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.

No Regrets

What does it mean to live with no regrets? How would committing to doing so change my decisions daily and over the long term?

As I have reviewed 2018 and thought ahead to 2019 over the past several weeks, I have decided that my theme for 2019 is “No regrets.”

I will turn 50 in June 2019. That number seems both impossible and momentous. It feels like it is time to get serious about the things that truly matter to me—to be clear on what those are and to take concrete steps toward achieving them, with tangible results. So, I will start 2019 thinking about where I want to be when I turn 50 and then use that base as a springboard to keep moving in the direction of no regrets.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

(often attributed to Mark Twain, but not verified)

My recent review of 2018 revealed too many disappointments—mostly in myself over decisions I have made, inaction, stalled progress or indecision. I want to reach the end of 2019 and look back with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and hope for the future.

Toward this end, I have written a “No Regrets Manifesto,” detailing the actions I will take to make 2019 a year of no regrets and one that propels me forward in a life of no regrets.

I have already started asking myself two questions in my journal each night:

  • Do I have any regrets about my choices today?
  • How will I live with no regrets tomorrow?

I will also review my manifesto at least monthly to make sure I am on still on the right track, and I will be willing to adjust if I am not.

My manifesto articulates what living with no regrets will look like this time next year, identifying three priorities. In my daily mindfulness practice, I will hold in my mind and heart the vision of a life of no regrets, with these priorities in the forefront. As I am faced with decisions, big and small, throughout the year, I will ask myself, “Does this serve my three most important priorities? Will it help me to live with no regrets?”

“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Truly committing to living with no regrets is scary, as important pledges probably should be. For me, it means little room for error. Others may be more forgiving in a plan to live with no regrets (and it might be healthier to be), but I know myself, and I have low tolerance for my own missteps. Of course, that can be counterproductive because it may also cause me to avoid risks that could help me live with no regrets, so it will be a constant effort to make sure I am really choosing the best path. Truly committing to no regrets also means committing to live boldly. It is a fine line between living boldly and minimizing error. I think my biggest errors are likely to be choosing not to take a risk in situations where doing so could help me live with no regrets.

An important factor in living with no regrets is to start living NOW as though I already own those behaviors, characteristics and lifestyles I want to achieve. By living as though I already do those things and live that way, they feel more real, more attainable and less frightening.

“A goal is a place to come from, not a place to get to.”

–Rich Litvin

As I mentioned in my last post, The Comfort Conundrum, when I apply Cantril’s ladder exercise to certain aspects of my life, it is clear that I will have regret if I don’t take action to make changes. Life is short and uncertain, so my approaching 50th birthday shines as a clear indicator that the time is now to steer my life in the direction that leads to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

On the cusp of 2019, I am ready to jump into the new year with power and purpose, as I work with coaching clients to do. It will take daily reflection to stay on the path of no regrets, but I am excited and hopeful and wish those feelings for you.

What will you choose as your theme for 2019? How could committing to living with no regrets make a difference for you?

The Comfort Conundrum

For a long time, I have believed that it was nobler to choose a direction based on moving toward a desired destination than on moving away from a current condition. Recently, as I have thought about this idea, I have recognized what I am calling “the comfort conundrum.”

I have become aware that I sometimes have difficulty taking meaningful action toward a change because my current situation is comfortable. It is not always clear to me if inertia or a deep longing for stability is behind the pull of the comfort of the known. Maybe, it is a little of both. I have a strong fear of being mired in inertia, but I acknowledge that it is possible that inertia plays into the equation. As I get older, I am also aware of a longing for stability with relationships, with career and with habits.

Stability feels honorable. Inertia feels repugnant. Where is the line between them?

When pondering taking a risk to move in a new direction, as I have said in another post, I sometimes find myself thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..” That is not a good enough reason for me, though.

As Michael Bungay Stanier says,

“You need to get clear on the payoff for changing something as familiar and efficient . . . as an old behavior.”

Or, as Simon Sinek would say, we must be clear on our “why.”

I realize that comfort is a blessing, a gift, something that so many people in the world do not have, in even the most basic ways. I am grateful for my comfort, but I am also troubled by the comfortable state of “good enough” because I am often just comfortable enough that I am not compelled to make a change. My pull to stay put can be a cyclical thing, varying with my current level of comfort or discomfort in a given situation.

