Extravagant

Been thinking a lot lately about things that stand out. Personalities. Hair styles. Cars. Life styles. Behaviors. Words.

I grew up thinking that something that was extravagant was a negative thing. Superfluous. Not necessary. Excessive. As a result, on some level, whether intended or not, I believe I sought to fit in, not stand out. To be average and not too much or too little. To fly below the radar as much as possible.

So it was rather annoying that the bulk of my childhood I received comments often about my smile and my cheerful expressions on my face. Even earning the nickname smiley at one point. It bothered me that people commented on my smile. I did not want to be noticed. To stand out.

A number of years ago, well into adulthood I read a book with the word exuberance in the title. The author told a bit of biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for and passion for forests and national parks and how he fought valiantly for their preservation and protection during his presidency. And I found myself nearly captivated by his drive and determination and his unwillingness to be derailed despite others views or scoffing at his hopes and expectations. He was not only passionate but he was exuberant. Which the dictionary defines as “the quality of having energy, excitement or cheerfulness”. While reading I found myself inspired and even impassioned, by his zest for life’s purpose that felt contagious.

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

Today I was listening to a song entitled extravagant, in which it described a love that didn’t make sense, that was unthinkable, above and beyond. I couldn’t help but pause.

If something that is extravagant is unnecessary and excessive. If exuberance is above and beyond expected, superfluous. Then wouldn’t something like extravagant generosity or exuberant expressions of compassion be encouraged, even celebrated?

Perhaps the goal should never be to blend in or fly below the radar. Not to say ones goal should be to be center stage or on display. But perhaps a more candid and honest expression of ones self should be encouraged. Less filtered. Perhaps when it comes to love and compassion, extravagance could be modeled, and portrayed as what it could be in full expression, beautiful.

I don’t think I’m advocating that extravagance be expected or demanded. But what if it were modeled on occasion. Without being magnified or downplayed. But simply seen. And felt. Witnessed. Experienced.

We have new neighbors in our neighborhood. And when they moved in they hung these brightly colored aerial swings in their large tree in the front yard. The first time I saw them I thought it was unique and strange and perhaps a bit dramatic to have multiple very colorful swings in their front yard tree. However I soon discovered that most evenings when I went walking I saw their daughters hanging and swinging in those swings. Night after night. Laughter abounding. Creative expression visible.

Extravagant? Maybe. Exuberant? Definitely. Negative or a bad thing? Not a chance.

Perhaps what felt unfortunate for much of my childhood turned out to be fortune after all. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t really adapt my facial expressions without really modifying my outlook on life in a negative way. So as quietly as possible, I owned my facial expressions. And I smiled often. And I smiled even more when someone commented on it. Cause that was me being me. For it just was what it was. And it seemed the sooner I accepted that. The sooner I was able to just be me. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. But always true to myself.

Now that I have a daughter who openly prances around the neighborhood dressed up as a princess or a warrior or hula dancer or a magician, I find myself encouraging her self expression and her unique flare. I don’t ever want to stifle that. If exuberance comes natural to her. I pray it always will. Without encumbrance or shame.

I’m sure there are some who still describe me as over the top or unnecessary. Perhaps even excessive at times. But I feel okay with that now. At least I’m channeling my energy toward generosity and compassion and not resentment or judgement. A decision I would make and will make, again and again.

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Joy

I picked up my daughter this evening after work. I was subtly surprised by her poise and how much sense she was making as she talked about her day and about how she felt. She seemed so grown up all the sudden. She seemed to have independent thoughts and strong emotions that weren’t just temper tantrum driven. She seemed convicted of what she believed and how she felt but not for the purpose as rebellion as it usually seems. She seemed confident. No reason not to be.

When we got home she crafted a plan and invited daddy and I out onto the trampoline. I needed to change my clothes. She said she would wait. She wanted to jump as a family. She wanted to sing. She giggled and grinned. She was in her element. Leading the pack. Orchestrating her symphony. And for once I didn’t feel bossed around or commanded. I felt invited to participate in something of joy. Spontaneous combustion.

