The Menacing Burning Within The Soul

If you jump and leap, don’t leap or jump for the landing. Leap for the experience through the air. -Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

As I prepare for my transition, finishing up my last full month in China, I’ve been wondering if I made the right choice. Preparing to jump into the unknown fills you with a lot of doubt. Is this really the place in which I can develop more of what’s best about me? Will my Judy-ness get an upgrade? What about my family, Ryan and Hannah?–will this be the best for them?

Do you ever feel like you have gambled all your chips at the roulette table at Vegas and you’re hoping that life lands on the Red 6?  Well, the wheel is spinning, isn’t it?

We read Wild in our book club a few years back and she definitely left an impression on me as a writer. She doesn’t mince words; strength and power are something that Cheryl Strayed is really good at articulating in her work. Her memoir and her subsequent work encapsulate this idea of Motherfuckitude, which is a combination of 2 seemingly opposing ideas: humility and faith. And, although the term may upset your modesty, I assure you the idea transcends your opposition.

I’m going to really try and I might fail, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself but I’m going to be strong in the midst of my humility. Forget success and instead put my faith in the work and be really fierce and very exacting. I must demand a lot of myself when it actually comes to doing the work…having a sense of surrender and acceptance that ‘I’m going to do this work and I don’t know where it may lead.

-Cheryl Strayed- (in an interview on the Tim Ferris Show)

bravery.jpgHer words put a ding in my trepidation, making me consider that there could be no way I could fail if not failing forward–towards this furious ache that is in my soul, the one that causes me to be more than I am today.  The one that tells me that I am not too old, too dense, too unyielding, too silly, too pollyannish. Instead, it tells me that ‘life is long and I am young with so much to learn–isn’t that wonderful?’ It berates me until I have no choice but to heed its advice.

Anyone who writes knows how incredibly hard it is to write something that actually is interesting and meets your level of expectation. Anyone who runs knows how incredibly hard it is to run, in the rain, when you’re tired when you’re in pain and injured. Anyone who teaches knows how incredibly difficult it is to plan, to care and to put in the effort when you’re sick when you’re annoyed when you’re disappointed in life. Anyone who parents know how incredibly hard to be attentive, tuned in and patient. I could make a list of any job, hobby or role that we love dearly and are passionate about–there’s a time in which you want to throw in the towel and quit, but you can’t quit because your devotion to it is too strong and your life would be an empty shell without this struggle in your life. With the struggle comes the beauty and the joy.

So I have to wonder–will I expect more of myself in this new environment? As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a blogger?–Can I work at it like a motherf*cker there?  Am I willing to diligently press on when it will be easier allow distractions to overcome me? I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl, that once you surrender to the hardship of whatever craft one wishes to perform, then there is a grit and dedication that arises and overtakes the urge to abandon the task at hand. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that if you were to maintain a steady focus on it, you would eventually persevere. You believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out.

Long before I put all of my chips on Red 6, I had this menacing burning in my soul to have a fresh experience, to hit a reset button. I have to trust that I have made the best decision, that this move serves the highest vision of my creativity.  I wasn’t looking for a j.o.b.–something that I have to clock into- but instead, something that helps me to improve my art–something that I get to explore, experiment with and craft. I also felt this was the best option for my husband as well. So I must have the faith that this will be a fantastic challenge and that will cultivate joy and curiosity in our lives.

What experience have you had with your struggle to transition? What are you willing to leave behind and what did you want to “pack”, in a metaphorical sense?

My Mind Drowning in the Wet Cement

I joked to one of my friends that the only vice I have left is swearing–I don’t drink or smoke or eat junk food or lie or even watch T.V.–but she assured me that I have other vices. The nerve, right?! But I think I found one.

The other day my family and I were walking back from shopping when I decided to dodge one of the fire stove “popping machines” that you commonly see on street corner here in China. It makes a popcorn-like treat and, when it’s ready, has this booming noise that scares the bejeesus out of my daughter. So my husband went towards the popping machine while my daughter and I  took a long way around and encountered fresh wet cement. We jumped over it–as the area wasn’t roped off and no sign was posted–but then a strange and sudden urge took me over. My eye spotted a narrow scrap piece of PVC pipe by a tree stump and I picked it up. Before I knew it, I had written Hannah’s name in the wet cement. Hannah asked “what’s the big idea” but then she added a smiley face after I pitched the pipe.  All of a sudden it hit me–I probably just committed a crime, in broad daylight, in China, with my daughter as an accomplice. What kind of parent am I?  And all the mischievous fun that spurred this impulse suddenly vanished and I felt awful–like nearly wanted to cry because of the shame and guilt that was summoned up by my reflection of this event.Why had I indulged in such a frivolous action? I had spoilt the wet cement and there was no way to fix it. What had I done?!!!!

