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I don’t know if it’s 2020 or the stage of life that I have entered, but there hasn’t been a shortage of reality checks in my life this year.  There is a heaviness in my chest that lingers because the most difficult moments haven’t been served directly to me, but so close to my center of gravity that they shake my foundation and leave me with the question: Why them and not me? It’s not a useful question, but it is a human one. From birthdays and sunsets one moment to cancer and car accidents the next, life has a way of being brilliant and then back handing you so fast your head spins. 
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I spend a lot of time sorting out the big questions that life asks us if we listen. I look for beauty in the mundane and the joy in the simplicity of life. But I also look for patterns in my actions, in relationships, and choices that I make, it’s a habit that has come naturally to me since I was the quiet kid who preferred to observe from a distance rather than be the center of attention.  I’m thankful for this habit today because I understand in a deeper sense that wisdom is pattern recognition (thanks to this interview with Chip Conley on Finding Mastery back in March) and these patterns are not just something I can learn from but use to reach the next generation.

Nothing teaches us more about life than our own experience if we are willing to wrestle with it, rather than run from it. That comes with learning to befriend our nervous systems and stay in the uncomfortable moments that come to build our resilience. Our stories are full of patterns, and I wonder if we could sit back and observe them, rather than judge them and feel shame, how much easier it would be to learn and change course when we need to.  Some patterns are amazing, like Christmas traditions that light up our homes, make us laugh, and bring us together.  But the ones that keep me thinking are the ones I want to see change, like the generational patterns that come with alcoholism or cynicism that leave us feeling like we aren’t enough.

 What I know today, and I think of it especially when an unexplainable challenge of life hits, is that growth itself is our gift, both to receive and give back to the world. We are blessed to even be able to approach the point in life where we get to ask the bigger questions and choose to move forward in health when we are confronted with the dark side of life. We don’t get to know why our story is what it is to date, but we do get to decide where we go from this moment forward, and I want to honor that privilege with every sunrise, knowing that the only guarantee we have is the present moment and it’s up to us what we are going to make of it. My prayer this holiday season is for these things:

To become the fullest expression of ourselves, we have to come to a point where we don’t compare ourselves to anyone, don’t assign blame, and do our best to maximize what we have been given.  Struggle isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is the depth of our experience that helps us heal, as well as the people we have the courage to share it with. There is not another person on this earth with your unique story.  How cool is that? It’s an invitation to do something big from wherever you are standing today. 

It’s true that what we are afraid to reveal, we cannot heal. When we find the courage to step out of our own shadow, we will find people who will meet us with a “me too” instead of a “how could you”. Pain is universal, but so is the growth that comes from staring down the difficult moments, leaning into the people that care about us, and deciding that we can do things differently and better. Who do you want to be? Ask the question, and then answer it with tiny changes everyday that will help you get there. The key is to remember that we can forgive ourselves and others, and do better with every moment where we choose to show up present and honest.

Here’s to an optimistic and inspiring 2021, no matter what it brings our way. Sending so much love, enjoy the holidays and being together. Thanks for reading and see you in the New Year!

With Love and Optimism,

Wendy

My song this week comes the joy I got from the live Christmas performance I got to see in Utah. The human spirit is elevated by live music…these were my first chills of the Christmas season and for that I am so thankful.

Photo Credit: @brendacashphotography - Brenda just happened to be taking pictures on the cliff on my birthday, captured this gem, and had the kindness to send it to me. Thank you!!

As I look at the pictures I took on my birthday, I feel pride for what my life has created, for the unique perspective I have on the world, for the things that have transformed in me, and the ways I will continue to grow.  The best life is one of constant learning, integrating what serves you, and letting go when it’s time.  Parenting, relationships, control, our bodies…there is a beautiful freedom about not fighting the current of life, but instead leaning into it and letting it float you downstream. This is the process that has taught me to forgive, feel stronger,  take better care of myself, be more and do less, and understand that we are all worthy without having to prove anything to anybody. I feel this freedom when I move, whether it’s playing volleyball, flowing in yoga, swimming laps, or even just walking and letting my mind go.  What I’ve realized about myself is that my executive functioning brain is primed and ready to journal and sort things out on a cognitive level, but my limbic brain holds on to the trauma, the old stories and false truths that I clung to for a long time.  For me, movement is where it’s at. It's my release and reset, where my body can learn to live the fullest expression of my story.  So while I am not chasing youth, I am fully invested in taking care of what I have so that I can move through this life as long as possible. 

