Sankalpa

When I awoke around 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to use Insight Timer for a guided meditation to try to quiet my mind. I chose a yoga nidra meditation for rest & sleep, by Diana Warlick.  In the meditation, Warlick introduced the concept of “sankalpa.” I was intrigued by what she said about it—probably too intrigued, given that I was trying to go back to sleep. While the meditation was relaxing, hearing about sankalpa for the first time was energizing, rather than sleep-inducing. I wanted to know more. So, immediately upon rising, after my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I looked up the concept of sankalpa and found an excellent article by Kelly McGonigal, in Yoga International.

In my first reading, I learned enough to understand that sankalpa is somewhere between a life purpose and an intention. This reminded me of an idea from Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s  Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being—that of an overarching umbrella goal, or theme, that each of us needs in our lives as a guiding aspiration that informs every choice. After reading McGonigal’s article and several other sources, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I feel like I have a better understanding of sankalpa and how it differs from a theme, purpose, mission or goal.

I benefit from having discerned how all these concepts, as well as my deepest values, inform my life. Over the past week, sankalpa has become a meaningful addition to my regular reflections.

I haven’t been able to identify the primary source, but I found Richard Miller quoted in several articles (including McGongial’s) as saying, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer. It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”

According to McGonigal, Miller also teaches that sankalpa involves three types of listening: 1) having the courage to hear the message behind our deep desires, 2) welcoming and honestly reflecting on the message and 3) being willing to act in accordance with the message we receive. All these stages of listening are best accomplished from a place of mindfulness, such as can be achieved in meditation. Personally, I also find the bike to be an outstanding place to hear the true callings of my heart and spirit.

As I have learned to do with intentions over the years, it is important to state the sankalpa in the present tense. Just like intentions, when we use the present tense, we operate from a place of abundance and trust that we already have all that we need. This is far more empowering than operating from a place of lack and need.

One of my favorite concepts in the reading I did about sankalpa is Rod Stryker’s teaching that we are all both being and becoming, universal and unique. He explains that there are two parts to our soul or spirit, called atman in the Vedic tradition. Atman means “essence.” The two parts are para atman—“supreme, highest or culmination”—and jiva atman—“individual or personal.” So, the para atman is the part of our spirit that is being—who we already are. It is universal. The jiva atman is who we are becoming—our unique destiny. I love Stryker’s exhortation to “Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

I think this is a wonderful aspiration—to live contentedly in the knowledge that we already have all that we need to fully live our deepest calling, while we take the actions and put in the work that will allow us to live that calling. It is a very comforting and encouraging idea to me.

So, my reading of the teachings about sankalpa lead me to aspire to a sankalpa that takes into consideration both states—the being and the becoming, the universal and the unique. Because there is an element of becoming, I must remember that my sankalpa will likely be a dynamic, evolving truth.

As I pondered my sankalpa on the bike last weekend, I felt called to this truth: “I am a unique expression of the Divine Mystery, contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world with every thought, word and action I choose.” I will sit with this in my mindfulness practice and on the bike regularly to discern if and/or when my sankalpa needs to evolve.

I am excited and energized by new ideas that cause me to think. Sankalpa is one of those ideas, and I am grateful for my nocturnal introduction to it. Despite the sleep disruption to which it contributed by igniting my mind, learning about sankalpa is a gift because it is a new instrument to assist my aspiration to live my Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life.

Sankalpa will be an additional centering tool for me. My core values—compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness—underlie everything I do. Sankalpa helps to remind me where those values initiate—from my para atman, the universal part of me that is being—and to what action those values call me—my jiva atman, the part of me that is becoming, living my unique destiny.

In addition to my core values and theme, my purpose, mission and priorities guide my decisions and my actions. Sankalpa is related to all these, providing a deep, solid foundation, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ it to enhance my growth and guide my evolution.

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Closing the Gap

In a previous post, I mentioned that I took The True Vitality Test, on The Blue Zones website and was jolted by my results.

The test indicated that, based on my responses in December 2017, my predicted life expectancy is 88.9 years, and my predicted healthy life expectancy is 78.1 years. The third number, 97.5, is my potential life expectancy. As I get older, witnessing the aging of family members and friends, I have become acutely aware that I am only interested in extending my longevity if I can be as healthy as possible for those additional years. Upon seeing my results, my personal mission immediately became closing the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. I believe that I have a responsibility to optimize the gifts I have been given, so that I can add value while I am on this earth. To do that, I must take the best care of my body that I can.

While my lifestyle already included many of the features that contribute to a long life of health and purpose, I knew there were refinements that I could make to close the gap. I am committed to continually monitoring my habits to ensure that I am doing the best I can to stay consistent and that I am getting back on course when life throws challenges my way.

The mission of my coaching practice is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Essentially, I want to help other people close their gaps, too.

Toward this end, I will offer an opportunity within the next several weeks designed to guide people on their journey toward living and aging with power and purpose. The key components of it are the pillars of my coaching practice and my own way of life.

