Tag Archives: identity

Taking the Lift

Do your work weeks resemble downhill runs on a giant slalom?

Mine did. Thankfully, Monday’s usually started out a little slow. (At worst, they felt like a ski jump — zip-aieee!) Wednesday’s picked up the pace, and I dodged flimsy obstacles disguised as meetings. By Friday I’d be screaming downhill praying not to crash before my deadline and the weekend.

I didn’t feel in control. Every day from morning until bedtime, habits, routines, and obligations, life’s equivalent of gravity, had me in their grip and yanked me downhill until I hit terminal velocity.

Don’t get me wrong; life wasn’t all bad. Actually, the thing is, a part of me kinda liked it.

It was fun to zip headlong through the week. It made me feel important and wanted. When I met my deadlines, got the kids to all their activities, and still had time for Game of Thrones, it made me feel like an Olympian — masterful.

The problem (you see it coming, right?) is that it didn’t go that way often enough. More times than not, I’d end up scrambling after a new deadline, weaving through traffic yelling at my stressed-out kids and the jerk who just cut me off, and wondering, “What am I doing?”

Unlike the Olympics, my downhill lifestyle didn’t end after three runs and ninety seconds of nerve-wracking excitement. It kept going. And even though it’s exciting, I noticed that the days blurred together as much as scenery going by at ninety miles an hour. Life is short enough, and no matter how thrilling, to lose so much of it to speed proved untenable.

Taking the Lift

I needed to change my life to match the way winter athletes preserve their performance. Once a skier speeds across the finish line in her magnificent spray of snow, there’s a built-in break. She has to ride the lift back up.

While taking the lift, review the last run from a new, higher perspective

Downtime is built into the process. While taking the lift, a skier relaxes and takes in the scenery around him. He reviews the track and his last run from a new, higher perspective. He takes the time to rest, reflect, and plan, which is what everyone, not just an athlete, needs in order to perform at their best week after week. What my ragged nerves needed was an opportunity for retreating a little from life’s frenetic pace.

Mindfulness

So, for my “Taking the Lift” I looked into meditation or mindfulness, which is more than just resting. It’s a conscious, nonjudgmental focus on one’s body and surroundings. The practice has grown over the past few years as it has gained scientific backing and become more mainstream. It’s a simple meditation method that can be associated with a spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no need for a mantra or indoctrination into a religion. All it takes is a little time and some patience.

You really don’t even have to give up the excitement and thrill of working hard or only work half-days. To have a beneficial effect, even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in better thinking and anxiety control (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012.) There is one caveat: to reap maximum benefits of mindfulness, it truly needs to be a practice, meaning that it must occur regularly and often. So, it’s not a once a week kind of thing. It’s daily.

Journaling

But what if sitting in dark rooms and simply being aware of your breathing sounds boring because you feed on activity? Perhaps keeping a journal is more your style. Journaling is less touchy-feely method for “taking the lift,” and allows those who enjoy structured, strategic processes to direct their focus on accomplishments, gratitude, and reflect more deeply on what they’re committed to doing better.

Don’t think that this is just another article about being a better worker. Like mindfulness, keeping a journal provides more benefit to practitioners than improved productivity. Personal writing is yet another way to recover from and cope with anxiety and stress. It is another way to “take the lift,” restore your body and mind, plus preserve your physical health.

Everyone knows that athletes need to train their bodies, but what about their emotional side? Annie Hart, an Olympic cross-country skier, uses journaling to work through the mental aspect of high-pressure racing. In an interview for FasterSkier.com, an on-line magazine, she talked about having “a really hard time shaking off bad races, and ended up carrying negative feelings from one weekend to the next. And I can tell you that there is no amount of physical training that can surmount that.”

The magic of daily journaling works for everyone: introverts, extroverts, athletes, or writers. Whenever the gravity of your days has been hurtling you downhill so fast that you feel out of control, take a few minutes to write about what’s bothering you. Shake out your feelings onto the safe privacy of the page and explore some possibilities for improving your life.

Shake out your feelings onto the safe privacy of the page

However you decide to integrate “taking the lift” into your daily life, whatever method: mindfulness, journaling or something else, it won’t always be easy. No matter what it is you choose, there will be days when you will not want to do it. Days when you’ll be tired, angry, or perhaps in pain. That’s when you fall back on habit and ritual — it’ll get you through the crashes, injuries, or defeats that are sure to come.

Crashes, injuries, or defeats are sure to come

Make your start by identifying with your practices. In the same way you identify with being someone who’s on time for work, or being someone who values family. In your mind, become the kind or person who meditates. Be someone who journals. By identifying yourself with your practice, it will grow to become part of who you are, not something separate. This way, you’re not reliant on anything so fickle as willpower. Just be yourself.

Not everyone can be an Olympic athlete, but all us, even the most sedate desk-jockey, can be under difficult pressures and technological advances have turned many of us in the modern working world into downhill racers. Rather than continually speeding through life, be like those admirable men and women in Pyeong Chang and remember to Take the Lift after each run: relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.

 

I’ve Lost So Much

 

Over the course of my life’s half-century, I have lost many things. Some were dropped unnoticed, others were wrenched away from me, and some I laid aside gently, like one might bury a dear friend.  And each time I thought I might lose my heart, or my identity, or even my will, but I never did—not totally. I would be changed, but not so much that there was a loss of self-recognition. And sometimes, after I put something aside, I discovered that who I had been was the lie—not who I became.

