Letting Go

The buzz of the alarm jolted me to life at 4:30 a.m. Barely awake and aching from the previous day’s workout, I debated with myself to roll over and go back to sleep, or get out of bed to meet my friends at the running track.

Against my body’s wishes, I shoved off the warm blankets, got out of bed and walked toward the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face, looked into the mirror, and asked myself what the heck I was doing. This was the kind of morning where the will to succeed outweighed the desire to give in.

Along with two other friends, I was following a training plan for an upcoming 10-mile race and that day’s workout called for mile repeats. A mile was four laps around the track and the goal was to run a mile at top speed, take a minute to recover, and then do it again. On the first lap of mile 4, I noticed on one side of the track was the full moon and the other side was the rising sun and in between were magnificent stars. It was a spectacular feeling of smallness that momentarily distracted me from my effort and made the other three laps zip past. When we finished our run, we cooled down, stretched and went our separate ways.

We would meet four or five times a week to vary our distance and speed and keep each other on course. More than once I gave thanks for the team waiting at the Y; and begrudgingly became accustomed to the 4:30 alarm. I wasn’t always pleasant and admit to cussing them out when they suggested we get up at 4:15 to run long before work. That was the day I discovered my threshold. With the encouragement of my partners, though, I pushed through and later felt gratification for mustering the strength.

Our runs weren’t just about running. We spent hours together and crazy as it might sound, it became my Prozac. We honored each other with the promise that what was said on the run, stayed on the run. We vented about work and mourned painful loss. We shared stories about mutual friends and chatted about weather, moon phases and shooting stars. We shared stories of our kids and observations of the insanity we call humanity. But mostly we celebrated each other’s success, regardless of how large or small.

It was during those runs when I felt most alive. I felt I had purpose and control over one area of my life.

We trained for several months and never missed a scheduled run. We tapered our distances, rested and felt confident for our big day. We traveled as a team to the race and joined others who were running for the cause. The temperatures that morning were cool enough for long sleeves at lineup, but warm enough for short sleeves after mile one. It was overcast, but clearing, and I was feeling well prepared to meet my goal. I had hydrated and slept well and had my favorite pre-race meal the night before. I was shoulder to shoulder with 2500 women who were all pushing beyond from where they had come. The national anthem brought tears to my eyes and life in that moment, was perfect and complete.

The horn sounded and the sea of runners moved across the timing mats in waves. For the first mile, I weaved through the crowd, hoping to clear a path. Miles 2 and 3 went by in a blur and I started to get in my groove. Somewhere between miles 5 and 6 I realized that I was off my pace and my heart began to sink. I continued forward and at mile 8, forsaking modern day miracles, I knew I wouldn’t make my goal.

Every finish line has its story and it is powerful every time. More often than not, the finish line represents victory, but on that day, it represented defeat. I replayed each mile, wondering where I had gone wrong, and with each reiteration I cursed myself more. I had no good reason and it didn’t add up. I had nothing and nobody to blame but the day. I felt disillusioned and wondered why I tried.

The finish line haunted me and the miniscule five minutes defined who I was. I had lost my perspective and was focused on the result. My energy had gone into my training; something I thought I could control. As it turns out, I have no control at all.

I’ve come to realize that Powerful Perspectives are not about control; they’re about letting go. And not just finish times, regret, sorrow or loss. It’s about experiencing and embracing what’s in front of us that matters the most. Yes, goals are important and they help us define success, but the power is in the journey, not the finish line at all.

An Extraordinary Pumpkin

With each skin cream treatment, the pink blemish on the side of my face appeared to sizzle like eggs frying in bacon grease.  The center of the blemish turned brown, rimmed in swollen auburn and orange rings. The blemish was a form of skin cancer and was being treated with cream, instead of surgical removal. The removal process involved five days of treatments for six weeks.  Halfway through the regimen, what was a tolerable light pink blemish had become a hideous fried scab the size of a cigar burn.

I consider myself healthier than average and take care of what I’ve been given, but it seemed to be vain to be focused on physical appearances that morning.  As I prepared to make my way out the door, I was not my typical life-coach self. I was feeling ugly and self-conscious and my hair had been styled to hide my swollen face.

Feeling sorry for myself, I inched through the morning and avoided as many people as possible.

At lunch, I took a hike along a beautiful nature trail and found a bench over-looking the city. I sat and let the hot tears of shame come. Between sobs, I pleaded with the universe to give me a sign and help me make sense of my life.

