When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

I wasn’t an active child, preferring instead to have my hands on a book or a hot buttered roll rather than any kind of sports equipment.  My parents never pushed sports either.  So, absent the typical parental pressure, I happily spent hours of my childhood on my bed, with a book in my hand, and Peter Frampton turned up full volume on my headphones.   With the exception of a rare energetic period of a few years in my late 20s, this trend continued through adulthood.  Physical activity was not my friend.  Food was. And books. And through high school and college – pot.  Neither of these three other loves lent themselves to great physical exertion.

It’s not that I didn’t try.  In a life-long struggle with my weight, I always maintained a gym membership and had periodic interest in many group fitness trends through the years – step aerobics, jazzercise, kickboxing, Body for Life strength training – but I never became committed to anything.  With the exception of the strength training, I attended most of these activities for the music – not the movement.  Nothing ever became essential to my life.  I envied the people who had this.  Those that started the day with a run or scheduled their weekends around the local 40 km road cycling event.  Who were these people?  And how did they get like that?

Yoga came the closest.  It was one of the group exercise classes that I occasionally attended and I even had a couple of favorite yoga DVDs that I did quite regularly.  Indeed, from the first moment, I felt a connection to yoga that I had not ever had to any other type of physical activity before – but it still wasn’t a part of my daily life.  It wasn’t something that I couldn’t live without.  Like food.  Or books.  Or Grey’s Anatomy.

The year I turned 49 and quickly saw 50 approaching, something shifted.  At 49, I suddenly looked up from my life and realized things had gotten way out of control.  At least all those other years, I had good intentions.  I had tried.  But I had not even tried for the past five years or so.  No restrictions on what I ate.  No attempts to join a gym or try the latest fitness craze.  No yoga – not even DVDs!  Nada.  Nothing.  Zippo. My body ached.  My soul was a wasteland.  I couldn’t even get up from sitting in a chair without limping from the pain in my joints.  My spirit felt non-existent.  I did not! want to spend the second half of my life the way I’d spent the first.  So, as one of my favorite book titles reads, “she got up off the couch”… and I ... I stepped through the doors of a yoga studio.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I started out slowly with a few gentle classes and felt the old connection immediately.  I felt myself getting stronger with each class I attended and soon craved more challenge.  I decided to try a more advanced class.

When the student is really ready – THE teacher will appear.  And boy did she ever!

My first true yoga class left me a sobbing puddle on the ground.  Spent both physically and emotionally – I had never felt more alive.  Through her soulful practices, my first teacher allowed me to see what my long neglected body was truly capable of and allowed me to feel compassion for what it was still working on.  These practices, this teacher, at that precise time in my life was a gift from the universe and forever cemented yoga in my life.

Still…cautious of my old habits creeping back, I did not trust myself to maintain a practice on my own.  So I consistently and joyously practiced at this yoga studio for almost 3 years.  Not fully believing in myself, I was suspected that my commitment was tied to the methods of this particular teacher.  I remembered her telling me one day that she “would not be my teacher forever”.  “Yoga doesn’t work that way”.  I felt like screaming “blasphemy!” – under no circumstances could I picture being as committed to my yoga practice without her as a teacher.  Well, she was right.  As my personal yoga practice grew, I began exploring other styles in an effort to expand my knowledge of yoga as a whole.  Some I liked and some I didn’t but I began to understand what she must have been talking about those months ago when she first spoke those blasphemous words.

Through the course of changes in both our lives, I began practicing with another teacher whom I came to love almost as equally.  My second teacher taught me the joy of chanting and the sweetness of slowing things down to savor the beauty of the body and spirit working as one.  With our household preparing for a major move to another state, the thing I dreaded most was leaving this yoga practice.  I felt I had only touched the surface of what I could learn from this teacher.  When I said goodbye I told her I hoped I found someone as good as her in my new city.  And she replied, “I hope you find someone better”.  Spoken like a true yogi.

So I was on my own now.  I had only a slight fear of abandoning my practice and slipping back into my old ways but I couldn’t be entirely sure.  49 years of past history left me cautionary.  But I wasn’t connecting to any of the local classes that I tried in my new city so I continued working on my own.  I had nearly convinced myself that this solitary yoga practice done in the glorious sunshine of my private patio was all I needed.

But I forgot about the teacher…

Looking back now, I believe my resistance to returning to a group yoga practice was actually fear.  Fear of something new.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of leaving my comfort zone.  So much had recently changed in our lives – retirement, new house, new city – I think I just wanted the familiar.  While I am skilled enough to put together my own practice, I know I don’t push myself.  I do what’s comforting.  What feels good.  What I know I can handle.  But deep down I knew the truth.  I knew finding another teacher was needed.   For that is what a good teacher does – pushes you out of your comfort zone.  Makes you work on the things you hate, which are more likely than not, the things you need the most.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

And so my search began.  The search itself was enlightening.  If I hadn’t started searching, I wouldn’t have tried Qi-Gong.  Qi-Gong is a form of gentle exercise composed of repetitive harmonized movements designed to loosen and limber the joints and ligaments and build awareness of how the body moves through space.  It also involves a lot of touching yourself.  Oh, not the Seinfeld “Master of Your Domain” kind of touching yourself but an invigorating body tapping that begins every class and is designed to move chi through the body.  The classes that I tried took place at sunrise on the beach.  It was lovely and every class ended with everyone hugging each other.  One of the regular students told me the hugging practice was started for the majority of elderly that attend for whom this may be the only touch of the day that they receive.  Heartbreaking.  Beautiful.  In the end, it was too slow a practice for me but I retained the body tapping…and the hugging!