This week, as I started my 47th year of life, I started to think about the things that make us wiser instead of older.  When I was playing volleyball the day before my birthday, I made a joke about how I wouldn’t trade my 46 year old body for my 22 year old brain.  But maybe the trick is to learn to integrate and maximize where we can.  So how do we do that?  

1. Sleep - I’ve said it before, it’s the foundation of our success.  It boosts our immune system, helps us store memories and things we learned, promote tissue repair, reduce inflammation, and help us manage our moods and our stress better. Here are some ideas to help you sleep better:

  * Set a consistent sleep and wake time. When we go to sleep and wake up at the same (or close to the same) time every day, our body is able to maintain it’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm.  This makes it easier for us to fall asleep and wake up unassisted. 
 * Seek the morning light & the evening sunset. This is another sleep/wake habit that I practice regularly.  The morning light coaxes your system awake.  Walk outside within minutes of getting out of bed and you will find your mood and energy for the day lifts easily.  Watching the sunset adjusts allows your body to begin processing that bedtime is near. 
 * Skip the blue light at least two hours before bed. Blue light blocks melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep. This is by far the hardest one to stick to for me.  With the presence of our phones and laptops in life, it’s hard to stay away from blue light for two hours before bed.  But if we do, we sleep better and have a better shot at getting ample REM and deep sleep that are key for learning and recovery. 

 * Skip the late night snacks - Intermittent Fasting taught me about how much better I sleep when I don’t have food in my stomach that needs to digest.  If we make our last intake at least three hours before going to bed, our heart rate lowers quicker and we get a sounder nights sleep. 
 * Skip the alcohol - My Oura ring (best sleep tracking device ever!) has taught me what alcohol does to our sleep cycle.  When we drink, our heart rate lowers later in the night, preventing us from getting enough Deep and REM sleep.  We may feel like we fall asleep faster or even “pass out” but the sleep in this state is not restful.
 * Skip the snooze button, or the alarm altogether. I have always hated the alarm clock and the sleep that we get after we hit the snooze button isn’t quality sleep.  Since college, I have left my curtains or shades slightly open so that the morning sunlight will come through and gently wake me. Only if there is a plane to catch at an ungodly hour do I set an alarm.

2. Let go of binary thinking - The older we get, the more we learn that life is not a black and white place.  It takes maturity to let in the shades of gray, to admit that a story has multiple sides. So rather than judging someone is wrong, consider that it’s possible that more than one person is right.  Basically, there is a little truth in a lot of things, so you may as well learn from a different perspective and avoid being the cynic in the room. If you feel threatened by someone’s truth, slow down and ask yourself why.  It’s nearly guaranteed that you don’t know the whole story. When we feel that need to criticize or judge, it’s usually an indication that it’s something we need to work on for ourselves.  You can be honest with yourself without feeling shame, so breathe, listen, trust your instincts, and embrace curiosity instead of fear. 

3. Forget Habits, Embrace Practice - For a long time, I created good habits that would help me create structure and take care of myself and the people I loved.  The short side of this focus though, especially if you have some perfectionist tendencies, is that if you fall short for a day, or a week, or a year, it can be shame inducing.  And nothing drains our energy to push forward more than shame.  Yoga taught me to view my entire life as a practice…to show up ready to grow and flow, and then when I falter, to integrate that wobble, extra movement, or even a fall into my day without letting it define me.  Practice allows us to evolve, improvise, and trust ourselves a little more each day. Then we can make a habit of getting better every day. 