When I had exhausted the tears and gathered my emotions, I walked with my head-down and crunched the fall leaves beneath my feet.  On the path a few feet away, I noticed an oak leaf glimmering with the stunning colors of autumn — burnt orange, auburn and brown.

As I admired the rich colors and breathed in the crisp air, it occurred to me the colors in the leaf were similar to the patch on my face and I began to cry again. This time the tears cleansed and helped me realize that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. I carried the leaf to the end of the path and released it to the wind as I thanked it for its message.

Later that evening as I finished up dinner dishes, I got a call from  a client who owned 40 acres of land north of town.  His love of the land and gardening led him to plant strawberries, rows of sweet corn, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins.

This client has become a dear friend and had kept my son and I stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables all summer; including more sweet corn than a family can eat in a year.  We were so blessed by the abundance coming from his generous and prosperous green thumb.

This call was to inform me he had another surprise for us and asked if he could drop it off at our house.

Moments later he showed up and handed me a mammoth 50 lb. plus pumpkin with an over-sized handle.  The pumpkin seeds, he said, were genetically engineered to produce an extra large stem to hold the weight of the pumpkin. He thought this pumpkin would be good for Cameron.

Then he handed over one of the most unusual and special gifts I’ve ever been privileged to receive. It was a 30 lb. pumpkin that had unusual markings in the skin that read “Samantha, Happy Halloween!”  When I asked  how “the pumpkin grew those words,” he told me the following story:

“Before I planted the seeds in April, I blessed them.  In June when the pumpkins turned green, I took a sharp nail and carved gently into the skin of the pumpkin. As the pumpkin continued to grow, it healed itself and scabbed over, leaving a  small reminder of the wound sustained earlier in the season. The scab is a sign of the pumpkin’s endurance and strength.”

As he finished his story, I stood in awed silence for the timing of the pumpkin delivery and the magnificence of this marvelous gift.  The tears that came for the third time that day were now healing tears of gratitude.

My client and friend had scratched the skin of that pumpkin months ago to produce a magical pumpkin for the Halloween season.  He would have had no idea back in June that my skin would be wounded and scabbing in much the same way that day.

This gift was more than a remarkable pumpkin, it was a miracle and the sign I needed to renew my trust and faith in the universe.

My skin, ego and scars were no longer the focus of my day. My attitude instantly turned to Powerful Perspectives of awareness, appreciation and love of a particular pumpkin and precious act of a friend.

Each fall when the pumpkins arrive, I stop and give thanks for the special gift of friendship — and the power of signs and miracles.

When we look for miracles, they find us and make us aware of their power to heal and bring us to a better place.

What may be an ordinary pumpkin, becomes extraordinary in an instant.

The Fish Will Tell You How to Fish Them

I signed up for the fly-fishing-for-women course through the local B&B because I needed to escape my everyday existence and learn something new. I had been drawn to the running trails near the Kinnickinnic, but had never stepped foot in the water.  Often times I found myself near the river, hypnotized by the sound of rushing water, and mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm of a fly fisherman’s technique.  I watched with fascination as the line was ripped from the water when the fisherman had one on.  Without fail, the fisherman displayed compassion for the fish and respect for the stream.  I lost myself in the scene and I allowed my worries to be carried away by the current.  The river was a magical place and I wanted to learn more about its depth.

I arrived at the class in a bright pink, short-sleeved top and khaki shorts, with a borrowed rod and reel.  I had a great little pack of flies that had been a birthday gift from a friend cinched around my waist.  I had spied this look on a pro while walking near the Rush River one day and boldly and ignorantly thought fly-fishing was about the flies and the gear. I learned later that day there was more to the sport than what met the eye.

The instructor was a fly fishing expert who worked for Cabellas and had fished streams all over the world.  She was dressed in waders and a fancy fly-fishing vest with lots of fishing gadgets hanging from the pockets and zippers.  She had a net hanging from her waist and under her vest she wore a pale green shirt with the sleeves rolled up to a three quarter length on her arm.  She wore a baseball cap that sported several interesting flies hooked to the bill.  She had a soft voice and an even temperament and her love and passion for the great outdoors was contagious.  I liked her instantly.

After a brief lesson on threading line and tying flies, she took us to nearby baseball fields and demonstrated the principles of the cast.  We practiced the snap of the line until she was satisfied none of us would hook another’s eyeball.

