Wisdom in Pencil Shavings

03/08/2018
colored pencil shavings

The main character in this story


On this hot NYC summer day, I’m recalling a time earlier this year when winter was dragging its feet and holding spring hostage. People started to wonder if they had unknowingly fallen asleep, missed summer and woke up in winter again. As you might imagine, after months of cold, wet and dreariness, a person’s spirits need a good lift – especially when the snow starts falling from the sky when the calendar clearly says it’s time for spring… The good news is that this type of heaviness can be countered by pure nourishment, which I personally find in arts and crafts. Sketching, making a collage, even coloring – these all transport me back to childhood when we did things purely for exploration and play.

On one of these long winter nights, I rolled out my yoga mat to set up my arts and craft station. (Yes, I use my mat for practicing poses and crafting – it’s all yoga to me.) I pulled out my pencil sharpeners and emptied them out on the hardwood floor. As I looked down at this dusty little pile, it occurred to me that these messy, colorful shavings looked pretty cool sitting there. At that moment I decided I could probably transform this perceived pile of junk into something fun so I gathered some rubber glue and a piece of durable black construction paper then began to slather rubber glue across the page while sprinkling the spirals of shavings all over. One harvest wasn’t enough to complete the project so I would need to carve all of my pencils to an articulate, sharp point. As I continued to sharpen and glue layers of colored pencil dust to the page, I had a couple of thoughts about creativity and nourishment:

  • This thing that I made isn’t really a good piece of art at all – not in a consumer sense, anyway. But, what’s affirming about the process is simply the joy and lightness of creativity. The result doesn’t always need to become a money maker nor does anyone even need to see it. Something can be made strictly for nourishment – a valuable outcome, too. This nourishment is important to seek, identify and keep close, especially when life begins to feel heavy, grey and dull. We can’t change the fact that we’re experiencing this third winter nor can we mute the grind and noise of the city. We can only take care of ourselves with the tools we have at hand. This feels like true, authentic self-care – which we are all worthy of.
  • The other thing I contemplated was the literal messiness of this project: the glue, scraps of paper and in this case, pencil shavings. Initially, I approached the project with a careful and clean manner, gingerly patting down the shavings to the glue. Then I realized the actual messiness is a big part of the fun and reason for collecting pencil shavings in the first place. So, with gleeful abandon and hands covered in glue and colorful dust, I felt the joy, peace, magic, and nourishment that creating – for the pure sake of creating – reveals in and for me.

All of that. From a humble pile of colored pencil shavings. We all have projects that give us this pure sense of nourishment – our own version of some glue and colored pencil shavings. What’s yours?

mvimg_20180725_200112

My crafting station/yoga mat and art project

 

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Unravel

20/07/2018
Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

Photo by Terra Evans on Unsplash

A little while ago I was speaking to one of my dear friends in Australia. She is what I would describe as a touchstone, term for someone who restores faith in the goodness of humanity. This person helps unwrap and untangle any knots around my heart and mind, and I always walk away from our conversations feeling lighter and inspired. Every time I speak to her, I can’t help but feel like I’ve shifted and grown in some way.

During one of our phone calls, we spoke of our current events and news in our respective corners of the earth. In this conversation, I shared that I recently felt a sense of ‘unraveling’ happening within me. This sensation is exciting, yet a bit unsettling. As I explained, this internal unraveling made me feel like I was on the cusp of some change or realization. I rambled for a bit about this feeling and of course, didn’t really think I made much sense at all. But that’s the great thing about this friend; she’s patient and a champion listener. (Like, if listening were an Olympic sport, she’d most certainly qualify and probably get to stand on the podium). Once I had finished spilling fragments of thoughts, there was a pause. I could hear my friend contemplating from 10,000 miles away. Then she mused, “When you were using the word unraveling, I couldn’t help but think about a thread when you’re knitting. When a thread unravels, you use that bit to create something new.”

