Need it to Survive

hamilton

“How do you write like you need it to survive?”

The above lyric is from the song Non-Stop, which closes Act I of the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. I first listened to Non-Stop last Saturday and the line jumped out at me right away, especially since I had just blogged the day before about Yes Please by Amy Poehler.  In that post, I noted that the preface to her book:

… makes writing seem like the worst idea ever and also more important than you thought… maybe even necessary for survival.

I heard that song, that line, and felt gratitude. It eloquently echoed something that was obviously on my mind already: the importance – the necessity – of writing more. The above lyric in Non-Stop is followed by: “How do you write every second of your life, every second of your life, every second of your life?”

Leave it to a mega-talented composer, lyricist, librettist (rapper, singer, actor… more on Lin-Manuel Miranda shortly) to create an entire song about the prolific, tireless nature of his subject.

What are we wanting to do, planning to do, that we keep putting off? What if we decided that we can’t wait, that our life depends – at least mentally and spiritually – on taking action. On making art, on making connections, on making moves. Today is what we have. Nothing else is promised.

Writing inspiration aside, I’m rather obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack right now. I don’t generally gravitate toward musical theater – or American history, for that matter – but the writing and performances in Hamilton are astonishingly moving and fantastic. I laugh, I cry, I have these songs running through my head constantly!

It’s hard to describe the complex, beautiful layers that weave throughout these two acts. The layers upon layers: lyrical, musical, emotional, contextual, and so on. And I’ve only listened through the whole soundtrack twice, so I’m sure it’s even more rich and fertile than I fully realize quite yet.

I’m also reading Ron Chernow’s hefty tome Alexander Hamilton, the source material that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda (my new hero) in the first place. Chernow’s book is well written and dense with detail. I’m extra excited, though, to get Miranda’s Hamilton: The Revolution, which gets released next week. It promises to tell the story of the Broadway phenomenon in pictures, song annotations, and prose. More of Miranda’s lovely words? Yes please!

If I ever get the chance, I’d love to ask Miranda the question that opens this post. When he discovered Chernow’s book and began to envision a musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life, he had already written and starred in an international hit musical, In the Heights. He started working on his first Hamilton-inspired songs, ultimately distilling Chernow’s lengthy book and, indeed, the entire story of Hamilton’s life into 46 powerful, entertaining, beautiful songs. Then he brought the title character to life on stage and recording alike.

It’s inspiring not just as a writer but as a human being.

What’s inspiring you these days?

Focus Pocus

It’s still Blog-toberfest! And while I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, I’m still excited to have written quite a few blog posts this month. I’ll aim for once a week going forward. It’s now on my calendar, which will help me follow through. Planning is key, especially when there’s a lot going on.

Speaking of which, I have felt like things are extra busy these days. I’ve also been sick. It is tempting for people — myself included — to think of such situations as plain old fact. Yes, they often do have some basis in truth. But I’ve come to learn there’s more to it.

The bigger picture is the way we construct stories relating to the facts and circumstances we experience… and the way those stories can unconsciously drive us, our lives, and our outcomes. Circumstances can become excuses, and plans can get derailed. Week after week, if we let them.

The truth is, I can prioritize things that are important to me, no matter what is going on in my life. What’s more, I always am prioritizing things, as evidenced by the things I actually do. Every day, we prioritize actions by giving them our time, attention, and energy. The question is, are we prioritizing the things we say we want to focus on? Are we putting our precious time and energy into the things we claim to matter most?

In recent weeks, I’ve been challenged by a few different coaches and mentors to call BS on my own negative thoughts and blame games. Today, I called BS on feeling irked by my headache and stuffy nose (and on blaming the weather for not feeling my best). Life is good, I am beyond fortunate, and I can focus on that and find gratitude, instead of dwelling on what’s not 100% perfect right now. Perfection doesn’t exist, and getting stuck in those trains of thought inevitably derails our aspirations and takes us out of the present moment.

When we focus, we feed and encourage the objects of our attention. In shifting focus, I can improve my perspective and make progress on the things that really matter to me. Writing more, for example!

Easy Does It

“Life is hard.”

“Why me?”

“This sucks.”

Sound familiar? For many of us, these are daily mantras. We rant and rail against traffic, the weather, and a thousand other circumstances that we can’t control. Other people often top the list. Not only do things never seem to go our way, but why is everyone out to get us?

The truth is, most of these sentiments and statements and outlooks boil down to one thing: perspective. We can choose another way to look at almost anything… but we have to acknowledge that. And then we have to choose to choose differently.

If we think life is hard, then everything we experience will be framed by that belief. But we can decide that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can acknowledge that, sure, stuff happens… and a lot of it is pretty amazing! We can begin to see life’s little bumps in the road as opportunities to grow. Minor inconveniences are not insurmountable obstacles; they’re more like unexpected rain. We can put up an umbrella, or even get wet. Either way, it’s not the end of the world.

As for other people, most of the time they’re just lost in their own thoughts and lives. One of the Four Agreements (as explained in the book by that title by Don Miguel Ruiz) is “don’t take anything personally.” Other people’s actions, words, and behaviors are about them, not us.

