What a difference a year can make!

difference of a year

“It’s already November!?” I’ve heard that refrain all over recently, including from my own lips. It always seems surprising that a year comes to its end and yet we experience it annually. But I have to say, this past year has been quite the roller coaster for me. From starting my own business and quitting my full time job to my Italian matriarchal grandmother passing and me traveling again a lot, things have been happening to keep my on my toes. And I have to say that a lot of the good stuff all started from one little decision I made about this time last year.

I decided to really and truly create a vision board.

It all started on a trip to Seattle to visit a friend in October of 2014. We had been talking about doing some vision boards for about four years. But between her time spent taking care of her little ones and my constant moving around, nothing seemed to come of our talks. Last year though – I was determined to get a vision board done for real!

So I researched a little about doing them (I’m a big fan of some good old fashioned research) and got started on creating mine. If you haven’t heard of a vision board, it’s basically a visual representation of your goals and dreams. Usually created with clippings from magazines to create a coherent collage. It’s crafting with a purpose. I however decided I was going to go high tech.

See, I’m not a big magazine reader and never seem to connect with the images as much as I’d like when collaging, so rather than spending $4 a pop for a magazine I’ll likely never read or use again, I searched on google images to find exactly the right image for what I had in mind. It worked like a charm! Instead of thinking of collaging as this interminable search for something not-quite-right, I got just what I was looking for in a matter of seconds and could download, print, cut and paste on to the giant poster board I got from the craft store. And it made the whole process faster, fun and more enjoyable.

Looking at my vision board now, which hangs in my bedroom where I see it all the time, brings me great joy and I’ve really created a lot of what is on there. I’m traveling more (I even got to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef!) and I now have a job and business I truly love. I’m bringing more spirituality into my life on a daily basis. And I’m working on creating healthier habits, through exercise and healthy meals. I don’t have all the things I wanted to get this year, but there are definitely much bigger strides than if I’d just gone on with the business as usual mentality.

Looking back on where I was one year ago, struggling in a job I wasn’t enjoying, feeling lost and frustrated with my life. And feeling like my life was passing me by as I went to marinate in a cubicle all day. I’m struck at the profound difference of my life now. I work from home with my adorable cat companion as co-worker. I go take walks during the day to re-energize and be in nature and I get to help others create the lives they want. It’s just astounding to me how much can change in about 300 days. I hope your new year brings you beautiful, remarkable changes. And one way to help that along is to create a vision board.

What changes would you like to see in your life in the New Year?

Leo and vision board
Bonus photo: Leo “helping” me with my vision boarding.

P.S. The style of vision board I used was “The Sea of Life” map from an article by Martha Beck in O Magazine. I liked this better than having just random pictures placed all over a poster board. It feels more action-orientated as well as inspirational.

 

 

At the Corner of Dichotomy and Juxtaposition

At the Corner of Dichotomy and Juxtaposition

As many of you know from the last post, I’ve recently returned from Stratejoy Summer Camp, hosted by Molly Mahar. It was 5 days of ridiculous fun, light-heartedness and deep reflections – just my kind of vacation!

The timing of the trip was very interesting for me. In a way it was just right, as I was dealing with a very recent death in my family (more on that here), and needed some space to sort out the vast array of emotions I was feeling. But it was also a rather difficult time to be on vacation as the guilt of not being at home at such a hard time kept rearing its head.

It took me the first night and next morning to begin reconciling my guilt over the death and my joy for being at camp. It was one question asked at our first morning reflection session that helped me bring peace to my tumultuous heart. The question Molly asked was, “Where am I not allowing myself to be a juxtaposition (being and “or” instead of an “and”)?

At the time I couldn’t answer it and left that space in my journal as a “TBD” entry. Then we had our “quiet hour” where we couldn’t talk to anyone else and just had to sit with whatever thoughts or emotions the reflection session brought up. I have to say I LOVED quiet hour!!

(ASIDE: As a naturally quiet and contemplative person this was probably my favorite time of the day and I highly recommend everyone to start instituting something like it during your day. Even a quiet 15 minutes will bring more peace to your life.)

Anyways, during my first quiet hour, I felt something unresolved in my heart and had to figure it out before I could be completely immersed in the joy of summer camp. I finally realized that it was my conflicted feelings of my grandmother passing.

Obviously, I was horribly saddened by her death and couldn’t believe she’s really gone and at the same time I was glad she is no longer suffering. I was also glad to be enjoying my time at camp rather than waiting and watching for her final breath (as I had been a couple weeks before).