If I hadn’t started the search for a new teacher, I also wouldn’t have discovered the JapJi meditation heard in a Kundalini Yoga class that I tried.  Though I had done Kundalini breathing practices before, I had never experienced a full kriya class which is a series of postures, breath, and sound that work toward a specific outcome of your being.  Practices often include beautiful chanting – one of which was the JapJi.  The kriya practice was not for me either but the JapJi meditation and the hauntingly beautiful devotional music of Snatum Kaur remains engrained in my soul.

I have no doubt I was meant to encounter these things in my search and ultimately the Kundalini class lead me to find my third teacher.  Though I didn’t connect to the Kundalini practice, I did connect to that teacher and following her to one of the other studios where she teaches allowed me to find my new yoga hOMe.  I thought I was set.  I had finally found a new teacher.  I was ready to start being challenged again.  I was ready to be another puddle on the floor.

Then, the ultimate teacher named Life showed up.  Life brought an unexpected surgery that threatened to derail all of my progress with a projected 6 to 8 week recovery to include no exercise of any kind.  Not even yoga.

No yoga!  I couldn’t fathom it! Without my even realizing, yoga had become a part of my daily life.  Like food.  Like books.  It was something that I couldn’t live without!  

I’ll be honest.  I was more frightened of not being able to do yoga for two months then I was the actual surgery or accompanying recovery.  I saw my pre-50s life come hurtling back.  In my head, I was already again that slug on the couch.  I know, and any true yoga practitioner knows, yoga is about more than the physical movement.  But still….  Thankfully, gratefully – I was spared.  In the end, a less invasive surgery was able to be performed which has cut the recovery period to 4 weeks rather than 8.  No actual yoga class for a month, but stretching and gentle movements can be worked back in as early as 2 weeks.

Thank you Universe!

So here I am at two weeks.  Moving gently.  Gratefully.  Humbly.  Solitary.  Again my own teacher but with a whole new perspective.  I know now without a doubt that yoga is an essential part of my life.  Never to be forsaken.  I am committed.  For yoga is more than the physical practice.  It’s a mindset.  It’s a gift.  The practice of yoga is its own teacher and I am happy to be its life long student.

Namaste.

Live the life you have imagined.

~ Colleen

 

 

 

 

 

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Have you ever met someone and just had an instant connection?  I’m not talking about a romantic connection like love at first sight.  More like a human connection like “you get me, you really get me!  We are somehow the same!”.

The most remarkable encounter in my life that I can remember was at a Christmas party in DC many years back when I met a friend of a friend of a friend and something just clicked.  Admittedly, there was alcohol involved but that wasn’t the reason for the extreme connection.  There was just this feeling talking to this person that we were somehow cut of the same cloth.  Connected at some soul level that could not be put into words.  The connection didn’t come from years of shared experiences like a long time friend that knows every dirty inch of you but from somewhere else – some cosmic place where our souls must have met long ago and seeing each other again recognize one another.  It’s a strange and wonderful feeling.

On the outside, we couldn’t have been more different.  He was a city chic gay man, well-traveled and worldly and I was a small town girl just beginning to find her wings but somehow deep inside it’s like we were the same person.   This sounds corny, but he even gave me a ring.  A man’s ring, sterling silver, big and clunky with raised beading that I like to run my fingers over in times of stress.  I keep it on my key ring and have had it now for probably over 15 years.

He gave me the ring because he recognized how rare it is to have this kind of immediate human connection with someone and the ring was a symbol to both honor and remember the event.  The ring had been passed down to him by the last person with which he had such an encounter.  I was to keep the ring and pass it on when I made such a connection again.  I still have the ring.  I can’t bear to part with it and I’m not sure I’ve had such an instantly intense experience with another person like that again.  Or – I just really like the ring…

This type of connection happens on a smaller scale with a little more frequency.  You join a club or go to a work conference or something and you either “click” with the people there or you don’t.  It’s an undefinable thing isn’t it, this connection?  Some things you can pin point – you have a shared job or grew up in the same part of the county.  But some things you can’t define or find a reason for – it’s just a comfort level that you feel.  A notion that you can be yourself and an appreciation that they are being their true self and it all works.

I’ve never felt like this with my family.  Growing up I always felt different.  Like some  necessary connection was missing.  Something on a soul level.  That comfort level.  My best friend and I in college used to dream up elaborate stories about how I must have been adopted and my parents never told me.  Proof number one is there are no photos of my mom pregnant with me.  Proof number two is my parent’s names are not listed on my birth certificate.  For both, my mom claims that this was standard practice at the time, in the 60s.  You didn’t take photos of yourself pregnant and hospitals didn’t list parent names.  Riiiggghhhtttt………

At most family gatherings to this day I feel like I’m in the middle of that Sesame Street game and can hear Big Bird singing to me….”One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the other by the time we finish our song?”  Do da dat do.

BigBird

Its kind of a lonely feeling.  I’ve lived away from home for the past 25 years but have recently moved back, ironically, to be closer to family.  I love my family and am forever grateful that I’m not part of a family that is constantly bickering or backstabbing.  There is true love in our family.  I know I’m loved.  I know I love them.  But that “can’t put into words” feeling of connection beyond the blood connection just isn’t there.  We really just don’t have much in common.  I still feel like the odd duck out of a pond that I don’t really want to be in.  And they don’t really want to swim over to my pond either.  So where do we meet?

I’m kind of struggling with these feelings.  Even at 53 years old, my family has the capacity to reduce me to a shriveled puddle.  Am I supposed to apologize for not being like them?  Am I supposed to try harder?  To be honest, I’m perfectly fine being who I am.  I like my pond.  I don’t really want to try harder.  I want that sterling silver ring with the raised beading.  I want it to just be there.  But as the Rolling Stones say… “you can’t always get what you want…”.