As we made our way to the bank of the river, she showed us how to carry our rods without breaking or snagging the tip.  As we sat and geared up, she explained the temperature and flow of the water, the speed of the current, and how and where the fish would sit.  She talked about the wisdom of the fish and how they can detect imbalances in their environment.  She told me my shirt was “too loud” to be natural and the fish would feel threatened by the color.  She handed me one of her soft blue fishing shirts that blended well with the sky.  Strangely, I felt more at peace, too.  She was almost poetic when she spoke of the natural balance and perfect ecological harmony that made the sport possible.

One by one she guided our slippery steps over rocks and set us up in the stream.  She told us exactly where to cast to catch a fish. Even with athletic genes, I found it to be a significant challenge to get the line to go exactly where I wanted it to go. It took finesse and patience, both of which I lacked at that particular moment in time.   I cast and dragged the line; cast and dragged the line.  Each time the snap of my line got louder and more forced and more times than not, would snag a tree branch or rock.  No trout hit my line and I was convinced it was due to the wrong kind of fly.

Sensing my frustration, the instructor waded her way over to my spot.  She secured her footing, grabbed my line, then reached down and picked up a fist-sized rock.  She flipped it over and pointed to the tiny creatures clutching the rock.

“See those little bugs?” she asked me.  They constantly change, but those are the bugs that are hatching naturally at this exact moment in this stream. That’s the size and kind of fly you want to use,” she said with a slow, soft voice.

“You see, Samantha, the fish will tell you how to fish them. You just need to slow down enough to look around and listen.”

I walked away from that day with a respect for the sport and a new appreciation for the stream and the perfection of nature. I didn’t catch a fish, but the lesson has never left me.  The fish will tell you how to fish them.

My son is not a fish, but I find this lesson to be true in parenting, as well.  He’s like a little wise trout that can detect harsh imbalances in his environment.  That may sound strange, but I believe it’s my job as his mother to create harmony in our environment, and protect him from harsh threats, whatever that looks like for him. Sometimes it’s a bully; other times it’s a school project or extracurricular deadline; but sometimes it’s the simple pressures of our fast-paced American life.

Like one-of-a-kind trout, children are unique and precious and require a place where they feel safe and can be their natural selves.  They may not use words or bugs under rocks, but if you slow down, look around, and listen, I guarantee, they’ll communicate what they need.

The fish will tell you how to fish them. And so it is with the children. They will tell you how to parent them.

 

Watch for my new e-book available September 1, 2011, titled, How I’m not Winning Mother of the Year: 8 Powerful Perspectives for Parents.  To reserve your copy, kindly contact me at Samantha@powerfulperspectives.net

 

 

 

 

Lessons of an Ordinary Life

I tend to think of my childhood as something I survived. It’s not to say my parents didn’t do their best, but unlike my siblings, I wasn’t born with obvious natural gifts, and I struggled to understand where I fit in.

My oldest sister, Tiffany, was highly intelligent and walked well before her first birthday. She took to reading early and consumed books whole.  She had a great memory and her energy seemed to flow best through the pages of books.  This gift served her well in school where she earned straight A’s with what seemed like little effort.

My sister Mardy was the family comedienne.  She was dramatic, quick-witted and a master at repeating jokes. She was a social butterfly and once won a look-alike contest for her physical resemblance to Reba McIntyre.  She could also captivate a room, Chelsea Handler-style. She was also born with outstanding rhythm and style and rivaled Prince with creative dance moves and attire. I still think she has a future in Hollywood.

Leslie was my parent’s undisputed favorite.  She was easy going and pleasant and didn’t inherit the drama-queen gene.  She had more athletic talent and intelligence than her three older sisters combined. She was confident and comfortable in her skin and could have conversations with teachers and coaches as easily as her classmates. If my sisters or I muttered or thought about using words like stupid or gay, my mom would wash our mouths out with soap.  If we talked back to our dad, we could expect the wrath of the Incredible Hulk. Leslie could throw a fit of profanity at my parents and they would embrace it as family entertainment. My sister’s and I still call her the golden child.

The youngest of this tribe was the only boy, my brother Timothy.  He was born with soft, focused, intense energy and was nicknamed TR.  We thought of him as a real-life doll and took turns dressing him up in little clothes.  Our mother announced that having a boy meant the end of the babies in our family, and I think we secretly appreciated TR for ending the streak. When he entered kindergarten, he politely, but firmly, changed his name from TR to Tim. He excelled in sports and had inherited the linear mind of my father, giving him an edge in math and engineering.  When he was thirteen, he scored so high on the ACT that he was invited to attend a military academy near Chicago.  The rules and curfews that applied to his older siblings didn’t apply to him and his full name has yet to be used in our house. In fact, we tease him and call him “baby boy” because he still has our mother wrapped around his little finger.