While this principle certainly doesn’t excuse crime or abuse, it can offer us a path to forgiveness and peace for a thousand perceived transgressions, once we recognize that they are not personal. Rather, they are driven by the other person’s own fears and insecurities and efforts to survive this life (which they likely think is hard). If we recognize this, our capacity for empathy, even forgiveness, grows immeasurably. Forgiveness — and eventually acceptance — of other people in all their fallible, human glory is such a gift to ourselves.

I loved this post by Kara at Zen Barbell about one of her favorite phrases: “Just like me.” She writes:

As you are walking through a store (airport, busy area) you see some one just standing in the middle of the walkway, seemingly oblivious, blocking every one’s way.  You start thinking “UGH! I can’t believe they are blocking every one’s way! How can they be standing there not aware that they are completely blocking traffic! How rude!”.

Now you add the “magical phrase” ‘just like me’.   It now becomes “”UGH! I can’t believe they are blocking every one’s way! How can they be standing there not aware that they are completely blocking traffic! How rude!…Just like me!

Not so funny but VERY eye opening. [Check out Kara’s other two magical phrases, This moment and Is it true? It’s a great series of posts, and her source material is well worth reading, too.]

We are all human, and we can all use more compassion, toward ourselves and toward others. Sometimes it’s easier to start within, and sometimes without. But starting is key. Compassion can help us shift toward a mindset of possibility and wonder.

Another way to start shifting our perspective is by practicing gratitude every day. Perhaps before bed, or first thing in the morning, find three things for which you’re thankful. Write them down if you really want to build up a gratitude collection. Flipping through a week’s or a month’s worth of entries is a great boost when we need one.

It might seem silly or even elusive at first. But if we let it, writing these down can take on a momentum of its own and help us trade in a mindset of scarcity for one of abundance.

There are lots of other ways to shift perspective, and I will write more about it in future posts. For now, try letting this practice work its magic. When we are filled with gratitude, there is less room for grievances. Life might start to seem a little easier, a little lighter… even with the traffic and bills and cranky co-workers.

Speaking of making things easy, I used that approach today when I exercised before my morning shower. In the interest of spending more time upside down, and knowing my own tendency sometimes to push too far, too fast, I could have tried diving right in to handstands against the wall. Instead, I decided to ease in and play with some more gentle versions of, well, inversions: downward facing dog and standing forward bend.

In a lovely bit of timing, shortly thereafter I received an email with this link: 5 Yoga Inversions for Beginners. It confirmed what I had applied in my morning practice; downward facing dog definitely counts as an inversion. It also gave me some more places to play as I rebuild my strength and comfort in upside-down positions. (I probably won’t practice number 5, supported shoulderstand. I have found that pose to be contraindicated for me as a migraine patient. As with any physical endeavor, it’s important to know our bodies and consult with experts when needed, especially when trying new activities.)

In fact, I was reminded this morning that I’ve been doing these poses relatively often all along, so my inversion game isn’t quite as rusty as I originally may have thought. Now I can build from here and benefit from turning my world upside down more and more each week.

Practicing gratitude and otherwise trying to shift our perspective might also feel a bit like turning our worlds upside down at first. But I truly believe the benefits — across the board — will be more than worth it.

Upside Down

I wrote last week about moving — and playing — more. One way I would like to do more of that is by making more time to be upside down. Handstands are fun and it’s never too late to get better at them. When I was going to the yoga studio, one of my instructors helped me incorporate a bit of handstand play in Ashtanga class. I’ve been wanting to revive my handstand adventures, and there is no time like the present to dig in and start working on playing with them again!

Luckily, there are a lot of great posts and resources available online for mastering handstands and other inversions. Here are a few that I will be referring to in the coming months:

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Handstands. Not only does Nerd Fitness’s guide have Star Wars figures (of course; yay nerds!), it also addresses the fear factor. Many of us grown-ups are out of the habit of spending time upside down, and it can be disconcerting!
  • The Adult Handstand. Garage Gym Girl focuses on a couple of other things that might trip us non-kiddos up: wrist weakness and dizziness. The post helps with those elements and helps break down the handstand mastery process over time.
  • Charlize Theron, Imperator Furiosa, Inversions and Arm-balances. This post from the great trainer and fat loss coach Josh Hillis is laden with links and videos, plus it references the fantastic movie Mad Max: Fury Road!

I love it when play time can make us stronger and provide a lovely metaphor for shifting our perspective.

Yoga Nightcap

In addition to lifting and metabolic workouts, which I generally do three to five mornings a week, I try to add at least a few minutes of stretching, mobility, and/or yoga most evenings while we watch TV, to get off the couch for a bit and increase my activity.

Today I had a pretty low-key, lazy day (sometimes those are needed!) but by evening, I was feeling rather stagnant. To change things up a bit, I popped in my Candlelight Yoga DVD. I haven’t done this one in ages, so it felt nice to revisit and unwind with a formal yoga session.

I really like Sarah Ivanhoe’s instructional style. I have another Crunch yoga DVD of hers (also need to dig that one out), which I think may have been my first real experience with yoga.

