, life can be so beautiful.

And then the disco lights came on. Seriously.  I mean…you can’t not be happy with colored disco lights spinning around the room.

There, in the middle of 60-something sweaty people, I found my center.

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And it was beautiful.

xo, with goodness and grace.

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After an emotionally exhausting couple of weeks, I decided enough was enough. It was time to take back control.  This meant deciding to be happy.

To be clear, things didn’t magically become sunshiny and spring-like.  Literally, it’s winter and cold and snowy; metaphorically, I decided to accept the season for what it is.

There were many small moments where the clouds began to part in the skies, so to speak.  As I left work on Friday, I walked towards the Hudson River hoping to catch the sunset.

With its pink and peach and amber tones, it didn’t disappoint.

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And then there was today.

Sunday is normally the one day I can sleep in, which I value deeply.  But this morning I changed things up and went for a SoulCycle spin. I hadn’t been in a couple of weeks, and I remembered whenever I am stressed, it’s important for me to give an outlet to all of that energy.  So, I work out.

There, right on the bike this morning, I found a taste of joy.  It was palpable in the room.  It was like a Sunday morning church service.

The instructor, a pint-sized powerhouse ball of good energy, talked about having taken a dance class the night before.  So unused to choreography, she felt silly. But, as she said, she kept going even though she wanted to hide in the corner.

“I don’t hide,” she said.  “And neither should you.  Don’t you dare let fear make you hide.”

And there was my directive for the week ahead.

No matter what is going on in your life, I hope you find room for joy.  And don’t you dare hide.

xo, with goodness and grace.

I’d had one of those days where I felt lonely, as people sometimes do, and disconnected from so many things.  Those are the times where it’s easy to fall into the abyss of your mind and linger there, conjuring up an epic pity party of how you are all alone in the world and nothing will ever—ever!—be right.

Fast forward to the next day when I arrived at my SoulCycle class at 5:45 am and checked in at the front desk.

“Can I get you water or shoes?” one of the men behind the desk asked me.

“Nope, she’s good.  She’s my ‘I’m all set’ girl,” said his colleague.

Everyone at the front desk is familiar by now, but I realized we hadn’t exchanged pleasantries other than this standard question and answer.

“I’m pretty new here—I’m Max,” the first man said, reaching out to shake my hand.

Then, the rest of the staff behind the desk introduced themselves and I suddenly felt at home.  My energy shifted.

As class began, my heart sank a little when some of the bikes in front of me were empty, probably because of the impending holiday weekend.  When this happened, the instructors can see me sitting all the way in the back.  Sometimes I struggle to sync my legs up with the beat of the music, especially when it is too fast, and I’d rather pedal unseen and find my way without anyone to see me.  Or help me, I suppose.

If that isn’t a metaphor for my life, I don’t know what is.

On this particular morning, I felt good, strong and rested, even with the early hour.  I kept up with the class and felt happy.

Instructor Emily looked over at me tapping it back, as we do in SoulCycle, and said, “Fourth row—magical things are happening back there! Can you feel it?”

Yup, I could feel it.  Though, I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or not.

As the class progressed, she got off her bike and walked around, speaking in her inspirational way.  She made her way towards the back row, looked at me and said, “Yeah!!!!”

She came over to me and put her hands over mine, resting them there for a few seconds.  Such a small thing changed my emotional chemistry and set me on the path of a better day.

Simple interactions, simple touches, simple encouragement, these are kindnesses that matter.  These things that make you feel cared for and supported.

Sometimes magic rises up and supports you when you need it most.  The trick is to be open to it.

Let me just say this: self care can be hard.  There was not one day this week when I didn’t want to stay in bed, all warm and cozy.  But still I got up and I showed up. Because, that too is self care.

Day 13: I left the office at a reasonable hour to see some friends I don’t see that often, including one who lives in another city and was in town for a few days. Getting to see girlfriends always means a fun night out.

The cocktails weren’t bad either.  A Manhattan always makes me feel so grown up.

Skylark Manhattan

And, it was St. Patrick’s Day.  The Empire State Building celebrated along with us. How lucky I am to get to see a view like that.

Empire Statue Bldg on St Patrick's Day

Day 14:  This day was just plain hard.  I wanted to do anything but what I was supposed to be doing.

I wanted to be frolicking on a beach with cute cabana boys bringing me lobster salads.  I wanted to be at the spa, knots untangled and mind de-stressed.  I wanted someone to send me on a private plane to Paris, and when we landed, I would start with a gluten, butter and cream-filled eating binge and end with a shopping spree at every designer store—and someone else would pay for it all.

Instead, I was at my desk needing to get through my massively long to-do list.  So I ate chocolate instead.   At 11:30 in the morning.

And it was good.

Marzipan Chocolate

Day 15:  This was the day that I said, I got nothing.  I felt like I had nothing left to give, even to myself.

And then I felt loved.  (Please see the previous post, Grace: Abundance.)

You are Beautiful

Day 16:  The princess in me wanted to sleep in, but instead I got up before the sun rose and I got on the bike.

I also sweat like I’d never sweated before.  It felt good to work out everything I’d been carrying all week.

SoulCycle

Day 17:  Going home and cleaning out the DVR and catching up on what happened in the world that week may sound like a self care fail.  But sometimes it’s all you need.

Day 18:  This was the day I took a three-hour nap.  Finally, I let myself get some much needed rest.

But, before I put myself down for nap time, I was moved to see a block in my neighborhood covered in inspiration written in sidewalk chalk.

Amazing

Beautiful

It was extraordinary to fall asleep with this inspiration for my dreams.

Day 19:  Sometimes it’s a challenge to make time for the things that interest me, but this day was spent, happily, at a food styling course.  I learned some fascinating tricks that I hope to use on this blog in future posts.

Afterwards, I took myself to ABC Cocina, one of my favorite places in Manhattan. Everything I’ve eaten there has been heavenly, especially this shaved brussels sprouts salad with a flurry of cheese and Marcona almonds.  This would convert anyone who thinks they hate brussels sprouts.

Brussels Sprout Salad-ABC Cocina

And these short rib tacos with habanero relish—they were savory, succulent, and scrumptious.

Short Rib Tacos-ABC Cocina

A perfect way to end the week.  Here’s to the next 7 days of caring well for ourselves.

xo, with goodness & grace.

As carefree as last week was, this week was full of stress.

Where I was blossoming with love—I felt like the love fairy…spreading love dust everywhere!—the last few days found me sprinkling my crankiness all around.  I needed something to flip my emotional switch.

So, with a summer Friday off, I took to the bike.

I am not the girl who follows the trends—often it’s just the opposite.  If everyone wants to do it, I want no parts of it.  SoulCycle fell into that category.  The more everyone preached the “soul” gospel, the less I was interested in trying it.

And then I did.

It’s been pretty revolutionary in my life.  As I work out my body, my mind gets cleared of all the gunk.  I emerge calmer, more focused and, dare I say, happier.

What do I love about it?

The walls are peppered with inspiration.

Soul Cycle Inspiration_2

Each of the instructors are part cycling coach, part life guru.

Turn your resistance up more, to the point where you think you cannot ride anymore. Do this for 20 seconds.  Just 20 seconds of your life.  Now you know that you can do what you think you cannot.  

Music helps get you through the difficult parts of the class, along with words of wisdom.

If you have a hill in your life, practice how climb it in here, on this bike.

The grace of 45 minutes to spin, to channel my angst into something productive, to push myself beyond what I could do yesterday, this is what fills me with gratitude today.

I hope you live your life like you ride your bike.  

Amen.

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.

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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.

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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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