4. Let your expression of wholeness be greater than the sum of your parts.  As I closed out Friday afternoon with a beautiful sunset near the Manhattan Beach Pier taking a volleyball class with six women, I had this thought.  As an athlete, I will always believe in solid fundamentals, and even keep working on them where I stand today, I love the challenge. But my body was struggling to do the little things right, get the deep bend in my knees, not wobble on my feet, set with my legs…when I break the skills down into basics, there are so many things I struggle with because my body is lopsided, stronger on the left than it is on the right because of a age old ankle injury.  But when I trust, and let my instinct take over, my body knows what it can do for itself, blending all of its strength and limitation. And that’s when I can get a one handed dig at the back of the court and get a transition hard angle kill that lands in, right on the line. Learning to trust our instincts helps us have confidence in ourselves. No one is going to do things exactly like you can, and our strengths and vulnerability make up our own sense of what is whole. 

Adding another year to life is about finding YOUR way, with grace, and ease.  Don’t fight it, embrace it with all of it’s imperfection because, as my sweet friend Jeri reminded me this week…hope and fear are two sides of the same coin.  I’m rooting for hope as I start my 47th year on this earth, and I feel it winning with every sunrise. 

Some of the best things that have come out of 2020 are great artists with double album releases - here’s my choice for song of the week this week. Hope you enjoy!

With love & optimism,

Wendy

“I woke up this morning, after a night of restless sleep, with these words in my head. The place we have arrived this holiday season, with restaurants closed, small businesses fighting to keep their doors open, and with no hope of kids going back to school in January is not ok. It’s not ok to waste a year of education on Zoom. It’s not ok for leaders to tell people they have to stay home and then jet off in private planes or dine in the fanciest restaurants. It’s not ok to have random temperature checks be a sign of safety but not let people who healthy lifestyles play recreational sports in open air and live their lives. It’s not ok for the Saints to get fined and lose a draft pick for celebrating their win in the locker room with no masks on when they just played and entire game together with no masks. It’s not ok to keep college students off campuses and away from high level, in person education when they have virtually no risk of dying from COVID. It’s not ok to cut the sports that have been an integral part of building their discipline to this point of their young life.  It’s not ok to give small businesses guidelines, have them invest large amounts of money to keep people “safe” only to shut them down again. It’s not ok for people not to be able to make their own choices about what is too risky for them and their family. We can wear masks, we can social distance, but we need to be able to assess our own risk and make our own choices and let the our own sense of civic duty and compassion inform those decisions. Yes, that sounds like the great unknown, but that’s what life is, every day is a calculated risk, and every human has their own barometer on that. We’ve we’ve been living together for millennia, through droughts, plagues, and natural disasters. The problem is the culture of fear that has been created is turning people against each other rather than instilling a sense of community.

Back in March when this all started, they warned of the hospitals filling up, they brought in the hospital ship down by Long Beach and marked its arrival with a big ominous freeway sign that said there was no access to it, it handled some non-Covid patients, but then where did it go? The last article I can find on it was in August. Cases are rising, but more people are being tested. It’s not ok to just give numbers of positive test cases and not talk about survival rates - under 70 99.6%, over 70 96.4%.

What is keeping me up at night is that I want to live in a place where actions matter and leadership follows the same rules that they make for the people.  We are drowning in a sea of unintended consequences from mental health issues, domestic violence, and so many other unhealthy choices because people are forced away from the lives they have worked for that no government program is going to help save. I’m ready for government to stop trying to just keep me alive and instead let me live.” - My Instagram post from 12/3

I made this post for two reasons: I felt like it needed to be said, and, I was feeling energetically and creatively blocked from holding it all in.

It’s not like me to lament any state of affairs and not be mindful of providing some thought on solutions. But I had obviously far exhausted the appetite for words for most anyone in an Instagram post. So as I hit post, I promised my newly liberated self (man it felt good to get that off my chest) that I would spend some time thinking about ways that we can do better.