I was the second born and arrived six weeks early. I was a pigeon-legged preemie and needed leg braces and special shoes to learn to walk. My parents thought I had special needs because I didn’t speak until I was three. When I finally talked, I muttered the phrase, “more Jell-O please.”  I may have been a late bloomer, but at least I was polite and continue to enjoy talking. When I was six, I was in a terrible bike accident that changed the shape of my face and jaw, giving me a different appearance than my similar-looking siblings.  School didn’t come easy and I was told I would never be the student my sister was.  It was said to alleviate the pressure of living up to my sister’s academic accomplishments, but my mind translated it to mean I would never be as smart.  I played sports, but wasn’t the superstar my siblings were, and I was more comfortable standing on my head than on my feet.  I couldn’t tell a good joke to save my soul and a nun at my high school told me I should have a back-up skill because she couldn’t see my future writing career.

I rebelled through most of my late teens and early twenties, meandered through my mid-to-late twenties, and attempted to conform in my early-to-mid-thirties, all the while searching for my gifts and a place to fit in and feel normal.

It wasn’t until my life hit a dead-end that I decided to take the time to reflect on the values and messages shaping my life.

I went searching for the truth and realized that being different was my natural gift.  I didn’t know it then, but my quest for normal is what makes me normal.  The older I get, the more I understand that the quest is what life is all about.  I’ve also learned that fitting in is over-rated and comparing your life to others is futile.

I’ve learned spontaneity and unpredictability keep life interesting and I’ve learned a child-like perspective is creative and healthy.

I’ve learned the gifts of my childhood were rich and have learned judgment of self and others destroys the here and now.  I’ve learned life is a series of ordinary moments and to remove the word “should” and honor “what is.”

I’ve learned that Powerful Perspectives turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and begin with awareness and move upward toward acceptance and love.

Flight of the Bumblebee

When my son was 8-years-old, we turned off the television and spent the hour before bedtime journaling and reading together.  We each had a journal and our own box of colored pencils. 

In our journals we could doodle or draw, practice letters; write stories, or paste quotes or pictures. The journal was our place for processing our ideas or thoughts and the only rule we had was that there were no mistakes.

No matter what we wrote or drew in our journal was simply perfect. It would not be judged or labeled, only appreciated and accepted. There were days when I would scribble a picture of a funnel cloud to capture the energy of my day. Other days, I wrote about the meaning of life, drafted a poem, or drew a palm tree or flower. Whatever we put in our journal, we agreed it was “simply perfect.”

One night, my son spent a great deal of time on a picture of a garden filled with colorful flowers, bright sunshine and puffy clouds floating in the blue sky. It was meticulous and beautiful and he was proud of his work.

When he went to put the finishing touches on the page, his black pencil slipped and he made a squiggly slash mark across half the page.

Tears welled up in Cameron’s eyes because he thought the picture was ruined. He had worked so hard on the picture it nearly broke my heart. Then I pointed out to him that it was a “no mistakes” journal and reminded him that everything that happened was simply perfect.  I asked him to look at how the black squiggly line might make his picture better.

As he sat and cried and resisted this experiment, I bit my lip to hold myself back from speaking or suggesting ways to “fix” the picture.

I continued to journal, my lip nearly bloody as I forced myself to allow Cameron to solve his own dilemma. What happened next is a moment that has shaped our relationship and led him to powerful perspectives.  He released the judgment of his work, experienced a new view, and enjoyed a moment of personal empowerment.

He grabbed a black and yellow pencil and added a tiny yellow and black body bumblee with wings to the end of the scribble.

His face was now filled with pride and his body language proud and upright as he shared how the black slash across the page became the flight of the bumblebee.  My son thought the addition made the original more creative; his mistake made his picture better.  The greatest gift of that evening was watching my son work through his own emotion without the overlay of my thinking.  Had I fixed it for him, it would have reinforced that the picture was not good if it was not “perfect.” 

My son and I use the flight of the bumblebee philosophy in other areas of our lives to remind ourselves that there are no mistakes, only opportunities to make our pictures better.

Powerful Perspectives are those qualities that begin with awareness and move toward acceptance and love.