Wow. Once again my touchstone leaves me with such a simple image but one that I keep returning to on days when I feel like I’m coming undone. Sometimes this feeling of coming undone is exciting because something is about to change. Just like it can be unsettling because something is about to change. Unsettling or exciting, the unraveled thread can be used to create something new and beautiful. One of my yoga teachers, Matthew Sanford, once told me that unraveling is part of the process of realization and growth but warned that the trick is to not become too attached or concerned with the feeling of unraveling; allow it to be part of the experience without it becoming the focus. So, therein lies the practice. We’re all going to experience a sense of coming apart as we grow. The practice is to remain aware and even grateful for the unraveling but to stay loose because if you pull or hold too tight, you might unravel the whole sweater.

Improvasana

18/07/2018

yes and improv

Once upon a time I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone and try something completely different. So I said YES to Improv! Not only was I looking for a different extra-curricular activity than what I would normally sign up for, I also hoped to cultivate more confidence with speaking in front of others and thinking on the spot. As the weeks went on I began to realize that what we were learning in improv isn’t far off from what I’ve learned in yoga and meditation practices…

– In Improv, they encourage you to pause before you respond to a prompt. So if someone says, ‘What’s in the box?’ rather than panic and react (which can lead to funny outcomes), they advise to take a breath and respond. This sounds suspiciously like something I’ve learnt in my meditation practice. We learn to sit with whatever comes up, including difficult feelings or emotions. We learn to lean into these feelings, get comfortable and maybe even become friends with them. This skill that we learn in improv and in yoga can help us respond more thoughtfully to the ebbs and flows of life.

– Sometimes in improv you just can’t think what to say next… so you just say something. Anything. Then later on you say to yourself ‘Oh man! Why didn’t I say *this*. That would have been so good. But no, I’m terrible at improv.’ (Or was this just my thought process?). This cycle of negativity and self-criticism isn’t great for us. Besides, wasn’t the whole point of taking improv to have fun, do something different and learn a few things? Let go of the negative self-talk and be kind to yourself. Hmm… I feel like this has come up in yoga classes for me. “Handstand? Man, I won’t ever be able to do that. I suck at life because I can’t pop up into a handstand.” Wait? Why am I practicing yoga again? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s fun and I learn things. Sounds like improv.”

Breathing. As mentioned before, when it’s your turn to talk in improv, take a breath. In yoga if you’re in a challenging posture, take a breath. In meditation, when the mind starts to wander, re-align your focus and take a breath. Actually, if you’re doing anything, take a breath.

– As one of my peers so wisely observed in the final class, improv is really more than just thinking of the right thing to say. It’s important to actually bring your mind AND body into the experience. When we become more mindful of our body and how we’re holding it in space, we tend to feel more connected to ourselves, those around us and heck, even the world. When the link between our mind and body is awakened in such a way, we’ll bring more of ourselves into the improv scene/yoga class/meditation session. And maybe, just maybe this will teach us to include more of ourselves into the world. Whether that’s to be brave and try something new or to stand up for something you believe in. Or perhaps it helps you cultivate compassion for yourself and others. As a yoga student and teacher, I have long reflected on what it means to have an active connection between mind and body and will continue to ask the question.

So, it would seem that improv is actually meditation and yoga in disguise. Who would have thought? (By the way, I took the Improv series at Brave New Workshop. They’re awesome. Check them out if you’re in the Twin Cities.)

 

Joy in the Mess

17/07/2018

Friday night in New York City. My husband and I are kindly invited by my dear friend, David, and new friend, Cassandra, to a dinner party at their home. All day I was overcome with anxiety – both the good, excited kind but also the “I won’t be good enough” kind. David and Cassandra are insightful, well-traveled, and quite successful at what they do. As my mind tends to do in times like these, it reminds me that my accomplishments don’t stack up to theirs or those of their guests. Yeah, my brain can be a real jerk.

Fortunately, when we arrive my nerves quickly subside and I feel more at ease as we are warmly greeted and led inside. Everyone who is there already is kind and immediately welcoming. Introductions are made. Drinks are poured. Laughs are had. Then, it’s time for dinner.

