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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Meandering Thoughts from a Mind That is “Under Construction”

October 14th, 2017

Hi there!

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” (Joseph Campbell)

My “sacred space” – where I can find myself again and again – is in Solitude, my time alone. Preferably spent hiking up a trail, or walking in very large circles. I’m a lover of Solitude. I yearn for it. (I think Solitude is the medium for self realization. Time alone is one of the most important things we can give ourselves if we want to know who we are, what’s missing, what we’re needing, who and what are most important to us, and what is possible for our life.)

As you probably know by now, I’m a hiker. More generally, I’m a walker.

I have this particular place in my town that I go to almost every day. I walk circles there. Large circles. Sometimes I do this over and over again, alone in my thoughts. Listening to my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation for me. Call me weird, but walking in large circles is something I look forward to. It helps me. I sometimes (read: often) have problems focusing. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I have enough self awareness to know I tend to be a “future oriented” thinker. (In 2009, I confirmed this after reading The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Dr. John Boyd. Did you know our attitudes toward time have a profound impact on our life and world? Yet we seldom recognize it.) So anyhow, these walks help me. They help me to sort out the many thoughts that are in my head.

When I walk, I pay attention to the sounds around me, and the goings-on. I pay attention to how my body feels. I pay attention to how it feels when my feet strike the ground during each single step. (I try to be gentle with my steps because especially as a hiker, I know this helps with recovery after long, hard hikes. Plus, I would prefer be a quiet stepper rather than a loud clomper.) I pay attention to my cadence. I notice my posture, and try to stand and walk tall.

When I walk in circles at my particular place, I listen for birds, and to the the breeze or wind. I hear an occasional airplane taking off or landing. Sometimes a car drives by, but not often. I see other people, but not many. Usually it’s a city worker, or a person unloading his/her horse or horses from their trailer. I often look at the foothills of my beloved Wind River Mountains. I can see the Roaring Fork, and Mt. Arter, and up Sinks Canyon. After a recent storm, I can see where the rain was rain and where the rain was snow – evidenced by a perfect line that usually crosses along the bottom of our foothills at an elevation of about 7,800′. I can see the road that leads to one of my favorite places, our cabin.

I often find heart rocks in the trail, or in the parking lot, and I sometimes spy other shapes. I’ve written before about how I love to look for or find, unexpectedly, heart shapes while on my adventures. No kidding, I’ve even spotted manure that is shaped like a heart. (Please excuse my language, but the hashtag/caption for that image was, #lovableshit) I’ve seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets here, and I’ve video recorded our oldest son as he recites a slam poem he loves or creates.

A sunset with a heart shape that I spied while walking circles in my special place.

Most of the time, during these walking meditations, I let my mind wander and be free. I get many inspirations this way. Other times I try to focus my attention on a very particular thing – a problem, perhaps, or a conundrum, or an idea I want to develop, or a decision I’m wanting or needing to make. Sometimes I’ll use my walking in circles to try and memorize a favorite poem or quote. Sometimes I’ll try to empty my mind. That never works! I always smile when someone refers to an “idle mind” as being a non-active mind. (#envy)

Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, says it best: When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops, but when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. Indeed! When we’re still, our minds are often at their most active. I am a huge promoter of, and practicer of a mindfulness practice. I’ve had a practice every single weekday morning for years now, and it’s been a game changer. Because I have such an active and wandering mind, I get extensive practice at redirecting my attention, which is one the main things we’re going for when we practice mindfulness – the ability to consciously direct our attention. Such practice helps us learn how, especially during times of stress and overwhelm, to pause, and respond rather than react.

My mind is so active that I – it – craves focus. Last August, I climbed Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s tallest mountain. On summit day, according to my FitBit, we trekked 20,547 steps. Every single one of those steps were “high consequence” steps. It was a quiet, intense effort. Not many words were spoken during the 12-hour adventure, except for the short time on the summit, and when instruction was offered to us from our guide. Otherwise, I was completely focused on every single step. Until then, I had never engaged in such a sustained, high consequence experience. My mind is always thinking, and so active. I found the single-minded, single-tasking a welcome reprieve from my busy mind. Traveling on snow and up and down steep terrain, roped to one another, forced me to focus on only the next step, and then the next step, and then next step, for hours at a stretch. It was hard, but also unusual for me – and fantastic. The simplicity and intense, sustained focus on a single thing was blissful.

But back to my walking in circles. Always, they help me. May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.” I always return inspired, better, and with newfound clarity.

I also go to this place and walk circles during most of my coaching, or other calls. I work with people from all over the U.S, and typically I will have 1-2 calls a month with each of them. I am a better listener when I’m in an “open” posture, and walking, rather than sitting in front of my computer or indoors. I’m easily distracted, so one of the best ways for me to be a good listener is to free myself from distractions. And one of the best ways to be free from distractions is to get outdoors, in the open, under our usually-clear skies. I can be most present with someone by listening to them, and I just know by now that I’m a better listener and a more creative coach when I’m walking and outside, completely “tuned in”, listening and paying close attention.

Focusing on listening helps me be more present on my calls, which also helps me remember important and meaningful moments, and conversations. (This is so true that I can remember, vividly, some of the specific moments or conversations I’ve had with various clients, or friends, by retracing steps, and the path I was on, during a particular call I had with them.)

A moon through the chain link fence that surrounds the place where I like to walk in large circles.

I’m more creative and energized when walking. There are numerous studies that support this – that walking is energizing, and that time outdoors does our bodies, and our minds, good. That we’re more creative thinkers as a result. Plus, walking is healthy.

I don’t believe there’s a single study that says sitting is inspiring, or that sitting is energizing. If anything, only the opposite. And sitting is bad for other, more serious reasons, too. Sitting, in fact, is often referred to as the new smoking. We sit, on average, 9.3 hours a day. All this time sitting is robbing quality, and time from our life. The more we sit, the more likely we are to suffer from depression, disease and cancer. Sitting shortens our life, which, in my humble opinion, is already too short.

