Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrecting Ourselves

It feels like dark times, when, inconceivably, one of our major political parties seems poised to choose a hateful bigot as their presidential nominee, when a state's government passes legislation that enables discrimination, when mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become near-daily news. When cometh the morning that we awake from this nightmare?

I'm currently reading, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which posits that we all possess, within us, the ability to shift from unconscious to conscious ways of leading and being. Unconscious leaders operate within a paradigm of scarcity and attempt to motivate through fear, guilt, and shame, whereas conscious leaders operates within a paradigm of love and therefore inspire others through their integrity and commitment to personal growth.

The book's authors assert that these shifts bring a leader from below the line to above the line and that the choice to shift is available to all of us, all of the time (as is, by the way, the willingness to be and act as a leader).

It's the choice we're making when we experience our feelings rather than react to them; when we seek to understand another's point of view rather than defend our position; when we acknowledge and learn actively from our missteps no matter the collateral damage to our egos.

It is a crossing of the threshold from dark to light, from despair to hope, and from fear to love. It is choosing grace even – and especially – when we're in pain.

It is, in other words, our soul's awakening from the nightmare that swirls around us.

Though lapsed churchgoer that I am, my memories of Easter Sunday at Zion Lutheran Church in my Iowan hometown remain vividly clear. I still see Pastor Roy Nilsen walking to the lectern, adjusting his glasses with just the right measure of dramatic flair, and announcing in his booming baritone:

"Christ. Is. Risen."

He is risen indeed, we the congregation would exclaim in reply.

"Alleluia!" the pastor's pronouncement continued.

Alleluia! we would practically shout (or, rather, state loudly and with glee, which is the Lutheran equivalent of rioting in the streets).

The call and response would repeat twice more, the jubilation in our voices rising each time (my own, in retrospect, owing more to the novelty of "talking back" during the sermon than an informed understanding of Scripture, but nonetheless).

Though, as a young child, I struggled to make literal sense of a man dying and coming back to life – even Jesus himself, who I knew had magical powers – the optimism of those Easter mornings required no leap of understanding. From the uplifting harmonies of the hymns to the organist's animated accompaniment to the slight bounce in Pastor Nilsen's steps as he led the post-benediction procession down the aisle following the service, the contrast between the previous weeks' mood of Lenten mourning and this one was stark. It was abundantly clear that the occasion was one of utter joy and relief.

I understood we had journeyed through several months of darkness, in search of light, and had made it.

Our despairs had been quieted, our fears quelled, our hopes rewarded. Our shadows had been illuminated by the twin high beams of faith and love. Alleluia indeed.

I wonder, now, if that Easter Sunday enthusiasm was born partially from the reminder that the ascent from darkness to light was possible on a personal level, that the proclamation of Christ's rising was also an invitation to look around at the earth in full Spring bloom and remember that our own rebirth is constantly available: that our ability to choose it is, in fact, the great prize of being alive.

And choose it we must, as individuals and a society as a whole. The current political environment requires that we set aside our beliefs about how best to solve our problems to answer the greater question at hand. Do we think so little of ourselves that we would consent to a culture of fear, guilt, and shame? The imperative is that we awake on a massive scale to proclaim it: that we will not allow ourselves to live or be led from below the line. Life in the shadows will not suffice. We are worthy of so much more.

Will we resurrect ourselves? I'm optimistic. Not because I'm naive, but because faith in people's good-heartedness is the antidote to the fear that breeds hatred in the first place.

The choice to shift is ours personally and collectively. We can rise above. What joy, what relief.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia, indeed.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

When Things Are Changing

“I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.” 

Last month, my yoga teacher, whose class I've been attending for about 5 months, said to me after savasana: "I can tell everything's changing for you." The words were firm, with a surety that required no elaboration, so I simply nodded my head in agreement. Yes.

Driving home from that yoga class, I realized through my misted view of the Flatirons that my eyes were filled with happy tears. Someone saw. Alhough my yoga teacher may not have known exactly what was happening in my life, he recognized the shift. 