This conundrum presents itself as ambivalence—a constant tug-of-war between the comfort of stability and the excitement of possibility.

Shortly before I left on a recent bike ride, I came across a simple method for quantifying happiness. I was reading the book The Upside to Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment, by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The book, as a whole, did not resonate with me, but it mentions a 1965 study by Dr. Hadley Cantril, which used a simple image of a ladder to quantify happiness. Dr. Cantril asked study participants to visualize the ladder with numbers from zero to ten on each ascending rung. With the lowest rung being the worst possible life, and the highest being the best possible life, participants rated both where they currently placed themselves on the ladder and where they expected to be in five years. I used my time on that bike ride to consider this ladder exercise for myself. It was revelatory for me to this, and I came to the conclusion that there is a tipping point in the conundrum. It is easier to recognize this, if I look at different aspects of my life, rather than at my life, as a whole. Quantified, the conundrum zone seems to be five to seven. In this zone, I am “comfortable enough.” Stability is appealing here because it is known and safe, and there are things I really like about it. The tipping point, where it becomes too uncomfortable to remain, seems to be four or lower. As Anais Nin said,

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Picturing my placement on the ladder in five years was an instructive wake-up call. It would be easy to remain in the zone of the comfortable known, around a six in certain areas of my life. But, when I consider that I would be in exactly the same situation in five years, without having moved the dial on certain things that I really do want to change or goals that I really do want to meet, I realize that I will have regret and disappointment.

Because the conundrum zone is comfortable enough, this recognition came with some sadness and even a little dread, but the fear of regret and disappointment in myself is even more persuasive than the draw of stability.

In certain areas, stability wins. In others, I know that I must dig deep for the courage to move out of the comfortable status quo, in order to avoid being in the same place (or possibly lower, due to regret and disappointment) on the ladder.

I also found it interesting to use this exercise retrospectively. It seems even more difficult than projecting into the future, but, looking back, where was I on the ladder—as a whole and in various aspects of my life—five years ago?

I haven’t solved the challenge of the comfort conundrum, but I have new insight on it, and on the necessity of overcoming it, after doing this exercise.

Although I don’t think this was the application that Dr. Cantril intended, the ladder exercise seems a useful tool for any of us who find ourselves struggling to achieve a goal or make a change that, on the surface, we believe we want. Paired with the idea of the comfort conundrum, we can recognize why we may not be following through on our goal, change or habits and ask ourselves how we would feel about being on the same rung in five years.

I encourage you to try it. You may want to look first at where you currently would be on the ladder, from the perspective of your whole life. Then, where do you expect to be on the ladder in five years? Why? How do you feel about that? Where do you want to be? What would need to change, in order for you to move up to that rung?

Then, if there is a specific change you have been considering—a habit, a relationship, a career move, weight loss, something else—but have not made any real progress, apply the exercise to that change. Where are you on the ladder currently? Do you find yourself in the zone of the comfort conundrum—five to seven? If so, are you okay with still being there in five years? If you are, maybe it is time to let go of that goal and adopt one that is more compelling for you. If not, what needs to happen to put you on track to climb up the ladder to where you want to be?

After my ride and this thought exercise, I had a clearer picture that, although I am comfortable enough in certain areas of my life, the idea of remaining on the same rung in five years is heavy with the dread of disappointment and regret. With this recognition, I realize that I have the responsibility to take the necessary steps to climb to my desired rung on the happiness ladder.

How about you? Are you satisfied with where you expect to find yourself on the ladder in five years?

“You must want change more than you want the status quo.” Marcia Ramsland

The Bike Is Where I Remember Who I Am

“My workout is my obligation to life. It’s my tranquilizer. It’s part of the way I tell the truth . . ..” –Jack LaLane

The work week and the heaviness of the world can weigh on me to the point where I feel like I don’t have the time, mental space or the emotional capacity to process my higher-level goals or work on the things that matter most to me.

The bike is where I remember who I am.

Part of this is just the gift of the ride. Out on the road—usually alone—my head clears, and space is created for inspiration and introspection. On the bike, whether for one hour or several, I can release the worries, stressors, deadlines and obligations of the rest of life. Although it is temporary, and I am under no illusions that it is otherwise, it is a true gift that has allowed me to find solutions to problems and answers to troubling questions. Often these answers may elude me when I give thought to the questions or issues off the bike. But, setting out on the road opens doors to possibilities that I have not been able to pry ajar during the rest of life.

