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I had a freeze frame moment as I drove to pick up Lauren and her friend when they came home from college for Fall Break a few weeks ago. The chills rose on my arms as I realized that so much of my life feels like it did 20 plus years ago when I would drive myself home from college.  My thoughts would wander, my eyes were open to possibilities and ideas of what the future would look like, and I had so much gratitude for what I had been given to me over the course of my life. I feel all of those things today and, through the conversations I get to have with her, I know she does too…but now I have four kids to teach and bring along with me on this journey. 

The more I put my story out there, so many of my conversations with other people center around finding the energy to start over and find confidence. For all of my talk about embracing pain and building resilience, this week I’m thinking that comfort zones have gotten a bad rap and serve a purpose in helping us sustain our energy.  Yes, I believe in challenging new territory and ways to grow, breaking old patterns, and charging forward despite fear.  But what of the other side of comfort, the kind we feel when we find ourselves in our sweet spot, the kind that rests easy in solitude, or quiet, or even on a stage in front of people because we are right where we are supposed to be, doing exactly what we should be doing? I have felt all of those moments and also realize how my insides still fight against them sometimes based on old patterns. I am teaching  myself how to ease the tension and feel the calm in every moment…a lofty goal given my historically nervous nature. 

How do we tell the difference between lazy comfort that keeps our life small, and the ease we feel when we find ourselves in alignment? When we do find that moment, how do we stop ourselves from looking for what’s wrong, because old patterns have told us that comfort or calm is boring or not worthy, and our subconscious is actually seeking that old tension. I’m staring down the fact that there doesn’t need to be electricity in every moment to make me feel alive. 

The ease of the present moment is not a lazy shortcut, it comes when we do the work to know ourselves, our inherent worth, and then have the courage to trust that feeling above any of the other noise out there.  Real comfort is found when we learn to trust the moment above the expectation of the long term plan.  

Then we can let each moment of alignment build on itself and we find our real comfort zone. We can embrace what makes us happy, grow our knowledge in that space, and then use it to help other people. From this place we can gently sustain growth, follow our own intrinsically motivated path, and feel the calm from the inside out. Small habits add up to bigger moments of success, today I trust myself that I will stay with the building blocks, even on the days that I don’t feel like it, and my confidence is built from there.  The less our mood has an effect on the course of our day, the more stable and productive we become and alignment follows. 

One thing I have both felt myself and realized that others struggle with is forgiving ourselves. We can never find our comfort zone from a place of denial or shame. I’ve said it before, healing is an inside job, it requires us embrace and make peace with our past missteps, and, when we do, those struggles become the steps that move us forward on our path. Whatever the struggle, a failed marriage, a DUI, an addiction that we haven’t been able to kick, the human list goes on and on, until we own it, and view it as a stepping stone instead of a road block to our future, there is no comfort zone, only numbing or running away. When we are in this space, trying to forgive ourselves, one of the hardest things to do is quiet the outside voices and opinions so you can let go of the shame.  People will talk, no matter what you are doing, so don’t let those voices keep you from finding the comfort in your own skin. It’s your story, let them fight their own battles, and keep your mind focused on yours. No one knows the battles you have fought and their judgment and words have everything to do with their own battle and nothing to do with yours. If we don’t find our own peace, we won’t be able to stop repeating the pattern and our self confidence takes a definite hit.

Bottom line, nobody’s opinion of you matters more than the one you hold of yourself. So work on that and forget the rest. 

Today I know that the best life has a safe space with a supportive circle…but that starts from the calm we create in ourselves. It’s never too late to start supporting this space within yourself. Slow down, trust yourself, do the work, and embrace the comfort that comes with the alignment that is found when we learn that the greatest success comes when we create our own comfort zone.

“Loam Soils - Loam can be found in valleys and flat areas, such as flood plains surrounding rivers and streams. The term loam refers to soil with a favorable mix of sand and clay. It is relatively fertile and holds moisture well, but loam soils may require the addition of organic matter.”