Here’s hoping I get what I need.  Or it’s going to be a very long and lonely song.

Good Enough for Government Work and the Pursuit of Perfection

I got a compliment on my writing from one of my blog readers yesterday.  I was very pleased but also slightly disbelieving.  I have always fancied the idea of writing but I never even attempted to put pen to paper or keystroke to blog until just recently because I was always concerned about making it perfect.  And if it wasn’t perfect, then it wasn’t good enough to put out there.

A long time reader, I have always been in awe of authors who glorified the English language with such well constructed sentences or cleverly chosen words that they brought me to tears – John Irving, Jane Hamilton, David Sedaris, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Pearl S. Buck, A. Manette Ansay – to name just a few.  My untrained simple writing skills could never compare to theirs.  And they can’t.  But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write.

I’m not sure why I have put the added pressure of perfection on writing because I never applied this standard in my work life.  And people were paying me for that!

Before retiring, the last 10 years of my career were spent working in a typical cubicle city for a Department of Defense agency.  During that time, I formed a close friendship with one of my co-workers.  So close we soon came to be known as “work husband” and “work wife”.  We told each other pretty much everything, work related or not, and our bond was strong.  But just like real husbands and wives, we squabbled constantly.

One of our most frequent squabbles was on our very different expectations of the degree of perfection required for any given project.  You see, he was a certifiably insane perfectionist.  I like perfection too but I learned early on in my career that meeting the deadline with a “good enough for government work” product mattered more to most of my bosses than a perfect product delivered past the deadline.  We were rarely given enough time to meet both perfection and deadline – at least not unless you ate, slept and breathed nothing but work.  I favored more balance in my life. So I learned to live with my imperfect perfection and got really, really good at prioritizing and learning just how to get the job done “good enough” in the time I was allotted without having to live at the office.

My friend struggled with this concept quite a bit and it was a subject of frequent conversation.  While I would go home to enjoy my evenings and weekends, he could still be found at the office working late into the night or spending his Saturday pouring over minute details I’d long ago decided weren’t as important as attending my next yoga class.  During one particularly brutal project deadline,  when he was lamenting over the project not being perfect yet and I was calling it done, we had an email exchange.  This email so succinctly summed up our two opposing views (and personalities!), I saved it in my personal archives:

PERFECTIONIST FRIEND:  

I put a lot of stress on myself ALL THE TIME!…and I’m not sure why.  I don’t think I do it for others to notice the quantity/quality of work put into “X” (we’ll call tasks “X”).  I think I put the stress on myself cause I want “X” to be perfect…finished…exact.
 
You can do just enough to get by…or you can do the best to become the best.  I think that’s me.
 
Here’s a little story I think you’ll get a kick out of:
 
In 3rd grade, our teacher bought the entire class a model rocket kit the students had to build from the ground up.  We were studying about the father of modern rocketry…the greatness of Robert Goddard.  I think this may have been the foundation of me becoming a perfectionist! 

As each week went along, we would complete a specific stage of the rocket…the engine mounts…the nose cones…the parachutes…the stabilizers…the fins.  During the last week, the teacher allowed us to take the rocket home.  We were responsible for completing the rocket, turning it in with a written report of Goddard and then we could blast it off. 

That weekend, I finished my paper and then asked my dad to bring me to a hobby shop where I bought another whole rocket kit and rebuilt it from scratch…applied a thin bead of glue to all the seams where the fins and the rocket body met…painted it white with two black vertical stripes from the nose cone to the engine clip…then I adjusted the nose cone a quarter turn and BLAM-O – it looked like the friggin’ Apollo 13!
 
I went in Monday morning with my rocket in a custom case I’d built out of an old gift-wrapping tube (painted to match of course) and my 10 page paper.  I looked around the class at the other kid’s rockets and saw the exact same thing I had seen the previous Friday before we left for the weekend.  Rockets that resembled more “rock” than space ships…tubes with hunks of wood…and glued fur.  One kid even used masking tape cause he broke the main fuselage.
 
I got an A on my report.  An A+ on my rocket.  And an A on the flight. 

All the kids were talking about the rocket…they loved it.  The teacher posted my paper on the bulletin board so the class could read it…AND she used my project in the science fair for 3rd-7th graders…AND I WON THAT TOO! 

But do you know what I kept saying as all this was going on????
“How come I didn’t get an A+ on the report and the flight too?”  

MY RESPONSE:

Here’s my 3rd grade story…

3rd grade was the first and only time I attended public school and had to ride a school bus.  Our family had just recently moved to Florida from New York.  In New York I had always gone to a small private Catholic school that was some distance away and my Mom had always dropped me off and picked me up.  Yes – I was spoiled – did you know I had a sandbox with sterilized sand??? 

So it’s the first day of school, in a new city, new state AND I had to ride the bus for the first time in my life.  My house, where my Mom still lives, is probably only about two miles from the elementary school and the bus route picks up all the kids in our town and first stops at the elementary school to drop off grades 1-5 and then continues on to the next town over, about 10 miles away, to drop off the middle school kids.  

I was lonely, I was scarred and confused and somehow missed the stop at my elementary school.  I rode all the way to the middle school and was the only person left on the bus when the bus driver turned around and said “what are you still doing on the bus, honey?” 

When she figured out I should have gotten off at the elementary school, she graciously drove all the way back.  By now the teachers have called my mom and said I didn’t show up for school and they are frantic as to what happened to the new kid. 

