Tag Archives: birds

Choosing Powerfully–In Spite of Fear

As cool fall weather is sweeping in, I’m enjoying seeing all of the yellow, copper, and red leaves, some still on the trees and others that have fallen. I have a lovely view of trees in the park across the street from my house. As I write this, the golden leaves match my living room curtains, making me grateful for both the beauty of nature and the comfort of home.

I used to work at a corporate job in midtown Manhattan and didn’t have very much time to spend at home, especially not in the afternoon. Mid to late afternoon has become one of my favorite times of day, when the sun sweeps across the sky, lights up the living room with its southern exposure, and sets elegantly over the park.

A couple of weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm October day, I took a solitary hike in the Watchung Reservation here in New Jersey, and basked in the beauty of majestically tall trees, sunlight playfully dancing on leaves, and birds singing their avian hearts out.

More time appreciating nature is just one of the rewards of having listened to my heart and followed the path that was right for me–changing careers and stepping into a very different lifestyle than I once knew. It was scary to leave the corporate career that I’d always known. It felt secure, dependable, safe. I was offered a position at the NY Times and had to rely on my coach to help me see that there was something else my heart was calling for. Something less known, but more in line with how I want to express my values today.

Through coaching, music, and preparing to be a mother soon, I’m living some of my deepest values: beauty, creativity, personal growth, curiosity, compassion, caring, health, family, and flexibility. Being rich isn’t on this list. I care about security and frugality, but only in service of my core values. Fear of not having enough no longer rules me.

Life can still be stressful. As I write this, my grandmother is in the hospital after having a stroke. I’m filled both with love and gratittude for my relationship with her–and the good that she has done for so many people in her 95 years–as well as fear and sadness.

This week, I also I went to traffic court. I wrestled with the checkbook to try to make sure I wouldn’t bounce a check. I tracked down electricians and several heating specialists, as part of my responsibilities as a landlady. These are necessary, if frenetic and unpoetic, parts of life. As someone who is an intuitive introvert (to borrow from Myers-Briggs), engaging in a lot of extroverted sensing can feel taxing to me, and takes recovery afterwards.

Yet, my life is essentially exactly as I would wish it, just for today. I have much room for growth, but right now, I’m celebrating what’s good. I’m savoring the fruits of how I’ve chosen to craft my life. My work is deeply meaningful to me–I get to help others be at choice in their own lives. I get to champion them as they create what they want, and celebrate what they’re learning.

I also get to design my own schedule and incorporate self-care. For the first time ever, I get to go to the gym for an hour and take a short nap most afternoons. I alternate between work and my personal life throughout the day, rather than work in an 8 or 9-hour block of time. This may not work for everyone, but it’s ideal for me.

Why can it be terrifying to leave what we know, what has its merits and we consider pretty good, in pursuit of something different, better?

Our saboteurs can be sneaky. I have a “good-enough” saboteur who points out that what I have isn’t bad, so why rock the boat? That belief can literally keep me stuck in a place of dissonance for years. Another saboteur masquerades as trying to protect me: “you’ll get hurt, it’s better not to try.” This often comes from fear of failure or not having enough. It takes good coaching to help me see more resonant perspectives that can move me forward towards what I really want.

Power comes from choosing consciously. My future self is already living her ideal life, fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. I get to play with discovering what that life is like and who that future self is. Then I get to step into it–again, and again.

The Power of Passion + Habit: What Can Flannery O’Connor Teach Us?

I love to write, but if I get out of the habit of writing regularly, I continue to put it off.  It’s like going to the gym, it feels wonderful once I’m in the swing of it, sweating through an elliptical session or a zumba class.  Doing it energizes me–getting there is the hard part!

Pain lies in procrastination, not in taking action.  Devising a plan and taking action are empowering.  Whether I want to stay fit, keep my coaching blog up-to-date, or (dare I say it) finally organize my file cabinets, there are concrete steps I can take to reach my goals. Taking these steps honors my commitments.  I’m showing that I keep my word to myself, and that my goals matter.