I started using a FitBit in December 2013. I did this because even though I train hard and regularly, and hike long distances, most of the day I was sedentary, at my laptop. As fit as I was when I got my FitBit, I was only walking about 6,000 steps a day on the days I wasn’t hiking. I wanted to change that. I needed to change that. Today, I average about 20,000 steps a day. I’ve walked almost 25 million steps (11,000 miles). Many of these steps and miles have been logged during my walking calls in this particular place where I go to walk my circles.

Speaking of walking and health, I’m a huge fan of the Blue Zones way of living, and the work of Dan Buettner. (I highly recommend the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.) “Blue Zones” is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people. It turns out the people who live the longest, most fulfilling lives don’t lift weight or run marathons. They simply are more active throughout the day. Among other things, they walk a lot. They walk to the store, or to church. (I will save all I have to say about this for another blog post, though.)

A heart shaped by dirt in a parking lot where I walk circles, after a little rain.

During the last few months, I’ve had to find a different place to have my walking calls. You see, there is a lot of heavy construction going on near my usual location. Not to be self-absorbed, but I hope the project is completed before too much longer. It’s not the quiet place I’ve come to really appreciate. There is a bunch of heavy equipment driving by all of the time, and you can hear their beeps and big engines and scooping and grading sounds in the background. As a result, it’s currently not the quiet experience I’ve grown accustomed to, and therefore it’s hard to hear the person on the other end of my call, and hard for them to hear me. So at least for now, I’ve found an alternative for my walking calls.

But I still often head up there for my walking meditations – for 30-90 minutes of sauntering to clear my mind or figure something out, or just to walk. To move my body and to free my mind. (Whenever I try to talk myself out of going for a walk or a hike, I remember a quote from one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit: “Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.” I always return from a walk as more than I was before it, and I am always surprised by something during the walk.)

Yesterday, as I did this, I worked hard to silence, or at least quiet, the background sounds of the construction. I couldn’t do it. It was during this struggle that I realized what was going on around me is exactly what’s going on in my mind right now. What’s in my head is very much “under construction.” I’ve got all kinds of projects on tap, ideas that are percolating, dreams and goals. So you see, there is a lot of heavy equipment maneuvering around, trying to create something new, or better. There is a lot of digging dirt and moving of Earth going on, and supplies being hauled and things being surveyed. My mind feels full of clutter, and often, as if a collision of heavy equipment could occur at any moment. This reminds me I better take great care, and be mindful. At times I hear a loud, constant beeping of a tractor or backhoe, and there is a constant humming of moving trucks and equipment. Around me as I walk, and also in my head…

One of the reasons I love this particular place for my walking is because at times I get to watch a small airplane taking off. Sometimes it’s a beginner pilot taking a lesson. He or she is literally learning how to fly, and I am a witness. I love that metaphor of a person learning to fly. Depending on what I’m working on or trying to create in my life, I often feel like I’m learning to fly, and that I’m a small, humble airplane working to take flight. Other times I get to see an airplane land. That’s also a big deal, watching how a small airplane comes in fast and connects with ground. How it must at some point return to Earth, to once again be grounded.

Every once in awhile, while walking in my particular spot, I’ll see a woman barrel racing. She’s riding her horse very fast and maneuvering around a barrel at top speed. I am envious. I don’t know her, and there are different women who show up to do this at various times throughout the year. But whomever the woman is, usually she’s riding at top speed on this beautiful and powerful animal that she somehow has under her control. Her hair, under her cowboy hat, is highlighted by the sun, and blowing in the breeze. Total Badassery. I love this as a metaphor, too. I often feel like I’m a fast horse, only I’m not skilled like the woman I watch. I don’t know how to steer it, let alone stay on it. I envy the barrel racer, and am inspired when I watch her do such a daring thing.

And although the heavy construction that’s going on near my particular walking place for the time being is cramping my style, it too, is a fitting metaphor. I’m right now under construction in a lot of areas, and I know that to get it right – to create something great, or to improve something I’ve already created, or am already doing – will take time and work.

What’s that saying I’m thinking about right now?

Hint: Now my mind wanders to Rome, a city that my family and I fell in love with on our 30-day Europe trip two summers ago. That’s it, after a search of my mind, I found it: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

After my circles-walking ended yesterday I emailed my Dad to ask him what the construction project was since I could only make assumptions. He told me the runway at our airport is being relocated and re-built to increase safety. The FAA was concerned about the runway being too close to the taxiway. There was a risk that a small plane taking off or landing might clip the wing of a plane that was on a taxiway.

I’m so glad I asked! As a metaphor lover, this news is brilliant, and helps me to circle back (pun intended) to my main point of this blog post. Right now, my mind is so full of projects that are under construction that it sometimes feels like a collision is inevitable. Walking in large circles helps me by providing more space for the goings on in my mind and avoids any of my idea’s wings from being clipped.

Postscript: As you can see in the photo below that my son captured of me at 10:48 on this Saturday, Oct. 14, I walk my circles even when the weather is unfavorable. To my delight, I found my place to be quiet once again. (We awoke to a major blizzard, which has shut down construction, at least temporarily.) I’ll take that as a cue and try to do the same with myself, and my overactive mind this Saturday.

Walking in circles in a blizzard today, Oct. 14, 2017.

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I really appreciate it!

Do you want to change your life? I can’t change your life, but I can help you change it. In fact, I’d be honored to help you do that. Email me!

You’re driving at night and the headlights go out: Try harder to see, or pull the car over?

March 6th, 2017

Howdy!