Alone on the bike, I am free from noise and distractions, and my focus can be given to deeper thought and clearer thinking.

In an article in Scientific American, psychology professor Justin Rhodes explores some of the physiological and neurochemical reasons that exercise enhances thinking. One explanation is the increased blood flow—to the brain and elsewhere—induced by physical activity. Our hyperoxygenated brain is more effective at solving problems and thinking deeply.

Rhodes discusses the role of the hippocampus in exercise. I find this particularly interesting and plan to explore further how the hippocampus may be responsible for much of the mental and emotional benefit I experience during exercise. Memory, emotions and motivation—all factors in the heightened state I feel on the bike—are influenced by the function of the hippocampus.

There is some speculation that the evolutionary explanation for the exercise effect on brain function is that it was beneficial for our ancient ancestors to think more clearly and encode memories more deeply when exerting to fight or flee a danger. While there very well may be some truth to this, I also experience a sense of peace and happiness on the bike that feels inconsistent with a fight-or-flight response.

However, neurochemically, there is basis for this explanation. Albeit volitional and generally positive, exercise is a form of physical stress (which is why it needs to be balanced with rest and nutrition), resulting in physiological adaptations to stress. The brain releases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that protects and repairs neurons throughout the brain and body. Endorphins, hormones which act as a natural analgesic, are produced when we exercise, both minimizing physical discomfort and elevating emotions. This produces the experience known as “runner’s high.” As internally produced opioids, endorphins help form the exercise habit and keep the movers coming back for more.

Those are some of the physical explanations for the emotional benefits of exercise.

It is even deeper than that for me, tough. I feel a strong spiritual connection to the Universe, both that which is tangible in nature and that which is intangible.

This connection goes beyond recognizing the natural beauty around me, as I ride on quiet, rural roads. I do recognize it, and it plays a part in my well-being. I also feel more open, though, to receiving guidance and wisdom from the Universe, and I have found that I can beckon the Universal guidance through a process that I have refined, but that may continue to evolve.

It used to be that ideas and solutions would simply come to me on the bike, fairly infrequently, but powerfully, when they did. As I have nurtured increased mindfulness in my life and have felt an acceleration in personal growth since doing so, I have sought the guidance of the road more consciously. By opening myself to the gifts of the Universe, I have found myself more often the beneficiary of this guidance. While I don’t claim to understand fully (or even at all) its Source, I do have a renewed belief in its existence. And, the bike is where it very often finds me. Or, I find it. I am not sure which it is. I just know that the bike is where I remember (or am reminded) who I am.

Importantly, although it is the bike for me, it might be a run or a walk (I have glimpsed it on both.) for you. Or, if you are an extrovert (I am not.), maybe it is in a group dance or exercise class. Maybe it is in a game. Wichita State University basketball player Ricky Torres was recently quoted as saying, “If there was ever a lot going on in my life, I’d go get in the gym. When I’m on the court, I feel nothing else.” (The Sunflower, Issue 21, Volume 123, November 5, 2018) I believe he is referring to the same phenomenon I encounter on the bike.

So, the first step is finding the physical activity that reminds you who you are by helping you shed the layers of stress and heaviness and worries that daily life can pile upon you. This may take some experimenting, or, if you are lucky, you already know what it is. Maybe it is not just one form of movement, but there is likely one that stands out more than others as most consistently eliciting positive physiological and psychological responses. Commit to incorporating it into your life on a regular basis.

Here is my current practice for prompting the benefit in my life:

  1. I choose a quote from my vast collection. I do it randomly, but move on to another if the one on which I land does not speak to me in the moment. I want a quote that evokes thought and invites pondering and/or serves as affirmation. I may paraphrase it to make it easier to recall or more personal. I commit it to my short-term memory for easy retrieval.
  2. Before I get on the bike, I take three “4-2-6” breaths. This means that I inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2 and exhale for a count of 6. While there are many beneficial breathing patterns that can be used, and that I use personally, I can’t remember where I first heard this one suggested as a pattern to use when you want to be “on.” (I also use this one before presentations or other times where my performance is important.) In general, controlled breathing patterns stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response. I have not been able to find documentation about why 4-2-6 works to increase focus and is beneficial before performance. I think it may be as much the act of the ritual as anything, but it is effective for me, so I do it.
  3. I think of my quote as I center my mind.
  4. I have found the addition of an evocative question to be particularly effective at inducing great thinking and inviting inspiration on the bike. On my most recent emotionally and spiritually powerful ride, I used four questions that Rich Litvin asked some of his coaching clients: 1. What are your three biggest gifts? 2. What are your top three professional successes? 3. What holds you back the most—and always has? 4. What is the dark side of each of your gifts? Wow! What I learned about myself by asking these questions was incredible and led me to some clear conclusions about where my energy and priorities should be focused. More often, it is just one question, frequently inspired by the quote I choose as my mantra.
  5. I set an intention for my ride. This usually includes the all-important “staying safe,” but my most introspective, insightful and impactful rides are the ones where I set an intention to have questions answered, problems solved, to be open to the best the Universe has to offer or to find peace around a concern. The more specific I am, the better.
  6. Then, I ride. I usually settle into the ride for a few minutes and get out of town before recalling my mantra. I will often visualize around the mantra and may even recite it out loud.
  7. I reiterate my intention and my openness to receive.
  8. I ask myself the question or questions and ponder them.
  9. My mind opens, and I pay attention to the wisdom and guidance that comes my way. When this happens, I find myself feeling lighter, happier, more excited and stronger on the bike. I often notice that I am smiling. I may want the ride to go on and on.
  10. Eventually, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, I must return home. I have recently become more consistent about reflecting as quickly as I can—maybe just after my shower—on what I have learned on the bike. This is best done in my journal, or, occasionally, in a document on my laptop. Much like waking from a dream, I find that I am more likely to be able to remember and use the insight from the ride by capturing it as soon as possible.
  11. I decide where to take action. This is key. Without action, if the insight calls for it, I squander the wisdom the Universe has offered. I have learned to act, if only by taking a tiny first step. It is a way of appreciating what I have been given.

This blog post is one of the actions I am taking after a particularly insightful, if short and cold, ride I had last weekend. I sense that there is much more to come from what I learned on this ride. I am grateful and look forward to creating possibilities, based on my guidance on Saturday’s ride.

The bike is where I remember who I am. It is where I reclaim my power after work and daily life and stressors have eroded my belief in it and loosened my grasp of it. It is where, even more than in my daily meditation, I find myself to be the most open vessel to collect the best wisdom the Universe has to offer. It is a gift to know this about myself, and it is a gift that I want to give you—the awareness of mindful movement as a tool for growing into your Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life. I have not reached any of those yet, but I know that my bike rides propel me more quickly down the long, winding, head- and crosswind-riddled road of my journey to realizing these things in my own life. I believe the intentional pursuit of them is my responsibility, as well as my gift, even if it is painful and challenging at many junctures, not unlike some bike rides.

“Say ‘meditation’ to someone, and they usually picture someone sitting in a quiet, dark room. But you can just as easily meditate, relaxing yourself and visualizing, while your body is in motion during a Moving Meditation. It’s where the real you pops out. It’s when your true integrity, drive, passion, perseverance, tenacity, grace, and patience start to show and shine.” –Stacey Griffith

Jailbreak from Mediocrity

What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?” –Iris Krasnow

Between multiple, consecutive gray, overcast days and a disappointing setback Friday night, I found myself on my bike yesterday (after yet another weekend rain delay!) thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..”

In this case, the “easier not to” referred to bothering to build a coaching business. It is not the first time that thought has crossed (or hung out in) my mind. Sometimes, that thought has gotten the better of me for a period of time. Lately, I have been more successful at warding it off, but it was coming back with a vengeance yesterday.

It’s not just building my business, though, I realized, as I pedaled into the headwind in a fairly heavy mist. It’s also easier not to ride my bike. It’s easier not to write a blog post, take a course, cook a healthful dinner, go to the trouble of learning new software and practices for managing business finances, have a child, be in a relationship. You name it. It is probably easier to sit on the couch and not take the chances or put forth the effort to do any number of things in life.

But, if we don’t, what’s left? Did we live at all?

For me, with the coaching business, I believe there is a reason that the idea hasn’t left me alone since it first presented itself around 2001. I pushed it away for several years because it seemed impractical, with a young child and little support or enthusiasm from others.