I was online later and saw a painted canvas referencing Elizabeth Warren standing up on the senate floor. Persisting. She was warned. Repeatedly. Nevertheless she persisted. And I felt myself swell with pride. And then I thought of all the times I have banged my head against the wall as My daughter pushed back at my ideas, at times ignoring my requests altogether. How she often commands her own agenda and stays her course regardless of the consequences. I thought of how many times I have driven to break that in her, describing her as stubborn and unruly and difficult or impossible.
The irony was not lost on me.

Somehow present in the moment that this evening brought, connections in the car over the day of a 5yr old, followed by squeals of laughter on the trampoline and wrapped up by singing in the dark as she went to sleep “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck” I found myself caught up in the joy of life. The little moments that make up the big themes. The small lessons that create life’s calling and dreams.

She teaches me more and more each passing day. About adventure and creativity. About persisting. And becoming. About determination. About love and acceptance. About getting wrapped up in joy.

I am inspired to stand beside, encourage and only gently challenge. To not hold her back or stifle her desire to soar. To recommit to being a guide, to accepting her for all that she is in her determination and exuberance for life. To open up to again to spontaneous joy and self expression. To choose grace and gratitude for this journey.

just be sad; let it hit you like a truck

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I have been struck this week by the amount of discomfort or straight up intolerance that i have witnessed regarding certain emotions… mainly sadness, melancholy, anger and guilt. Normally I would listen to the pain/discomfort and help to discover where some of that is coming from and how to best cope with it; all good things, however lately i have been changing my perspective and asking questions like “what would it be like to just sit with that feeling?” or “what makes you want to rush past that thought you had?” and “can you imagine a way for that emotion to be more acceptable to you?”

Not surprisingly I have been met with a lot of blank stares, inquisitive looks and straight up irritation with the mere suggestion of such a thing. Why would anyone willingly sit with something that doesn’t feel good? It seems counterintuitive and downright ridiculous to most of us to consider such a thing, as we have been taught, nay it has been ingrained in us to do what feels good or right or provides pleasure in some way, and to avoid at all cost, pain. Is it possible that sadness, melancholy, anger, guilt, pain, discomfort, can actually teach us something about life? Perhaps actually allow us to experience more full and diverse lives? Maybe even provide a sense of meaning or purpose?

I watched Louie CK, a comedian, on Conan O’brien a few weeks ago and was struck by the depth of comments in his short interview on smart phones for kids; (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c) Within the interview he candidly shares an experience he has while driving in his car, when loneliness hits him, and a overwhelming sense of sad settles in… his natural inclination is to reach for his phone to find someone to connect with so that he doesn’t feel alone, and instead he decides to pull over and just sit with the emotion and let it “hit you like a truck”. I chose to re-watch the clip several times. He may not be your style, and you may not resonate with his presentation, but he had some profound statements regarding what we do with emotion. 

I could not agree more that “we need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something…” we live in a time where we are bombarded by opportunities to distract ourselves. We can distract ourselves from our own feelings, we can distract ourselves from having any innate sense of awareness of others around us. We can fill every moment of our every day if we choose. We can check out emotionally. We can become unavailable at any second, in the grocery line, while driving, in the middle of a dinner table discussion, during class, while in a meeting, at the park, playing with our kids. Those are all options.

It makes me so curious, what exactly are we trying to avoid? Or is it not avoidance but something that we’re trying to fill? Perhaps we have become uncomfortable just in being who we are, human. Maybe we don’t even remember what we were before smart phones and tablets, laptops and t.v screens. Perhaps we have lost track of who we are without anything in our hand or in front of us.

Do you remember the last moment that you were in that was uncomfortable and you chose to stay in it anyway? What if we didn’t try to push away an uncomfortable feeling or an emotional expression? What if we sat with it, even marinated in it for a while?

The comedian boldly stated that his loneliness “was beautiful. sadness is poetic. you are lucky to live sad moments…” If there is any element of truth to what he is saying, then what are the majority of us potentially missing out on by trying to end that moment or push away that feeling as fast as possible?