Conversation is flowing as we’re lapping up our soup, sucking on the hearts of artichokes, pouring more wine, and then the main course is served. We’re enjoying this stunning feast when the generous and warm-hearted hostess asks for everyone’s attention as she has an idea.

With a mere 14 of us gathered around the table, she suggests that the group is intimate enough that we could go around to talk about and share our passions. In the middle of a bite of chicken, I immediately feel my hands go clammy, my skin flush, my stomach clamp up… Oh no… That dreaded question.

Before I go further, let me clarify that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this question. In fact, I love this question. I love listening to what other people have to say. But, you see, when asked to talk about what I’m passionate about, I get overwhelmed. All at once, my mind somehow shuts down and goes into overdrive. I can’t really easily explain what it is that I’m passionate about. There are things I care deeply about and for. I have plenty of hobbies and interests, I could tell you about. But ask me about my passion and I get all like…

giphy-downsized

I’m not sure why this question triggers such anxiety for me. I suspect part of it is that my passion is a moving target. I have a habit of quickly and easily becoming enthralled by new ideas and topics – which I seem to encounter all the time, especially living in NYC! As I listen with admiration to everyone’s stories, passions, and achievements, I experience simultaneous sensations of hope and connection… and kind of needing to vomit. I have issues, man.

Eventually, I have to speak. Cassandra, who I’ve met only twice, turns towards me and gives an insightful and warm introduction. One I wish I had recorded because she pretty much hit the nail on the head, describing how I seemed to be seeking my place and there’s a sense of discomfort – which pretty much confirms what I’ve always feared to be true… I am awkward. Anyway, I barely remember what I cobbled together for my response. I quickly and nervously said something about how everything I do seems to go back to stories  – which I absolutely believe to be true. Stories matter. Everyone was perfectly kind and supportive of what I had to say. Then, the spotlight went onto the next guest. Relief. Phew.

While I can’t say with any confidence that I intrigued anyone that evening, I am thankful for the night, the company and this question. It prompted me to reflect. Since that dinner, I have come to a conclusion (for now) that I am passionate about three things: stories, creativity, and humanity. The hobbies and interests I collect like Pokemon (is that even a relevant reference anymore?) like yoga, hand lettering, reading, tech, and so on, are vehicles to help me study stories, the creative process, and the connection of humanity. And, the vehicles will likely change over time. Maybe even tomorrow. And, I’m OK with that… like the perfect comeback or quip, it’s too bad I didn’t think to say all of this around the table – but I am grateful to at least recognize and become content with the joy that is found in the mess of figuring this all out.

“How To Be Everything” is Everything

17/07/2018

Cover of "How To Be Everything"For as long as I can remember, I have been curious and interested in a lot of different things. Some that are related; others, seemingly random and out in left field. I took up lots of different extra-curriculars in high school, went on to explore a variety of subjects during undergraduate (it’s actually remarkable I graduated in four years and stuck with my majors in Journalism and Film Studies the whole time – the prospect of deep financial debt was enough to keep me on track, I guess) and have had jobs in recruiting, nonprofit, and wellness – to name a few.

As I began creeping towards my mid-thirties, I was beginning to grow increasingly frustrated and slightly embarrassed by my seemingly lack of career direction. It’s not that I don’t have the drive – it’s just that I tend to get really into one thing then grow bored and pursue the next subject or job. And, then I came across a TED Talk that would give people like me a name – I am a multipotentialite! As Emilie Wapnick describes in her talk, a multipotentialite is someone who has many different passions, skills, and interests. Finally! Someone who gets me and this segment of people who don’t jive with one, single career or focus.
Much to my delight, Wapnick released a book and guide called “How To Be Everything.” To my knowledge, there aren’t many career books that help people like me organize their various ideas and skills. While this is certainly beginning to change these days, it’s still seen to be the norm to choose one area of vocation to pursue. But this refreshing handbook debunks all of that and offers practical advice on how to organize, prioritize, and work with your various streams of ideas and interests. Wapnick’s voice is also incredibly lighthearted and encouraging which makes it extra enjoyable to read. In addition to clear tips and steps for taking action, I found excellent value in the exercises. My favorite one was writing down all of my projects, including hobbies that fuel my creativity and placed them in one of three categories: Priority Projects, In the Wings, and Tinker Time.