This whole traumatic event probably didn’t take more than an hour or two tops given the distance between the schools.  So the time now was probably only about 8:00 in the morning considering I boarded the bus about 6:30, but to me it felt like I had been riding that bus for HOURS – at least half a day.  

So when I finally get to the elementary school and I get off the bus with my mom and teachers staring at me worried and sick, the only thing I had to say was…

“DID I MISS LUNCH????” 
 
So the moral of this story is – priorities MAN – priorities!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From an early age it is clear that I knew how to prioritize, wasn’t afraid to ask for what I wanted and didn’t let fear or failure stop me from pursuing my passions to their “just good enough” ends.

So for now – I’ll keep writing – perfect or not…at least until lunch.

Live the life you have imagined.

~ Colleen

 

On Going Home and Letting Go

My mother and sister live on the same piece of property. A three acre or so plot of land in a very rural setting.  Any visit “home” over the last 20 years that we have been away has been to this piece of property.  Conveniently killing two birds with one stone, we would visit both my mom and my sister’s family once or twice a year on various vacations or holidays.

To say that I hate this piece of property is an understatement.

My parents and all of our extended relatives are from New York and I was born there. When I was eight and my sister was one, my parents decided that they were tired of the city, the cold weather and the close proximity to relatives.  They packed up our entire home, which consisted of myself, my sister, my grandmother (my mother’s mother who had lived with us since I was born), a Great Dane and a Shetland pony (Red), and moved to the most rural piece of property that they could find in central Florida.

Not coastal Florida.  Central Florida.  Surrounded by citrus groves.  Not beaches.

Though my memory is a bit hazy, from as far back as I could remember, I did not like it there.  By my way of thinking, I was plucked at the tender age of eight from what I recall was an ideal suburban setting.  My memories included neighborhood block parties in the summer and bunches of kids sledding down each other’s lawns in the winter.  Visits to nearby relatives and large extended family gatherings at holidays.  In contrast, we knew no one in Florida and the closest neighbors at the time were probably five miles away.  From the moment we arrived, I felt like every fiber of my being told me that I did not belong there and I counted the days until I could escape.  My sister, having been only a year old when we moved, must not have ever felt this way as she still lives there to this day.  First in our parent’s home and then building her own home on the back acre of land when she got married and started a family of her own.

I however left as soon as I was financially able and up until about three months ago, have always been about 1000 miles removed from both my mother and sister and that plot of land.  Now there is only about 100 miles of separation.  My mother will be 84 this year and one of the reasons we moved back to Florida was to be more involved in her day-to-day life as she moves through the inevitable stages of aging.

I’ll admit, when I was envisioning my retired life and the chance for extended time with my mother, it did not include much time at her home or on that property.  My visions had my mother coming to me.  My visions had her spending long idyllic weekends in my comfortable guest room.  Mother daughter trips to visit long-lost relatives or interesting sites.

Happily together…anywhere…but at her home…on that property.

For when I’m at her home, I am anything but happy. I feel the burden of all the years that I lived there and dreamed of escaping come crashing down on me the minute I get in the car to drive there.  I feel like a prison bird that has been loose to enjoy the freedoms of nature snagged in a forgotten wire that’s suddenly taken hold of his claw.

When I try to put my finger on why my intensely visceral feelings are so negative for that place, it’s hard to pinpoint one exact reason.  Partially it’s the dirt.  Partially it’s the remoteness.  I think life is just harder there.  Many of the conveniences so easily accessible in a larger city, including programs to assist with aging parents, just aren’t even available there.  My husband and I have always happily lived in suburbia.  My mother and sister can’t believe we can live in such close proximity to others while I can’t believe they can live so far away.  Theirs is a land of wild grass and self-sufficiency – and dirt – lots of dirt.  I prefer my feet hit concrete, not dirt.

The manicured lawns and wide expanses of concrete in our beloved suburbia make me feel safe – and clean.  If the price of this is living six feet from our neighbor, it’s a price we have always been willing to pay.  I like waving to our neighbors at our closely arranged mailboxes or passing each other on the street on our daily walks.  The only thing we have ever been picky about is privacy in our backyard and we have been known to erect an eight foot fence to ensure we get that.  I actually blame my mother for this aversion to dirt.  After all, my sandbox as a child was filled with purified sand.  Not joking.  This was in New York of course.  By the time my sister was ready for a sandbox, we were already living in Florida and my parents were over the neurotic behavior associated with the first born so the Florida dirt was good enough for her.

Ironically, I also have my mother to thank for providing the means to be able to leave the family compound as my friends and I have always jokingly called it.  My mother worked throughout our childhood primarily for the money to be able to send my sister and I to private school.  She valued education and made it her mission to provide the best that she could give us.  We grew up under very modest means but my mother never looked at the cost of private school as something she could eliminate to help the family budget.  I believe I also get my drive and tenacity from my mother.  All have served me well and allowed me to flourish in my career and afford the means to live differently than I grew up.

I had hoped to share this lifestyle with my mother.

But anyone that has an 84-year-old mother will tell you, they generally do not do as you wish them to do.  Especially my mother.  Headstrong and stubborn even when she was younger she never liked to go too far beyond her comfort zone.  A life long fear of flying kept her from traveling very much and her aversion to social situations kept her from getting involved with clubs or activities.  So her comfort zone now is her recliner and her home and that piece of property.  And If I want to spend time with her, it will more than likely involve me going there rather than her coming here.