It rose back to the surface, though, a couple years ago when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my career and had experienced a couple major professional disappointments in a few years. This time, I promised my idea and my spirit that I wouldn’t shove it back down.

Still, it’s not easy, and it’s the “uncharted territory” to which Iris Krasnow refers. Any time we take a risk on something new, it is scary. Accidents and unforeseen events can take place. We may have to climb over huge obstacles we didn’t even know were there. Yet, finding out what is at the end of the journey in this uncharted territory is compelling. Sticking with the known and not worrying about getting dirty or risking some scrapes and bruises might be safer on one level, but soul crushing on another.

Years ago, when I first read Krasnow’s words, I experienced a visceral negative reaction to the concept of mediocrity. Rather than the pursuit of dominance over others, the rejection of mediocrity is for me a reaction to my belief in my responsibility to optimize my strengths, talents, resources and experiences–to give back in proportion to what I have been given.

It has become clear to me over recent months that my recurrent urge to serve the world through a variety of manifestations of health and habit change coaching—including blogging; individual coaching; my free Facebook group: JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose; and future workshops, classes and nonprofit work—is a calling from the Universe.

Sometimes, I have relished the synchronicity and signs that have reassured me that I was on the correct path. Other times, it feels like I am braving Krasnow’s uncharted territory all alone, in the desolate and uncertain wilderness.

My mindfulness practices, along with my cycling, have become lifelines for me, helping me stay grounded and focused during the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. When I start to stumble and risk falling into a pit of hopelessness, I have practices in place these days to throw down a net and catch myself before I hit bottom.

The net helps me bounce back up and courageously return to the uncharted territory.

Yes, it would be easier not to bother, at least for a while. But, then it wouldn’t be. Then, regret would set in–disappointment in myself. I would be mired irrevocably in the muck of mediocrity.

This prison that Krasnow describes is even more frightening to me. As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. To be trapped there with the disappointment and shame that mediocrity would bring feels like the worst fate.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself that I am just starting to share with a few people. They are scary. But, the alternative to pursuing them is worse.

So, how do I—and how do you—persevere on an uncharted journey of uncertainty and risk? Here are the things that currently sustain me:

  • I have cultivated a deeper belief in the abundance of the Universe, in an updated way that resonates with me, as the person I am today. We each must find our own path here, but I have come to believe that finding it is crucial. It will likely evolve over time, but it is important to honor our need for a connection to something greater. I have a consistent, cherished daily mindfulness practice that now includes meditation, which I long believed was something I could not do. Now, I can’t do without it.
  • I have connected with supportive others, including a couple of Facebook groups and some business coaches. This helps when I feel alone. I can serve others in the group, while I receive support and guidance myself. As in any relationship, there can be disappointment, but I have grown much more since connecting with the people in these groups than I was doing entirely on my own. Finding the right fit is important. Although my coaching certification institution emphasized that they were “my tribe,” they weren’t. I had to find the right people on my own.
  • I trust my own intuition and instincts. Mindfulness has helped me tune into this and honor this more than ever. I have always believed in doing this, but I am more likely to trust myself now than I used to be. I can really listen when I am in my state of mindfulness, whether it is during my formal practice each day or it is just found in my increased centeredness, a residual effect of my practice. Much like exercise has benefits that last for hours following the actual movement, mindfulness resets my emotional barometer and keeps me on a calmer, more receptive plane throughout the day.
  • I strive to maintain the lifestyle practices that I teach for living and aging with power and purpose—purposeful living, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement—with a high level of integrity. Taking excellent care of my body, mind and spirit best positions me to persist when the going gets tough.

These are what I recommend to you, as you dig deep and find the courage to attempt the jailbreak from mediocrity too. What does that mean for you? Which is more frightening—uncharted territory or known mediocrity? How can I support you?

“There is an inner knowing that there is more to life than the mundane, as well as a desire to create meaning of one’s life by doing the best that one is capable of doing.”

–Linda Kreger Silverman

Equanimity in the Wind

We Kansas cyclists know wind.