I later practiced at a studio for a while and really gravitated toward hot Ashtanga. I haven’t been to a studio in a couple of years, but I do yoga almost every day in some shape or form, even if it’s just a few stretches at my desk. That said, I realized after tonight’s practice that my body’s mobility deserves a bit more attention, so I’ll be making more time for yoga DVDs and may even get back to a studio class or two soon.

A dear friend of mine was a yoga instructor and she helped me so much, in my practice and also in life. She died in March and I miss her more than I can say. Her beautiful light, her love legacy, are with me always, but especially when I’m doing yoga.

Love you always, chica. Namaste and cheers. ❤

Simply Begin Again

This message — “simply begin again” — seems determined to find me this week!

As I wrote yesterday, I’m getting “back to blog” and it feels really good. Apparently I wasn’t the only person feeling that pull yesterday. As Diane DeGiorgio at The Everything Yoga Blog so eloquently wrote, “… this post started off with confusion and has ended up with a lesson for me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been putting off posting — I just wanted to hide a bit longer behind my ‘I don’t have anything to say’ excuse.”

Wow, did her words speak to me, loud and clear. What an excellent reminder that, most of the time, we need to actually begin in order to figure things out! Waiting for inspiration (or “the mood”) to strike often means waiting indefinitely. And we don’t have time to wait. Now is where life happens, so it’s essential to begin — and begin again — now.

Fortunately for me, I read that message in more than one place this morning, just to make sure it sunk in. I really enjoyed Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier (and highly recommend this part memoir, part guide for its humor, humility, insights into the benefits of meditation, and easy steps for practicing). Through the Change Collective, Dan and teacher Joseph Goldstein have created a 10% Happier meditation course, and I just signed up for a free trial. One of the neat features is a meditation “coach” who sends text reminders. Today’s included this quote from the course: “The three most important words in mindfulness meditation are: simply begin again.”

I didn’t even realize how much I needed those succinct and beautiful reminders until I read Diane’s post and that 10% Happier text!!

I love that, for meditation, this message is applicable on two levels. If our meditation practice falls off our radar, all we need to do to revive it is simply begin again. And during an individual sitting, when our focus drifts away on a river of thoughts, we need only return that focus to our breath to, yes, simply begin again.

The best part, though, is that this message is even bigger!! It is relevant not just to meditating or writing my blog, but to everything: fiction writing, exercising, eating like a grown-up, getting organized, being a better wife and friend and family member. In short, practicing loving kindness to myself and others. From time to time, we can all lose sight of that and all the other stuff that matters to us.

Begin again, and everything follows. Things fall into place. Life, already glorious, gets a little bit (and then a lot) brighter. I will be keeping this message in mind in the coming days and weeks, and perhaps writing about it again as well. I’ll also be sharing more about my mindset studies, meditation, and other pursuits!

Does “simply begin again” resonate for you? What can it help you with today? I’d love to hear what you think!

Training for Life

If someone were to ask me today why I exercise — why I lift weights, practice yoga, walk, all that fun stuff — I’d answer: Life.

I know that’s not exactly original, but it’s oh-so-true. I’ve finally figured out that moving makes me feel better, more capable, more energetic, and happier. Sure, I’ve understood this intellectually for quite a long time. But only in the last few years has it truly sunk in. Now I know it, not just in my head but in my guts and my limbs (muscles, bones, joints and all).

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with training for some other reason or reasons: a race, a sport, or even the desire to change one’s body comp and physique. I’ve trained to get myself ready for an event, and a similar pursuit could happen again at some point in my future. What’s more, I’d be lying if I claimed it wouldn’t please me to see a bit more muscle definition here, a little less muscle camouflage there.

The difference now is that I see all of those potential benefits as the cherry on top. The sundae is how I feel every day, inside and out. Knowing this, I more often choose to make time for play. Come to think of it, that last sentence nicely sums up how I’m starting to think about exercise:

  1. it’s a choice, not an obligatory task I must suffer through to achieve X or Y result;
  2. I deserve time to play, and it’s up to me to ensure that I take it, rather than waiting for it to magically appear in my schedule; and
  3. as children know and adults too easily forget, it can bring real joy and fulfillment.

It’s no wonder that I’m now less attached to the outcomes than to the experience of moving and trying new things.

In fact, the real result lies in the habit itself. In the process, not the outcome. That’s why it’s key to find activities that are fun for us, as I hinted at earlier. It’s not meant to be a grind, so why would we ever cultivate a habit of something we dread doing?

There are so many options that something is bound to resonate. I’ve also learned that it pays to try things again, things I didn’t think I was suited for (or vice versa). I’ve changed a lot over the course of my life, so it stands to reason that my taste in activities would evolve, too. My food preferences and choices certainly have expanded and shifted quite significantly over the years.

Not only does this new perspective make me feel pretty great, I’m also starting to see the potential applications in other pursuits. If I can fall in love with the process of meditation, novel writing, and other things that matter to me — and begin to detach from the desired outcomes — well, that would seriously rock. Again, these aren’t entirely foreign concepts to me, but sometimes a new light hits an old idea and suddenly, voilà, it’s time to shine.