I love my mother.  I truly do.  I honestly don’t know what I would do if she was no longer in my life.  Even at the age of 52, she is still the first person I call when I have news.  Excited or devastated, she knows from just the word hello whether I am happy or sad.  But we are VERY different people and want VERY different things.  I need beauty in my life and I just can find no beauty there.  Not in that county.  Not in that city.  Not in that town.  Not in that house.  She sees the desire for beauty as frivolous and unnecessary.

This is an internal struggle for me.

I am a very resourceful person and have always found a way to change anything in my life with which I was no longer happy.  I took a downgrade in my career once just to relocate from a city I did not enjoy living in and I took an early retirement to start living life the way I wanted.  If something is broke, I will generally exhaust every avenue in order to fix it.

But thisthis is something I may not be able to fix.  I am beginning to see it is something that I may not have control over and I am a control freak.

One of the central teachings of yoga is learning the art of letting go. Both in your physical practice and in your life.  It is no surprise that this is a teaching that I struggle with daily. Sometimes control is good – it got me the things in life that I wanted.  But the need for control is bad when you are powerless to change the situation.  In that case, you are merely banging your head against an immovable wall.  And your head, your mind, can drive you to the funny farm if you don’t find a way to let it go.

There is a song by East Forest called “Grandmothersphere” that I have in heavy rotation on my yoga playlists. Just the opening bars of this song put me at ease and I come time and time again to this refrain:

Do you want to know what enlightenment is?  It’s with you every moment.  It’s a back and forth. Letting go of your attachments.  To yourself.  To outcomes.  Letting go to the way things are.

Well.  This is the way things are.  I’ll have to work to find the internal beauty that is lacking in the external.  I’ll have to find a way to let go of trying to change the situation.  I’ll have to find a way to let go of thinking my mother is going to be anything other than who she is.  I’m certainly not going to change her.  Not at 84.  And I’m certainly not going to stop loving her.

So here I go…I might win a few battles now and then and get her out of her comfort zone but until then I’ll just keep this song on my playlist.

Live the life you have imagined (but when you can’t – learn to let go!)

~Colleen

East Forest – Grandmothersphere

Intention

My sister and I just re-joined Weight Watchers.  Like Oprah (smile), I have struggled with weight my whole life.  Not just my whole adult life – I mean my WHOLE life.  I have the fat baby pictures to prove it.  But this article isn’t really about weight…

I had a bad day yesterday.  Didn’t sleep well and then woke up cranky.  Really cranky.  Just because you are retired doesn’t mean you no longer have bad days.  I have been working on establishing an on-line craft business and ticking off my to do list items one by one.  Some items were a little challenging but nothing to date has totally stressed me out.  Find wholesale suppliers.  Check.  Develop a logo and marketing.  Check.  Build up an inventory to photograph in order to start listing items for sale.  Check.  Figure out how to ship the items…uncheck.

This shipping issue has been on my mind now for several weeks and is the reason I have yet to list anything for sale.  I’m a fairly resourceful person but for some reason the shipping process seemed daunting.  I sell elaborately decorated hats.  They have oddly shaped trinkets and wild branches and vines sticking out of them which make putting them in a box problematic.  I was also concerned that the cost to ship them would be so high that it would prevent customers from actually buying them.  So yesterday morning I began researching shipping options.  Probably not the best day to tackle this but once again I was obsessed.  Each method researched seemed more costly than the next and I was losing faith.  Mind you, all of this was done sitting at my computer – googling.  I had yet to buy a box or even one piece of packing material and actually try boxing a darn hat up.  So I let myself spin out.  Overwhelmed with the possible complications and pitfalls of shipping, I got mad – and crankier.

So I wasted the better part of the morning stressing over this and then my husband and I went for a walk on the beach.  The beach always clears my head.  But we got to the beach later than usual (having wasted all that time googling) and the tide was coming in.  So instead of walking on the nice smoothly packed sand we usually encounter at low tide, we were trudging through loose sand where every footfall sinks and it feels like walking through mud.  I did not clear my head.  I did not enjoy myself and I got madder and crankier.  And then I came home and ate half a bag of tortilla chips and pineapple salsa.  Wait – maybe this is about the weight….

Later that afternoon, fueled by Old Florida tortilla chips (you seriously cannot eat just one, or 12 or 24…), I bought a box, some bubble wrap and peanuts and just figured it out.  Picked out a hat and just boxed it up.  Boxing done, I got in my car and drove to the post office and asked for shipping costs and found some very reasonable options.  Came home and tried to replicate the experience the box would have with the US postal system.  Kicked it across the room.  Flipped it over and over.  Threw my 18 pound cat on it.  And then opened it.  All good!  The internet as it turns out is a lot like your head.  Filled with some very good information but also a lot of junk.  Sometimes you just have to get out in the real world and figure it out.

So problem solved.  Back in business!  But… I hated every moment of it.

So here’s how this all ties into Weight Watchers…  Oprah, as new owner and spokeswoman of the company records weekly motivational videos that she calls “Connecting with Oprah”.  I opened my email this morning to a reminder to “connect with Oprah” and followed the link.  In perusing the past weeks posts, I landed on one called “Intention”.  Oprah apparently does nothing without first determining the intention behind it.

It got me thinking…what exactly is my intention behind this hat business?  Certainly not to hate every moment.  I mean I spent 24 years doing that at my job!  Isn’t that why I retired?  I’m not sure what my intention is behind the hat business.  I suppose I’ve always dreamed of having some kind of little creative business.  I’ve tried my hand at a few things in the past but it was always so hard trying to fit everything in around a full-time job.  Our finances do not depend on the success of the business so I don’t want it to be a full-time thing.  I don’t want the business to take over my life.  I want time to explore other things as well – my yoga, writing, traveling.  All the things for which I said I was retiring!

