Stay Active, Stay Curious: How Walking and Podcasting Can Help Us Do Both

I have always been an avid reader. Books opened up a whole new world for me, and I devoured them growing up. Today, I still love reading. And while a good “beach read” is a fun escape, I don’t so much want to be entertained as I want to be provoked. I want to be challenged in the way I think, or understand something more fully.

As we get older it is so important that we stay curious, that we allow our worlds to expand. It is also important that we stay active. I have discovered a way to do both.

When I was diagnosed with RA a number of years ago, it was challenging to stay active. I loved to run, hike, and weight train. But for a while, I couldn’t even walk. Just getting to the mailbox was a stretch. But as my body began to heal, I was able to go farther. Sometimes I wanted a distraction from some discomfort I still had.

Enter the podcast. I love the long format style of discussion, and after this year’s election cycle, I can’t handle other news sources. Sound bites never tell the whole story and often suggest something that is far from truth. Context is king, and sound bites offer none of it.

At first, I just listened to episodes that were inspirational. I needed encouragement, motivation, and hope poured into my soul. I almost always came back better than when I left. Because I believe that truth is truth, it didn’t matter if someone’s belief system was different than mine.  I learned to look past some of the things I might not agree with and grab the good.

Honestly, anything that sounds interesting usually proves to have some element of inspiration in it. Interesting people inspire me. Below are some of my favorite podcasts, along with a few specific episodes that I really liked. 

Super Soul Conversations Oprah Winfrey

  • Lady Gaga: “Heal through Kindness”
  • Bryan Stevenson: “The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness”
  • Michael Singer: “Free Yourself from Negative Thoughts”
  • Paul Coelho: “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor”

Tim Ferris

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Powerful Books, Mystics, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces”
  • Lori Gottlieb: “The Power of Getting to Unknot Yourself”
  • Jocko Willink: “On Quitting, Relationships, Financial Discipline and more”
  • Jim Collins: “The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen sources of Power and more”
  • Jerry Seinfeld: “A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success”
  • Harley Finkelstein: “Tactics and Strategies form Shopify, the Future of Retail and more”

Joe Rogan (on Spotify)

  • Edward Snowden
  • James Nestor
  • Brett Weinstein 
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson
  • Elon Musk
  • Tulsi Gabbard

These are just some that I have enjoyed. The podcast world has exploded over the past few years and there are so many out there. Get good walking shoes, grab earbuds, and head out the door.  You just might come back better than when you left!

Mindful Making

“A creative life is an amplified life, a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. “ Elizabeth Gilbert

We live smack dab in the center of the creative process, which is continually taking place both inside and outside our bodies. The cells in our bodies are constantly dying off and recreating, 100,000,000 new red blood cells are being formed every minute, and skin cells are replaced every 39 days. 

Creativity is essential for life, but not just in the physical sense either. Research suggests that neglecting the creative process may be perilous to wellbeing. Creativity has been linked with feeling that we are more fully alive and also as a way of helping with anxiety.

It’s can be easy to conclude that we’re just not the creative type, however. We associate creativity with traditional art—painting, writing, sculpting. But art is about self-expression, and we all express ourselves in endless ways. I like to think of art as mindful making. Being creative is part of being human, adding beauty to everyday life. The canvas is one medium; the dining room table is another.

If being creative improves our wellbeing, then it might be helpful to find ways to foster creativity. 

  1. For those talented in traditional arts, it may mean grabbing the courage to start again. Or taking a class to improve. Or just carving out time to practice. This past year has inspired many to do this.
  1. For those of us who don’t have those talents, there are countless ways of “making” art. We just need to remember that creating is our nature. 
  • Instead of mindlessly cooking, we can be aware that we are “making” dinner. Art is about generating something that did not previously exist. Seemingly unrelated items at the grocery store get transformed into something that gives nourishment for people we love, even if it is just ourselves.
  • When we write a note or send a thoughtful text, words come together to create encouragement, hope, or compassion. We can express love to someone that has never been expressed in that way before.
  • I have recently taken up knitting again. To see something come together right before my eyes has been so rewarding. An added benefit: it is also totally relaxing.
  • Tending to a garden is a beautiful expression of art. Michael Pollan suggests that a gardener is able to “turn prose into something nearer poetry.”
  • We can get outside with our phones and take a picture of something beautiful. Or strange. Or surprising. Take it from different angles. Edit in different tones. Try black and white. 

Whether we sow a seed or sew a stitch, we can create something new in big and small ways. Let’s not get so familiar with our days that we miss the opportunity to take the tedious and makes it vibrant. We only need to be awake and mindful of all the things we already do that are creative acts. 