In my blog about “Letting Go,” I wrote about how quitting smoking became easier once I discovered how the habit had been incorporated as a part of my identity. It wasn’t until I quit that, unclouded by addiction, I clearly saw how false the habit was to the core of myself and who I wanted to be. As I became more connected with my new choice of livelihood, Personal Training, other things that ended the sentence, “I am a person who likes…” disappeared and different ones took their place. I continued losing things because they didn’t tell my story any more, and I set them aside.

The deepest heartaches followed having to part with friends who no longer belonged in my life. Friends are especially difficult since a true friend enjoys an intimacy that goes deep, deeper than a lover at times. Some friends grew up with me and remained loyal throughout every stage of life. We shared youthful memories of favorite teachers, first kisses, and riding bikes on long summer days lit with freedom. Unfortunately, or fortunately, everyone changes, molded by time, circumstance, and will. The time to sever ties with a friend always came late—dawning on me in surprise, but there it was, chronicled in arguments, silences, and hurt.

Falling out of love has caused me to set aside the old, but falling in love with my wife was also one of those times. The person I referred to whenever I said, “me,” underwent a transformation, a metamorphosis, as I swam deeper into the enveloping waters of Love. I am reminded of the biblical passage, “two will become one flesh,” when I recall the experience. And in the beginning, love is supremely concerned with the flesh. Oh, the savory, subtle, stormy, sweetness of love’s physical expression filled time and my memory to the brim. With this came a breaking open, a willing loss of control, a sharing of my animalness, my reason, and my spirituality. As with any metamorphosis, there is a molting; in order to be born anew, the old must be shed.

Fear made a showing then. Remember when “I swam deeper in the enveloping waters of love?” There was a shocking moment when I realized that an easy return to the surface was impossible. That meant drowning and death. And the truth is that Love is similar to death, in that—part, or even most, of you must wholly surrender before love can truly blossom. The seed you were must die before it can realize its new purpose, and as I fell in love, my heart held back in fear, but eventually it had to break open. There is a death, a burying in love, but there is also a resurrection, and oh, what a rising.

I have lost many things in my life; some of them I regret—others I should have let go sooner. Even though losing things will continue, I am more comfortable with the process now. So many things have come and gone, and I have always come through. It’s not as scary now. My identity is a kaleidoscope of people, places, ideas, activities and things and each image is lovely, even as it morphs into the next.

Letting Go

Letting Go

 

I love to smoke.

A dozen times a year I find myself thinking about sitting on my patio on Crete looking out at the sea, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in another. Sometimes when I’m on my porch with a cup of coffee and it’s raining, I think, “Man.  A cigarette would be really good about now.” I can still feel the satisfying fullness of a deep inhale and the relaxed release of every exhale.  Even though I quit smoking, these temptations hang onto me, and to some degree, probably will for the rest of my life.  But I have done something that has weakened the power smokes have over me–I have let go.

I don’t mean I have let go of cigarettes, but I have let go of their place in my identity. It turns out that removing them from my sense of self was more important than putting the physical pack aside. I noticed that in every attempt at quitting, I found it impossible to imagine never having a cigarette again.  To think about never being able to drive and smoke or have a glass of wine with a cigarette made me squirm with anxiety. This was my clue that they had a place within me that went deeper than my cells’ addiction–I saw myself as a smoker.

The last time I quit, with the help of nicotine gum to relieve the physical addiction, I was able to focus more on changing my inner attitude toward my bad habit. I centered my attention on how I identified who I was and  who I wanted to be. Having always been adventurous and physical, it was an easy step to more deeply identify with those traits and to point out how smoking ran counter to them.  In particular, the deeper I identified with my fitness self, the less attractive smoking became.

This letting go was a gentle process. For the first time, quitting actually made me happier. In the past, trying to quit was a knock down-drag out and that fight kept happiness at bay. Happiness is generated from within, and when there’s a struggle going on–happiness will not enter. Our ego thinks we can drive out bad habits and addictions through a force of will. We have been conditioned to berate and blame, but those leave us exhausted and demoralized. It’s actually better to quietly usher the unwanted out of our lives.  By calmly ordering the way we see ourselves, we make the habit seem out of place.

Quitting a habit, be it smoking, eating unhealthy food, or drinking too much, has more in common with surrender than fighting. What do I mean by that? Think about what you do when you’re at a restaurant and there’s a lovely cheesecake or craft beer on the menu and you know you do not need those empty calories. Do you order it, eat it, and then spend the rest of the evening hating your weak, loser self? Or, do you insist you don’t want it? That’s a lie though, isn’t it? Rather than hate yourself or lie, why not accept your craving and quietly set it aside in favor of your personal vision–your desired identity. You may have to do this several times and you may even have to compromise–have a small piece of cake–but remain at peace, treat yourself with mercy and soon or eventually, you will emerge with a new identity–free of your habit.

This letting go is gentle, but it isn’t characterized by passivity. Let go with specific intention and patience. Let go with a willingness to challenge habits of doing and ways of seeing yourself. Let go of what you have known, no matter how comfortable, in favor of your dream that promises a new life, different pleasures, and unknown adventures. Peace be with you.