When I allow myself to think about it, I have to admit, maybe there’s some fear fueling this endeavor.  A lot of people retire and just want to do nothing.  They feel they have given their whole life to their job and now they just want to rest. I’m actually a little afraid of just nothing.  I’ve retired at a relatively young age compared to most and have continually looked at it as an opportunity to reinvent my life.  To make my life “what I have always imagined”.   But what exactly have I imagined?  This is the “weight” in my head.  If I’m honest with myself – I’m frankly frightened of fucking it up.  Excuse my french.

What is my INTENTION with this business?  How exactly is this business going to add to the quality of my life?  It did not add to the quality of my life yesterday.  So is part of it a quest to regain an identity? “HappyCrazyHat maker” instead of “retail store designer”?  Maybe.  It’s difficult losing the identity of your career.  Something you’ve worked hard to obtain and succeed at.  There’s a loss of accomplishment and recognition for a job well done.  So am I filling part of this void with  a new way to gain recognition?  I’ve posted all over social media that a “shop is coming soon!”  What if that never materializes?  Am I a failure?

Why is it so hard just being???

So here’s what I want.  Here is my intention.  I enjoy making the hats.  They are fun to create.  I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to them and envision making people smile – one hat at a time!  I want the business to be successful enough to fund a few vacations – no financial pressure beyond that.  But above all – I want it to bring me joy.  A sense of accomplishment and recognition is nice too but above all – joy.  I am not defined by its success or failure.  When it ceases to bring me joy, I will no longer do it.  I’m retired – I have that luxury.  Oh yeah – and I want it to keep me occupied long enough in the afternoons to distract me from eating half a bag of tortilla chips.

Clear headed today, my husband and I took a bike ride.  The road was smooth and clear and the ride was a delight.  And this afternoon I will joyfully make another hat!

Live the life you have imagined.

~ Colleen

 

 

A Head Full of Hats

I woke up scatterbrained today.  Excited, unfocused, a million things going through my head at once.  I have been in the beginning stages of starting a craft business and I recently committed to a craft show date.  So now it is real.  Now there is a deadline.

 Now is when it’s time to put the pedal to the medal – right?

For the past few weeks I’ve been quietly working through all of the behind the scenes stuff of a small business – getting licenses, researching wholesale suppliers, investigating payment systems and website hosting services, logo development, booth design.  Not everyone goes about it this way.  Some people just throw up a table with a handwritten sign and call it a day but I’m not built that way.  Everything has to be just so – I’m developing a brand I hope.  So no major pressure up to this point.  Just going about each of the tasks as needed.  But now a deadline!

What is it about committing to something that throws everything into a panic?  

I’ve never liked schedules or routines or deadlines.  Perhaps it’s a subconscious objection harkening back to those contentious teenage years spent screaming at my father “you can’t tell me what to do!”.  So now it’s a scream at Father Time “you can’t control me!”.  But time always controls us in one way or another – doesn’t it? Although I hate deadlines, I also thrive on them.  It is when I do my best work.  I become laser focused.  Project driven, I won’t rest until the task at hand is completed – but at what cost?

Does time control us?  Or do we still have choices?

I’ve mentioned before my husband thrives on routine.  He likes knowing what’s coming.  He doesn’t like surprises.  He runs his life by the clock.  The house could be burning down around us and he would still try to get up and maintain his morning ritual.  Doing more or less the same routine every morning brings him comfort I think.  Not so for me.  A routine makes me feel constricted somehow.  A limitation of what I believe is a deep down bohemian spirit.

One of the coolest things about retirement is not being on a schedule anymore.  It’s also one of the scariest things.  There is nothing to hold you accountable and you don’t always end up picking the right choices.  About the only thing I consistently do every morning is have a cup of warm water with lemon – from there it’s a crap shoot.  Some mornings I get up and write, some mornings I plop on the couch and binge watch ‘Transparent’, some mornings I go outside and do yoga, some mornings I clean, some mornings I start some decorating project.  It’s frankly frightening for my husband – he never knows from day to day what he is going to get with me.

On a good day, I have my warm cup of water with lemon, do yoga, a little mini meditation and my husband and I go for a walk.  These are the days I feel most balanced.  I’m a kinder gentler person on these days.  I’m happier and I sleep better.

On a bad day, I immediately start some project and abandon all of these activities in pursuit of a deadline.  I become obsessed with the project and see any disruption whether enjoyable or not as a distraction from the goal.  Just when these activities could help me the most, I abandon them.  And I often end up suffering.   Even when the project is something I truly enjoy doing, the obsession somehow taints it.  It steals the joy from it.

Forsaking my routine disrupts my balance and ultimately sabotages me. 

Today I was ready to start creating some hats.  You see my hat  wholesale order came in last night.  I’ve spent the last two weeks getting all of the needed supplies to start decorating the hats but I was missing the hats themselves.  Now they are here.  Now I have an official  project and a deadline.  Time to fall back into bad habits.  Laser focus to the exclusion of all else.  A march against Father Time.

Not today my friends.  Not today.  

I got sidetracked a little this morning I’ll admit.  There was a bit of frantic creative energy pulling at me but then I stepped outside.  It was a beautiful day.  I did my yoga practice and then went for a walk on the beach with my husband.

I made a choice.

So my head swimming with thoughts of hats, I walked and I found the balance.  I thought about how I always sabotage myself like this.  This frantic energy is what is responsible for most creative endeavors I believe but it can also kill you.  It can pull you away from what your body and spirit need to stay balanced.  So I walked, I picked up rocks, I watched the seagulls flying and I thought about writing this all down to remind myself.  Then I came home and took the time to write it.  So now it’s out there.  Out of my head.  And a reminder to stop living by deadlines.  To stop getting obsessed with single pursuits and to slow down and find the balance.