It’s really who we are.

The Words That Find You

One of the reasons I love picking a Word of the Year is that it sets us up to get more of it. It’s the principle behind the Law of Attraction–the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on.

In a recent post, I wrote how “magic” became my word this year. Everywhere I turn, that word shows up. It still surprises me, and I hope that continues because it seems our words like to be honored like that.

The above quote, by author Neil Gaiman, jumped at me the other day and I’m sharing it, not just because it has the word “magic” in it, but because it is a great thought. It is my wish for everyone this year. I am going to write about good madness, fine books, being with people who think you’re wonderful, and creativity because each of those helps us feel alive.

But for now, Im just going to leave this here, and trust there is encouragement for this day. I hope that–TODAY–you surprise yourself!

Narrative of Strength

Yesterday, I was out walking, struggling with so many things. Why is it that when we struggle, we often rehearse our weaknesses?

A small voice inside whispered: Instead of another narrative of weakness, can we craft one of strength? Ha. I feel nothing like that right now. “Rehearse the strength you’ve seen in your life,” it whispered.

***It can take a minute to shift a story. ***

I remembered back to when I moved here. Just me and my Pontiac Sunbird with everything I owned. I had gotten accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Washington as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. So off I went.

I knew no one and nothing about this city that my mom claimed was the farthest point I could possibly go excepting Alaska and Hawaii. I moved into an apartment that I later learned was owned by a slumlord. When the people upstairs took a shower, it dripped into my living room. I had bug bites over my entire body. I found someone looking for a roommate and moved out, losing rent and deposit. Not a great start. 

I had this perfect NJ accent, having lived only 20 miles outside New York City my whole life. When I walked into the Public Speaking class that I would be teaching, I was met by half the football team, each one deciding my accent was fair game. I was intimidated. I worked hard to get rid of that accent so I could be taken seriously. Eventually, they had to get up and give speeches, and the power was mine. Never underestimate a 100 pound gal from New Jersey.

I eventually began to feel more at home here. I bought a house, opened a mortgage company and became a real estate agent at a great company in the Greenlake area. 

Always competitive, I ran a 10K with some of my fellow realtors. Who would get the fastest time? Again, never underestimate. I ran that thing in 38 minutes. I registered for a marathon and ran it in 3:38. I wanted to become an aerobics instructor, and I did that too. Classes of up to 60 students, a couple times a day. The guy who hired me became my husband. 

After marriage, I birthed five children and suffered three pretty rough miscarriages. All in eight years. Our second child had special needs, and one very dark night, when he was 6 months old, the doctor told us he would “never be any good.” Exact words. We hunted down anyone who had a more positive perspective, and although there were still some extremely difficult days, he made much progress. He definitely has special needs, but he walks and talks and jokes and brings us much joy. 

Over the next years, I became involved in the school my kids would attend. I taught classes, acted as vice principal, and poured my life into building relationships with fellow teachers and students. Oh, and possibly one of my greatest feats: getting myself and five children out the door by 7:15, ready for the day at school. Lunches (most often) in hand.
 
I am a social introvert, loving people but absolutely needing  time alone. Yeah, that pretty much never happened. Some days, when I got to take a shower, it was hard convincing myself to turn the water off. Just one more hour…

Then there is the repetitiveness that comes with raising children. Answering their why’s, reminding them to brush their teeth, pick up their toys, be nice to their siblings. All while trying to shape them into kind and compassionate humans.

I am still married. Anyone who has been married past the honeymoon knows what a feat that is. Choosing day after day to let love win–a combination of resilience, humor, and commitment that can only come by flexing those muscles one day at a time, over and over again. Some days I was pretty sore.

Ok, those are a couple things I came up with. It’s long, but maybe someone needs to read it. When others share their stories, I can more easily find my own. Many will have narratives showing far greater strength.

It’s obvious by watching the news that there is more than one way to spin a story. We have to take control of the way our story is being told. If we can’t do it on our own, maybe we get together with someone who loves us and knows us well. 

I recently sat with a friend and showed her a tattoo that my daughter had given me. It is a small lightening bolt on my ankle. She commented that it was a reminder that I am a superhero.  Well, that’s not exactly what I thought when I was getting it. But, thank you friend, for seeing something I didn’t. It helps my story.

We’ve lived a lot of days; let’s find the good, the true, and the wonderful parts of them. And since we are the ones telling the story, let’s create a narrative of strength. Let’s write a story where we are a superhero, no matter how many twists and turns that story has to take. 

***Would we want to read a story told any other way?***

Word of the Year

Last week I posted some thoughts for the New Year entitled “A Little Bit Magic.” Since then, I have run into the word “magic” so many times. 

