Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rest well

One of the most interesting discoveries from my half-marathon with Laurel, was that we should have had a better plan for our recovery.  Remembering this, I'm trying to give myself a little more down time than usual this week.

For those of you who need to recover after the last big holiday, like I do, this is for you.

As the days darken,
As the weather comes,
As one holiday passes
and the next
walks in 
with its daily
call for light.

the long night.

and rest well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful for the whole enchilada

Today I am savoring the opportunity to tangle with the good kinds of problems.

The head lice.

The parking ticket.

The aggressive squirrels who visit us.

Thankful for a day,
not to be perfect,
but to be perfectly us.

Shy and obsessed.

Amazed by miracles, by love, and by the ability of human beings to handle the big problems. The ones that change the map of who we are and where we are going.  
And that even in those darkest moments, 
love flows with a force up til then unknown.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Celebrating pocket change

I love how this little scene (from Allied Arts in Menlo Park) reframes pocket change.  Nickles, pennies and dimes, rescued from a linty, crumb-laden destiny, have been given new life.  

Offered instead of spent, they delight passers-by.

Each life accumulates abundance in its own way.  If you're like me, you may have an abundance of groceries, laundry, car pooling, single socks, or unanswered voice mail.

At the beginning of the holiday season I'm curious about creating mental shifts that can help reframe the usual excess (like pocket change) into an offering or celebration.

In a family experiment, which I think will become our new holiday season kick-off, I took a stab at reframing grocery shopping.  

The kids' school had organized to have Second Harvest Food Bank food drive.  Normally, we'd clean out our pantry to participate, but this year, to celebrate that we are able to buy our own groceries every week, I decided we would shop for food instead.

By deciding to take a special shopping  trip, our effort became a family quest (I'm into quests lately).

On Friday, Chloe and I did a little reconnaissance work by inspecting the food collection barrels to see what was really needed.  Then on Sunday I took the three girls to Safeway.  We talked about how we grocery shop about 100 times a year for our family, but that on this one trip we would shop for other people.  Most wisdom traditions suggest tithing, and so we talked about how that would mean going to the grocery store TEN times, but we were going to go this once and MAKE IT COUNT.

This was a great reframe for me. 

Lately I've been feeling like I grocery shop all the time, but this experiment rekindled my love of grocery shopping (I bet you would not guess that in my first apartment I took a picture of the cans of tuna in my pantry--yes, I love my pantry that much).  

From the moment we decided to fill two carts, I was full of a spirit of celebration, and the kids caught on.  

Here's Chloe, she really had a good time with this.

For some reason, filling the grocery carts with other people in mind was really FUN, and I got a boost, a real sense of excitement about being able to do something that seemed extravagant--like fill two grocery carts for people we don't know.  But the reality is, it wasn't extravagant at all in terms of cost, maybe it was just paying special attention to the fact that we actually can buy all this food--perhaps it was extravagant attention.  Yes, that might be it--the shift in mind set I was looking for!

Organize moments that allow for extravagant attention to be paid to the normal everyday blessings.  

I think I'll try to do more of this over the season!  How about you?  Are there holiday reframes that you use to create fun, wonder or generosity?  I would LOVE to hear about them!

Friday November 16, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  
We light them for ourselves and for everyone.

"regular practice, 
leavened with an 
appropriate attitude
 of gentleness and kindness toward yourself"
--Jon Kabat-Zinn

Monday, November 12, 2012

More on "fiero" and the importance of gaming

Universal aspects of the human experience fascinate me.  Most recently, I've been intrigued (and have experienced for myself) the emotion/experience described by Jane McGonigal and other game designers as fiero.

I described it in my post about running the half marathon, but in case you missed it, here it is again:

"it's possibly the most primal emotional rush we can experience.  Fiero is the Italian word for, 'pride,' and it's been adopted by game designers to describe an emotional high we don't have a good word for in English.  Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity.  You know it when you feel it--and when you see it.  That's because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way:  we throw our arms over our head and yell.  The fact that virtually all humans physically express fiero in the same way is a sure sign that it's related to some of our most primal emotions."

Today McGonigal tweeted a video that gives a clear visual of the universality of this experience.   Watch the following video of Minnesota volunteers for gay marriage finding out that their initiative won (fast forward to 2:50 if you're short for time).

I love this victory moment!  And I love that it so intensely depicts the universal response to a hard won victory.

In the meantime, I was able to go see Jane McGonigal speak on Thursday night, and if you're like me and you've never played a massive multiplayer online game, I think its time we found our game.  The talk convinced me of three things:

1.  Game designers have learned a lot about humanity and it's critical to learn what the designers and gamers are learning.

2.  If you are like me and you don't play a game, it's high time you found one, if for no other reason than to understand this trend.  In the US, 187 million people are gaming (that's 2/3 of the country).  