For some reason my head couldn’t combine all those feelings in to a coherent concept. I thought that if I was glad at her passing then I was a horrible person for wishing her dead. But if I’m only sad at her death then I’m completely selfish for wishing her to still be in this world but in great pain. How can you choose between that?! Either way I sounded like a total bitch.

Then I had a moment of clarity and decided to just talk to grandma and let her know what was up. I spoke to the wind, knowing she hear it, and said something to the effect of: “I’m so sorry you’re gone but I’m glad you’ve moved on to the next world. However, I can’t focus on that sorrow right now as I have this thing to do and I want to enjoy it while I can.”

And not so surprisingly I heard her reply (she always was one to get the last word in). She told me to do what I had to do and not to worry. I had permission to be both incredibly sad and deliriously happy. It was all okay.

It was okay to be “and” instead of “or”. I didn’t have to choose then and I don’t have to choose now. I can be saddened by her passing and glad that the agony is over for both our sakes. Other contradictions I now reclaim are: that I can love being in nature but not a hard-core nature girl. (Five days of camp was quite enough for me, thankyouverymuch!)

I can love to sit and watch tv or read books for hours, but also love getting up in the morning to do yoga or walk or dance even. I can be sentimental and keep all these little keepsakes but also detest clutter and keep a clear and organized home.

As Amin Malouf points out in his wonderfully complex book, In the Name of Identity:

None of us has to choose to just be a mother or an employee. A wife or a daughter. A businesswoman or an artist. We are always all of these things. Yes, sometimes one will take precedence over the other, but they don’t ever exclude each other entirely.

So now it’s your turn… where have you not been allowing yourself to be a juxtaposition? What “or” in your life do you wish to turn in to an “and”?

Experiencing Each Moment

Experiencing Each Moment

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I spent a summer teaching ESL in Kharkov, Ukraine. It was a really difficult and the most rewarding time for me. Difficult because I had an on-going long distance relationship with a man I met in England right before leaving (of course!) for Ukraine. Also, I was living on a regular Ukrainian salary (i.e. $250 USD per month – not even the amount of monthly credit card payments I had back home). Needless to say, I got in a bit of financial trouble during this period but the existential rewards of learning about life far outweighed that.

It was rewarding because no one knows how to appreciate life quite like Eastern Europeans who’ve dealt with wars and famines and just general mayhem nearly constantly throughout history. Who else is better equipped to teach you about sucking the marrow out of every moment than people who literally worry about their safety on a daily basis?

Please note: I’m not trying to diminish the dire situations over half of the world’s population face daily. I’m just saying, when you come from a relatively stable and safe environment and experience the kind of hardship you’ve only ever read about in newspaper or see on tv, it makes quite an impression.

One of my favorite memories from my time there, is a seemingly innocent moment, but to my mind is very poignant and shows the contrast of life lived moment to moment. Here’s my story from that time:

Sitting alone on a park bench outside the usual internet café in Shevchenko Park drinking a beer, eating a hot sandwich and enjoying the dusk, I contemplate life in Ukraine, England and in general. Old ladies and men hover around the young and cheerful loiterers, such as myself, in expectation of something. Perhaps money, perhaps a chance to dole out wisdom gathered through a tough life of stable Soviet times and the transition to an unstable ‘democracy’ to this new generation of materialists.

I finish the now cold ham and cheese sandwich and down the last drop of Obolon Sobornaya. Suddenly I see an old woman rushing towards me, and I understand what it is she wants, after months of observation of this unique and intriguing culture. The beer bottle. She wants neither money, nor pity, nor to give advice. She simply wants the nice green glass that could mean an added few copecks to her measly pension. As I hand over the bottle she says in a weak and hoarse voice, “Дай Бог Здорова!” “God give you health!” I smile and head into the café to check what’s new in the cyber world of electronic mail, pondering whether it is ironic or not that she asked God to give me health after I effectively killed dozens of brain cells and put my liver to hard work with the 5.4% brew. Ironic I decide, but interesting.

Each moment is precious. Whether that is a moment of cultural clarity or a moment of peaceful contemplation, as I was having before the old woman took the beer bottle. We humans are constantly thinking about the next thing, the next project or next vacation, but we rarely take time to examine this thing, this project, or this vacation. And that’s where the juiciness of life is to be found. In the NOW.

So take a moment, breathe in deep of your surroundings and be Present. By coming back to presence, we truly inhabit our bodies and our world. Try this at least once a day and see if you learn to appreciate life a little more.