The summer before I entered 3rd grade, we moved from town, “to the country.” I was excited. We had 10 acres and a big yard. I spent hours playing in the red rock cliffs and exploring the land around our home. Come to think of it, that move to the country likely deserves a lot of credit for my love of nature and its role in my life and work.

My brother, Michael, wasn’t born yet, so at the time, it was just my sisters, Alicia and Amber, and I. Our house in the country was located exactly 2.9 miles from town. We all had different interests, which meant my Mom spent a great deal of time driving us to and from our various activities. Now, as a parent of three children, I really appreciate all of the time sacrificed by my mom so we could participate in our activities.

One year for her birthday, my Dad surprised my mom with a red 1966 Thunderbird. Even though my Dad was/is the car enthusiast, my Mom loved that Thunderbird. It was a beauty!

A 1966 Thunderbird, just like the one my Mom drove us in to and from our activities.

After swim practice one evening, my mom was driving us three girls home. It was dark, and we were in the red Thunderbird. My mom knew this road well by now, and, as a result, we made the trip to and from home in short order! We were zooming along, sliding on the car seat in the back from side to side as she took the corners on the winding road, and suddenly, the headlights went out.

I’ll never forget it. We were cruising around “killer corner” and suddenly, nothing. Total darkness. Talk about Epic, and not in a good way… Of course this all happened in seconds, but it felt like an eternity as I recall it now and play it back in my mind. I remember our first instinct was to try to see. We tried harder to see the road and to get our bearings as we tried coaching my mom through the darkness. Probably just seconds later, but later all the same, it occurred to us to use the brakes, slow down and try to pull the car over. I know – go ahead and say it – Duh!

Note: I recently asked both of my sisters about this to make sure it wasn’t just me remembering it this way. They remembered it the same way. And for the record, while none of us is a rocket scientist or brain surgeon, I assure you we have brains and know how to use them. 🙂

I’ve thought a lot lately about this trip home in the red Thunderbird, traveling pretty fast when the headlights suddenly went out. It is a mystery and a marvel to me that when that happened, the first instinct was not to use the brakes and stop the car, but rather to try harder to see what was no longer visible.  

This is pretty much what happens when our life feels out of control, or when something really serious happens that was not expected. Our tendency is to try harder to deal with it while proceeding rather than to pause and to “pull the car over.”

It’s instinctual survival, and there’s not a lot of thinking going on. Things are moving and coming at me quickly, and I’m adjusting on the fly, ducking and dodging but continuing to move nonetheless. Unconsciously saying Yes to everything. Not being mindful because I’m not slowing down long enough to pause and to think.

For many years, it never occurred to me to apply the brakes or even to slow down, or that saying No was an option. I would just react, over and over and over again in a given day, or in a given hour.

Thankfully, I’m much wiser now. Not always, but most of the time, I respond rather than react. I’ve learned, personally, and by witnessing numerous conscious, mindful people, that responding and reacting are two different things. The first is thoughtful, the second is not.

I would say responding is similar to applying the brakes. Not suddenly but gradually enough to be safe and to get an opportunity to size up the situation. Whereas reacting is proceeding blindly at a too-high rate of speed while trying to figure things out in the process and hoping for the best. (Good luck with that!)

Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of one of my most influential reads, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes, Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.

The challenge for many of us is learning how to create that space – that pause that allows us to thoughtfully respond rather than react.

The answer, in my humble opinion and experience, is to be more mindful. Although I had meditated off and on since my early 20s – for more than 25 years – it wasn’t until February of 2013 that I started practicing mindfulness on a regular basis. For the last several years I’ve included a brief mindfulness practice every single weekday, in the morning, before my day officially gets under way.

And what a difference it has made. It has been nothing less than a game changer. Before practicing mindfulness regularly, I didn’t have that space that Frankl referenced. Especially when I needed it most, during times of stress and overwhelm. Now I am able to create it.

The space and pause I am now able to create during times of overwhelm is not long-lasting; it’s fleeting, even. But it’s long enough to be thoughtful in determining how to proceed. For example, it’s long enough to take a deep breath and think about my words before flying off the handle at my husband or sons. It’s long enough to help me course-correct when I find myself reaching for the peanut butter jar. It’s long enough for me to figure out how I want to respond when a United Airlines agent tells me my flight is overbooked and I may not have a seat on the flight I reserved. It’s long enough to prevent me from completely unwrapping a Dove dark chocolate and popping it my mouth. It’s long enough to not hit Send on that email, or Post on that Facebook post that I’m not certain I want to share with the world. It’s long enough to help me notice if I haven’t been in touch with someone who matters to me. It’s long enough for me to choose how to respond. I don’t always make the wise decision, but most of the time, I get a brief space, during which I choose how to respond.

The Universe is funny. Being mindful helps me create a pause that most of the time is just long enough to unwrap my Dove dark chocolate… and decide not to eat it. (This extra reminder in the form of a message, certainly didn’t hurt, either.)

For starting a mindfulness practice, I have many tools, but my favorite is Headspace, an app I highly recommend to friends and all of the leaders I coach and work with. (You can sign up for a free, 10-day trial) Headspace founder Andy Puddicomb has a great Ted Talk. Check it out, and then download the app if you haven’t already. It’s a very simple, guided mindfulness practice, and comes bundled with packets of sessions in categories such as Health, Relationships, etc. I especially like the Health/Anxiety pack, but they are all worthwhile, and I recommend starting with the basic, 10-day, 10-minute practice.

Being mindful not only helps us personally, but it helps those around us, who are affected by our behaviors. Freaking out is not leadership. I don’t know about you but I prefer not to follow people who are freaking out, but rather those who are composed and thoughtful. I’m a Certified Wilderness First Responder and an adventure guide. If someone has an accident during our expedition, even if life and death, it would not be good to freak out or react. Even with time being of the essence – especially with time being of the essence – taking a brief pause to thoughtfully consider how best to proceed is critical.

