Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Universal emotional connections

"Everything is connected" takes on a new meaning if we assume that our toughest emotional times are connected to emotions every other person has experienced. The emotions connected with losing a parent to Alzheimer's are overwhelming partly because it’s the same emotions felt by every other child dealing with an aging parent. In all of history. The sadness with losing time with the kids as they build lives of their own is a universal sadness we share with every other parent. The profound sadness of losing a loved one, something we share across the generations. All of which are experienced by most people. Make us feel UBER awful.

One of the most painful times is when we have only ourselves to blame for a predicament (tripping down the stairs while texting). Knowing we had the power to change the outcome and didn’t is extremely disappointing. We resist joining every dope in history that made a similar mistake and wish we could take it back.

When we are changing and it is very painful, its because some of the pain is pain others have felt when they followed this same path. We shoulder the sorrows of our predecessors and the weight is oppressive.

When we are trying to change, if we are pain-averse, it’s easy to buckle instead of proceed. When we pursue our dreams we join an epic community of anxious passion and share all their anxiety. If we recognize the pain for what it is, rather than react, one day, with practice we can teach ourselves to respond with thoughtfulness instead of shutting down the change.

I can only imagine the euphoria associated with success of whatever you are trying to change multiplied by all those who have been successful before you. Victory + victory + victory is sweet.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Everything I know about change I learned from yoga

Yoga is a practice meant to make me strong, flexible and balanced. Every breath I take, every twist I make is meant to build a habit of focused mind/body work. Since I started almost a decade ago I have learned something in every class, about yoga or myself. Yoga itself is a change-making ritual. Anything we might practice with love and kindness every day is likely to stick, and to creep in to other parts of our lives. What I know about change I really learned from yoga.

Show up—unless I show up on my yoga mat all of my desires about being strong, flexible and balanced are vaporware. It’s the same with change. Change requires showing up to work on the change. Wishing and hoping while maintaining status quo doesn’t work.

Breathe—the fundamental practice of yoga is breathing. Breathing connects me to my body during each pose. Breathing adds oxygen to my exerting muscles. Breathing helps me let go (of judgment and pain and control). Breathing helps build stamina. When we are making change it’s easy for us to freak out and forget to breathe. More oxygen helps us think instead of getting caught up in old and limiting ways. When change feels overwhelming I do a lot of sighing. It helps me sit with and move through the anxiety that fills my chest.  

Focus--on what I can control. I can control whether or not I show up. I can control how I dress to be comfortable. I can control whether or not I bring my self fully into the room, on the mat, toes spread and sturdy. Being in my body is the best grounding for me to make all life’s decisions; and I make better decisions when I listen to what my body tells me. When making change it’s easy to get distracted and land in our heads that are trying desperately to tell us the 87 reasons we can’t make the change. Change requires us to focus and get clarity on what we seek, have a plan for how to get there and work the plan.

Persist—I’m grateful that every time I end and then restart a pose it’s a whole new pose. I get to explore yet one more way to fit my body into its own version. I think it was Thomas Edison who made 10,000 unsuccessful attempts before finally inventing the light bulb. With yoga even after 10,000 versions of a pose, the next would still be a whole new pose. After 10,000 repetitions of anything though I am decidedly better than I was without them, and all of a sudden one day I can do a pose easily that eluded me the day before. In making change it is persistence that eventually wins.

Rest—all yoga sessions are intermixed with poses that insert a moment of rest and renewal for energy channels to reboot. Downward facing dog and child’s pose are both rest poses. It’s the rest that rejuvenates the body. When we are changing, sometimes we find ourselves panicked about making things happen and forget to slow down and rest. Peace and calm are fuel for sustainable change.

Bop to the Beat—my unconventional yoga instructor plays music through the entire 1 ½ hour class, breaking rank with serious yogis I’m sure. But the music is part of the reason I like doing yoga with him. The music causes my body to sway. It feels better when I bop to the beat. In change too, a little rhythm and swaying can only make the change journey that much more enjoyable.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.