Ten Throws

When I was eight years old, my parents signed me up for city league softball.  We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games.  My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had inherited his athletic genes.  I had a strong right arm, great hand-eye coordination and quickly took to the bat.

The faster the pitch, the further the ball would sail. My base running, however, was painfully slow.   Many of my “home run” hits turned into singles or doubles because of my lack-of-speed.  My mother tried to focus on the strength of my bat, but I would overhear her talking to other parents about my slow motion run.

My teammates compared me to a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. During one game, I was on second base when cleanup Lori hit a home run and literally walked the bases to touch home plate inches behind me. Deep down, I was embarrassed by my slow speed and compensated with my defensive performance on the field.

I was competitive and hated to lose. I wanted to be where the action was. In this league, it was infield. I played third because I was one of the few who could make the throw to first. I eventually moved to short to cover more ground. I did this by diving, not by running.

When I was ten, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and traveled to tournaments in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis and Des Moines to play teams from all over the country.

My dad was one of the coaches and generally headed up practices. We always arrived early to set out gear, run bases and get my arm warmed up.  When my teammates arrived, he drilled us on the fundamentals and pushed us to run until we nearly puked.  He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. This was serious business and he would scream and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.

For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad wouldn’t allow me to swim or bike the days I had a game.  Softball became my life.  My summers were no longer about having fun and hanging out with my friends. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties because I was busy traveling with my team. I didn’t take gymnastics during the summer because my time was spent at the ball diamonds.

At tournaments, my father would argue with the umpires on pitches and yell at us from his third base post to “look alive.”  If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.

I could see parent’s reactions and after a while, could sense my teammates aggravation with my father’s intensity. I wasn’t invited to ride with other kids to tournaments and we didn’t go out for pizza with the team. No longer was the game about the team camaraderie or the spirit of the sport, it was about winning and advancing to the regional and national tournaments.

Each year, my dad took me to get a new glove and spent weeks breaking it in.  My dad would massage oil into it to soften it up and he made me sleep with it wrapped up tight under my mattress to get it to fit like a glove. My dad’s intensity increased with every season and I was becoming bitter by the imbalance in my life. I resented the stupid, strict schedule and was ashamed of my dad’s temper. I began to lose focus and care less and less about playing. I wasn’t giving my best and it showed up on offense.

We were facing faster pitchers and I was striking out more than I was hitting. I was playing outfield and hating every minute of every game.

Sensing this, my father did what every good father would do – drill me with more softball practice.  One evening in the ally behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove, without making him move an inch to catch it.  If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we began again at one.  My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite.  I could taste the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the more pissed off I became.  When the streetlights turned on, I realized the only way out was to get ten in a row, without error.

In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand.  Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless.  In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.

The next summer, I refused to play softball.  I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.  In the evening, though, I was forced to go to the ball diamonds and watch my younger sister’s team play.  As much as I enjoyed my freedom, I realized I missed the sport.

I went back to the city league and played for my friend’s father’s team. I shined on the field and at the end of the season, won MVP, but still wasn’t invited to the team pizza party. I later found out it was because the coach didn’t want more sideline advice from my father. Regardless of my potential and desire to play, I chose never to play competitive softball again.

Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach.  I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled Cameron from the team. Instead, I made it an opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.  As the season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and learned what fired him up. As it turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, regardless of the obvious misdirection.  My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways, but that’s another story.

I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my youth. I began to examine the experiences of my youth from a detached emotional state and with some help, re-shaped my stories and moved from discontent to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in my life, albeit unbalanced.

Most importantly, I forgave my father and found I appreciated his intensity and perfectionism; attributes he has clearly passed to his children. I realized I am no different than my dad, and for this I am learning to be grateful.  The same intensity that drove him to coach, was the same intensity that drove me to quit.

We’ve both mellowed some and approach life with sensitivity, but I’ve come to appreciate our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and that has served us well.  Some will never understand or relate to it, but others connect to the stories in a deep and meaningful way.  Love or hate it, we are driven to push beyond where we’ve been, whatever that looks like for us. My dad did the best he knew; and I’ve done the best I know, and through those experiences, my life has taken shape. By accepting, forgiving and loving him, I accept, forgive and love me.

Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love are Powerful Perspectives — qualities that begin with awareness and move toward love.