How do you stay present? What was a perception altering experience for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Finding Joy and Being Enough

I’m participating in the “Six Day Joy Challenge” from Stratejoy founder and fabulous lady, Molly Mahar. This year for me has been one of finding my way back to my happiness. For several years I was disconnected from my happiness journey and kept wandering farther and farther away from the path. There were a few years of struggle and sorrow and now I’m finally finding my way out of the dark and in to the light again. Of course, I’m not the only one who’s struggled to find their light and this is where help from amazing women like Molly and Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project have been instrumental in helping me find my joy again.

Like Gretchen, though much of my life is now stable and improving from those years of financial instability and scarcity, I still feel like there is something missing in my world. Unlike Gretchen, I would adore going on an extended vacation, a la Eat, Pray, Love, to find my happiness. However, I don’t currently have the means or resources to do that. BUT I can follow in her footsteps and attempt to make my everyday life more en-JOY-able and bring happiness in to my day to day activities.

And that leads me back to Molly’s Challenge. How can I find the joy in every day and make it build over time to encompass all aspects of my life? The answer is so simple yet so difficult… it starts with me. I need to change the way I think and react so that I’m bringing out the best in myself to the world around me. By being true to myself and my journey, I will bring out the joy and happiness that is inherent in living an authentic life. So to kick off my own Joy Journey, I’ve created my own love poem to myself, based on Molly’s Day 1 Challenge.

RENOIR

I am full of Love and Hope. I never want to see others in pain. I radiate Acceptance and Understanding. I struggle with accepting myself. And through it all, I am enough. I am a woman who needs Love, Laughter and Light. I am a woman who wants to travel this beautiful world. I am a woman who accepts all who come in honesty and sincerity. I am a woman who believes in fate and true love. I am a Woman. And I am enough. Sometimes I feel scared and alone. And sometimes I know I’m fucking hilarious and awesome. It’s hard for me when I feel misunderstood by others. And my heart sings when I teach someone or learn something myself. I am beautiful and kind and funny and free. I am always enough.

What would your self-love poem be? Are you ready for more joy in your life? Leave a comment below about how you find happiness in your everyday life.

Why I Indulge in Monthly Massages

I have a confession to make. Every month I go to the chiropractor and get an adjustment done and then I treat myself to a full body massage for an hour. To be clear I’m not made of money, however I have found that working this “indulgence” in to my budget it totally worth it. Over the years I have learned that it is important for me to account for some self-care in my otherwise utilitarian budget.

Why is important for me to have massage? It sounds like such a luxury but really I know that to take care of our bodies and souls is just as important as all the other day-to-day busyness of our lives. After all, the more we can take care of ourselves the more we can take care of others! So why are we afraid to take time out of our busy days to take care of ourselves, especially as women?

Most often it’s likely because we feel we must take care of others first before taking care of ourselves, which usually leaves little time for the latter. Women have been care takers for centuries, it’s in our blood. But just remember what we’re all taught on airplanes – put your mask on first. You can’t help anyone if you pass out from lack of oxygen!

It could also be that taking care of ourselves is seen as selfish, especially when there are so many other people who need our help. If you really stop to think about it though, will they survive just fine without your assistance for an hour or so? Mostly likely, yes. Unless you’re in a position where your assistance is more serious, as in a brain surgeon, then you can take that time out. And if you are a brain surgeon, then that’s even more important that you be on your top game when doing your work! Everyone needs a break and that isn’t selfish – that’s self-love.

Worse yet, we tell ourselves that “we don’t have time” for self-care. Yet we can find all the time in the world to chauffeur kids around or join committees or volunteer for extra projects at work. By spreading ourselves too thin, we not only risk lowering the quality of our work in each area, we’re also showing the world that everyone else’s needs take priority over ours. And there’s the real culprit!

The heart of the matter comes down to one thing – it’s a matter of our self-worth. Too many women feel unworthy or undeserving of getting massages or spa treatments or whatever it is they do to treat themselves. Often times we feel like we need to earn such luxury. As if all the work we do every day isn’t enough to warrant a little self-care. It’s time to take a stand. Declare loudly that you are worthy and definitely deserve a break from the hectic chaos of your life!

be gentle with yoursef

If you’re still on the fence about whether you can or should take time out to practice some self-care, think of the benefits of massage itself. Studies have shown it reduces stress and muscle pain and can boost your immune system as well as give you better sleep. Who doesn’t want all that? If massage itself isn’t your thing, there are a myriad of other ways to show your love for yourself. Here are 25 wonderful ideas from Greatist for how to spend some quality time with your lovely self.