Mindfulness consists of a range of techniques for being present, managing stress, sleeping well and focusing energy in a healthy, proactive way.

All the healthiest, longest-lived cultures in the world emphasize plant-based nourishment, which is one of the foundations of both my life and my coaching practice.

Empowered movement combines physical activity and mindfulness to maximize the benefits of both.

Because social connection is a vital part of living a long, healthy life, the opportunity that I will reveal allows participants to share the journey with others who are working to close their gaps.

I am aware that it is impossible to control every variable involved in our length and quality of life; however, our daily choices do make a difference. It is within our power to cultivate habits that enhance our chances for living long, healthy lives. Personally, I believe that I have a responsibility to foster those habits and position myself as well as possible to add value in the world. This is my way of paying my debt of gratitude for the gifts I have been given.

Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming opportunity Close the Gap opportunity.

Our Habits=Our Lives

January is a great time to reflect on the direction we choose for our lives in the coming year and beyond. My process for doing that begins with a deep look at how my daily actions are serving my values, purpose, personal and business missions and vision for my life.

While each of those facets could be the subject of at least one blog post, my goal here is to explore the ways that our habits shape, direct and even create our lives.

“If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again . . . When I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life and my capacity to live. If these patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” —Christopher Alexander

Dictionary.com defines “habit” as:

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

Thoughtful consideration of that definition illuminates the importance of habits in our lives. When our patterns of behavior, of nourishing and moving our bodies, of speaking, of consuming information, of treating humans and nonhumans in the world and of an almost limitless assortment of other possible actions are leading us in the direction we want to go in our lives, the path ahead of us becomes easy to follow. It no longer requires effortful resolve. It is just what we do.

Conversely, it is easy to be led mindlessly away, little by little, from our desired destination, if our habits do not serve what we truly want to create in our lives.

As we begin to move through this new year, Chris Brogan provides us with a winning strategy:

“My great years are built on keeping a bigger mission in front of me, but looking at my daily actions as the molecules of that mission.”

He clearly recognizes the necessity of attending to the small daily habits to achieve the bigger goal.

I make more effective choices when I approach my daily routine mindfully and stop to consider whether a choice of action or an ingrained habit advances either my personal or business mission.

As a journalist for National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn the secrets of the communities in which the world’s longest-lived people thrive. His journey led him to write The Blue Zones, so that he could share the longevity practices he had uncovered.

The book made an impression on me when I read it several years ago, and I was reminded of it late last year when I came across The True Vitality Test, which offered a snapshot of my likely life expectancy, contrasted with my healthy life expectancy and my possible life expectancy.

Although I consider myself very healthy, and I have recently earned my certification as a health coach, I was startled by the 10-year gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy.

I recognized that, to serve my purpose and values, I needed to adjust my personal mission. It quickly became:  To close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. (My next blog post will elaborate on this concept, as well as on related programs that I will offer through my coaching practice.)

My personal mission to close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy serves as a gauge to assess the foods I eat daily, the way I eat those foods, my stress level, the amount and quality of my sleep and other habits that govern my life.

If I determine that my habits are not carrying me closer to my mission, I am in a powerful position to choose actions that will and practice them regularly so that they become habits.

My mission as a health and habit change coach is to teach the lifestyle practices (habits) that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.

The small actions, or “molecules,” as Chris Brogan calls them, that shape our days ultimately shape our lives.

Keeping our mission in the front of our minds enhances our ability to make positive daily choices.

One way I do this is by meditating on my missions in my mindfulness practice every day. For me, this is just a matter of reciting my missions in my head (along with other important guiding recitations) while I am in a state of focused calm.

Empowered movement is an important component of both my self-care and my coaching practice. Empowered movement means exercising from a place of clear intention and using the time and space that movement can create to speak to myself in an empowering way. Along with a quote or mantra that I choose for a bike ride, walk, yoga practice, or other form of exercise, I also remind myself of my missions and the other guides that help me stay focused.

I anchor my missions for myself by posting them near my computer at work and in my “organization station” (a closet I have claimed as my own) at home. I see these and other reminders frequently, and, in the case of my computer at work, somewhere that I may encounter stressors that threaten to steer me off course. These anchors help me persevere on the path that I have chosen.

My daily choices are not perfect, but I am much more likely to choose actions and cultivate habits that serve my missions when I remind myself of them frequently. Essentially, these practices that I have in place are, themselves, molecules of my mission, just as they guide the other habits that stack up to create the big picture of my life.

Will Durant summarized some of Aristotle’s teachings by explaining that the philosopher believed,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It is rare that a single act defines our lives or determines whether we live the missions we have discerned for ourselves. However, what we do repeatedly certainly does have a significant effect on the masterpiece we are creating through our lives.

When we hold our mission in mind and choose our actions based on a commitment to serving that mission, those actions will become habits, and those habits will add up to excellence.

See future posts for my practices around clarifying and honoring my values, purpose, mission, motivations and vision. In the meantime, pay close attention to your habits because they determine your life.

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.