Learning Self Love

A time comes in your life when you finally get it. When in the midst of all your fears you stop in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out — ENOUGH! Enough fighting and struggling to hold on and like a child quieting after a tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening. You realize that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that he is not Prince Charming, and you are not Cinderella and that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings (or beginnings for that matter), and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you.  In that process a sense of serenity is born out of acceptance. You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect, and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are and that’s OK. And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself, and in the process a sense of newfound confidence is born of self-approval.

You stop blaming other people for the things they did or didn’t do to or for you and you learn the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn not everyone will be there for you, and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and take care of yourself, and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers, and you begin to accept people as they are, and overlook their shortcomings and human frailties and in the process, a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You realize that much of the way you view yourself, and the world around you, is a result of all the messages and opinions that have been ingrained into your psyche. And you begin to sift through all the crap you’ve been fed about how you should behave, how you should look, how much you shouldn’t weigh, what you should wear, where you should shop, what you should drive, how and where you should live, what you should do for a living, how you should raise your children or what you owe your parents.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of views and you begin redefining who you are and what you stand for. You learn the difference between want and need, and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, and in the process you learn to go with your instincts. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility, and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry, and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love – romantic and familial and you learn how to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving, and when to walk away. You learn when you have made them a priority and they have made you an option and you learn not to project your needs or feelings onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, intelligent, more lovable, or important because of the man or woman on your arm or the child that bears your name.

You learn to look at relationships as they are and not as you would have them be. You stop trying to control people, situations, and outcomes. You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love and you learn that you don’t have the right to demand love on your terms. And, you learn that alone does not mean lonely.

And you look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you will never be perfect and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head. You stop working so hard to push feelings aside, smooth things over, and ignore your needs. You learn it is your right to want the things that you want and sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to make demands. You come to the realization that you deserve to be treated with love, kindness, sensitivity and respect, and that you will not settle for less. And you allow only the hands of a lover who cherishes you, to glorify you with his or her touch, and in the process you internalize the meaning of self-respect.

And you learn that your body is your temple. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water, and taking more time to exercise. You learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear, so you take more time to rest. And just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels the soul, so you take more time to laugh and to play and surround yourself with people who believe in you.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for, and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.  More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success, you need direction, discipline, and perseverance. You also learn that not one can do it all alone and it’s OK to ask for help.

You learn that the only thing you must really fear is fear itself. You learn to step through your fears because you know you can survive and to give into fear is to give away the right to live life on your terms.

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve, and sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people. You learn that God is not always punishing you or failing to answer your prayers. It’s just life happening. And you learn to deal with evil in its most primal state – the ego. You learn that negative feelings such as anger, regret, and resentment must be understood and redirected, or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

You learn to admit when you are wrong and build bridges instead of walls. You learn to be grateful and take comfort in the simple things we take for granted. Slowly you begin to take responsibility for yourself, and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself or settle for less than your heart’s desire.

And you hang a wind chime so you can listen to the wind and you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility. And you learn that self-love is a Powerful Perspective.

Finally, with courage in your heart and with God by your side, you take a stand, take a deep breath, and begin to design the life you want to live.

To learn more about the Powerful Perspectives System of Change, attend one of the following programs hosted by The River Falls School District Community Education:

~Super Saturday, February 26, 2011, 9 – noon at the River Falls High School (sessions begin at 9 am, 10 am, or 11 am).

~Become the Most Powerful You, Thursdays Feb 24 and March 3 from 5 pm – 6:30 pm.

To register, click on “RFSD Community Education” under “WORKSHOPS” on the sidebar of this story.

~Receive Powerful Perspectives, Notes on Perspectives & Share Your Powerful Perspectives on a regular basis.  Click the blue “f” and become a fan on facebook.

*this poem was adoped and edited from the poem titled, “Awakening.” The original author is unknown, but greatly appreciated.

Everybody Who Didn’t Run

The year my friend Faye turned 50, she wanted to run a 10K. She asked if we could run the race together and I was happy to oblige. Her goal was to run the distance without walking and finish in a respectable time.  She made this announcement in February and chose a race a couple months away to give her adequate time to train and slowly build up to the 6.2-mile distance. The race was Get-In-Gear, a 10K in Minneapolis, Minnesota, chosen as a mid-way point between us and for it’s proximity to her 50th birthday.

Faye followed a running program and often pulled herself out of bed early to run because it was the only time of day she could fit it in.  She became more aware of her diet and fueled her body with the nutrition it needed to recover and get stronger.  We kept each other informed of our training challenges and victories.

On the eve of race day, we picked up our race packets and made a plan to meet early the next morning. At the starting line, we lined up in the middle of the pack and made a pact to finish together.