My family farms in the Central Valley of California, in some heavy clay soils, and has for three generations. Although I wasn’t much into learning these soil properties in school, I have been researching them again lately with a distinct metaphor in my head. Yesterday, I googled ‘soil characteristics’ and clicked on California and ‘loam soil’ was the first definition tot come up. Soil Science was my least favorite class as an Agribusiness major at Cal Poly SLO, but some of it has stuck with me nonetheless. When I read this description, it made me laugh, because it’s pretty much sums up my human goal in soil science terms:

To be versatile, and encourage growth based on what I can hold onto , let go of,

and share, with the environment that is growing around me.

On a down day, I fight the feeling that my life has been such a random path for a traditional person like me, and I struggle to see the connections that brought a Agribusiness major, with a bigger passion for growing people instead of plants (but really, who knows this at 20) to the ocean, to become a writer.  And while there is a lot more to soil science than this one definition, my writer self sees soil types - the clays, loams, and sands, in the qualities of the people that live with that soil under their feet…like a direct transfer of properties from the earth underneath us.

Clay holds tight to what is put into it, in its case water and nutrients, but sometimes too tight, not allowing it to drain and the root gets suffocated.  Sand retains the least amount of water, is also easily replenished, but often what is important to growth leaches out very quickly, so it needs additions and attention in a very steady supply.

Agriculture is a tough but beautiful life. I have a deep admiration for the people who sustain it year in and year out. The risks are high, and it takes a rugged, even entrenched personality, to survive for generations. The people that run these businesses that feed the world have learned generation after generation to hold tight to their principles, sometimes even to their own detriment, for the value of the greater good. They don’t give in, ever. Tradition, loyalty, and optimism are at the heart of their core values, and getting them to change course is an extremely slow, arduous process, because they always believe that the best is yet to come, and they build deep sustaining energy from that place. Consultants have made entire careers out of getting these heavy clay folks to evolve to a new plan. What they do is who they are, it’s one identity. Being a farmer isn’t just a job where you clock in and clock out. It’s 24/7 live it, breathe it, work it…consistency at all costs. 

For the past seven years, I’ve lived among the beach people, and would say in so many ways have become one of them. I am pulled into the ocean to swim and let the salt water wash away whatever is ailing me. Since the first time I smelled the briny ocean air as a kid, it has been a part of me. The closer I get to it, the calmer I become…it heals me mind, body, and soul.  Since I became a full time beach person, the days pass quickly, and change is a constant. Things that I held so dear slipped through my fingers like the sand I get to play in everyday.

There is a beauty to this life though, because I have learned to let go, and not hang on to everything, like the heavy clay, because sometimes what we hang on to is curbing our growth and our destiny. For most of the beach people I know, their job is a means to an end, and the end is to live this beautiful life on the sand…and it’s hard to for me to knock that, because it’s working for me too. 

I think the challenge as we progress through life is to figure out what to learn from the ebb and flow of holding on and letting go. I am so grateful to have had a life with my feet in both of these soils and my dream is to use these parts of me to create a beautiful loamy ribbon that produces fruit.. I’ve been blessed to have deep roots in heavy soil that taught me the values that I hold onto, and the lightness of the sand that gives me the freedom to be who I am today. And there is another non scientific four letter word for that “organic matter” that loam soils often need added to make their growing capacity ideal, and that is exactly how I look at what some might call misfortunes in my life.  They have changed my structure and my ability to hold more in a healthy way, making everything around me grow stronger too.  I am right where I am supposed to be, with roots that run deep and my feet in the sand, and for now, I don’t think it gets any better than that. 

