May 31, 2013

Uncertainty and Justification

After an adrift few weeks post unplugged sabbatical, I feel more centered and focused. My creative energy is spent on a happy task: the baccalaureate address I was asked to give during commencement weekend (thank you class of 2013!). I'm enjoying the celebratory end-of-year events, which also celebrate my own last weeks at Lawrence.

My decision to leave academics, tenure, and my PhD training is still mysterious, surprising, and perhaps refreshing to many. Even as the news sinks in, there's always the question: what will you do next? It's natural for people to be curious. I understand and in fact anticipate the question. But people seem uncomfortable with my answer: I don't know. 

Often, the conversation goes like this...
Curious Person: What will you do next?
Me: I don't know.
[Blank stare from curious person.]
Me: I'm purposefully making space to not know. First I must feel what it's like not to be an academic, so my horizons expand and I get in touch with what I really want to do next.
Curious person: But you must have some idea? Some inkling?
Me: No. 
Curious person: Well, what do you like to do?
Me: Okay, I enjoy writing and I'll give that some time and energy, but who knows what will happen. That's not necessarily what I'm "going to do next" for my profession.
[This is often when the person inserts what she thinks I'd be good at: life coach, pilates teacher, world traveler, etc.]
Me: What's great about my situation is I still get a paycheck through the end of August. So I have paid space to make choices authentic to me.

I don't mind having this conversation. People are curious; humans have difficulty with uncertainty. I understand all the underlying mechanisms, and I'm happy to talk through my personal process. But here's the unnecessary justification: I'm still paid through the end of August. When those words escape my mouth, I know my true self has left the building; I'm justifying my existence via my paycheck. Money = worthiness. (Ugh.) 

I'm working hard to hear my authentic voice over the persistent yelling of ego. Yet it's not only about listening; it's also about speaking my truth. Right now my truth is I don't know. I want to pursue activities that bring me creative joy; I want to work hard on creative projects; I want to stay open to opportunities. And at the same time I really want to not know. This is very unsettling to ego--ego wants me to know (right this moment) how I'll earn money in September. Interestingly, the negative reaction from ego means I'm on exactly the right path: not knowing, staying creative, connecting with people, centering myself, exploring new territory. Often times knowing-something-for-sure separates us from creativity, authenticity, and freedom. 

So dear blog readers, here's something I know for sure: I don't know.

May 28, 2013

Hard Truths

On Memorial Day weekend we typically meet long-time friends near Decorah, IA, where we camp and canoe on the Upper Iowa river. Though a 4.5 hour car ride, the trip is worthwhile, restorative, and fun. So was our plan this past weekend.

But on Friday I was bathed in a funk. My weeknights had been more social than is good for me (big events with many people); my back hurt from car travel the previous weekend; the weather for Saturday was predicted to be 50 degrees and rainy (oh how I hate being cold & wet); and doubt had furtively seeped into my skin (what I am going to do with the rest of my life?). When Mark got home, excited to leave for the weekend, I was on the back porch hoping we wouldn't have to go.

We talked at length, and I cried. I slowly realized all my reasons for not going were rationalizations. My shame and doubt tried to isolate me; I wanted to be alone in my funk. Mark told me some hard truths: it feels like mild depression to him; this is how I get when I'm adrift without a schedule; this is how things could continue now that Lawrence's schedule won't pull me back (read: this is an important time to be mindful); it's the initial friction that's difficult for me, but it's vitally important we still take trips, see friends, camp in the woods. He nailed it. I knew I needed to go. I wasn't happy about it at that moment, but I knew I needed to go--to just get up, pack all the foul-weather gear I have, and make the best of things.

We rode silently in the car--me trying to stay mindful of my fear and shame (and lack of control over, say, the weather). When we arrived at the campsite, rain lightly falling, our friends met our van with their flashlights. They welcomed us warmly. I knew this was exactly where I needed to be.