The gun fired and off we went, starting strong and steady.  We chatted through the first mile, preparing ourselves for the hill toward mile two. We meandered through beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods making miles three and four pass quickly.

Near mile five, Faye became quiet and slightly picked up the pace. I could tell she was anxious to finish. As we rounded the corner at mile six, we heard cheers and announcements and saw the finish line chutes.  The final two blocks were emotional as I watched my friend dig dip, determined to reach her goal.  As we high-fived at the finish line, tears of pride rolled down my cheeks.  The finish time didn’t matter – only that she had accomplished her goal.

A few months later, Faye and I ran another 10K, a small-scale race in my hometown of River Falls, Wisconsin.  We again made a pact to finish together. The Mid-July day was hot and humid and the sun beat down on the notorious, shade-free course. We paced ourselves as we chatted, knowing the heat would take its toll. Among the 400 runners were my neighbors, friends and colleagues. As each of them passed us, they politely wished us a good race. We nodded and reciprocated the sentiments, but inside I was hoping we would see them later – as we caught and passed them. One-by-one the runners moved around us, leaving only the EMT biker behind us.

With the distance widening between the running pack and us, the biking medic hesitantly pulled to the side and told us he needed to check the status of the other runners.  He biked ahead, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Being competitive, my internal alarm began to sound. My pride was screaming to ditch Faye and run my own race.  Attempting to hide my humiliation, I made small talk about the course.  I truly wanted to be ok finishing last, but the competitive beast in me rose up and made it difficult to reconcile that the guy being paid to finish last would beat us across the finish line. I tried to speed up the pace, but Faye pulled back and said she needed to take it slow.  Sensing my slight irritation, she told me I could go on ahead.

Picturing the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, I debated with myself over my options. The devil side urged me to push ahead and save my pride. The angel side reminded me that my ego was inflated and unaware.  Either way, I decided I would lose something – my pride or the trust of my friend. I determined her friendship was more important.

As we ran in silence, Faye’s speed increased.  I don’t know if it was her compassion for my pride, or her strong competitive spirit that prompted her to push, but between breaths, she said, “ya know, Samantha, we are beating every single person who didn’t get out of bed this morning to run.”

That comment jolted me and made me laugh. I realized I had been operating from a place of ego. My attitude was coming from the fear of being judged.  I was also swelling with an entitlement mentality – as in, “just because I could run faster, didn’t mean I was.“  We often do this to ourselves – we get filled with anger, agitation, or anxiety because what we expect to happen doesn’t match what is occurring.  When we begin to accept the moment from a place of awareness, we can appreciate what is, instead of what our ego tells us it should be. Inside of that awareness is a sense of calm and sometimes comedy.

In the case of the River Falls Days run, I had a choice – I could be disappointed, or focus on the fun friendship and emerging story of change.  I chose the laughter over the pride and was grateful for the beautiful morning. We didn’t finish last, but in the end realized Faye had completed the 6.2-mile distance 20 minutes faster than her first 10K race – an accomplishment to be respected and admired.  We celebrated our victory and still laugh about beating everybody who didn’t run.

An experience I would have considered ordinary became extraordinary through the power of perspective.

To learn more about the Powerful Perspectives System of Change, attend one of the following programs hosted by The River Falls School District Community Education:

~Super Saturday, February 26, 2011, 9 – noon at the River Falls High School (sessions begin at 9 am, 10 am, or 11 am).

~Become the Most Powerful You, Thursdays Feb 24 and March 3 from 5 pm – 6:30 pm.

To register, click on “RFSD Community Education” under “WORKSHOPS” on the sidebar of this story.

~Receive Powerful Perspectives, Notes on Perspectives & Share Your Powerful Perspectives on a regular basis.  Click the blue “f” and become a fan on facebook.

Waves of Acceptance

I went to the ocean to make peace with my past and find the courage to forgive and let live. I’ve been here before. Not this beach and not this town, but the place of desire to release what weighs me down.  My wish then was for a world with less pain. Today at this beach, my wish was the same.

I sat on the sand and watched curiously as a wanna-be fisherman took an odd-looking net and expectantly placed it in the water where the wave breaks on the shore. As the wave retreated, he shook sand from the basket and collected small fish in a bucket.

Later, he guided a group of tourists who had gathered to fish from the shore. He baited their hooks; they tossed their lines into the water, and awkwardly waited for the sea to respond. Some of them were lucky; several walked away with only their poles. I sensed their disappointment with the guide and the sea.