Flow State: “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” - positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

As soon as I knelt down and looked into her sweet, squishy little face, I realized how long it had been since I had to do this with my own, but how natural it still felt.  One of my favorite yogis of all time, Jeri, was standing at the Strand wall, watching us play volleyball, and being exactly the grandma I knew she would be with her darling little Krikit girl. Jeri weaves the concept of flow into her awesome stories as she teaches yoga and the connection I have found in her class and with her is deep and magical, just like she is. It’s amazing how easy connection can be found in the eyes of a child, especially one who is being infused with Jeri’s brand of presence, as her smart little toddler self commented on the color of my bathing suit and pointed out the awesomeness of the tractors pushing sand all over the beach. Intuitively, I knew this the first time I looked into my baby’s eyes, when I was still a baby myself, and Krikit took me back to those moments.  There have been so many things over my life that have made me shake with nervousness and feel unsure of who I was, but for some reason being a parent was never one of them.  Call it the naivety of youth, or a true calling, and even though the job has more ups and downs than the streets of San Francisco, I wouldn’t trade it for anything…and why I’m so grateful I have four of them. 

All around me, people are still having babies…some my age, some much younger, and I have already sent one off to college, and I’ll send another one next year. I will still have two at home for a couple more years and then it will be down to just one.  Any way I look at it, in less than seven years I will have four kids out in the world.  When they were tiny, and they physically needed me so much of the time, and I had to invent things to do everyday to bridge the gap between nap times, the days passed slower.

The older they get though, parent years are like the reverse of dog years, so seven years is really like one. 

All of these memories, and the reality of both what has passed and what lies ahead, has me thinking about creating flow in my parenting and breaking down in my mind what was important at each stage to get to where we are today. I think like this because I am proud of where we are, but also to be mindful and focus on what lies ahead.

I can feel it in my heart and deep into the marrow of my bones that there are challenges ahead that press on the edges of the most difficult realities of this life. What gives our lives value is how we challenge the depths of our potential and wrestle with intimacy and vulnerability in a way that brings our healthiest and fullest selves forward, with pride and conviction about the way we live and who we are.

Teaching this to them is my path and it that will take all of my strength, faith, and presence to navigate it. Still, parenting has given me moments of flow that I have never felt on any other stage, and these moments have built my confidence and optimism to handle what will come.

It started young, when I had to get down on their level, look them in the eye and take the time to see what they cared about, and then show them I cared too. The later years are all about building on that.

As I reflect on the last 20 years that started with that extra pink line on the test, the years begin to fall into three categories:

The early, physical years (one to seven) 

The focus is building what I call the base…safety, love, and connection.  This is the foundation of everything that creates those moments of flow, even when you are sleep deprived, and in up to your eyeballs in the monotony of schedule and routine. I remember sinking into the solitude at 3am as I sat nursing Kate, my third, because I could attend to just one thing, feeding her, without any other distraction, knowing that the other two were sleeping soundly. Unitasking is paramount in parenting and also a cornerstone of the mindful life, even if it’s just for brief moments because there are always more things that can be done…but my best moments were, and still are, one on one.

The Wonder Years (eight to seventeen) 

As the years passed and the social and emotional picture got more complex, I realized that we have to possess the skills that we want to teach them, so the work we do on ourselves, and letting them see that work, is important. Parenting is so much more about what we do than what we say. I’ve challenged myself to sink into the imperfect, the realness of life. If something is wounded, let it bleed, and then show them how to heal it by doing what we love to do, staying present, and doing the hard work on ourselves that growth requires. Teach them that consciously out is better than holding it in…because eventually it always comes out somehow and I would hope that it doesn’t take the form of passive-aggressive words or a pessimistic outlook on what can be a beautiful life. I work to inspire health through each deep breath that I take and pray that they will feel the calm that it brings. I am teaching them to ride that line between contentment in the present, and striving to achieve what we know is ours to have in this life if we are willing to do the work.

That doesn’t look like attending to their every need at this point, sometimes it looks more like me peeling off and doing what fills me up while they support each other. It’s giving them time to figure out a solution before I give them mine, and asking them to consider each other, because we all get lonely or need a hand sometimes and that’s what deep connection is all about.