Mindfulness is hard, but mostly because we make it so. 

Recently, at a workshop I attended, a woman in her 20s stood up and asked about Mindfulness. She said it was difficult because her mind wouldn’t be still; it was full of chatter. Frustrated, she reported that her mind wandered constantly. I didn’t say anything because I had taken a vow of Silence, but I wanted to say this: If your mind is wandering, that’s normal. Sitting still in Silence hardly means our mind is quiet. And most of us are challenged by thoughts, and lots of them, and especially when we slow down long enough to listen to all that’s going on in our head. But in fact, this is what makes it a great practice. Mindfulness is practicing noticing our thoughts and redirecting our attention (usually to our breath). So the more your mind wanders during mindfulness practice, the more practice you’re getting at redirecting your attention. 

I have learned that the easiest way way to learn how to pause before proceeding, how to be mindful, is simply to notice. For those of you who have a hard time sticking to goals and regular practices, Ellen Langer, often considered “The Mother of Mindfulness,” offers two words of instruction for being more mindful: “Pay attention.”

So if you’re not up for 10 minutes of Headspace, try this: Sit for 5 minutes a day without your phone or music, etc., and simply notice. Notice your thoughts, the sounds around you, how you’re feeling, the sound and sensation of your breathing, etc. No pressure – just sit and notice. This is a great start to becoming more mindful and responsive, and less reactive. (By the way, the stress brought on by the ways we react during times of stress is often even worse than the initial stress that generated our reaction. Not to mention the stress our reactions cause others.)

The next time you feel like you’re on a winding road, in the dark, with no headlights – like you’re out of control – take a deep breath, and pull the car over.

Learning how to do this will change your life.

And, finally, thank you so much for pausing to read my blog. I really appreciate it!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

10% Happier (This is a fantastic book, and a compelling case for having a Mindfulness practice)

Andy Puddicomb Ted Talk

Ellen Langer, on Mindfulness, with Krista Tippett/OnBeing

Man’s Search for Meaning

What I Learned in Silence

Solitude: We Need It and Most of Us Don’t Get Enough of It


I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, and adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.

What I Learned In Silence

February 22nd, 2017

Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom,” wrote the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of Thoughts in Solitude, upon entering the Monastic life.

Hi there!

I love the phrase, “the four walls of my new freedom” because it seems counterintuitive and yet rings true for me. When I limit myself or am disciplined, I feel more free.

Speaking of limits and discipline, I recently returned from a Silent retreat. What a fascinating, challenging and transformative experience!

I’m no stranger to Silence. In fact, it’s one of my closest companions. After all, I live in Wyoming where there are not many people. It’s not hard to find Silence on an hourly, if not daily, basis. Add to that I work alone, and I enjoy a lot of Solitude.

Socrates said, “Know Thyself.” In my humble experience, Solitude is the medium for self realization. I think self awareness is the first, and most important, step to living a happy and fulfilled life, and that the best way to discover, and come to know yourself is to spend time alone.

I’m also no stranger to meditation and mindfulness. I’ve meditated off and on for the last 24 years, and I’ve kept up a mindfulness practice every single weekday morning since Feb. 2013. It has been a game changer for me. (Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of one of the most influential books I’ve read, Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Before I practiced mindfulness on a regular basis, during times of stress and overwhelm, I didn’t have that space, that pause. Mindfulness practice has taught me how to create that pause, and it has made a huge difference in my life. Now, more times than not, I respond instead of react, and what a difference there is between the two. In short, responding is thoughtful and reacting is not.

And while what I signed up for, and traveled to Ojai, CA for, would include a lot of Silence and Mindfulness, it was more than that. It would be a Silent retreat, with no speaking, but also no technology (no iPhone or Facebook, etc.), which also meant no contact with family and friends. In addition, there would be no music, books or other “entertainment.” And, it would all be part of a workshop with Byron Katie. All of this would be among 115 other people, and while living in a community. This would be a difficult challenge for me, and I was eager for it.

Katie, author of several books, including Loving What Is, is famous for what she calls “The Work,” a method of self inquiry that she encourages people to do in Stillness/Meditation. The Work has helped millions of people change their lives for the better. So to be in the presence of Katie, and to witness her doing The Work with people in attendance who would be brave enough to share about their suffering would be a meaningful experience in and of itself. But no question, the main reason I signed up was to be Silent amidst people, something I had never experienced before for any length of time.

And boy, did I learn a lot from the experience.

Here are some things I learned from being in Silence:

–At the outset of the retreat, we were instructed to not give each other eye contact. It was suggested as a way to make it a little easier for people who would have a hard time not engaging with others. That for sure made the experience more challenging. I value connection, and eye contact, for me, helps make it possible, so this would make the Silence even more awkward and challenging. One of the “tricks” I told myself about this instruction was that keeping one’s eyes downcast can demonstrate humility. Humility is one of the attributes I value most in people, and, in my opinion, is what often makes a person kind, and a leader inspiring and approachable.

–As if no talking and no eye contact wasn’t challenging enough, we had no name tags. So we were Silent, not giving eye contact, and “nameless.” This is one of the things I came for. To be more anonymous and to get practice at that. (I wrote recently in a blog post, “Hungry,” that, among other things, I want to be more anonymous.)

–I like to help put people at ease, and I’m well-practiced at trying to do so. As I sat in Silence with people all around me, feeling the difficulty of not even offering simple pleasantries with one another really highlighted my want, and ability to help put others (read: myself) at ease. It was difficult and fascinating at the same time to resist the urge of trying to reduce social discomfort.

–As people, we are social animals. Most of us, unfortunately, find such Silence in large groups awkward. As a society, we want to fill the space. Notice the next time you’re in a conversation on the phone, in person, or in a group, or with a close friend… If the conversation fades and silence enters, it’s quickly “filled.” That’s what most of us do — we quickly try to fill empty space because it feels awkward and unnatural for it to just hang there, with no words in the air.