  • Priority Projects, as you may discern from the name, are projects that are on the top of my list. These are my money makers (or, I hope to be so am investing time into it). Right now I want to focus on my nonprofit work, learning how to code, and building my tech writing chops.
  • In The Wings are ideas that excite me but either require further resources and time to build skills in order to make them happen. Or, it might be a project that is meaningful but not of priority because I’m not expecting to monetize it. Projects on this list include writing a book and creating an app.
  • Tinker Time is reserved for anything that fuels my creativity and gives me fulfillment. It is stuff that I – well – tinker with. These projects and activities are what I turn to when I need a break from my Priorirty Projects, or need some self-care. I also don’t plan to monetize them but might be weaved into my Priority or In The Wings projects (For example, yoga is on this list. I don’t have much desire to teach yoga full-time right now but I still love yoga and love teaching adaptive yoga classes – actually, you can learn more about that right here on this website).

I highly recommend “How To Be Everything” if you feel stuck (Not for ideas because you probably have plenty of those!) and need some practical steps for how to thrive as a multipotentialite!

Take a look at http://puttylike.com/ for more info on Emilie Wapnick, multipotentialites and to pick up this awesome book!

Comedy & Humanity

14/07/2018
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Comedy has been a lifelong fascination for me. Between Saturday Night Live, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, countless movies, and far too many others to name, I’ve always felt a deeper connection to the world of comedy beyond the laughs. For the last couple of years, I have been asking myself why comedy strikes me so deeply. It feels like there’s more happening than we realize. But what is it exactly, and why does it matter to humanity?

As a personal project and just for fun, I’ve decided to dig deeper and start exploring these questions. Of all people, I have to give credit to Jeff Ross, probably best known for his role as “The Roastmaster General.” On the first night of Hanukkah last year, my friend and I attended An Evening with Judd Apatow at 92Y where he performed new bits, shared videos from projects and told stories. Near the end, he brought up Jeff Ross for a conversation, during which they talked about the HBO show “Crashing” starring Pete Holmes and Jeff said something to the effect of “Even though it’s a half-hour comedy, I find myself crying. It hits me right in the heart… So what is that?” Yes, Jeff Ross. What is that?

Not unlike other forms of expression such as music, dance, or theatre, comedy creates a bond between humans. Even the most divided can find commonality in a poop joke (Sarah Silverman makes this important point in her latest Netflix special “Speck of Dust.”) Poop joke or not, when people share laughter it’s a beautiful sound and feeling. When a comedian executes their craft with precision and the result “kills” it’s not uncommon for me to not only laugh but blink away some tears from the beauty of when everyone is on common ground, even if only for just a moment.

I’ve read several great books that invite you into the world of comedy and humanity, among them being “Sick in the Head” by Judd Apatow, “And Here’s the Kicker” by  Mike Sacks, and “The Improv: An Oral History” by Budd Friedman and Tripp Whetsell. Common threads I see in all of these are community, connection, vulnerability, passion, support, levity, and well, laughter, of course. All I can safely conclude for the moment is that comedy is a gift to humanity and I’m going to have a good time figuring out why – even if I never find the answer. Which I highly suspect to be the outcome. Because there’s always more happening than we can know. Dammit.