Remember, at the end of the day, no one can take better care of you than you! And by showing others how much you matter to yourself, it’ll help them see to you for your true worth. I bet when you start to give yourself the tender loving care we all so richly deserve, others will start treating you the same way. With respect, compassion and perhaps a little admiration. Who knows, maybe you will inspire someone else to give themselves some self-care time. And wouldn’t the world be a better place for that?

What do you do to practice self-care? Leave a comment below to let me know!

Smelling the Flowers around You

This quote was my mantra for several months and helped me to get through my brief time in Ukraine. I had moved to Kharkov in the spring of 2005, almost 10 years ago to the day now. I went there to teach English and to continue my “Grand tour” of Europe. Kharkov is the second largest city in Ukraine, on the eastern side where they speak both Russian and Ukrainian. I went there knowing that at least I could get by with my ten years of Russian language study in school. I was looking forward to this adventure and living in Eastern Europe again. It was five of the hardest and most enlightening months of my life.

It was hard in that it was an entirely different world from my suburban Denver childhood. Although I had studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia during college, I hadn’t really immersed myself deeply in the local culture then. Instead I had clung to my fellow American students, drinking and laughing our way through the semester like typical college students when away from home all things familiar, getting their first taste of independence. So when I returned to Eastern Europe for the second time, I wanted to really live like a local. And I did.

This meant not only living in a flat in the city (three to be exact, as I kept trying to find just the right place). My flats were often quite rundown, by US standards and there were several weeks in the summer when the water was just shut off. Luckily there were water trucks that would come around the neighborhood so you could still buy water for cooking – not recommended for drinking though! And there were definitely some times in which I had to heat water on the stove to have a bath. Also, I had to wash my clothes by hand (and sadly realized that I actually kind of suck at that). All in all, daily living was as far from my convenient lifestyle in the US as possible.

I was also making a Ukrainian salary, which for me at the time was equivalent to USD 250 per month. That wasn’t enough to pay my credit card bills back home, let alone save any money to continue my travels around Europe. In the end, I didn’t even have enough money to eventually leave Ukraine and had to ask a friend from England to pay for a ticket out of the country. However, it was enough to live like a local. And live comparatively well in fact, though for me I felt I was eternally struggling. I discovered I was quite well off when I was told that many teachers and professors had to sell things in the market in addition to their school salaries just to get by. That was an eye-opening experience indeed. The money issues aside, that’s not only why life was so difficult for me.

When I had graduated from college I had planned to move to England and live there for several years, or failing that move slowly eastwards around the world until returning eventually back to the US and Colorado. Well, that grand dream ended very quickly when I couldn’t extend my visa in the UK and had to leave before I wanted. I had found the job in Kharkov easily enough but it was too far east for my plan, I skipped more for Europe than I wanted. Nothing was turning out as I had planned and I was frustrated and angry at the world for not following my plans.

Being a student of Russian language for half my school life, I knew quite a bit about the Slavic history culture. I always appreciated that no matter how bleak things are (and they can be very bleak), the Russians and Ukrainians I met were always able to find something good to appreciate. Whether that’s a picnic in the woods on a sunny day. Or just having tea and a chat with good friends. There was joking and laughter and camaraderie. And I was welcomed in to that camaraderie immediately and with great enthusiasm! I was shown how to enjoy life in the most basic ways possible. And came to see that gratitude is the greatest gift we humans often neglect.

I share these stories of Ukraine not to paint me as a spoiled American annoyed and unhappy with the ways others in the world experience their everyday lives. Living in Kharkov taught me that even in the hardest of times, we all have choices. I could continue to wallow in the seeming loss of control of my life or I could appreciate what was around me. One day I sat in Freedom Square, the largest square in the city and possible the country, and just watched children running around playing. Old people were sitting on the benches talking or reading the papers and young lovers were strolling along the flower strewn paths. Watching these scenes, I decided no more whining from me. I was going to find the good in everything and if I couldn’t find any good, accept that whatever situation I was in needed to happen anyways. After that, suddenly all the weight I had felt lifted. Maybe not entirely off my shoulders, but at least to the point that I could breathe again and see all the beauty that was all around me.

Ukraine flowers

Was there a time you needed to be reminded of the beauty around you? How has taking time to be grateful changed your attitude or life? Leave a comment below and let me know!