My original blog post explained the inspiration behind the JustWind name and philosophy. Justwindmusings.com blog continues to evolve into my coaching practice website, justwindcoach.com. I was encouraged last week, when I reconnected with an acquaintance with whom I had had no contact in nearly a decade. Out of the blue, without knowing the name of my coaching practice or my blog, she told me that she has always remembered our conversation when I explained the concept of adopting the perspective that life’s challenges are “just wind.” Her recollection helped validate for me the benefits of applying the “just wind” reframe in the face of challenges and difficulties.

Winds in Kansas were so strong on Tuesday that my son’s track meet was postponed. This is a reminder that, even when viewing challenges as “just wind,” there are times when we must stop and regroup. Occasionally, doing so is both prudent and necessary. Sometimes we encounter an obstacle so big that it causes us to step back and adjust. The important this is that we do get back on track and that we take from it what we choose to aid in future growth and progress on our path.

Regaining Equanimity

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”—Marcus Aurelius

Because the winds of life will blow, sometimes even knocking us down or pushing us off course, it is crucial that we have strategies to help return to equanimity, which is a state of calm steadiness, even in the face of chaos around us. Here are some of the strategies that I use personally and that I teach my coaching clients:

  1. Mindfulness: To me, this means being in the present, rather than being caught up in the frenzy of past regrets or future worries. Practicing mindfulness allows us to think before we act, to remember our priorities and to make conscious choices. It is a decision to act with purpose and to remain in alignment with our values. I see mindfulness as having at least two parts—a dedicated time for practicing mindfulness (Morning works well for me.) and anchors and rituals to return to mindfulness at key times (such as meals) throughout the day.
  2. Breathing exercises: While breathing exercises are part of my morning and pre-meal mindfulness practices, I also employ them throughout the day in moments of stress, times when I need or want increased focus and when I want to reset my mood and mindset. Noticing the breath, intentionally deepening and slowing the breath and practicing particular breathing patterns can all facilitate a return to equanimity.
  3. Empowered movement: Setting an intention for exercise and reflecting on that intention throughout a movement session often evokes feelings of relaxation, peace, gratitude and even joy or euphoria, after a long, stressful day. I can literally feel the weight of the day lift from my body on a good bike ride, where I am really focused on my intention for the ride. Any kind of physical activity can serve this purpose.
  4. Powerful words: I have mentioned in previous posts how much I love quotes. I have collected them for years and refer to my volumes (I just started my sixth blank book!) at several points throughout the day to find words that speak to me in the moment. If I do this before an opportunity to think—like a bike ride, drive or shower—I will contemplate the quote or use it as a mantra during that activity. It is amazing what insight can come from this practice. It often allows me to reset and steady myself in the face of life’s winds.

Appreciating the Winds

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”—Elisabeth Kubler Ross

As difficult as it can be in the moment, we have much to gain, and a better chance at achieving equanimity, if we can find appreciation for the winds of life that batter us. It may not be so much that we appreciate the winds or challenges themselves, but that we recognize that they are a big part of what makes us who we are.

I find that riding into 35- or 40-mph wind for hours, while not exactly fun, is much more bearable when I remind myself that the winds are making me stronger and increasing my mental toughness. I often draw back on previous experience facing brutal headwinds or holding my line in the assault of crosswinds. I tell myself, “This is tough, but it is not as tough as the Satanta to Ashland day (an infamous day on Biking Across Kansas 2006).” I finished that day (and then sank, exhausted, onto the school bathroom floor to nurse my 1-year-old son), so I know that I have it in me to survive other ordeals.

We become stronger when we face the winds and survive.

Not only that, but we are shaped and changed and made unique by our difficult experiences. Acknowledging this is not the same as asking for these trials. Like the wind in Kansas, though, they will occur. When we can appreciate them for the lessons we learn and the strength we gain, we are better able to handle them. We become more adept at staying upright and at keeping on course amid the challenges.

Adopting regular rituals and practices that allow us to return to equanimity positions us on a peaceful platform to reflect on, and benefit from, the growth that we can achieve through courageously pedaling forward in life’s wind.

February Funk

I promised myself to publish at least two blog posts per month in 2018. It is late February, and I am just writing my first for the month. It is not the post I planned to write. Hopefully, I’ll still get that done in the last few days of the month.

For now, I just need to acknowledge that February has been an “off” month and move forward.

There is no major reason for my February Funk. Through introspection, I have come to recognize some contributing factors.