Some things just have to get done in the daily course of life.  Retired or working, there’s no way around them.  But there are a lot things we choose to do that we convince ourselves are necessary and they may not be.  I’m learning to decide what’s important.  What brings me joy and balance and then structure my day around that.  I have to remind myself I have a choice. It is not all up to Father Time.  And a routine, one that keeps me balanced, may not be a bad thing…

Now if you’ll excuse me – I have some hats to make.  Now it’s time.

Live the life you have imagined  ~Colleen

Expectations and Surprise

REPOSTED BY ACCIDENT FROM JANUARY 1, 2017.  APOLOGIES TO ANYONE THAT HAS ALREADY READ!  IF NOT – CARRY ON…

I got it in my head last night that I wanted to go to the beach this morning and see the first sunrise of the year.  Thanks to retirement, this is the first New Year in about 20 years that we have lived close enough to the beach to make this a reality – so I was on a mission.

I had basically convinced myself that if I did not see a spectacular sunrise at exactly 7:12am which is when my weather app had advised me it should occur, the year was basically going to shit.

Surprisingly, even though I was never a morning person when I was working, I generally get up about 6am every day now that I’m retired.  Most of my old co-workers don’t believe this new fact.  I set a back up alarm just in case I reverted to my old habits – that’s how essential I considered this mission to be.

I arrived at the beach about 6:45am, found a perfect viewing angle, sat down in a meditative pose and waited.  

Sunrises are not new to me.  My husband and I are both from Florida originally and have lived on the East coast in close proximity to the ocean before.  We’ve also taken plenty of East coast beach vacations when I’ve had the opportunity to drag myself out of our hotel bed and stumble to the window or balcony to catch that day’s show.  I often found myself just a tad bit late though, just missing the sun breaking through the horizon.

So today was my day!  2017 depended on it! And it was the first sunrise of the first New Year’s day of retirement!  Woo hoo!

The morning was cloudy and I was already fearing that this may not be the best sunrise of my life.  Around 7:10, there was nice color in the sky but no ball of sun.  I’ll admit it, I started to get bored and distracted thinking it was just too cloudy for anything grand.  I wasn’t going to get that bright ball of sun washing over my freshly retired face that I had envisioned.  I turned away to surf my phone for something and when I looked up about 5 minutes later – there it was.  The first crescent of the sun on the horizon breaking through the clouds.

I actually gasped it was so surprising. It didn’t happen the way I was expecting.

Expectations and lack of patience have probably ruined many a good time in my life.  I’m a planner by nature and when things don’t happen exactly as I’ve planned, in exactly the time that I’ve planned them, anger and disappointment are usually not far behind.

This is the time of year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions.  Often they are negative statements – something we want to change about ourselves or something we are denying ourselves.  They are generally not affirmative statements.  I’ve been a follower of yoga the past few years and along the way learned of a Hindu concept called Sankalpa.  Unlike resolutions which generally focus on negative things you want to change or get rid of, a Sankalpa focuses on a positive aspect you want to bring into your life.  The most drastic difference between a resolution and a Sankalpa is that a Sankalpa is stated as if it has already been manifested.  As if it is already true.

I love this concept!

There’s an excellent article on Yoga International’s website that explains how to create a Sankalpa if you are interested in finding out more: How to Create a Sankalpa

So rather than a New Year’s resolution of “I will no longer be a control freak”, I think I’ll try the Sankalpa “I am open and constantly surprised by life”.  This also fits nicely with my motto from last year – “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen”.  It did this morning…

Wishing you a year of joyful surprises and wonderment!

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Live the life you have imagined  ~Colleen

Listen and You Shall Find

Anyone that even knows me remotely, knows that I have been a student of yoga for the past couple of years.  I basically don’t shut up about it.  At the age of 49 with 50 quickly approaching, like many middle-agers, I started reevaluating my life – physically, mentally and spiritually.  Yoga became my guiding star.  It resonated with me on a spiritual level and took away many of my aches and pains on a physical level.  In short, it saved me.

When I was planning for retirement in early 2016, I would daydream at work about being able to take yoga classes whenever I wanted.  All day, everyday, if I wanted.  I couldn’t wait.  So it has come as quite a shock that I have actually been in a bit of  a mourning period with yoga the past six months or so.  The first couple of months, I attributed the lack of practice to just being too busy with all the demands of packing up a house, moving half way across the country and then unpacking to a new house.  It is a time sucking endeavor to be sure but I wasn’t even maintaining my home practice.  Once settled, I still found myself reluctant to practice again on any kind of regular schedule.  Honestly, I think I was truly mourning – the loss of well-loved teachers and their teaching styles, familiar studios and familiar fellow students.  Nothing was quite the same and I worried that I was losing both the passion and benefits of yoga.

Until one morning not long after our patio extension was completed,  I woke up and dragged my yoga mat outside.  Something inside kept screaming at me to JUST-GO-OUTSIDE!  Oh that feeling!  From the moment I took in my first breath!  The fresh morning air!  The sun on my face!  Here, here finally is that passion reawakened.  I was so grateful I almost cried.  It was then that I realized what had been holding me back – I just wanted to be outside.  We are blessed in Florida to have weather the rest of the country envies this time of year and the thought of going into a dark yoga studio, no matter how serene and peaceful, no matter how good the teacher, just didn’t seem like what I needed right now.  Where this serene environment had been a savior just a year ago now somehow felt like a prison.

