Wednesday, March 31, 2010
“Joy is not in things. It is in us.”
Not too long ago, I was driving in my car, serving in the capacity of what currently feels like my most significant role as the mother to two children: chauffeur. And while sometimes I feel like that is the extent of their use for me, particularly as they enter the teenage years, I realize that the car is a fabulous place to engage their sponge-like minds and have conversations that might otherwise not happen. I mean, they are captive for whatever length of time I have them in the vehicle!
“You know, you guys hear me all the time talking about doing the things in life that bring us joy. For example, you both know that my work brings me a great deal of joy. I love working with kids, the volunteers and the staff at Girls on the Run.
So, what brings you two the most joy?”
Hank, immersed in a skateboarding magazine, was riding “shotgun”, in the front seat next to me and Helen was fiddling with her I-Pod in the backseat of the car.
Hank, now a young man, lives, breathes and eats skateboarding. He didn’t even look up, pause or take a breath.
“Skateboarding, of course.” His response was to the point, simple and clear. The tone of his voice was monotone and the sound of it was in that new and fabulous man-pitch that comes with being almost fifteen.
“Helen? How ‘bout you? What brings you the most joy?”
Everything Helen does and says exudes a kind of glitter, pop and fizz. She stopped messing with her I-Pod, and looked up from her throne in the backseat to make eye contact with me in the rearview mirror.
“Mother (interject sing-song kind of voice with twinge of exasperation), I’m only 11. How am I supposed to know what brings me joy?”
I drove along for another minute or so, just letting the silence sink in a bit.
Hank turned another page and Helen fiddled a bit more with her I-Pod.
We are driving along, for at least another good five minutes, when I hear from Helen, who is now staring somewhat dreamily out of the window. “Although I will say, that baking cakes does set my spirit free.”
This is when, as a mother, coach or teacher it becomes almost painfully difficult to not laugh out loud. Her choice of words was so…well…so like something I would have said.
Needless to say, I dropped Hank off at the skate shop and proceeded to go with Helen to the grocery store. We bought six different cake mixes and all the ingredients necessary to make icing from scratch. Later that afternoon, I watched her working in the kitchen, battling bowls with wooden spoons and measuring utensils. The girl was clearly as close to nirvana as one can get.
In my younger days, running was that place of joy for me. I’ll admit that at times it was joyful because it provided me with an opportunity to escape much of the chaos I was creating with the imaginary stories I was telling around relationships, work and family. I was running from rather than to.
Now, though, the joy I get from running isn’t the escape it provides, but the peace it brings...the presence within me that I feel when I run. When I run I feel beautiful, powerful, and real. The pieces of me that I share throughout the day are all assimilated back into one beautiful tapestry . . . one amazing piece of reality . . . one experience that is mine and mine alone. The physicality of it provides me with a powerful reminder that my body is capable, strong, powerful, and MINE.
Every time I run, I make a statement to the world, "I own my action, my body, my thoughts, and my experiences. I do not and will not buy into the stories which objectify, sexualize, diminish, or dominate me. I am real. I am human. I am spirit manifest within this strong, healthy, and beautiful physical body. I honour that which rests within me and in doing so feel and choose joy.”
When I run, I rise above the stories which define and limit my joy and go to a space where the stories are not only diminished but eliminated. My mind becomes empty and the joy of just being...present, within and real...can find a home there.
As I get older, I realize that it isn’t the running, in and of itself that brings me joy. No, joy comes when I willingly recognize and let go of the stories I tell and buy-into about myself and the world around me. Joy comes when I just am...present...being...at peace.
I can find joy even in the simple things:
Folding my children’s clothes...I feel the soft fabric beneath my finger tips as I tenderly and lovingly place shirts and shorts in their dresser drawers;
Waiting in traffic...observing the people in the cars around me, watching the stop light go from red to green, seeing for the first time the flower garden rising up, roadside, planted there by a local community group;
Washing dishes...feeling the warm water across my hands, seeing the bubbles emerge from water, towel to pan, pan to shelf, good meal in my belly;
I will run today, feel the warm sun on my shoulders, hear my breathing, and feel my feet on the ground. Joy will be there, as she always is, patiently waiting for me to clear out some space and let her in.
What brings you joy? When are you most joyful? Are there areas of your life that seem joy-less? What could you do differently to possibly find the joy that is hiding there? Let me know at email@example.com.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
“I reject your reality and substitute it for my own.” Adam Savage
I come from a long line of storytellers. My Dad was one of the best. He was a well known politician who often shared vibrant and very dramatic stories to further his political platform.
Kids, as we know, have an active imaginary life. Just watch any child play. A stick becomes a wand. A rock becomes a mountain. A bottle becomes a musical instrument. Children have this uncanny and beautiful way of weaving intricate stories around seemingly mundane objects.