Ordinary, Beautiful Moments

13/07/2018
Scene in Manhattan - photo by Katie Kohlbeck

A beautiful, ordinary Manhattan moment

I often find myself in such an ordinary moment that it’s very ordinariness stops me in my tracks because I am in awe of its beauty. There was a yoga class I went to and it was a perfectly fine but nothing terribly special until the teacher uttered these words: “Be with the beauty this moment has to offer.” That was years ago yet it still strikes me at the most seemingly random times…

Like the time I’m reading a book, opened on the kitchen counter, while I stir the lamb ragu. This is contentment…

Or the time I’m sitting at Black Press Coffee on 27th and Lex with my hot latte, a journal, and surrounded by warm and friendly Aussie accents. It makes me miss homesick for Australia…

Oh, and I especially love when a piece of comedy is delivered so well that it makes me laugh, think and weep all at once. It really makes me feel what it is to be human…

And, of course, the space between awake and sleep that seems to always invite thoughts to flow. I have started to keep a notebook on my bedside so to catch as many of these thoughts and ideas before they fall into the pit of sleep and lost dreams…

These are just a few of those ordinary moments. Yet they are powerful. There is something happening in these spaces – more than we can ever know.

Fresh Start: 3 Ways to Embrace Change

06/12/2013

Guilty. I have not made this blog a priority for awhile. Although, I think I have a few pretty good reasons for my ten month absence. You see, I’ve been busy with some pretty big changes. With a new year upon us, I find myself reflecting on all of the transitioning of the past year, and there are two words that repeatedly spring to mind.  Fresh start. Leaving my job, undertaking yoga teacher training, moving (across an ocean), redefining my professional path, bringing home a new mini dachshund puppy named Doug and really, starting over in so many ways. Making a fresh start.

I’ll be candid though. While it has been an exciting year of possibilities and adventure,  I’m also going to hypothesize that I would be slightly super human if I handled all of these changes with complete grace and ease. I cried. I moaned how much I missed my friends. I got frustrated when Doug made a mess. I doubted my choice to forge a new path. I doubted myself.

When we react adversely to a plot twist in life, we aren’t exactly fretting the change itself. We fear the unknown. When we feel groundless and uncertain we experience a disconnection to our true selves. So how can we shift our perspective and bring ourselves back? One way to do this is to remember that not all change is scary and it can provide you with a fresh start. Here are three tips for embracing change and seeing it as a clean slate:

Remember it is a START. When working toward a goal or through a transition, you may find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed when things don’t progress as quickly as you’d like. Some change comes slowly. Be patient. And be kind to yourself too. When faced with a new city, job or situation, it can be tempting to think about how good you had it in your old routine. You might forget why change is necessary for living. Look forward and remember that the changes you’re facing are only a start. Big changes like moving or starting a new job take time to settle into. Everything will fall into place. I read a funny yet wise fiction this year called ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window” and I’ll always remember this line which I believe captures my point.: “Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.”

Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start. Try this next time you’re feeling anxious about your circumstance. Close your eyes for a full breath. At the bottom of your exhale, open your eyes. Welcome to your fresh start. Repeat as many times as needed. (I also recommend this great little video on how to meditate in a moment)

I get by with a little help from my friends. If you begin to feel overtaken by life, remember that we’re part of a larger community. If you’ve been dealt with a change too enormous to face on your own then ask for help. Maybe you need to pay for help in the form of a life coach, removalist, financial planner or other professional. But sometimes all it takes is a call to an old friend who understands you and can help put life back into perspective.

The bottom line is change is really only scary because sometimes we’re not quite sure what lies beyond that door we’ve decided to enter. But it can also be exactly what we need. I love this quote by Joseph Campbell. ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.’ And that treasure could be your fresh start.

Moon Salutations: Quiet contemplation

26/02/2013

I remember such frigid Wisconsin winter nights when I was growing up. Crisp air that bit at the nose, ice blanketing the driveway and fresh snow hills built up alongside of  the shed. Night arrived early during the winter and by the time our family finished with farm chores for the day, blackness awaited us. While this sounds utterly depressing – and let’s be honest, it was at times – there was also magic in that blackness. Blessed with no light pollution, we could witness millions of twinkling stars in the sky. Stopped in my tracks, I stood on that frozen path between the house and the barn in stillness (maybe slightly frozen) with my head dropped back – completely mesmerized. I still think about those nights in the dead of winter and how for even just a minute, staring at the stars and moon was an invitation to quiet contemplation. To this day no matter where I am in the world, I still find myself captivated by a sky full of bright stars, always leaving me to contemplate my tiny pocket of the vast universe.