That’s the funny thing about retirement…you think you know what you want until you realize that you don’t.  Retirement doesn’t change you overnight.  It takes time to slow down and start listening.  When we are working, we are so busy in the routine of life that we really don’t really take the time to listen to ourselves.  When we are retired, we may have the time but we are conditioned to think we already know what we want.  I started writing this blog because when I started walking everyday (a new retirement activity), I found my head crowded with chatter.  I started writing as way to just get the thoughts out of my head to make room for new ones.  My husband could only take so much when I tried to talk them out!  I had no grand plan to write in retirement or keep a journal or blog but here we are.  And the grand plan I had of taking every yoga class known to man kind has also evolved into something else because I’m listening now to that same inner voice that is responsible for the writing.

So my advice for today is simple – whether retired or not – just listen and you shall find.  You just might not find what you were expecting.

Live the life you have imagined

~Colleen

Life’s Glorious Mundanities

 

A lot of people when dreaming of retirement think it’s going to be like one long extended vacation.  I know I did.  Long idyllic days away from all your troubles and cares – with maid service.  It’s kind of like my life long quest to make my personal bed like that 5-star hotel bed that always feels so heavenly.  After years of trying every sheet, comforter and pillow on the market – I finally figured it out – it’s not the linens – it’s the maid service that’s missing.

So unless your retirement comes with a maid and a butler – mine did not – it is not quite like vacation.

Let’s be honest – retirement is still great.  Much better than working.  But if you were annoyed by taking out the trash, making your bed or brushing your teeth everyday – you’re still going to be annoyed by these things. Even if your retirement vision is to live on a tent in the middle of the forest – you’re still going to have to put up the tent, keep the bugs out of it and brush your teeth everyday.

Retirement is still life with all of life’s glorious mundanities.

I’m not sure why I originally thought retirement didn’t include these things.  Perhaps it was that Chase bank commercial with the hipster retirees and their micro mini pig out for a walk to Shaggy’s Bombastic and a voice over by The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies.  They’ve mastered living their lives the way they want and they are mastering retirement just the same.

I do love that commercial! See for yourself: Master Life

Well what happens if you didn’t master living your life the way you want before your retirement?  Are you screwed???  Never to be able to walk confidently in the park with a micro mini pig???  Well – that’s what I’ve come to believe retirement is all about – even with all of life’s mundanities – time to master living your life the way you want.  Eh – I’ll make the bed tomorrow.

Live the life you have imagined

~Colleen

About the Hats

I named this blog “happycrazychatter” as a companion to the creative business that I’m starting named “HappyCrazyHats”.

Why hats?

I am not a hat collector or a hat wearer or previously a hat maker and a year ago if you had told me I was interested in selling extravagantly decorated themed hats, I would not have believed you.  I was however yearning for creative expression and the hats kind of found me.

Last May, two months away from retirement, our company division had a team building day.  Somehow through the course of numerous lunch table discussions, we got it in our heads that everyone should wear crazy hats.  Immediately, I had an idea for mine.  I’d been planning my retirement party for months and knew the theme was going to be pink flamingos in keeping with our planned move back to Florida.

It became my mission to make the silliest, craziest most outlandish flamingo/beach themed hat that I possibly could.  

Surprisingly – I had a blast doing it!  Deliriously happy that my retirement was approaching, that hat for me represented exactly what I was feeling at the time – boundless, free, silly and happy, happy, happy.  And it was a hit!  Everyone suggested I should start selling them.

Not everyone wants the beach and flamingos though –  that hat represented my passions. Other people had different passions.  So I started making hats for my friend’s passions – one a golfer, another a shopaholic, another a baker, a chef, a gardener, a shoe fanatic, a fisherwoman – my friends were as varied as the potential hat themes.  The one thing they all had in common were they were crazy outlandish designs meant only to put a smile on my friend’s face.  It was of no concern to me whether they actually wore the hat or even if they threw it away behind my back.  I had FUN making them.  Great fun.  I think it must have been a while since I’d had fun because I became obsessed with them.  And so – a business idea was born!

I’ve always considered myself a creative person.  When I was younger I painted and used to enter junior art competitions.  I went to college for interior design and worked for many years as a visual merchandiser.  For you non retail folks, that’s the person that sets up all the displays and promotions in a store or in New York city where the stores still have front windows – the window displays.  For the last decade or so though, I worked in our corporate office.  Proud of myself for moving up the corporate ladder, the cost was a loss of creating things.  I traded a paint brush for an office window and didn’t realize how much I missed it – until the hats.

Somewhere along the way, this hat idea started seeming silly to me.  I mean these hats weren’t exactly going to change the world.  Truthfully, I didn’t even know (and still don’t know) if anyone would want to buy them since up to now I had only made them as gifts.  But still the idea persisted in my head although with more doubt then when first conceived – until  I read “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Those that aren’t readers may know this author from her most famous book and subsequent movie which stared Julia Roberts, “Eat, Pray, Love”.  She has a chapter in “Big Magic” titled Permission. Paraphrased, These are the words that took away my doubt:

“You are not required to save the world with your creativity.  Share whatever you are driven to share.  Your art doesn’t have to be original, important or even – good.  Do what you do just because you like doing it.  It’s ok if your work is fun for you or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy (getting close here!).  It’s okay even if your work is totally frivolous.  It’s all allowed.  Give yourself permission.  Your own reasons to create are reason enough.  Do whatever brings you to life.  Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions.  Trust them.”

“Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.  The rest will take care of itself.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

And so HappyCrazyHats lives on!  Coming soon to an Etsy shop or craft fair near you!

Live the life you have imagined

~ Colleen

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