I was completely funk-free by the next morning. No rain. Just cool weather, warmed regularly by the campfire. The canoe trip was lovely--a meditative, yet fun adventure. The time at camp was relaxing. I laughed belly laughs. I listened. I ate delicious food and drank moonshine from a community jar. I was entirely myself, as is. I was hugged by both nature and close friends. I was away from technology that had been sucking my creative energy. I was happy and content. And deeply grateful for Mark. Thank goodness I have a mate who appreciates and supports me, yet also tells me difficult truths. I love this man with my entire (very large) heart:

May 22, 2013


Springtime fills me with wonder. With just enough sunshine and warmth, the plants and trees burst forth. It really is a bursting. Within days, the growth is remarkable. These beauties of nature want to stretch, grow, and bloom. I'm amazed every single spring. The magic never gets old.

Meditation teachers often talk about sowing seeds of joy, happiness, and contentment. Spring is a natural metaphor for life and personal growth. Which of our seeds grow? The ones to which we attend; the ones we water and nurture. If we want to live with more ease and happiness, then we must water the seeds of gratitude, silence, reflection, love, and kindness. Whatever habits we practice are the habits that are strengthened. I see this again and again.

Monday at dinner, Mark and I discussed the human habit of watering unhealthful seeds. There's so much to grab our attention: email, texting, gizmos, social media. I got completely caught in the major changes to Flickr and what I perceived as an immediate need to update my page. Mark mused that we often allow the attention grabbing to crowd out the activities we most value. That is exactly what I'd done. In my heart, I knew I'd benefit from meditation, writing, or staring at the backyard; but in my monkey mind I chose to spend an hour on Flickr. And I felt the negative repercussions: anxiety and fear. This is the human habit. But it's always possible to change--at this very moment.

I have sown seeds both in my yard and in my heart. How often I water these seeds is up to me; it's my choice. Slowing down helps me see more clearly. Gentleness eases the process. And laughter lightens my mood. (As does wandering through the backyard looking at all the new growth.)

May 14, 2013

10 Questions

Kristin & Meredith asked my 52-of-You group to answer James Lipton's famous closing questions ("Inside the Actors Studio"). The questions are straight-forward, yet revealing in an interesting way. My answers are included below. You're warmly welcome to leave your own answers in the comments.

1. What is your favorite word?
Curious (but really, how can I choose just one? there are so many worthy contenders) 

2. What is your least favorite word?

3. What turns you on?
Mark strumming a guitar and singing a song 

4. What turns you off?
Judgment and negativity

5. What sound(s) do you love?
Rumbling thunder and the laughter of children

6. What sound do you hate?
The (obnoxiously loud) train whistle at 3am

7. What is your favorite curse word?
Kid-friendly version: F#@! (in this case, it was easy to choose just one)

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Writer (what luck--I'm out of my profession in just one month)

9. What profession would you not like to do?

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
"You lived life fully, with an open and kind heart."


May 8, 2013

From Unplugged to Plugged

While on Nevis I was unplugged--no email, Internet, TV. I was also away from the daily to-dos of living (e.g., errands, appointments, bills). The magic of this: my days were expansive. So much space to read, write, cook, run, swim, meditate, photograph, take long walks, watch the birds, nap, have silly and philosophical conversations with Mark, gain new insights, and connect deeply with nature.

A hard truth: fear still accompanied me. Daily I worked with the inner-voice that said I was unworthy; that I should be doing and accomplishing more. (If only unplugging from that voice was as easy as shutting down a computer.) But fear will always walk beside me. And the more I understand it, see beneath it, and tend to my needs the less power fear has (and the more strongly I grow into myself). Being away from distractions meant I had regular space to work with fear and shame. It didn't overwhelm me; it's just part of being human. As are joy, contentment, wonder, gratitude, and connection--all of which I experienced daily on Nevis.

Upon my return from unplugged land, I've tried to stay curious--mindful to the multitude of ways in which I get swept back into the busyness. It feels groundless. How do I reconcile my life on Nevis with my life in Appleton? Yesterday I got hooked--completely hooked. I felt such a strong pull to process ALL my photos; to cross that off my to-do list; to receive external strokes for my work. (This is the unchecked fear of unworthiness.)  The good news: I noticed. And I smiled. Because this is how life works--we have periods of mindfulness and periods lost in trance; some moments we're completely present and others we're completely distracted. As I walk my path, I have more moments spent fully present with my experience--yay for that.

It's good to be back. Being plugged in allows for distraction, but more importantly it allows for connection. I look forward to reconnecting with people (while staying connected to myself).