I have to think that to experience life to its fullest, that we are made to experience both the joy and sorrow, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the excitement and anger, elation and disappointment, pride and shame, success and failure. I have to think that if we could learn to tolerate that which is uncomfortable that we might grow in ways that we did not even know were possible. That we could have the ability to slow down, to observe what the moment offers and to take it in to its fullest. That potentially we could be less reactive and instead that we could pause and choose how we want to respond, in a way that might reflect more of who we really are inside or who we really want to be.

 

Emotional Contagion

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Social psychologists study relationships and people interactions, and the concept of “emotional contagion” is widely used within the scientific realm to talk about the impact of internal states of one person on another…. its kind of a fancy way of saying that we are influenced by the people that we hang with, and the environment that we socialize in and live in, each and every moment. The practical application of that is somewhat overwhelming to me as it points out the Significance of the choices we make around who we hang out with and where we live/work/play etc.

If the internal state of another person, whether that be playful, fearful, happy, sad, angry, dysregulated or any number of other states of being, have emotional and long term impact on my overall wellbeing, then that seems to imply the importance of being very choosy with whom to relate, connect, partner with, work with, etc. So how do we go about making those decisions that have such long term impact?

Most of us don’t go about this process all that intentionally… unfortunately far more of us kind of just “land a job” or “meet a friend through a friend” or “go on a blind date” or “strike up a conversation at a coffee shop” or “meet at a party” and through any remote similarity or connection, we “attach”, “become friends” and “associate with” these random encountered people. Is that all bad? No, not all bad. These random associations and meet ups can turn out to be quite meaningful and purpose filled and we can find others in the world who see it similarly to how we do, and who have similar hopes or goals or desires or fears, and we can Connect with another human being in a very meaningful way, that impacts our “internal state” in a positive growth kind of way.

Unfortunately the opposite can be true as well. We can meet someone, begin to associate or hang out with, and before we realize it, they are a “friend” and someone we are seeing frequently, and without even being mindful of it, we begin to be influenced by this person or these people, and they are impacting our internal state.

Does that not scare the hell out of you?? By choosing to hang out with someone on a regular basis, you are actually allowing them to impact your internal state of being!!! Am I the only one that this is a bit disconcerting to??

A simple and not so long term impactful example would be when you see someone else taking a drink of water, and you suddenly find yourself reaching for your water cup or bottle without even thinking about it, feeling thirsty. Or seeing someone wipe their nose or brush it off, and immediately finding yourself brushing your nose to make sure nothing is there. These are subtle, yet classic examples or how we are influenced by what we see in others around us. So if we are influenced by someone simply taking a sip of water, how much more are we impacted by someone who is angry all the time and wears that in their demeanor? Or someone who is anxious or worried about everything and constantly expresses their anxiety about everything in their day to day life?

Dr. Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and well known author in the world of neuroscience and brain integration speaks of this concept in his book Mindsight in which he describes the idea of “mirror neurons” and “resonance”, in which he outlines the way in which we are impacted by one another and in fact are wired to even feel what others feel…”When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another…” he continues by noting that it is this ability to resonate with another being that allows us to connect on a deeper level and even attach to another being. “This resonance is at the heart of the important sense of “feeling felt” that emerges in close relationships.”

It’s the beauty and the beast of this emotional contagion… We can be so very positively influenced by another being and the way that they life their life and on the other hand we can be very negatively influenced by another being. Socially, emotionally, spiritually… even physically. Ever noticed how couples that have been together for many years start to almost look like each other, let alone act a lot like one another?  They have been in “training” and they have been influencing each other through mirror neurons and resonance for so many years that even their physical attributes and mannerisms start to match up. (you can read a lot more about influencing your brain and reshaping how you think and behavior in any one of Siegel’s books, which i HIGHLY recommend.)