3.  Gaming likely represents the largest international collaborative force in the history of humanity.  Lots of the positive psychology of gaming interests me, but the massive collaborative aspect grips me.

What an incredible force for the greater good.  

What games do you play?  How do you organize people around good causes?  So curious about what you think on this topic!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  
We light them for ourselves and for everyone.

"clear-sighted kindness"
-Pema Chodron

We carry within us the light of 10,000 stars.
Meditation clears the portal
through which it travels.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thank you for using your super power!

Ever since reading Reality Is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, I've been thinking about my secret avatars, my secret super-hero identities--what powers does each have, do they have magical accessories, capes or lassoes, crowns or hidden jewels?  Recently, when I dyed a strip of my hair pink--it was like I let one of my secret avatar visuals take residence on my head.  

And I've become very curious about other people's heroic side.  Who are you in your dreams?  What are your super powers and how do you use them?  How do you secretly wield your powers from day to day?

To me, the power to vote, is a super power.  Thanks to all you who went out yesterday to make use of your powers!  Here's a poem for you.

"The arc of history bend's toward justice."
--Martin Luther King

I know you don't think of yourself as a hero.  

I know that you don't think taking trash to the curb or wiping snotty noses is hero's work.  

I know you don't think heroes get insomnia or have an extra ten pounds to lose.  

I know that you don't feel like a hero when you run late or snap at your child or miss the bus.

But I saw you.


In line at the polls.

You were there.

And while I waited

I saw a infinite stretch

of many generations

who passed along a hero's cape

from hand to hand

bending history toward justice

one vote at a time.

Do you see

how much I thank you

for it all?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Half Marathon

On Sunday my friend Laurel and I ran our first ever long distance running race, a half marathon.  I had approached her about the idea of running a half-marathon together last spring.  Neither of us had ever attempted anything like this kind of race before, and yet, I really felt like we could do it.  At the very least, I thought, I'm sure we could walk 13.1 miles if we had to.  

Most of all, I've always wanted to cross the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, by foot--and I thought that doing it as part of a group would solemnize it.

You would think that two novices would create a plan about how to meet this kind of challenge, but summer came and and the one thing we had done was meet every Sunday morning for a comfortable jog.  The majority of Sunday mornings we ran 10 minutes and walked 2 minutes, for about as long as it took us to run four miles.  

Meanwhile, in the few weeks leading up to the race, my friend Brette sent the link to Jane McGonigal's most recent TED talk, in which she tells the story of how she created a game to help herself heal from a concussion.  I found the talk so compelling that I ended up reading her book, Reality Is Broken:  Why Games Make Us better and How They Can Change the World.  Many things about the book have stuck with me, but one of them was her description of fiero:

"it's possibly the most primal emotional rush we can experience.  Fiero is the Italian word for, 'pride,' and it's been adopted by game designers to describe an emotional high we don't have a good word for in English.  Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity.  You know it when you feel it--and when you see it.  That's because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way:  we throw our arms over our head and yell.  The fact that virtually all humans physically express fiero in the same way is a sure sign that it's related to some of our most primal emotions."

From her description, I knew exactly what she was talking about.  And I realized, I actually had not had that many experiences of that feeling in my life, I was curious if, now at the age of 40 as a mom, if I was likely to encounter fiero in my path.  It seemed unlikely.  Life was about to set me up for something interesting.

Fast forward to the week before our race.  To manage some pre-race jitters, Laurel fell into a an effective longtime coping strategy, which is to read, voraciously read about our race. She mined the following important nugget:


Do I need to complete the course by a specific time?

Last Updated: Jan 30, 2012 02:24PM PST
Yes, the Half Marathon course will be open for 3.0 hours. You must finish your race by 10:00 AM to receive an official time and official finisher’s medal.

That discovery changed the race completely for us.  

We had been running 10 minutes and walking 2 minutes, four miles at a time for about three months.  We had previously approached the race knowing that we could walk thirteen miles if we had to; we had no idea the race would have an official end time.  Not only that, in an other area of the site, the explained that stragglers would be picked up off the course by a bus in some kind of sweeper shuttle.

We had no idea if we could pull it off.  Ala Jane McGonigal, the game was ON!

The thing about the sudden last minute constraint was that it was right in our challenge zone.  It would require us to clock 14 minute miles, which we thought we might be able to do.  It was right there, on the edge of what was possible for us.

With help from my friend Katherine, a seasoned runner, who happened to be in San Francisco instead of New York where she had been signed up to run the New York marathon, we collaborated on a strategy in which Laurel and I would run 5 minutes and walk 2 minutes for the duration of the race.  This was a gentle sustainable pace we thought would keep our bodies safe and healthy, but also get us close to finishing on time.  The idea was to use absolutely all the time we had, but not be picked up in what had come to call "the granny  bus."

We were blessed with a perfect Bay Area day.

The course was much hillier than expected.