This reminds me of something writer Cal Fussman shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss. A great writer and master interviewer, Fussman challenges us to “let the Silence do the work.” In other words, next time you ask someone a question, or you’re in a conversation and it goes quiet, dare to just let it be. Don’t jump in and try to fill the space out of discomfort. Certainly the Silent retreat felt that way for hours at a stretch. There was a lot of Silence hanging in the air, and it felt both unfamiliar and liberating. The Silence felt like possibility. I will be working to let the Silence do the work…

–When we spend time alone, available only to our own thoughts, as a listener to and noticer of our thoughts, including the good, the bad and the ugly, we discover and come to know ourselves. I personally enjoy a lot of Solitude. For example, I hike 1,000 miles a year. Half of those are hiked alone, and it’s not because I can’t find anyone to hike with. I think that more than any other habit in my life, Solitude is the one that is most responsible for my blessed life. I have a clarity about who I am and who and how I want to be that is invaluable. This self awareness informs me about what to say Yes to and what to say No to in my life. It is my guide for how to be my best. I feel so strongly that self awareness is the key to living our best life that I cover its importance in the keynote presentation I’m hired to deliver to corporations and conferences, “Epic Leadership Lessons Learned in the Field,” and I promote getting regular intervals of it to my coaching clients. The experience of Solitude I enjoyed every morning and evening, on my own exploring trails or at my AirBnb refuge confirmed for me its importance.

–Silence isn’t empty. It’s full. I recall the words of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton: “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest.” Indeed, Silence is not empty. In fact, the chatter that goes on inside each of our heads is quite voluminous. Often, it’s anything but empty or “silent.” Sometimes in Silence there was so much going on in my head that I wished Silence were empty!

– Without talking, or any music or other audio distractions, we are better listeners. We are better at noticing things. I noticed the sound of my rental car’s blinker, even. Take away talking and you hear everything, and small details or things we normally wouldn’t notice can become fascinating. I was reminded of an excerpt from Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness: Adventures of Going Nowhere: “Sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

–Speaking of noticing, the definition of mindfulness that I love best is that of Ellen Langer’s. Langer is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of mindfulness.” (Check out this fantastic conversation with her.) She says mindfulness is simply noticing things. That is all you have to do: Pay attention. Take notice. I noticed a lot. I remember going on a caving expedition one time and, for a few minutes, we turned our headlamps off so we could experience total darkness. It was total darkness. Nothing but black. During that experience, I remember thinking all of my other senses were heightened, as if you when remove one sense your other senses, in compensating, or in being more freed up, become even more attuned. This is how I felt for the five days when I did not say a single word. All of my other senses were heightened. I heard more. I saw more. I felt more. I smelled more.

–I am a very curious person and, not to brag, but I’m a pretty good listener. I work hard at it. I love meaningful connections and conversations. I love to ask people questions, and to hear their responses and to learn about them. It was so challenging for me to not be able to do this, and to not think of it as so many lost opportunities. And, as is usually the case, the challenge of it taught me new skills and insights.

–Speaking of new skills, I honed an important skill – resisting. Saying No to my normal behaviors and trying something different than what I am used to. I learned some skills that I know will serve me in certain situations when I have a strong desire to say something, but prefer not to.

–I love to share and contribute, especially if I think that what I share will be of some value. I share a lot publicly, in my work, in my blogging, and in my relationships. Sharing is part of who I am. However, I decided in advance of the workshop that while I’d do the assigned work, I’d mostly be an observer and see what I could learn and how I could personally grow from the experience. However, I quickly realized that “observing” felt like watching, and I didn’t want to be a spectator but to be immersed and participating and getting the most out of this unique experience. I resolved to pay very good attention and try to notice as many things as I could. I also decided to challenge myself to not raise my hand and offer to contribute anything or do anything that would call attention to myself. I’m happy to report that I pulled this off. It was an uncommon experience for me, and frankly, I’m surprised I succeeded!  (I did find that writing all of the things I had felt called to ask or share later in a journal felt almost the same as expressing it to the group, which was an interesting learning, and could be helpful to me in the future as I try to navigate how I will limit my time online, which may result in limiting my public sharing.)

–There’s a saying that goes something like this: “If there are 5 of us, I’ll have 4 teachers.” Everyone I sat with in Silence during the workshop – people I didn’t get to “meet,” given our Silence – I felt a closeness to, and in a way I can’t explain, they were all my teachers during the five days. I still think of them now and can picture their faces. I can still hear the stories some of them shared while doing The Work with Katie. I am pulling for all of them…

–For 2017, I have resolved to “talk less” and say more. What this means, to me, is being more intentional about what I say, share or write about. Being in Silence, amidst 115 people for 5 days and not being able to talk was about the best practice there could be for talking less. I honed the skill, and now let’s see if I can use it. 🙂  Katie has an eloquent presence about her. You can see her carefully choosing/”searching” for the right words before she says them. It doesn’t feel like she’s editing, as much as she wants for her words to count. I really appreciate that, and was inspired by watching her be this way in her communication. She talked less, and in doing so, said more.

–Words matter. During a time when I said not a single word, I learned more than ever how much words matter. This truth has deeper meaning after witnessing so many people doing The Work around suffering. So much of it was/is tied to something a parent said or a partner said that has had lasting, negative impacts on the person and his/her life. As a wife and a parent, in particular, but also as a coach that people trust, it was an important reminder that our words matter, and that we should not be careless or reckless with them.

-Some struggle more than others when required to be in Silence. I wonder if people who consider themselves shy might find this not as awkward as people who consider themselves outgoing? And yet maybe even shy people find this Silent setting hard because no one is speaking up. There are no extroverts taking the lead to start or carry the conversation.