We also use music to connect. I’ve used my speaker more than once to pull one of my introverts out of their room with their favorite song or Broadway musical. If you listen to what they choose, it can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their head without them having to say it. Just this week, as I was being schooled on the talents of Drake by my 12 year old Matthew, he changed course and queued a song I wasn’t expecting as he, his sister, and I cruised on the freeway. Lauren Daigle, You Say…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZvKJl1kK8g

one of my favorites when I’m not feeling all of myself. With his choice, I got further confirmation, of how he’s feeling, the challenges he faces, and the hope he is beginning to know is there on his hardest days. He has the sense to let the good stuff sink in and that’s what optimism in the face of adversity is all about.

Growing Into Friendship - college until forever

I’ve only been at this stage for two months, it’s definitely not a point of arrival, but I think that is true of most places we go in life. These conversations, mostly over the phone, sometimes on FaceTime or in person, are where I’ve had the chance to see what has sunk in. Seeing the conviction she has, not to get it all right, but to live her life and make an impact, when she has so much freedom inspires me with what I want to stay with for the younger ones. I want to bottle up the words that come out of her mouth as inspiration for my own life and writing, and then I see my influence in what she says . There is no exam, but I know she gets it. I know it because of the songs she sends me, her ability to charge forward and fight a little harder for herself when things get tough, and most importantly her understanding of who she is…strong, optimistic, independent, coachable, and most importantly confident. As much as I like to say she raised herself, and I just fed her and drove her around, I know today that these qualities were nurtured in those moments of flow, when I took the time to get down on her level and care about what she cared about.

Parenting is never underestimating the power of the simple moment to create flow. I no longer have to kneel down to connect with them, today it’s in a hug where I am reaching up or across a booth in a favorite restaurant. Even though the position has changed they know that I care about what they care about and the flow will always come from there.

I guess I’m a little preoccupied with time these days, how I spend it, where it goes, how to get the most out of every minute. As I stood watching Lauren’s beach practice this morning, I counted my blessings that I still get to do what she’s doing, in some form, with a few more aches and a lot more warm up necessary. Sometimes I’m hard on myself as I try to grow my writing and coaching business but instead I am headed out to play. I should be writing, learning, looking for new coaching opportunities. I stop myself though. Volleyball brings me so many things… joy, connection, new neural pathways, challenge, and all of this equals sustainable growth and energy to stay consistent with the work it takes to find the next step to deep meaning in life, and then the vocation comes from there. 

Lauren introduced me to the grad assistant/player on their team… a real human, newly engaged, 25 year old athlete, and we chatted about her major and what she wants to do in this life. As she walked away, I glanced at Lauren, looking almost as mature and the same as this player…

“I was her age when I had you.” I said, filled with disbelief. 

At that age, I was filled with so much naive optimism, and looking back on it, so much desire to control outcomes. I lived carefully thinking I could keep it all on track with my good deeds and carefully assessed plan of action. I didn’t know at that age that the freedom I was looking for lies in surrendering to the outcome in any situation and committing relentlessly to my process.  

And now we’re sitting here, twenty years passed in a flash and my life looking so different than I had envisioned at 25. It blows my mind. My confidence has wavered over the years and my sense of urgency has been challenged as I build a business realizing I have spent the better part of these last 20 years being “just a mom”.  But then, in this moment, sitting here with her, I am filled with the biggest sense of meaning and accomplishment. She’s confident, coachable, real, and has a strong sense of herself. She makes mistakes but doesn’t let them define her, we talk about them openly, she has empathy for the situations going on around her, and she trusts her gut first.

One of the greatest gifts of parenting is to see qualities in your kids emerge that took you a little longer to figure out. 