And the bridge, which I thought would be so amazing, literally brought to life my worst fears.  I don't why I hadn't thought of this before, but I have a recurring anxiety dream about getting caught in precarious places on bridges, and as soon as I stepped foot onto the bridge I instantly felt woozy and uncomfortable.  I even said to Laurel, "Do you feel that, the bridge is moving?"  Laurel did not feel the bridge moving.

Do you see me there, gripping the bridge for life?!

But it was beautiful.  And I got used to it.  By the time we were on our return across, I felt much, much better.

At the nine mile mark we started to need some mental power ups.   Right at the moment we were talking each other through feeling light, like we were held up by balloons, my mom texted me to say that she and the girls were sending us "jolts" of energy.  We felt them!

There was a patch there where we were feeling elated.  Tired and working hard, but light, energized, inspired.

And then we hit mile 11.  I would have thought at mile 11 we would have been ready to fire up one last time, but there was a little pain in Laurel's knee, and my own legs were feeling like lead.  If we weren't trying to make it in three hours, I'm sure we would have walked through mile 11.  But at 11.5 miles we had 25 minutes in order to make our time.  We could do it, but we could not walk.  We had to keep running, at least some running.

There was one huge hill at the end.  And then a steep downhill.  For our own health and safety we felt we had to walk those--and honestly, I don't think we could have run them.

And then it was us and the finish line.  One foot in front of the other.

The middle aged ladies could have used some glasses, because I could just barely make out the finishing clock.  "Laurel, it still says a 2 in the beginning...we could do it."  So we picked it up for one more short stretch.  But when we crossed beneath the finishing clock, it said 3:02.  


We were disappointed--and we could barely move.  Our legs seized up and felt like they were full of rocks.  The four blocks back to our hotel room were so painful that in my mind I was comparing them to laboring through my two natural births without drugs.

I finally laid down on the floor of our hotel room and wondered if I'd ever be able to get up again.

And then....

Laurel, who had been functional enough to work her cell phone, who had been able to figure out how to download a QR cod reader, and then had figured out how to use the QR code reader, focused her phone onto her official bib, and aloud our official result:


With a mere 47 seconds to spare, we accomplished our mission!

I lept from my fetal curl, threw my hands up in the air, and there it very own FIERO moment!

So, why tell this story?  What have I learned and how can you benefit from what Laurel and I managed to accomplish?

1.  All in one day, we won and we lost.  We experienced the disappointment of failure AND the thrill of fiero.  The reward of victory was like a lightening bolt of emotional and physical energy combined.  It is a unique and powerful positive feeling, no surprise that people get addicted to it.  But I would do the race again, even if we never had the chance to get our fiero moment.  That was a momentary jolt, but having completed the thirteen miles is an accomplishment that is now in the cells of my body, the mindset we embraced to do it gently and without injury will reinforce how I live day to day.

2.  Breaking a large goal into bite sized chunks made it possible.  The race was possible for us, because we broke it down into small bits of running.  Five minutes at a time followed by two minutes of walking.  It felt like we did this tiny practice an infinite number of times over the course of thirteen miles.  Each cycle felt different.  Sometimes we were elated.  Sometimes we were in a shadowy place running in a direction that was literally going the opposite direction from our final destination.  And many times we simply failed to complete the cycle, walking through patches that didn't feel quite right on our bodies, tucked behind other people, ducking into the bathroom.  At the same time, we were very aware that every step counted for us.  Throughout the race we worked hard at staying on our pace, not going too fast in the beginning, and getting back to our little practice as best we could when we had fallen off.  Our effort was gentle and consistent, our execution was far from perfect.  But in the end, it was not one single cycle that made or break the race, it was the collection, the tapestry of tiny cycles that added up to a beautiful thirteen miles.

3.  And finally, for me, like most other things I can think of, it was possible only as part of a team, and sweeter in the sharing with someone else.  For some reason, the interconnection of it all was so obvious during the race--being a part of a large event did actually have the effect of solemnizing my bridge crossing.  Throughout the race Laurel and I were so grateful to the volunteers to cleared out the traffic, the volunteers handing out water, the policemen keeping cars out of our way.  Our moms took our kids so we could run our race.  A long time ago, many folks came together (and some died) to build the bridge we ran across.  And, as far as having the gumption to sign up, run every Sunday (even though that is a paltry training), and get through the thirteen miles--I was grateful and glad for the company all along.  I'm sure if our lives depended on it, Laurel or I could have done the race by ourselves, but the company made it an experience I will savor for a long time to come.  And, I know, from here on out, we will be road-race sisters--bonded by all those steps we shared one morning in November 2012.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday November 2, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  
We light them for ourselves and for everyone.

"There's a discrepancy between your inspiration and the situation as it presents's the rub between those two things--the squeeze between the vision and reality--that causes you to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive and compassionate."
--Pema Chodron