How do I go about making this happen?  Mindful scheduling and rewarding my efforts.  Often the reward lies in the doing itself.  Three paragraphs into a new blog post, I already feel rewarded and am asking myself why I waited a week or two to blog again.  It feels great to get on a roll.  I also get a reward when I post my blog to social media and see your likes, shares and comments.  Similarly, when I make it to the pool and swim laps for 25 minutes, the relaxation, renewed strength, and mental clarity I gain are my rewards.

How does a schedule serve my higher purpose?  Isn’t a schedule tediously boring, constrictive?

Flannery-OConnorOn the contrary, most successful people rely on a schedule in one or more areas of their lives.  Flannery O’Connor, whose home I visited earlier this month in Milledgeville, Georgia, wrote every morning (after attending daily Mass in town) from 9 AM to noon on a typewriter in her bedroom.  Her room was in the front of the house, near the front porch and yard, where her dozens of peacocks, ducks and geese would roam. Watching her beloved birds fueled her creative fires.  If she hadn’t carved out those three daily hours, though, when and how would she have accomplished her writing?

Rituals and habits make an enormous diference in what we accomplish.  My weekday rituals–after having breakfast, looking out at the park and playing with the cat–include practicing the organ, and swimming or going to the gym.  I’m most alert in the morning, so that’s when I practice the organ, which takes more concentration than anything else I do these days.  When I exercise, it gives me more energy for the afternoon.  I put both of these in my daily calendar, as a reminder not to get sidetracked.  If it’s around 9:30, then it’s time to grab my goggles, swimming cap, organ shoes, music, and get out of the house.

What happens when I get off track?  I am constantly recalibrating my life, like a finely tuned Swiss watch.  Hopefully, one of our goals temporarily slides because another goal has taken precedence.  Our priorities naturally ebb and flow.  We can’t say yes to everything all of the time.  However, we can achieve a sense of balance among what matters the most to us.

What if that’s not the reason we got off track–what if we are simply scared or stuck and watching Netflix for five hours a day?  We can take that as a sign that some kind of action is needed.  One strategy is to write down where we are today, where we want to be, and one step we can take this week to move towards that goal.  Then put it on the calendar.

This exercise alone is usually enough to get us off the couch.  When we identify what’s important to us, and name the first small step, it becomes more manageable and concrete.

What’s on your list of goals for today?  What change do you want to make in your routine to make that happen?

I coach people who want to make some sort of a change in their lives.  I offer free sample sessions so you can see what it would be like to work together.  I invite you to contact me to schedule your sample coaching session.

Wishing you great success!

Appalachian Morning and the Power of Narrative

I’ve come to Appalachia, at the intersection of southwestern North Carolina and north Georgia, where some of my family has its roots. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with my husband and parents, enjoying a view of Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald (pictured), and hearing hundreds of birds calling.

My great-grandmother, whom we call Granny, raised my grandmother and her four siblings in this area. My great-grandfather died of pneumonia while crossing the mountains in wintertime to buy wares for his store, and Granny made do by raising chickens for eggs, which she sold in town, and growing vegetables. She did the wash in the stream behind their house.

For weeks, I haven’t been inspired to do much writing, but here, it comes easily. Lots of writers and artists come to this area to tap their muse. Tonight we’ll hear a bluegrass band play at the John. C. Campbell Folk School, which has a long tradition of attracting and showcasing talent.

It occurs to me that one can consciously choose a life of creativity and connection. I’ve never gone on an organized writer’s retreat, but I see the value. Whenever I’m in a beautiful place, I’m more inspired to create. I have just enough remove from my everyday life, and the help of mountains and birds, to elevate my thoughts.

Some of my thoughts are still pretty ordinary, like wondering how often the owners of our rental house prune back the trees in order to keep a clear view of the mountains. Others are along the lines of what it was like for my earliest ancestors who lived here; which generation, if any, may have encountered Cherokee; and whether our roots and cultural identities have more to do with where our families are from, or the places we visit, come to love, and the stories we’re told.