Going into a new year, I have often picked a word that I wanted as a focal point. Summarizing an idea in one word allows us to have an overarching theme that can help us frame life in a new way. So, this year I think the word “magic” chose me. Magic is about finding moments of awe and wonder. It is about seeing the enchantment inside ordinary things, in the little bits of life. 

It is said that beauty is not hard to find, it is only easy to miss.

I think it’s the same for magic. The older we get, the more we can see patterns. We can anticipate what comes next, leaving no room for surprise. “Oh, pretty soon the buds will appear,” we say with a familiarity that will surely miss the magic inside. Knowledge never negates magic. Awe and wonder hold hands with knowledge, bringing delight to all that’s revealed. 

Maybe others would benefit from choosing a word for this year. My words for other years have included: listen, embrace, release, and resilience. I didn’t always keep the focus to the end, but I was able to begin each year with a new perspective. I did keep the word “listen” in mind throughout that year.  It was an important word for me.

So this year, it’s magic.  I believe that God is always leading us away from the mundane. Not the tasks themselves, but the way we view them. Every time we can grasp meaning and see beauty in what’s around us, our lives have a chance to expand and be more rewarding. Words can open up worlds. Anyone else have a word waiting to frame this new year? If not, maybe it’s time for a little magic.

Gotta be honest here. Day one didn’t start out that well. Constant rain and grey skies made it hard to see magic. But one day doesn’t define me. Today is new and there is magic to be found. I start over again.

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett,The Secret Garden

A Little Bit Magic

“Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.”  John Wayne

Do we even mention the idea of new year’s resolutions after a year like this? Many people have resolved just to survive the year. Some days this was my goal as well. 

I have gone back and forth with resolutions over the years. Some years I made them; some years I didn’t. Were the years really any different? Depending on which statistics you read, resolutions can be over before January ends. One study reported that only 14 percent of people over 50 keep them longer than one month.

But does that mean, after this crazy year, we forget about aligning ourselves with something new? The end of a year is a perfect time to think about renewal. But after all we’ve been through, do we want to attempt something with potential to fail? With all the anticipation of leaving 2020 behind, maybe it’s the perfect time. But what will renewal look like? That depends on our reality, our dreams, and our willingness to believe in ourselves.

  1. We first have to determine whether we actually need a resolution. That word implies being strong, determined, and unwavering. If we are looking at serious challenges to our health, happiness, or emotional stability then we probably need to be resolute. We may need to schedule an appointment with a a doctor, counselor, or health coach. Before January hits, we decide how we will align ourselves for success in important areas. If nothing else, this year has taught us that we have control over very little. But we do have a say in how we might become the very best version of ourselves.
  1. We may decide that a reset is what we need. Resets are about reflecting on where we’ve been and dreaming about where we want to go. The first day of a new year isn’t any different than any other, except for the universal acknowledgment that it is new. This year, everyone is more excited about that than ever. Regardless of what’s going on around us, we can ask ourselves these questions:
    • Are there any small changes we want to make?
    • Anything we would like to do or learn?
    • Are there ways to be more present?
    • Are there ways of contributing to the happiness of others?

Whether it’s a resolution or a reset, the process involves checking in. The most important part of checking in with ourselves is honesty. As we ask ourselves questions about where we are with our health, happiness, and emotional stability, it’s important we tell ourselves the truth. It might be helpful to do it with a pen. Our answers will dictate our decisions.

Whether it’s a resolution or a reset, we can all grab hold of the magic that comes with the new year. Each one of us has just had 365 days of learning–even if it feels more like 1000! If we pause, we can find so much wisdom wrapped up in this past year. “Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.”  John Wayne

From the biggest behavioral changes to the tiniest adjusting of thoughts, we can all enter the new year in a new way, regardless of what 2020 looked like. Perhaps it’s a little resolve, but maybe it’s also a little bit magic.

Cheers to a new year!

Things Frosty Knew

“Frosty the snowman knew the sun was hot that day. So he said,
“Let’s run and we’ll have some fun now before I melt away.'”

A shift in the atmosphere can shift everything. Frosty knew that “the sun was hot that day” and the shape of things was about to change. It doesn’t say that everyone else knew, though. They were likely enjoying the snow thinking Frosty would be with them forever.

I think back to so many moments of my life that I thought were forever. Carefree childhood days, walking our high school halls, being home with toddlers, having children asleep in their beds, friendships and communities, being in a pandemic…

In good times and in hard, we can think the “snowman thing” will last forever. But seasons change. And so does the shape of life. It looked one way. But the “hot sun” changed it up. It’s often hard to visualize what the next season will look like, the one that comes after the melting away.