Children also have an uncanny and revelatory way of weaving intricate stories around the “what is” of their personal lives. If Mom is crying a lot and Dad is yelling, then the child’s active imagination begins creating stories to rationalize the discomfort they are feeling. Because children are, by nature, ego-centric they land on a story which usually involves them starring in the lead role, front and center.
“Yesterday, I came home without my lunchbox and Mom got upset. I can be less forgetful and then Mom won’t cry so much. I need to do better. ”
“This morning, I dropped my books on the floor and woke Daddy up. He got really mad. I need to try to be quieter.”
“My mom drinks too much and my dad is never around. Clearly I am not good enough or they would both love me.”
“The popular girls pick on me because I’m fat. I’ll never be good enough.”
“Even though I’m in the popular group, I don’t really fit in. If they really knew who I was, they’d push me out so fast.”
Four weeks ago I attended a leadership retreat at the Center for Intentional Leadership entitled “Quest for Personal Leadership.” (To learn more, check out their website: http://www.centerforintentionalleadership.com/course-qpl-personal-reinvention.php I highly recommend it!) Tom Lane, our facilitator for the retreat told me I was in for a life-changing experience. Little did I know!
For three days, I was in a room with 18 people. Strangers at first. If I knew anyone, it was only tangentially. Over the course of that first day we shared our life stories. All 18 of the individuals seated in that room, shared gut-wrenching and poignant stories of their upbringing, revealing the most raw and real of themselves. We cried, we laughed, we shouted, we were and at the end of our telling those stories…we were overcome with a feeling of one-ness…each of our stories revealing within the very act of its telling one universal imaginary story and it was:
“I am not good enough.”
What starts as nothing more than our child-story to bring order and meaning to the day-to-day ins and outs of our young and “unexplained” lives, ends up being a universal theme adopted by our culture, society and the systems we create. The circle never ends. Our culture perpetuates the “I am not good enough just as myself” story and our children are influenced by it. Children adopt the story as true and then grow up to be the adults who create the systems that perpetuate it.
An entire advertising industry has built itself upon this story.
Some religions, many of them dangerously demeaning to girls and women, have built empires upon this story.
Governmental systems have institutionalized this belief in many of their practices and policies.
Education in America is rooted in this belief through requiring children to demonstrate their job/college worthiness with high performance on test scores and measurable academic achievement.
By the end of that three day retreat I told my new friends that I was done with buying into, explaining away and making up stories to explain why my potential was limited…why the Girl Box limits me.
The longer I am involved with Girls on the Run the more it reveals about my own story-telling and the stories of our culture. I now see that Girls on the Run provides tools that enhance a girl’s blossoming sense of self, and also provide her with the skills to critically think through situations…to unravel her self-worth from the stories our culture makes up about her and to think for herself with a clear mind and an open heart.
What stories have you made up about yourself that have allowed you to buy-in to the made-up messages of the Girl Box? Are you done with that? If you are not those stories, what/who are you?
Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
“Revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.”
Gloria Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. A prominent writer and political figure, Steinem is today considered one of American history's most important women and one of the most transformative figures of the twentieth century. She has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honors. Whether or not you agree with her politics, the woman is an icon.
I had the privilege to meet Ms. Steinem a couple of weeks ago. She was in town speaking at an event sponsored by the University of North Carolina’s Women and Gender studies program. (http://womensandgenderstudies.uncc.edu/index.php) About fifteen Charlotte women had lunch with her several hours before her speaking event.
Gloria is 76 years old. She is about my size (for some reason I expected her to be bigger), and her presence is powerful. She appeared to float about the room. She was clearly at peace. We talked during lunch about systemic and cultural change. We talked of youth, girls and boys. We talked of the men in our lives and the influence they have had. We shared our anger, sorrow and peaceful resolve. When i asked her what she felt as she looked back over the legacy of her life her response was...”I don’t really have any regrets,” she exclaimed. “I just wish I had been less lady-like.”
In June of 1970, a piece written by Ms. Steinem entitled “Women’s Liberation Aims to Free Men Too” was printed in the Washington Post.
In 1970, the women’s movement was in full effect. I was in 5th grade that year. It’s no coincidence that in the fall of that year I and a few girls staged the Myers Park Elementary Pants Revolution. All girls at my school were required to wear skirts or dresses. Pants were not allowed. I didn’t think this was fair. We couldn’t play on the playground the same way the boys could. The monkey bars were out of the question. So too were cartwheels, hand stands, football and standing broad jumps.