–Some people are better at Stillness than others. For example, the woman who sat next to me on the first two days, was very good at sitting still and quietly. She hardly fidgeted. I have a lot of energy and can be still, but not as easily. I fidget a lot. At home I never sit for long, walking during my phone calls, and only sitting for stretches of 60-90 minutes at most, and not all day long. So it wasn’t that I was bored as much it was hard to sit so still for such long periods.

–While I love people and can be with a lot of people, as I get older, I’m becoming more of an introvert. (Technically, I’m what Dan Pink would call an ambivert. You can take his quiz here). This experience was sort of like a combination of being alone and in a crowd all at once. I found myself in a large crowd for several hours each day, but “off the hook” as far as having to socialize. It was difficult and awesome at the same time!

—If the lights were dimmed or off, I think the Silence would not be as difficult or awkward because we could more easily “hide,” which would make the awkwardness of Silence amidst so many people not as challenging. The lights were on and we couldn’t hide in the darkness. This was valuable. There were no shortcuts or ways to make the experience easier. Not to diminish my point, but I know it’s the same when I have sunglasses on. I feel a little bit hidden when people cannot look into my eyes. When I wear earbuds on an airplane, even if I have nothing playing into them, it sends the signal that I’m unavailable and, in this small way, helps me to hide.

–During the experience, I wondered about people who don’t feel they have a voice, and how it must feel to be Silenced against your will. I felt compassion for people who don’t get to have a voice.

–In Silence, time slows down. The 60 minutes of Stillness twice a day while waiting for the main workshops to begin, were very long. Because I love and value time, I appreciated that the 60 minutes were so long. Remember, no music, no reading, no eye contact, no darkness, no visiting, just sitting. Removing all of the normal distractions stretches the time. Who doesn’t want time to seem more abundant?

–To use a word from OnBeing‘s Krista Tippett, I was more “porous.” More was allowed into me as a result of the Silence. I felt my feelings more.

–Sherry Turkle wrote a book called Alone Together. The title refers to today’s times where you can be in a group of people, or with your family in the same room, but you’re not really together, rather you’re what Turkle calls alone together. You are physically close together, but you’re each far away, alone in your own worlds, thanks to your devices and their capability to connect you to friends and things that are “not here.” During the retreat, many of us waited, in Silence, for the doors to open for the workshop seasons, and we were all alone in our own worlds, looking down and away from each other. Alone together took on a new meaning for me. It felt like we were alone, but together in our Stillness. 

-Speaking of alone and Silence, if you’re human and you’re normal, you are hardly alone when in you’re in Silence, what with all of the endless chatter and inner dialogues going on your head. In fact, it could probably be argued that there’s a lot more going on when you’re alone with your thoughts than if you’re in a conversation with others.  

–Everyone has a story. I know this, of course. Especially in my work as a life coach, I know firsthand of the suffering so many experience. Still, when you can’t talk and project yourself, or exchange information about yourself –– you can’t edit and share the story you want to share – we make up our own imagined stories about others. When we do this we know we’re not basing them on anything but our imagination and/or past stereotypes and/or experiences, but still it is a little unfair. I caught myself imagining the stories of many of the people around me at the workshop each day. It was fascinating, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t nail any of the stories.

–Hiding. I figured out before traveling to California for the Silent retreat and workshop that I do a fair amount of “hiding.” And thanks to  David Whyte, and his Hiding essay in the wonderful Consolations, I am positive that hiding can be a good thing. He writes, Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care. Boy, do I appreciate those words, but to be honest, too often they give me an out. I hide a little too much. I had noticed that when I am in Solitude, which is about half of my life, I’m effectively hiding from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. When I’m in social situations, just being my best self and asking people questions and then listening to them, I’m effectively hiding myself from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. Well, I’m here to report that when I found myself Silent amidst 115 people, I couldn’t hide from myself or others. That was uncomfortable, and a worthwhile experience to say the least! That is the Epic I signed up for right there, and boy did I get it!

–I don’t mean to brag, but I am an expert at self criticism. I think, over time, thanks to so much time in Solitude, and becoming so familiar with, and defending myself against what I’ve come to call the “Wrath of Shelli,” I’ve developed more understanding about myself, which has led, pleasantly, to more compassion for myself. But what I learned during the Silent retreat, especially along with witnessing so many people who were courageous enough to share their suffering with us and Katie in front of the room, is that if we’re brave enough to be honest with ourselves, we’re likely to respond to ourselves with compassion instead of criticism. This is a huge learning for me. I saw it happen before my eyes with 18 out of 18 people who did The Work. I could see the compassion for themselves start to appear as they acknowledged truths about themselves. And, I noticed it in myself throughout the five days as I reflected and did my own “Work” and worksheets on my own areas of suffering or negativity. The more honest I was willing to be, the more my self criticism gave way to compassion. Hallelujah to that. As Kelly McGonigal has suggested, self criticism is not motivating. Those of us who are self critical try to convince ourselves that when we are hard on ourselves it motivates us to work harder, but that is not what actually happens. It is unhealthy and not helpful. So for that reason alone – to try to become more self compassionate – I recommend periods of Silence and self inquiry. Create opportunities for stillness and then do an inventory around an issue that is weighing you down or holding you back. And, dare to be honest.

–I prayed a lot, and prayer came more naturally for me.

–I consider myself a grateful person. I hope I am appreciative because it is something I really appreciate in others, no pun intended. I found myself even more grateful than normal when given so much time with so few of the normal distractions in life. And anytime I’m grateful, I feel my best.