My family is from North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. Generations back, they’re from Germany, Ireland, and the British Isles. I also have one line from Portugal and a little bit of French.

Which of these places and people are most deeply a part of me? Is it determined by the stories I’ve been told? Of my great-grandmother’s great-grandmother standing on the Irish shore, waving goodbye to her daughter who was sailing to America, knowing she would never see her again?

I haven’t heard similar stories of my German ancestors, and perhaps that’s why I always tended to feel more Irish than anything else. So I need to try to envision what life may have been like for my family who once lived in countries like Germany–even if I don’t have the aid of oral history to help awaken my imagination.

Subjective experience isn’t everything, but it counts for a lot. Where we go, physically, imaginatively, and emotionally, builds the narrative of who we are and how we’re connected. The stories we tell ourselves and each other matter deeply.

Today, I’m grateful to be immersed in the majesty of the Appalachian mountains, which embody both natural and spiritual beauty. They also hold the lived history of my ancestors.

And where are my family and I now? In the living room, looking out on the mountains and the Nantahalia Forest, telling stories.

20140704-095956-35996742.jpg

Finding a Peaceful Oasis (or Two)

Last Saturday, my husband and I found an oasis that was new to us.  We drove to the NJ Audubon Society for a hike through the woods along the Passaic River, listening to birdsong.  We spotted a few birds (swallows being the only ones I could confidently identify).  Their music was as resonant as the sighting of them was elusive.  Sometimes I did spot one fluttering, diving or weaving through the treetops, but only a glimpse.

A couple of years ago, we spent a long weekend in Cape May during peak fall migratory season.  Two Audubon guides pointed out egrets, kestrels, and merlins.  They trained us to call out the birds’ location by the hour of the clock, to first look with just our eyes, then to lift our binoculars.

Our leaders may not have been impressed with our bird identification (or lack thereof) if they’d joined our hike on Saturday, but they would have been pleased at how happy we were simply being there, appreciating nature.  It was such a pretty spot: bushes with little white flowers, a plant that looked almost like honeysuckle, so many chipmunks, an occasional bumblebee, and tall, majestic trees that seemed to emanate wisdom.

IMG_0024[1]

On Sunday, we created an oasis in our backyard.  We have had grapevines growing over a pergola, but they rested on low beams.  By raising them onto higher stilts, we created a space under which you can walk or sit, as I’m doing now, while sparrows eagerly hop around exploring the grass.

Why do we need nature to fill us up and restore our wholeness?  Perhaps some of us feel its need more acutely than others, but I would argue that it’s a basic human need.  Even if urbanites fill it by a walk through the park on their way home from work, or by having houseplants or an aquarium, none of us can live happily without nature’s balm.

People and nature are deeply interconnected.  We rely on it for physical, as well as spiritual, sustenance.  Physically, people feel healthier when they eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods.  We live in a natural world, no matter how many steel towers are built to live and work inside.

Spiritually and emotionally, there is something soothing about listening to birds singing, hearing the flapping of wings and watching their trajectory in flight.  It is energizing to walk through the woods, curious about where the path will lead, deciding which twists and turns to explore.  It is meditative to sit by a river, studying the water as it rushes over rocks.

Nature has both stillness and movement.  It exists in the present, yet is always growing and changing.  No tree or river is the same today as it was yesterday, yet they retain their essence.

What an inspiring model for me, as I consider who I am becoming.  I am a writer, coach, musician, wife, nature lover, and play many other important roles, too.  How can I move ever closer to who I am?

Who are you becoming?  What will help take you there?  I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Mary

Bocci and Dancing Egrets: an Invitation to Play

I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned.  NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter.  We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating.  It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.

A few clear signs that spring has arrived:  I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train.  The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom.  Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.

A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park.  Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.

You may ask, what do egrets and bocci have in common?  Playfulness and joyful presence.

During winter, many of us huddled indoors, conserving energy.  The warmth of spring is an invitation to play.  Whether the egret doing its little dance, flapping its wings, or whether the bocci and soccer players in the park, play allows us to be present, to enjoy our surroundings and the activity we’re engaged in.  Play lets us abandon our worries and immerse ourselves in the pure joy of living.