When I came around to the other side of the “popping machine”, I confessed to my husband who shot a barb–“Judy, they’re cameras everywhere! They totally know it’s you!” He was right. This is a police state. I was certainly busted. Inside, you would have thought I had killed someone. I was ready for the police to handcuff and cart me to jail. For at least 15 minutes, I was definitely imprisoned, in my mind, awaiting trial and execution. However, when Ryan realized that I was seriously upset, he tried to console me–“They will probably think, ‘oh wow, cool, it’s English’. Don’t worry.”

And it occurred to me–why am I beating myself up? I  can’t go back and fix it. My action was silly and irresponsible, certainly not a good role model for my daughter, but it wasn’t dastardly. I didn’t harm anyone. The real crime is if I don’t forgive myself and move on.


Weeks have passed now since I first started writing this post and I finally summoned the courage to take a look at that spot where I had written Hannah’s name in the wet cement. When I saw it, I laughed out loud because it was sullied with bicycle tire marks and footprints. You can barely make out my writing.

Although I had intentionally defaced the sidewalk, there were numerous amount of people who had unintentionally done the same. Did that make them “bad” people? Do you think they lost sleep or mildly trembled with the thought of their carelessness? Doubtful.

I am still pondering the lesson of this wet cement and the inability to forgive myself. Did I suffer such a strong reaction to such a minor infraction due to the fear of getting in trouble in China or because I was a poor example to my daughter? Not sure, but I know that it was my perspective that caused my self-disappointment, and it has made me reflect on what other trivial things I beat myself up for that aren’t really probably worth the time or effort.

Can anyone relate to this?

 

It’s in the Refrigerator

the refrigerator

Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson was one of the books on my summer reading list. I chose it because I don’t know anything about basketball–about any sports, really, for that matter.It was a challenging text for me because it is so out of the context that I am aware of, but reading it meant that I would have no expectation, good or bad.  Surprisingly this Zen Basketball Coach offered a fresh perspective on difficult experiences that made me deeply reflect on my role as a leader. And, I almost want to watch basketball now. (almost)

I feel like in order to move forward with the future challenges of this year, I have to accept the losses of last year. Get over it. Move on. Phil Jackson reminded me that “the soul of success is surrendering to what is”.  Zen Master Jakusho Kwong also suggests being an active participant in experiencing loss and understand on some level that loss is a catalyst for growth. Not only do I have to embrace the mistakes, the confusion and grief that resulted in some of the decisions made last year, but I have to “put it in the refrigerator”–realizing that it’s over, letting it cool and later appreciating the lessons that come from them.

Yep, letting go and closing the door on that chapter!

Stickiness

Muhammed Ali said that “If you want to win, start within”.  He was such an inspirational man, but what made him such an icon was that he had the courage and commitment to choose his thoughts about himself.  The older I get, the more I grasp that in order to evolve, we must meet our thoughts and beliefs where they are, shake hands with them, and move on–they are not who we are, but where we are. We can may feel that we are “stuck” in this mindset, but it is possible to detach from them and choose new ones.

muhammad ali

I’ve heard it said before that to know and not do is to not know. And that’s true–how many times have we learned something, thought it was interesting, but then did not act any different as a result of it?

Since I’ve begun this deep dive into mindfulness, I’ve started to become curious what is my “mind-full” of? What kinds of thoughts am I thinking? Since I want to approach this as the observer, I have been viewing my thoughts in my meditation without judgement and elaboration, trying to engage my mind in the present, labelling my thoughts as a thought about the past or a thought about the future; and after noticing this, putting my attention on the breath, allowing  my mind to  wander but then gently bringing it back. I think I have been rather successful at this exercise because I was touched by the article about mindfulness stress reduction, and, in particular, the following quote:

“Since it is really about the present moment, the approach has to be spontaneous rather than thought out in advance. It has to be embodied. I just trust that, in a sense, my whole life has been a certain kind of preparation for this moment we call now, and that whatever emerges will be good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will be good enough for that moment. I have never found that that was not true.”- Jon Kabat-Zin

 So now I have been extending my practice beyond the course’s mediations. Since the beginning of this week’s work, I’ve put a sticky note on my laptop to help cue me into cultivating a stronger sense of presence and mindfulness. My note says:

  • Am I breathing? (this has helped me to check in with my breath),
  • Where’s the Magic? (this is to help me find some wonder and awe in my surroundings or experiences.), and
  • Who can I Cherish? (this is to help me connect with the people around me and experience appreciation for them).

I am hopeful that this practice is “sticky” and moves me to help me to create a greater habit of mindfulness outside of these meditative exercise and embody this practice in other areas of my life. I’d rather have my MIND-FULL of thoughts of joy and appreciation, rather than doubt or worry. I feel like this is also great mental training–like Muhammad Ali–cultivating a mind of a champion. In this way, I tap into the power of my being, the gifts that life has to offer me, and the joy of experiencing my loved ones and colleagues.

It’s hard to imagine how much of my life is shifting from noticing the little things. And it reminds me of another quote from The Greatest Man who ever lived: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

ali2

RIP, brother.