To tackle the problem we secretly passed out flyers recruiting volunteers to help stage this revolution. Several girls signed up from each grade and we met at the monkey bars during recess to discuss our plan.
On one specific day in October, all girls at Myers Park Elementary would wear pants. We would let everyone know of our plan.
The big day came. I came downstairs in a pantsuit. I won’t ever forget it. I walked into the kitchen, both excited and afraid of what the day would bring.
My dad was sitting at the breakfast table.
“What are you wearing?” he asked as he peered over his reading glasses.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I tried my best to be nonchalant.
“Isn’t there a dress code? You aren’t allowed to wear pants are you?”
“No, but today we are all...”
My father interrupted. “Go back up and put on a dress.” His gaze calmly returned to his newspaper.
“But I can’t. I’m the one who organized...”
Again my father replied, but this time with that look that meant business: “Go back up and put on a dress.”
I wore a dress to school that day. I was the only girl in the entire school in a dress. My friends were okay with it when I explained my predicament. The outcome? The dress code was changed and the following week I played uninhibitedly on the monkey bars in my brand spankin’ new pantsuit!
We’ve all staged our own little mini-revolutions. Some, such as Ms. Steinem, more publicly and others like my own mother who in her more private way bravely stepped outside her “girl box” to recognize and activate her magnificent and beautiful potential.
But no matter the venue, it sometimes takes more than a gentle nudge or a tender pull on our culture to create systemic change. Sometimes we have to just painfully yank off the outdated and limiting view held by the status quo to reveal a new layer beneath...expose the real, the raw and the honest.
When have you bravely stepped outside your comfort zone to stage a mini-revolution of your own? Tell me about it. I’d really like to know, share and celebrate that mini-revolution with you! Let me know at email@example.com.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth. ~Mahatma Gandhi
If I take a few minutes and consciously listen, there's a lot of talking going on inside my head. Consciously is the key word here.
Several years ago I was dealing with a very stressful personal situation. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I was frequently sick, often irritable for no real explainable reason and was having this strange sensation under my skin like pins and needles. I went to the doctor, hoping in some kind of perverse way that he might reveal some hidden disorder that was causing my skin irritations, frequent outbursts and overall malaise. It's so much easier to blame it all on someone or something else!
“Are you stressed, perhaps? More than usual?” I remember wanting to laugh out loud, thinking, “What? Do I look stressed? Two kids under the age of 4, I’m training for a marathon, I’m sick and tired all of the time, I’ve got this business I’m trying to get started, financial strains are inevitable and this other thing that is on my mind 24/7 is eating me up from the inside out? What? Me stressed? You’ve got to be kidding.
“Maybe, a little.” I responded.“Well, let’s consider this prescription.” He quickly scribbled out something that started with an X (and it wasn’t xylophone, the only word, until then, I had ever been aware of that really started with the letter X), handed it to me, and sent me off with, “This should help.
”Darn it, I thought. No severe illness, immune disorder or digestive malfunction. I was…like many other new mothers well-done, cooked and stressed out to the max, all, ironically by my own doing. The stories I made up then, about motherhood, work and child-rearing would, no wonder, leave most women frazzled, empty and worn-out. I was unconsciously trying to live up to some kind of "mother-standard" that somehow had snuck its way into my psyche. The stories I made up then were, many based on outside influences, but were all nonetheless, imaginary. There was no one standing over me with a wooden spoon and a set of pans screaming, "Mothers do this and look like this" and yet often times this is how it felt to me as I drove myself into the ground attempting to be "the best" mom in the world.
The car ride home was no fun. I felt defeated, deflated and a little bit afraid. There was no sound at all, other than the hum of my car’s engine and that darn choir of imaginary voices in my head, all competing for lead vocal in the "this is how good mothers look sympthony.“See? You really are stressed out,” the sympathetic one agreed.“Poor thing, you’ve got so much on your plate,” the enabling one chimed in.“You are pathetic. You are completely incapable of managing your life,” the shaming one declared. Each voice had power and each had their own story about what I should be doing and what a good mother looked like.
Yet, mysteriously, one voice rose above all of the others. This voice was different. She was quiet, hollow and delicate; powerful and resilient, loving and best of all story-less! She was the voice of Silence. I hadn’t heard her for years…not since the stories of chaos had pushed her aside. I wanted to visit with her again.
So, the next morning, I drove to the cross country course at a nearby college and ran 8 miles across paths I’d never known existed. I heard the squish of my feet on wet, black leaves, my breathing as it fell in sync with my footsteps and my heartbeat when I paused at the crest of a hill. My fingertips were white with cold and my body was sweat-drenched with effort.