If I were writing a word-chain, it would be something like:  play-nature-joy-peace-movement.  Physical movement helps us not to stay stuck in tired mental or emotional energy.  When walking in the woods or splashing in water, we let it go.  We move into a new energy.

Play also lets us be creative, spontaneous, open to new ideas.  How could that not spill over into the rest of our lives?  When we’re open to being playful, we see creative possibilities that before, we were unable to see.  We can be more flexible at work.  We see new ways to be healthy–solutions, rather than problems.

So enjoy the unveiling of spring, and let yourself be carried away by the sheer beauty of it–fragrant cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers, dancing egrets and all.

Spring Kitchen Decluttering: Turning “I Should” into “I Want”

In honor of spring, I spent a good few hours over the weekend de-cluttering my kitchen.  It had become painfully obvious how much inconvenience I had been tolerating: my microwave was about a foot off of the floor, requiring me to bend down to make a cup of tea; one of the cabinets in prime real estate was filled with paper plates, camping dishes, i.e. junk; and the coffee maker was on a porous stand so that when we poured coffee, drops would leak onto the floor.

IMG_1841[1]The best case in point is the Tupperware Saga: pictured to the left, in a yellow Hoosier cabinet passed down to me through my mother’s side of the family.

I have a hard time throwing anything away.  Consequently, most of my tupperware containers were either missing lids or were 10 years old and showing their age.  Also, any containers that didn’t fit in the Hoosier cabinet spilled over onto the counter tops, competing with space for food prep.

Frugality has served me well in many areas of my life (I attribute it to subscribing to Pennywise magazine when I was a pre-teen)… but this wasn’t one of them.  I finally reached a breaking point.  I didn’t always know where to find things in my kitchen.

I threw away 98% of the tupperware and kept only matching ones that were in good shape.  I used the newfound space for pots and pans.  I moved the coffee maker to the counter, and filled its old space with the microwave, which now sits at eye level.

Why do we tolerate things that we have the power to change?  There can be more than one reason.  In my case, the disorganization of my kitchen was neither urgent nor hugely important.  I was adaptable enough to make it work–until I no longer wanted to put up with it.  Gretchen Rubin has blogged about putting aside an hour a week to do such things, as part of building good habits.  Otherwise, we can procrastinate endlessly, and what begins as a small inconvenience snowballs.

Our time is important, and I have so many more meaningful things to do on the weekends (e.g., practicing music, playing bocci in the park with neighbors) that I hadn’t set aside time to organize the kitchen.  However, the disorganization eventually turned into a big time sucker.  All those wasted seconds and minutes add up.

After I finished reorganizing the kitchen, my feet and back hurt.  Still, I felt pleased and took pride in telling my husband what I had done.  Even to my own ears, it sounded so pedestrian, so mundane–yet it was satisfying to have some control over my physical environment, like a bird building a nest.

What worked?  For me, it helped to turn the job from a “should” into a “want.”  As long as I thought, “I should organize the kitchen,” I didn’t do it.  As soon as my thought became, “I want to have an organized kitchen where it’s easy to find things and do food prep,” I was motivated to take action.

By keeping this “want” in mind, and banishing the “should,” I intend to prevent the kitchen from escalating into a big project again.  Even if orderly tupperware falls into the “not urgent” category, it actually falls under “important,” when I consider the effect that my living space has on me.  It may not be as important as taking my Little Sister to a jazz concert at the Montclair Art Museum, but it helps me to feel happy and grounded.  As with to going to the gym, building momentum and discipline transfers over into other areas of my life.

For most of us, there are higher priorities than home organization.  Nonetheless, it’s helpful to realize what we’re tolerating in a given area of our lives, to question why we’re doing so, and ask whether it’s necessary.  As for me, I’m glad to have an organized kitchen, and feel a little more comfortable and secure in our nest–just in time for spring.

The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.