After spending a day in Seattle on Friday with Compete to Create, I’m chewing on the wisdom that I have gained over the past five years listening to the Finding Mastery podcast and seeing the threads of that podcast be stitched together over this amazing eight hour conversation how the best version of ourselves is grounded in a mindful life . 

Awareness is the double edge sword of tragedy and challenge. We learn much more about ourselves when the going gets tough than when everything is coming up roses.

The mindful life is full of reframing, and one of the silver linings I have found is that as much as we don’t want to see people in pain, especially our own children, there is a genuine reality that comes through a person’s eyes when they have been tested and emerged stronger. I spent most of my young life, definitely the part when I was Lauren’s age, thinking I wasn’t tough enough to handle hard, waiting for the shoe to drop, maybe even looking for someone to take care of me because I wasn’t so sure I would be able to do it myself. I’ve worked through a lot of guilt having put my kids through a divorce and watching them navigate pain, of course with guidance, but it’s difficult nonetheless. What I see emerging, from my optimists perspective, especially out of my two oldest who are so close to adulthood, is an empathetic understanding that people struggle and yet are also capable of so much. They see what it takes to surrender what they can’t control, acknowledge their feelings even when it’s hard, and work from what is. Although they are still teenagers, the capacity I have seen them gain to meet people where they are will serve them for the rest of their lives.

I’ve said it before, I wish there was something that inspires growth the way pain does, but to date I haven’t found it. So even though I fight loneliness on this road that I’m on, and the fear that I won’t find the deepest connection that I am looking for, the real meaning, and the example I want to live is found in the surrender to my story, trusting my gut and seeing where it leads, and knowing that through pain, I am proud of what has emerged. So today I resolve to keep spending my time the way I have been and stay committed to my process, I’m proud of what I see.

Life is messy, but so good in so many moments. Be present, lean in, and trust the process.  

Most memories these days feel like they happened a lifetime ago and then in the next moment, like it was last week.  That’s what living on campus in married housing (what?) at Stanford University feels like to me. I hadn’t thought about it in so long, but the news that I have a kid that will be playing volleyball there next year has brought back more than a few thoughts.  Mad About You and Seinfeld were mainstays, as was Marie Callendar’s and Mr. Chow’s Chinese food (neither of which I would choose today) and early Sunday morning trips to do laundry when the laundromat wasn’t crowded were my thing. Even though I pretty much hated my job and missed my college life at Cal Poly SLO like crazy, now I look back on those days with nostalgia, because silver linings are even easier to find with the benefit of hindsight. Early morning runs around Lake Lagunita and hikes to the dish are among my favorite memories. Years later, we added to these memories taking the kids to football games as they learned the value that traditions bring to higher education and planted this dream of going to Stanford in Luke’s mind.

When my marriage ended, those friendships I made with people from that era were something that I mourned. It’s just a normal part of moving on, no hard feelings, just the way hers and his relationships work. But the idea that the next generation of my family will create their own memories allows me to build a new relationship with a place that still holds a special place in my heart.

We don’t have to hold tightly to things, relationships, and places in time that were important to us because if they are meant to be in our lives, they will find their way back.

As parents, the experiences of our children are not our own, but they have such an intimate relationship with our own lives.  Last night, I saw Luke in person for the first time since he got the call from the coach.  As I stood in my driveway and hugged his giant 6’5 inch frame, all the memories connected like magnets on his Thomas the Train sets he played with for hours when he was little.  How did we get to this moment? A lot of toughness, patience, learning, hard work, and optimism…and trusting in the infinite wisdom that these values add to life.

The challenges build our strength, but moments like these are what we hang onto to breathe energy into our lives. 

Luke I’m so proud of you. You earned every bit of this opportunity and now the test is to double down on the hard work and find joy in the journey. Everything in me tells me you will. Thank you for helping me expand and evolve my relationship with my memories of old and always creating new things that bring so much joy and meaning to this road that looks different, but is still so beautiful. Glad I get to visit you on the west coast.

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