I thought of nothing as I ran beneath dry crooked kudzu vines clutching tree limbs made barren by winter’s cold. The stories of what I should be and act like were gently quieted...disappeared altogether actually... as I jogged across brown grassy fields soon to be warmed by the chilled red light of winter’s sunrise.
My friend Silence was there, on that run and in those woods. I found comfort in her strength…the way she gently led me from the story world outside myself to an internal space where time was suspended and I just was...alive, breathing, peaceful and present.
Now, I visit with Silence, everyday, to nourish my soul and refuel my spirit. I always find her in the woods, nestled in behind the soft scent of honeysuckle in spring or rising up in the dry red dirt of blazing summer sun. She tells me things that the demanding and imaginary stories of my external world don't like, like: I’m a good mother; I am beautiful; I am enough; I am at peace; I am grateful; I celebrate this run, this day, this breath.
I won’t let anything interfere with my regularly scheduled appointment with Silence. The prescription I opted for was to meet with her more often...sometimes it’s thirty minutes in the morning before my kids are awake or writing as I’m doing now, but always and forever during my runs in the woods.
Where do you find Silence? Do you intentionally seek her out? What happens when you listen to nothing? How do you feel?
(P.S. If you are interested in hearing less and being more...consider the following trail race seres The River Bound Race Series is a joint production of N.C. Outward Bound School and U.S. National Whitewater Center. The four-race series will take place on the 400 acres/14 mile trails at the Whitewater Center as a fundraiser for the N.C. Outward Bound Scholarships. Girls on the Run will have a presence there and we'd love to see you! http://www.usnwc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=349)
Thursday, March 4, 2010
"With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come."
Susan Gray is the first person you will see or talk to when you contact Girls on the Run! She is the sparkly voice on the other end of the phone or the happy face you will see when you walk in our front door.
Susan is currently coaching Girls on the Run to a group of vibrant 3rd-5th grade girls at a local school. She was walking with the girls, from the school out to the play ground, when the following conversation occurred.
Girl: Do you work at Girls on the Run?
Girl: Well, I thought so. You are the first Girls on the Run coach I’ve had who always wears clothes with Girls on the Run on them. What do you do there?
Susan: I do lots of things at Girls on the Run. I answer the phones. I welcome people. I work with all the people who are interested in bringing Girls on the Run to their hometowns.
Girl: Wow. That’s a lot.
Susan: I also help Molly Barker with her calendar and all of her travel. Do you know who Molly Barker is?
Girl: YES! She is the woman who started Girls on the Run.
Susan: That’s right. She is the founder.
Girl: (long pause, a few steps and then nonchalantly): Is she still alive?
Susan shared this story with me a couple of days ago and I literally laughed out loud for several minutes.
Couple her question with the fact that I turn 50 this year and…well…I wonder if the Universe isn’t trying to humorously welcome me to this process we call “aging.”
This brings me ‘round to one of my all time favorite quotes and it comes from Gloria Steinem.
A reporter was interviewing Ms. Steinem, many years ago. “Ms. Steinem, you sure don’t look 43 years old.”
“Well honey,” she replied. “This is what MY 43 looks like.”
Whether we are in our teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and/or up (!) aging happens.
AND wonderfully so! There is no more a beautiful process than growing older. I consider the landscape of my body and the stories it tells.
The scar on my right hip: Riding my first century ride (100 miles) a dog crossed the road at mile 87. My friends, Bob, Dave and Rob stopped to help me. I finished the ride that day thanks to their support. I fondly remember them now, though I haven’t spoken to them in over 20 years.
The lines at my brow: I have a photo of myself in second grade. Those lines were there, an indication of my intensity even then and my passion now.
My skin and the tell tale signs of sun, wind and hours outside: I remember sitting by Susan Anderson’s swimming pool one summer between 9th and 10th grade, lathering up with baby oil, drinking a Tab and listening to “Some Kind of Wonderful “ by Grand Funk Railroad.
Celebrating where we are in the process of aging is a challenge. When I’m unfocused, I unknowingly allow the stories our culture has made up regarding that process, to seep into my psyche, my self-esteem and feelings of worth. I will admit it though…It’s just so hard sometimes to celebrate the process when the noise of the outer world is so darn loud. Use this, try this, do this and then you can be this.
I recognize that the process of growing older is just that…a process and each of us has and will have a very personal and intimate relationship with it now and in our futures.
Today I will intentionally celebrate the changing and aging landscape of my body. I will seek out images, people and messages around me where aging is honored. I will be aware of the language I use and do my very best to stop short of a negative or humorous comment about aging and replace it with wonder, admiration and love for myself as I enjoy being who I am, right now and in this minute!
What are the cultural stories/beliefs you grew up with about the aging process and how have those affected you? What do you believe now? Are those stories serving you in a positive way?
Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.