Was it in the rhythm of my breath? The shape of my forward fold? Had my chi transformed in some subtle way? (Yoga teachers pick up on these things, you know.)

I don't know what it was that he'd noticed, but I do know things are changing for me.

Things are changing in my relationship to my body. I am listening to, instead of ignoring, the strange pain in my left hip. I'm edging closer to it, befriending it, and coaxing it to share its deepest wishes with me (which, thus far, seem to include lots of requests for turmeric and regular sessions with the foam roller).

My relationship with my body is changing in other ways too, most notably with my newfound love of strength training. For a long time I had this irrational fear of lifting weights. What if you look dumb? What if you mess up? What if you drop a weight on someone's foot? It's insane, really, the kinds of ridiculous fears we allow to hold us back. I started lifting weights at the gym last fall and – more recently – discovered the magic that is Orange Theory. I don't know quite how to explain it, but I just feel so much delight at watching myself get stronger and stronger. It's like my muscles are saying "Finally! This is what we've been meant to do all along."

Things are changing in my relationship with food. For awhile, I'd been operating on a sort of grain-free/Paleo-ish auto-pilot, but since completing the Whole30, I have developed a better awareness of my body's preference for certain types of fuel. Instead of reaching for the protein bar just because it's labeled "paleo," I'm reaching for grass-fed Greek yogurt with almond butter because I know it gives me just the right amount of protein for optimal energy. This is not a knock on protein bars–I think they're great! The point is I am eating things that make me feel good, rather than things that fall into a certain category.

Things are changing in my relationship with my finances. After spending several years not paying a whole lot of attention to the topic of money, I felt the desire to look at this part of my life to see whether my financial behaviors were aligned with my values and goals. So, one of my goals for 2016 was to re-engage with my finances by taking inventory of my assets as well as my spending and saving habits. Each week since January 1st, I have set aside 1-2 hours on the weekend to spend effort on my "financial future." How I spend the time varies, but so far I've done a review of my various savings and investment accounts (and whether they're being maximized fully); set up my Health Savings Account; transferred an old 401k balance; canceled an old credit card and opened a new one with better rewards; and completed other various "projects." I've gotten curious about what a values-centered budget would look like and begun playing with some different formats and ideas. I've also begun reading The Soul of Money and re-examining my attitudes around abundance and prosperity. It feels wonderfully empowering and refreshing to be re-engaged with my finances in this way.

Things are changing for me at work. I'm reading The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, and wow, it is rocking my perspective in a really big way. As someone who thinks of herself as generally conscious at work, I am learning how much room for opportunity I still have, particularly in my ability (or, sometimes lack thereof) to feel my emotions, rather than react to them. I am also inspired by the book's portraits of conscious workplaces and thinking a lot about how I, an HR professional, have an opportunity to create that environment for myself and others. The book talks about asking yourself: "What is life's highest idea of itself that wants to express itself in and through me?"...a question that has been calling forth some really interesting (and surprising!) ideas and images for me.

So, yes, things are changing. These things, and other things not detailed here. Maybe not everything in a literal sense, but a lot of things. A lot of big things.

I have experienced periods of rapid personal change and growth in the past. Typically, one area of my life will begin shifting in order to meet some external challenge (whether professional or personal), and that resulting growth will impact all the other areas in similar ways. These periods of intense change are exhilarating, but also necessarily painful. By adopting new ways of being we are forced to leave old ways, old selves really, behind. It can feel a little like waving goodbye to a friend, someone we know like the back of your hand, but whose interests are no longer aligned with our own. So long, buddy. It's been real.

Change is hard. It can be heart-breaking, even, at that moment we realize our well-loved and familiar patterns and habits just don't do it for us anymore. What now? we ask ourselves.

The writer Henry Cloud says we change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.

I suppose it's a matter of which pain we prefer then. The tedious comfort of reading the same page over and over again? Or the thrill of turning the page, unsure of what we'll find?