Along the shoreline, a tiny sandpiper seems to be dancing with the waves. She stands on the shore and waits for the waves to reach the beach. As they roll in, her little legs race to the edge, staying just inches ahead. As the waves roll out, she scurries behind and chases them, watching and waiting for the next wave to play.

On the beach, couples are collecting shells and families are building castles in the sand.  College students toss a Frisbee while surfers prepare their boards and suits. Overhead, seagulls are chatting and making themselves known.  On the horizon where the water meets the heavens, pelicans dive to fill their beaks with fresh fish.

I walk to the water and my senses come alive.  The sun is warm on my face as I breathe in the fresh ocean air. I relax to the constant rhythm of the waves and I feel the power of the force that causes the ocean to move. My mind is suddenly at ease.

The water washes over my feet and I feel grounded and cleansed.  As it laps at my ankles, I feel my anger and resentment being washed away.  As the waves rush over my calves, I choose to forgive and am filled with gratitude for my path.

I bend to pick up a shell to toss what I want to surrender and spy a tiny white feather stuck in the sand. As I grab it, the wind catches and blows it out to sea.  Given what I wanted, the feather was more fitting as a symbol of release. I chuckle with appreciation for the wisdom of the universe’s ways.

My thoughts take me back to the last time I stood in this space and I realize our perspectives can be powerful or they can drive us to hide. We choose to be disappointed like the fisherman wishing for more; or we can choose to give thanks for the experience at the shore.  We can be like the guide and expectantly place our nets, or play on the beach and build castles in the sand.  We can dance with the water or dive from the air; the choices are ours and we get to decide.

I exit the beach and the universe again speaks. It grants me a gesture it has listened to my pleas.  The gift is a private one, it’s between the water and me, but I knew that I mattered and all will be.

May 2011 bring you joy and powerful perspectives.  I’m grateful for you.

Winter Warmth

I am not a winter person. I’m not sure why I stay.  The nuisance of wardrobe adjustments and unexpected travel delays, coupled with the demand to remove the snow from our driveways, garages and vehicles is enough to question the sanity of my choice to live where I live.

I feel trapped indoors because my body is not well equipped to weather harsh elements.  My hands freeze when the mercury drops below 70 degrees, and thick wool socks shoved into running shoes cause my feet to writhe with discomfort. My joints alert me to changes in air pressure and my mind craves more natural sunlight than the 6 hours we are afforded each day.  My energy drops and my whirling creativity slows to a low hum.

But as I clutch my coffee and watch the first snowfall gently blanket everything in white, I am reminded of what makes Mid-westerners endure.  I sit by my fire and begin to pen a poem. The prose is reflective and takes me back to a time when the world seemed harsh.

It was early winter not so long ago. I was sad and looking for tools to help me climb out of my black hole, when I was extended an extraordinary gift by a dear friend with a knack for beauty and brilliance.

She lives on a gorgeous lake with a spectacular view.  She has an amazing green thumb and has created gardens that feel and look like heaven must.  Her grounds feel sacred and have been accentuated by a labyrinth near the water.

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull.  In colloquial English labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center.

A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to and from the center and is not designed to be difficult to navigate. Walking a labyrinth can create a heightened awareness of the human condition and aid in psychological and spiritual growth.

Recognizing the struggle, my friend offered a healing walk in her sacred space. With candles, matches and a desire to heal, we bundled up and headed to the frozen labyrinth. The wind howled, preventing the flame of our candles to remain lit.  Carrying the pain that comes from living life with passion, the full moon guided our journey to the center.  As hot tears streamed down my face, I cussed the universe for making life cold and humanity cruel. In the middle, I sobbed and questioned my worth.

I felt forgotten and wondered why the warmth of love continued to pass me by. I cried until my tears went dry and then began to make my way back out. At the exit, I paused to give thanks for the gifts of friendship, full moons and a listening labyrinth. I somehow felt validated by my time in this place.

I left pieces of my pain in that center, where they were transformed with the change of seasons.  My walk to that center in Spring brought a profound awareness that my pain had dulled and my soul was budding with new hope.

My son wakes and his exhilarated cry of “YES, momma, the snow has arrived,” snaps me back to present time and the gifts this past year has bestowed.

I give gratitude for the snow today. It brings my son joy, which makes my heart sing.  The snow caused me to pause and pen this story to you and it reminds me that change is inevitable and pain is temporary.