–Now, a major detour from the tone of the other things I learned… I returned to Wyoming with a tick from the trails of Ojai! Early on in the five days, while back at my AirBnB, I felt a nuisance and slight pain in the lower part of the back of my neck. I couldn’t reach it with my hand and I couldn’t see it in the mirror. When I got home, 6 days later, and asked Jerry to look at it, it was a tick! He removed it and I started freaking out about Lyme disease. Fortunately, my son, Hayden, informed me that only 1.2-1.7% of all ticks carry Lyme disease. That is helpful to know, for sure, and I feel fine as of today, but this was the only real “bummer” of the Silence. Maybe I would have asked someone to look at it, even a stranger, if not for the vow of Silence. Just something to think about for the next time I guess. 🙂

Thank you so much for reading. I value your time, so I appreciate your taking the time to read my thoughts.

I hope you’ll return soon. I will be publishing a blog post about what I learned with no iPhone or Facebook in my next blog post and it’s an important one for me as I’ve been struggling a lot as of late with my amount of tethered-ness to them. I will also be writing about what I earned from Byron Katie, uncertainty, daring to fail, deep work, and more.

Related posts:

Dear iPhone & Facebook: I Love You Too Much

Falling in love with Ojai, California

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I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.

WOMEN: Do you want to make some changes to your life, and go on an Epic Adventure with me? Right now I’m recruiting for my Epic Women Zion National Park Day Hiking/Life & Leadership Coaching program, as well as my Epic Women Wind River Range Backpacking/Life & Leadership Coaching program. Please email me at coach@yourepiclife.com if you’d like information about either of these, or to schedule a call.

Stillness. Sunrise is my favorite time of day, and I captured this over Worthen Reservoir en route to a hike in my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Stalked, and Caught Unawares

January 9th, 2017

Howdy.

Prevention magazine is doing a feature article in their March edition about me and one of my transformational hiking experiences. The magazine’s writer interviewed me in several parts, and Prevention sent a photographer out to hike on a wintry cold day in early December with me, and some past Epic participants and friends.

I know this is great news, to be featured in a national magazine. But, as I wait for the article to be published, I’m also feeling terrified, and, well, exposed. The magazine comes out in mid-February, and I’m seriously strategizing about how I can run and hide for several months when it does… Not really, but maybe?

The article will touch on a time in my life when I was depressed and in quite a “rut.” Some people who have heard my keynote presentation know a little about this. My husband, of course, knows a lot about it, and my close friends know a little about it. But many who know me will learn about it for the first time.

After the first interview, I was left feeling exposed, thinking, “the secret’s out.” Make no mistake – I chose to be forthcoming and vulnerable for the article. After all, a story about a woman doing an epic hike in the Grand Canyon isn’t a very interesting story, not to mention it’s been told a million times already. My hope was to share some insights into what I think is a reality – that even when we’re living the dream, there will not only be heights, but also, depths.

I don’t want to let the cat of the bag, and I haven’t seen the finished article that will be published. But suffice it to say that for some years I was living and operating on “autopilot.” I was working too much. I was distracted and preoccupied. I was tethered (addicted?) to my cell phone. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or emotionally. I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. I was depressed. It makes me sad to admit it, but the fact is for some years there, I wasn’t paying very good attention in, or to, my life. I wasn’t present, and as a result, missed out on quite a lot…

Thinking about all of this caused me to recall an adventure I had 15 years ago that illustrates perfectly the state I found myself in upon realizing just how far down I was in my life.

On October 1, my husband, Jerry, and our friends, Chuck and Karla, and I drank coffee as we drove about an hour in our 4-wheel-drive truck through deep snow to the Christina Lake trailhead. It was still dark out since this adventure was my idea, and I like to be out on the trail when the sun comes up. When we parked at the trailhead, we remarked at the still star-filled sky as we put our snowshoes on. It was cold so we made quick work of it and were soon on our way.

We snowshoed into Upper Silas Canyon. We took turns breaking trail for about 3.5 miles before stopping for a hot drink and a snack at Upper Silas Lake. The lake was stunningly beautiful. Perfectly nestled in a landscape blanketed by white fluff, and surrounded by powder-sugar-covered pine trees, Upper Silas Lake was mostly frozen. We wanted to enjoy the scenery longer but it took only a few minutes of not moving before we were all shivering again from the cold. Eager to get warm again, we started our return hike.

Our return hike was mostly quiet. As is often the case on a return hike, we were each in our own worlds.

We were about almost back to the trailhead when all of a sudden, as if out of nowhere, there were hunters, scattered, each one hiding and moving carefully and quietly from tree to tree, with a rifle in hand. They were quietly hunting and looking for, and maybe even actively stalking, their prey.

We were suddenly vulnerable and exposed. Caught, and unaware.

It hadn’t occurred to us when we embarked on this adventure that it was opening day for hunting season. We didn’t have orange on, and we were not making very much noise as we snowshoed through the woods. Suddenly we were in the sights of several people with rifles.

This is what it was like for me after we sold our first company and I went from being completely consumed and time poor to having time on my hands. It was as if I suddenly “woke up” to my life, and upon doing so, I noticed numerous threats. It felt as if they had appeared out of nowhere. Almost as if I had been stealthily stalked… The reality was I was on autopilot and consumed. Somewhere along the lines I stopped being alert and wasn’t paying attention.

The waking up was painful. It was a reckoning, and there was regret I contended with for a few years before turning things around. Thank God I woke up. What a difference it has made.

Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, and often dubbed “The Mother of Mindfulness,” so perfectly suggests, “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing either mindfully or mindlessly, and the consequences of being in one state of mind or the other are enormous.” In the early 1970s, Langer studied “mindlessness.” She found then, and continues to find, that mindlessness is pervasive. “Most people are just not there, and they’re not there to know that they’re not there.”

“Not there” describes where I was during those few years. (Check out this exceptional conversation between Krista Tippett and Ellen Langer about “actively noticing.”)