But though the “hot sun” will forever change things up, melted away things are never the final word. Transformation and renewal hold that honor, and that gives us hope through every shape shifting change.

There is always renewal built into changing shapes. Light, hope, and  peace break forth so that melted things will not be our focus. God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay…

When Frosty left, he said, “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day.” Obviously it wouldn’t be the same Frosty. A different version of life springs forth when everything changes, and we can trust that tidings of great joy are wrapped around that form.

Perhaps we can learn something from Frosty; he seemed to know things. Seasons change and today will not always look the same. If we can trust that our present season is purposeful, and that it involves rest and renewal, we can have hope for today. Just maybe it will give us the courage to “run and have some fun.”  And a little fun is always a good idea.

Stillness

One of the benefits of “second half” living is that we can escape noise more easily. While I don’t like the hour I wake up these days, it gives me plenty of time to sit in the quiet.

Listening to Christmas music the other day, I was struck by the familiar line in It Came Upon a Midnight Clear: “The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.”

“Solemn stillness.” The absence of noise is an external place of quiet. But stillness is an internal place of peace. It is in stillness that we can wrestle the noisy and the negative out of our minds.

There is a Bible verse that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and know. Deep spiritual knowing requires us to be still.  All major religions believe that stillness and the pursuit of inner peace is the foundation to happiness and meaning.“Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.” Lao Tzu

Perhaps we all have this deep need to know that the universe isn’t too big for us, a need to hear a whisper from God, whatever that means for each of us. Because of a painful experience I had with “religion,” I have found it difficult to connect with God in ways I used to. But I have found that God will always find a way to connect with me if I am listening. If I am still.

I believe that God comes through our pain, our sorrow, and our loss to bring us comfort and joy. With all the sadness flowing through our lives, “tidings of comfort and joy” gently usher in the happiness that can sit beside it all.

During this season, may we all find the “solemn stillness” in which we can hear both the angels sing and God whisper. It may look different for each of us, but  after all we’ve been through this year, perhaps we would all benefit if “the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.” 

May we all be happy. May we all be still. May we all be at peace.

It’s All New

Back in the day, when a new month began, we flipped the calendar page. A new picture, new white boxes, new opportunities. Just hours have passed since the old month faded away, but it feels way longer.

The digital age doesn’t give us the same dramatic image, but it’s the same thing. When the first of the month appears, we begin anew. We drag out our tired expectations and breathe life into them. 

This year, it seems everything has been a blur. I recently commented to my brother that the uniforms are always more colorful on Thursday Nite football. Except, he said, it’s Monday.  I generally have no idea where we are on the timeline.

But today I’m grounding myself in awareness. It is the first day of December, the last month of 2020. And although Im tired of hoping everything will be different this year, I’m choosing hope anyway. 

Let’s cheers in this new month. Let’s believe that even if our circumstances can’t be all that different, WE can be different. We can drag out our tired hope off the shelf and believe it is now well rested. Despite what the news tells us or what the governors tell us, we can be socially connected one another. We can give what we have to others.

I’m taking a moment to mentally flip the calendar page, making sure hope comes along. Maybe it was tired at the end of November, but with all the time that’s passed since that month, it is well rested and ready to go.

Play the songs, wrap the gifts, sip the cheer. It’s a new month and hope has awakened to the sound of it all. Let’s be contagious and give it to everyone we touch.

Happy December, Happy Holidays!

Thankful Still

Thanksgiving is a radically defiant day. In the middle of a season defined by short days and long nights, we set aside a day to give thanks—for what we have and who we have.

This year, thankfulness might have to be more grounded in intention. In recent years the challenge was whether or not we would leave our seated positions on Thursday to shop for Black Friday. Who knew that one year, those seated positions might not even be possible.

All of us have likely seen pain, loss, and disappointment over these past months. But Thanksgiving is a symbolic day of declaration: grateful regardless of circumstances.

Whether we are locked down, locked in, or locked out, our hearts are never bound by the same rules. Regardless of any laws being imposed from the outside, our hearts are still free.

*We can sit still and breathe in the abundance of life around us. 
*We can affirm that no matter what we see, beauty is also in our midst.
*We can listen to our beating hearts and remember that love keeps them beating. 
*We can remind others that they are valuable, whether they are sitting with us or not.
*We can decide we want to do better at living a generous and grateful life.

So let’s be quietly defiant today and cultivate gratitude for the abundant grace and mercy available to us all. What we cultivate in the quiet can then be lived out in the noisy, the messy, and the hard. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a little grace and mercy today so let’s be generous in our thanks “giving.”

“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.”— Rumi