For this reason, I felt an immediate connection to Moon Salutations (Chandra Namaskara) when I first came across this slower, inner focused set of yoga poses.  Moon salutations counter the dynamic energy of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara), a staple of many hatha yoga classes today. Lunar energy encourages cooling and inward reflection, while solar energy promotes heated and outward focused energy. Classes emphasising moon or lunar energy may be called yin or restorative yoga on your class schedule, which are generally conducted at a slower pace while focusing on longer holds in each pose. If you’re practising yoga in places like Australia or America, chances are most classes offered at your studio emphasize solar energy – which of course is not a bad thing but in the spirit of balance, try incorporating some lunar energy into your practice. Practising Moon Salutations in the evening can be a particularly soothing end to the day especially if you can align your practice with dusk, when day becomes night.

To provide a starting point in exploring Moon Salutations, I recommend this sequence by Shiva Rea that was featured in Australian Yoga Journal. Enjoy the quiet space and contemplation.

Life lessons in the Art of Assisting

19/02/2013

When we open our minds and leave our comfort zone, we can be led down an unexpected and wonderful path. Such was the case last year when I enrolled in a four day course at my yoga studio called ‘Art of Assisting’ which is designed as a yoga teacher training course but also open to regular practitioners. I normally wouldn’t find myself in such a course because  surely there was some reason I didn’t belong there. I’m not a qualified yoga teacher nor can I do handstand – simply not advanced enough. But I turned up with excitement (and slight nervousness) only to meet others who were just like me and were there to deepen their own practice. A few teachers were in the midst but I realized after the first few hours we were there to support each other and learn together.

After relaxing into the course, I quickly found myself interested in more than how I could learn to adjust my own poses. Helping students through assists allows them to chart unexplored territory, physically and mentally, which can be incredibly rewarding for all parties involved. Once the course finished, I decided to continue onto the optional next step of assisting in public classes at the studio, which has been a journey of lessons – applicable to life off the mat too – and isn’t that what yoga is all about really?

Have faith in yourself: When I practised assists on my peers and mentor, the main feedback was always along the lines of “I liked what you did and it felt great. But you just need to be more confident.” Oh how this one piece of feedback has always followed me – at school, jobs and now in the yoga studio! I once read that yoga is a practice of faith and observation – to have faith that you know what to do and how to do it while observing your thoughts without judgement. I tend to keep this in mind while I assist, and do anything for that matter.

Nothing is permanent: During one of my practice assisting sessions, I was not in a good head space and I knew it as I walked into the studio. While I assisted to the best of my ability, I felt attacked and tearful when the girl I assisted confirmed that “I didn’t do very well.” OK – that’s not actually what she said or even meant (I can only assume anyway) but my sensitive mind interpreted it in such a way. My reaction to her feedback rattled me for a good day or two after. I was frustrated with the tears and just simply would not let it go. Those spells of bad luck or stressful days can sometimes feel like they will never end. But the simple thought that none of it is permanent can be a relief. That one average assisting session was temporary and a lesson to learn from. We will always have those days when we are not on top of our game. Which brings me to the next point…

Have compassion: After beating myself up for days after that practice assist I reminded myself of compassion. How we can find compassion for others so easily but then when it comes to ourselves, we have the least amount of patience. Being compassionate to yourself is not selfish. It just makes sense. Think about how you treat others in your daily life. Would you give someone at work such a hard time, for days, if they made a mistake? Probably not. So why would you do that to yourself? We are only human living complex, busy lives – why make it more challenging than it needs to be?

The yoga journey is constant, filled with depths and heights. On and off the mat. What are some of the lessons you have experienced in yoga practice, as student or teacher, and taken into the world?