Jack London says in his famous Credo, which I think are words to live by: The function of man is to live, not to exist.

What I have learned is that when we’re paying attention – and awake – we live. When we’re not, we’re simply existing and marking time.

Thank you for reading.

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NOTE: I’m recruiting right now for my Epic Women program, which bundles individual life coaching, wellness and a guided 4-day Epic backpacking expedition. Please let me know if you’d like more information about that, or to schedule a call with me to learn more.

Being Before Doing; Inserting Meditation and Mindfulness into Family Time

March 21st, 2013

“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” ― Rumi

I am not a very still person. Add to that, I tend to be future-minded. I’m often not fully in the present moment because I am lost in thought — usually about ideas, motivations, dreams — you know, possibilities. It is not a bad place to be. After all, dreams tend to be exciting.

But I value the present. Time is one of my greatest values. I want to fully experience the time I have with my husband of 20 years, and our three young sons, my parents and grandmother and sisters and brother, my friends, colleagues and clients. It is why I live on purpose and encourage my clients to say no to things that suck the life out of them, and yes to things that give them life. Living our epic life means making each day count and living more consciously. Living our epic life means daring to choose how we’ll experience (rather than spend) our time.

I know we are human beings, but most times I would be best be described as a human doing. I want to be more of a human being.

In an effort to start each day in a more reflective, “being” state, I talked Jerry and the boys into doing Deepak Chopra’s Soul of Healing Affirmations every morning. Since Jan. 1, we’ve been doing this every single weekday morning before we each head out the door to school or work. Since our first son was born, almost 13 years, ago, we started a tradition of doing a brief “family prayer” to start each school/work day. This is a homemade prayer that is filled with mostly gratitudes. Nothing fancy, and it doesn’t take much time. Now, we’ve simply added one of the aforementioned affirmations/meditations to it. It has been an amazing experience, so I wanted to share about it in case you want to try it for yourself or your family.

For starters, these affirmations are short. Each track ranges from 1-4 minutes. So it’s not really a good excuse to say you don’t have time. 🙂

There are 26 tracks, and you can get them for for free on Spotify, which is how we stream/listen to it each morning. Each of the affirmation titles start with a letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. They are Acceptance, Bonding, Compassion, Divinity in Me, Empowerment, Fear, Giving, Higher Self, Intention, and so on, until you get to Z, which is for Zero.

Our sons are ages (almost) 13, 11 and (almost) 6. Except for Wolf, the oldest, the boys were not super excited about adding these meditations to their morning. But over time, it’s been a great experience.

We follow up each day’s affirmation by (usually me) asking, while around the table at dinner time, if anyone thought or incorporated anything from the morning’s affirmation into their day. There are lots of days when most of us have done so. This can only be a good thing, as the affirmations teach us to be patient and compassionate toward self, and others.

Finally, don’t take my word for it that mindfulness has tremendous value. Neuroscience is now supporting long-time Wisdom teachings — that practicing mindfulness, which Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, on a regular basis teaches us to be able to choose how to direct our attention. Instead of reacting we can create a pause to notice, and then determine if we want to engage a thought or emotion. Kelly McGonigal’s Neuroscience of Change, A Compassion-Based Program for Personal Transformation, is a great source for anyone interested in learning more about the science behind the mind. McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford, and a yoga teacher and author of the aforementioned book, as well as The Willpower Instinct.

Many corporations and organizations are implementing mindfulness practices into their work, including Google (with their popular, fast-growing model called Search Inside Yourself program), as well as apps such as Headspace, which is a simple and awesome app for your smartphone that guides you through 10 minutes of mindfulness (doing nothing), and HeartMath’s app called GPS For Your Soul, which is endorsed by Arianna Huffington, and is an awesome app that measures your stress levels and then provides guides, which can be borrowed or created, to help you relieve high stress right when you need it.

Train Yourself to Be Kind and Charismatic

February 27th, 2013

I just returned from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. What an awesome experience. I am filled with new insights, inspiration, hope, and overwhelming evidence that a “course correction” is in the works. Some 25 percent of corporations are incorporating mindfulness into their organizations.

The increasing, ever-enabling technology has been a gift to us in so many ways. We are able to have more relationships, to do more, and to do it all without restraint of time or geography. Many of us are “on” and plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The down side is that it’s getting harder to unplug and to be present during areas of our life that are important and meaningful to us. Our phones have become like what Alone Together author Sherry Turkle calls “phantom limbs.” We are so distracted by our devices.

Wisdom 2.0, founded and organized by Soren Gordhamer (author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Teachings for the Creative and Constantly Connected, and a mindfulness leader who, as project director for Richard Gere’s public charity, Healing the Divide, organized the Healing through Great Difficulty Conference with his Holiness the Dalai Lama), is an event that brings together thought leaders who, through interviews and presentations and engaging conversations with those in attendance, attempt to answer: “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?”

The conference beckoned me because it converges all of the areas that I’m most interested in, in my life and work: Technology, mindfulness, compassion, entrepreneurship & business, and neuroscience.

Check out Google’s Meng Tan’s compelling presentation. It is a short video and worth every minute of your time.

In short, Tan provides evidence that we can do very simple exercises to train ourselves to be more compassionate and charismatic. For example, he challenges us to pick two people every hour, look at them, and in our minds, wish them happiness. This takes about 10 seconds, and according to Tan, this simple act makes us energetically give off compassion, which spreads to those around us.

I was so moved by the presentation that I shared the video with my husband and our three sons, who are ages 5, 10 and 12, the first morning after my return. Then, that evening, during dinner, everyone shared that they in fact did that, and that it felt good to do something that might benefit others.

I will be blogging more about the presentations and insights I gained from the conference over the next several weeks, so I hope you’ll check back often.

Thanks for reading my blog, and for stopping by Epic Life.