One of my problems has been vertigo attacks and the residual symptoms. All in all, I am very grateful for my great health, but I have dealt with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occasionally, since January 2017. I wrote about my first attack here. After months of feeling fine, I had a severe attack, with extreme nausea, on December 10, 2017. That one really knocked me down. My most recent attack was January 23, 2018. It came on after a prolonged period lying flat at a periodontist appointment. I treated it with the Epley Maneuver, which a vestibular therapist taught me to perform on myself, so that I don’t have to see a doctor every time I have an attack. I am grateful for that, but I have not felt “normal” since my last two attacks in January. I feel a sense of disequilibrium in variety of positions, and, frustratingly, I have felt a bit limited. I am very grateful that, unless I am in an active attack, my cycling is largely unaffected. I have had to modify resistance training, yoga and other exercise, though, and I don’t like that. I am afraid to sleep in any position, except on my back, propped up on two thick pillows. The sensation that it would not take much to send me into another attack has left me feeling vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable.

Combined with the vertigo, winter weather has added to my funk. I am a summer girl, so Kansas winters are always tough on me. Winter driving is a particular fear of mine. While I know that this winter could have been (and still may be) much worse than it has been, but I have had a few very stressful driving experiences this season. The worst one occurred unexpectedly earlier this month, when I was driving back from Manhattan, Kansas, after a Biking Across Kansas volunteer staff meeting. While I knew northern Kansas had a winter weather advisory starting at 6 p.m., south central Kansas was not under any kind of advisory. I left Manhattan by 5 p.m. and drove south. The first half of my drive was fine, but I suddenly realized, while driving 75 mph on the interstate, that freezing precipitation had started. My heart started was pounding. I reduced my speed and took deep breaths to calm myself. My biggest problem was that my defroster was not keeping up with the precipitation in the subzero wind chill. No matter what I tried, the portion of the windshield through which I could see grew narrower and narrower. My anxiety became overwhelming on the dark, icy interstate. I desperately needed to exit, but could barely see to do it. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed even more, barely able to see at all. Finally, I made it to an exit with a truck stop. Shaking because of my greatly reduced vision, I managed to make my way onto the street and then make a left turn into the truck stop. I could not really see where I was going and ended up among the diesel pumps and semi-trailers. Somehow, I weaved my way to an access road and then into a McDonald’s parking lot. I got out, scraped my windows and sat for several minutes, with the defroster on full blast and the windshield wipers running. Eventually, I found the courage to head the remaining 22 miles home on county roads. I was grateful to make it home safely, but the experience was terrifying and left me feeling completely spent, even the next day.

I fully realize that these are small problems, in the big scheme of all that people face in this world. Still the disequilibrium of my lingering vertigo symptoms, my fear of setting off another attack of vertigo and the adrenaline crash after my frightening drive have left me feeling drained and off and ineffective this month. I have felt an unsettling lack of clarity around goals for my coaching practice and other areas of life, and I have felt a heavy inertia settle in and weigh me down.

In my coaching practice, I work with people who choose to live and age with power and purpose regardless of life’s challenges, so I must make the conscious decision to get back on track and do the same. The JustWind philosophy teaches that we can face the Kansas-strength winds of life and still look around and appreciate what we have and choose to keep taking brave steps forward. I talk to my coaching clients about viewing their mistakes, shortfalls and steps backward with curiosity, not judgment. I have to remind myself to do the same. I realize that sometimes we need to take a step back to look around and make sure we are headed the right way. Maybe that is part of what is happening for me.

I just can’t stay here. I need to keep moving forward and making progress and evolving and growing. As part of that process, I am in day three of a reset cleanse. This is not a fast. That works for some people, but it is not for me. I don’t function well at all without food. I am just taking extra care for the next two weeks to emphasize whole foods even more diligently than I usually do. During this period of feeling off, my chocolate cravings have returned. This reset cleanse will help me eliminate those. It will also allow me to lose the sense of heaviness that I have been feeling. Some sunshine (which we have for the first time in a week!) and warm weather would certainly help that, but those things are out of my control, so I will control what I can and eat very cleanly, while incorporating empowered movement and engaged mindfulness.

I will treat myself with compassion, acknowledge the impact of the vertigo and the terrifying drive, and view my feelings of the last several weeks with curiosity and openness, learning from them and carrying those lessons forward, as I resume my journey.