We have to move and breathe to release our stories into the world. A month or two back, I wrote a blog on mindful politics because I’ve spent a lot of time learning about how our nervous systems create our reactions to the world. I never knew the activated state that my marriage, the near death experience of my youngest, and so many other stories from my life had me living in day to day. I didn’t understand why, after a lifetime of engaging in political thought and writing letters to the editor, that I had to literally turn off the TV and bough out of the conversation and, until I discovered the breath to movement of yoga, and then learned more about breathing to manage stress, I couldn’t reengage.  As out of control as 2020 has felt, I am grateful that I have a breath and mindfulness practice that will bring me back to the present moment and help me feel safe in my own body. It occurs to me that the more sympathetically activated we get, with all that feels out of our control these days, the more difficult it is for us to listen and relate to each other, and the quicker we are to react and compare.  So, with everything out of our control, the first thing we can do to heal our wounds as a nation starts with ourselves and our own routines. What are you doing to deactivate, learn to respond instead of react, and become a better listener?  Think about it because there is individual and collective healing in your answer. When we’ve lost faith in our leaders, we have to have the skills, confidence, and common sense to come back to ourselves, build connection one conversation at a time, and let that connection radiate from there. That means being able to dialogue with people who have completely different experiences and opinions than our own, and we have to do the work to seek those out. When we find them, we need to assess our state, and settle in to be receptive to the experience.

We do not need to know everything to say something. To be empowered as a nation, we have to empower ourselves.  Life long learning is a key to longevity and I always have my nose in a book, newspaper, or my ears on a new podcast. But something that I have corrected in myself recently is the notion that to say anything in a public space, I needed to know everything...about everything. This idea really hit home listening to this conversation on Finding Mastery. I highly recommend that you listen to the whole thing, but the idea that brought tears to my eyes and made me go deeper was the idea leveraged by NYT best selling author, Shea Serrano (around minute 16) that all of our issues and stories, exist at the same time, in this national narrative.  I have often felt that it wasn’t my turn to speak, because I know that there are things worse than my own experience. I understand deeper, because of this conversation, that my feelings are ones of political imposter syndrome.  If I speak out on the struggles of small business, single motherhood, or autism because those are true to my story, it doesn’t take space away from other vitally important discussions like race or global warming.  It’s abundance mindset meets the political world and we need more understanding on that. It’s incumbent on us to speak our truth, and then listen and let others speak theirs.  Connection is going to be found one by one, group by group, and community by community…don’t shut anyone out, don’t be afraid of their story. Just find calm, settle in, and listen. Maybe if we could all start doing this, we could get Washington and state governments to follow our lead.

Lastly, find gratitude. As I have felt my activation rise over the past week, I take 12-20 minutes and create my own gratitude meditation, but maybe you just want to start with two, that’s ok;) Mine starts with the faces of each of my four kids, then the roof over my head and the floor under my feet, my coffee maker and refrigerator full of food. I envision every good thing in my life, one by one.  It stabilizes and calms my monkey mind and when I open my eyes, I am unstuck.  I’ve said it so many times before, gratitude is a game changer.  

When you spend a lot of time trying to be liked by others you end up losing yourself.  Your story is unique and deserves to be told.  It plays into your relationships, how you carry yourself in the world, and influences the very fabric of our nation. For us to thrive as Americans it is imperative that we cultivate our best intention, inform ourselves by taking in a diversity of stories and opinions, and last but not least, find the courage to speak about our own.  I, for one, am here to listen.  Because these stories inform not just our own consciousness, but that of the next generation, and there is nothing that I want to do more right by, or have more hope for, as we look to close out this challenging year.

No matter what you think about the thousands of different issues that affect our every day lives, these lyrics hit the nail on the head. If it triggers something in you, breathe and sit with it for a minute, and then listen to the podcast that I mentioned above, or this short video that I made on Friday;) There are no sides, there are only stories, and the better we understand all of them, the better off as a world we will be.

With love and optimism,

Wendy 

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