So who is influencing your inner state of being?? Who’s inner state of being are you influencing?? These are the questions that I am asking today, and that I am challenging each of us to ask. Because there is nothing superficial about an internal state of being…

It is at the heart of who we are as people. It’s how we come to see and experience the world, it’s how we relate to the world and to each other, and how we navigate our way through life, and that is Significant! Yet so many of us take it so lightly and think so little about who we engage with or who we allow to have space inside our world…

Today I am contemplating emotional contagion and I am choosing to be intentional about who and what is influencing me, and how I am influencing those around me. I hope that you can do the same!

Gratitude

At the beginning of a yoga class we take a few moments to quiet down the mind and bring our thoughts toward our intentions for the class, to help guide us in our practice and help us to keep focused toward those intentions. Throughout a class we continually draw our minds back to those intentions and refocus our wandering minds. And at the end of class we draw our hands to our heart, we pause to bring to mind a thought of gratitude, and we end by saying “namaste” which means I honor my continual practice of yoga and my journey through life while simultaneously acknowledging yours and the beauty of our differences.

This week I have been intentionally pausing for brief moments to honor what I am grateful for. In these brief moments of reflection, I have seen a little girl filled with awe and wonder, vivaciously taking in the world around her. I have seen families walking to the park together. I have seen the wide eyes of children splashing in the swimming pool, water droplets surrounding everything they do. I have heard birds chirping in the early morning hours, awakening the dawn. I have been present for fulfilling conversations. I have soaked in rays of sunshine beaming down, and even accepted the raindrops as tiny gifts of fresh dew to water my garden. I have seen wonder, I have seen blossoms and even swayed on a swing just taking it all in.

Amazing what we can find when we are looking. Amazing what we can hear when we are listening. Amazing the friendships we can foster when we take the time. Amazing what we can become when we are intentional.

This week I am challenging us all to pause, to find something to be grateful for and to not just acknowledge it, but to actually sit with it, and allow it to wash over our souls, permeating our entire beings and effervescing out into how we live our lives today.

Holistic Wellness

I have been thinking a lot about optimal health and holistic wellness, both of which seem to have become popular buzz phrases as of late. Unfortunately, though we hear these phrases often, and even talk about them, we often fail to strive to become them.

In looking at popular definitions of wellness we see the following:

  • well.ness (wel’nes) Optimal physical and mental health.
  • well·ness noun \ˈwel-nəs\ : the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal <lifestyles that promote wellness>
  • Wellness is considered to be an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make choices (healthy choices) that lead toward a longer and more successful existence.    
  • well·ness [wel-nis] noun the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.
  • well·ness [wel-nis] n.The condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise, and habits.
There is a predominant theme that stands out in each of these definitions, which is that “wellness” is not simply attained, but rather sought after and then maintained through ongoing effort… We do not stumble upon wellness, nor are we simply gifted with wellness, but rather we strive for and actively participate in creating wellness.
So what is Holistic about wellness?
To understand holistic, we must define the word holism. To be whole we must acknowledge the parts. The system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave. Aristotle best summarizes this as “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.
Holistic Health is the balance between all aspects of life – social, physical, spiritual and emotional. It impacts on how we manage our surroundings and make choices in our lives – clearly it is an integral part of our overall health. (as described by the american psychological association)
If holistic wellness involves intentional action to be obtained, and the goal is to seek overall balance; both in physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and environmental, then i will propose that we are to be actively and very presently pursuing integrated and collateral balance. Where does one begin this journey? Perhaps that is unique to each of us as individuals.
Look at those six areas of holistic health; physical  emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and environmental. What area needs the most attention in your life? What area feels the strongest and can therefore inform the other areas how to become stronger? Do you put a lot into physical health, exercising and being mindful nutritionally, yet create very little time or space for your emotional well-being? Or are you a very social individual with lots of close connections in your community, while neglecting the importance of your spiritual growth/development? We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses.
This week, what would it look like to identify a strength to build even further upon, and name a weakness to begin strengthening from the ground up? Could this be the first step toward holistic health?
We are whole beings, with many intricate parts, and when we neglect even one part of who we are, the whole being becomes off balance. Honor your whole self today, in your own unique way as you begin to seek Holistic Health.