Category Archives: Your Turn Challenge

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Seven, Day of Rest

poudreblackriversnowtilopaA little over a year ago, I posted this image and quote. It was also a Sunday, also winter, also a Day of Rest. This morning, I watched the most recent Daily Dharma Gathering video and Lodro Rinzler referenced the same quote. The origins are a teaching Tilopa gave Naropa called the “Six Words of Advice.” Tilopa shared six words, which translated to:

  1. Don’t recall.
  2. Don’t imagine.
  3. Don’t think.
  4. Don’t examine.
  5. Don’t control.
  6. Rest.

Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it, kind and gentle reader? But as Lodro also shared, the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg recently said the practice of meditation is “very simple, but not easy.” I find this to be true of all practice (which for me is meditation, writing, yoga, and dog), and of life in general.

Today’s Your Turn Challenge prompt, the final one, is: “What are you taking with you from this Challenge?” For me, the Your Turn Challenge, seven days of prompted blog posts, wasn’t as big of a deal as it may have been for others. I practice writing every day, whether I publish a blog post or not. Every morning, one of the first things I do is sit down and write, unprompted. I sit, and even if I don’t know what to say, I start writing, and keep writing until I’ve filled at least three pages, or until I’ve run out of things to say, which sometimes fills much more than three pages. This practice is essential to me. I feel “off” if I don’t do it, in fact it feels so wrong to not write first thing I haven’t started a day without it in years.

I’ve done a series of 30 day blog challenges that included a prompt for each day, so a seven day challenge wasn’t so hard. But it also wasn’t easy to to show up and keep at it during the first week of a new semester that included other commitments beyond my CSU work — four classes, daily practice and some teaching. There were days it would have been easier to skip it. I didn’t because I’d committed to it, it was good practice, it was a group effort, and it wasn’t really so hard.

It was good practice in equanimity, which is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Especially in a difficult situation. Continuing to practice even when it’s hard. The seven day blogging challenge was a good way to contemplate letting go of expectations — the goal was a daily post in response to a prompt. It didn’t have to be perfect or even good.

I wasn’t so successful in sticking with other recent daily challenges. I signed up for 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, but only made it to Day Three before I got sidetracked by my own yoga teaching and attending classes with other teachers, and too busy on the days I wasn’t to find an extra half hour. The Daily Dharma Gathering happens, not surprisingly, every day, but during this first week of it, I’ve only been able to watch two of the videos. I was so busy with other things, I kept missing it, couldn’t find a spare 30 minutes. That made me sad, made me feel like I was missing out, and yet it was okay. I was able to apply gentleness and maintain a sense of humor, qualities essential to any practice.

We can get lost in fixed expectations and it’s not helpful. We “should” all over ourselves. It’s difficult to maintain a practice when we are caught up in our expectations of it, that it should look and feel a certain way, that there’s some sort of guaranteed outcome if we just do it right, that if we don’t do it right it means we have failed.

What I’m taking with me from the Your Turn Challenge is this: Practice is simply showing up with an open heart, allowing whatever might arise, without an agenda. There is no way to do it right, and no way to do it wrong. Relax. I’m so grateful for the reminder, for the opportunity to practice.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Six

writingdateYour Turn Challenge prompt: “Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.”

I was terrified when I first started teaching. My very first experience — getting up in front of a classroom full of students, leading a session based on a lesson plan I’d drafted — was during my Senior year as an English major doing my undergraduate degree at Oregon State University. I was completing an internship at a local high school, working with a class of Junior and Senior honors students. I believed the myth that as an English major, your only career options were to teach or to write, and even though what I really wanted was to write, I thought the smart, practical thing would be to get a teaching degree.

I took the internship at the high school to see if that was the grade level I wanted to work with. I wasn’t actually supposed to be teaching, was supposed to be doing things to help, like making copies and grading spelling quizzes and helping students with their homework, but the teacher really liked me, told me I could teach whenever I wanted.

After giving my first lesson, a short session about writing short stories, she told me “You are a natural.” I really wanted to believe her. I couldn’t judge for myself because every time I got up in front of the class, I freaked out. It took all of my self control to keep from running out of the room.

I didn’t end up teaching high school, but went on to get an M.A. in English instead. I taught writing at Colorado State University, first as a graduate student while completing my degree, then as an adjunct, and then as non-tenure track faculty. I was so freaked out by my first semester teaching, I took a year off and worked in the Writing Center as a tutor instead before I could get the confidence to try again. For the first five years or so, I would make myself physically sick before each class session. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I had panic attacks. I felt like I couldn’t breath and I was sure my students thought I was the worst teacher ever, or at least one of the weirdest.

I heard someone recently say that for an introvert, teaching is an extreme sport. I’d have to agree with that. But I’ve surprised myself. Once I started teaching a Writing for the Web composition course, a topic I felt like I knew something about, a subject I was interested in, something shifted. I was able to connect with my students from a place of real engagement. I started to enjoy facilitating their learning, discovering their specific interests and skills. I still got anxious at the beginning of each semester — it’s nerve wracking meeting 24 new people all at once, not being able to just sit in the back corner of the room and observe — but I started to enjoy the experience.

staceysyogaspaceEven so, I worried that when I started teaching yoga, I’d revert to freaking out. It was an entirely different subject, style of teaching. I was a complete beginner. Being the body at the front of a class so focused on what it means to be a body, move a body, and my relationship with my body was so complicated, I expected the panic to return.

But it didn’t. Rather than being an indicator of what would go wrong, my past teaching experience helped me. I knew what to expect. I understood that if I showed up, just as I was, whatever happened would be okay. That if I stayed present, in touch with my innate wisdom and compassion, I could adapt to whatever might arise. It was totally okay to fail, to make mistakes, to screw up sometimes. As my friend Aramati says, “teaching is part preparation and part letting go.” I can trust myself.

 

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Five

magicrockYour Turn Challenge prompt: “What advice would you give for getting unstuck?”

I know something about getting unstuck. I was stuck, on and off, from the age of about 11 until I was around 43. Move, get stuck, move a little, get stuck a little, break free only to get stuck again. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to free myself — until I did.

The most basic advice I can give anyone about getting unstuck is this: take one small step. That’s it. That’s all it takes. One tiny step, some kind of movement, anything, even just half a step — the half step that will change your life. It really is that simple, even though it isn’t easy.

We get hung up because we are able to imagine that far off distant place where we want to be, or the end result of a huge transformation, or the full scope of the big project we want to accomplish, and we get overwhelmed by the space, the vast distance between there and here. Somehow we think we have to get there in one giant leap, a lone action, a single grand gesture. All or nothing.

This leads to thinking we can’t get there at all, can’t do it because it’s too hard, too far, too much. Impossible. We forget the only way there is one step at a time, which starts with asking ourselves, “What is the one small step I can take in that direction? What can I do right in this moment to move?”

Part two is that as you are taking that small step, you focus on only that. You give what you are doing your full attention. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted by what you think an experience or project should become, where it should land. You can’t be worried about the details of how your effort is going to turn into a healthy body or whole book or successful business. You instead focus on just this moment, just this breath.

Part three is show up without an agenda. Sure you could have some sense of the bigger picture, but for now drop the plan. Allow whatever arises. Let yourself be surprised by the magic of something deeper, something else. If you stay out of the way, give up control, you might find your thing, or rather it might find you — something you never expected and even better than you could have planned.

As you take these tiny steps, as you focus wholly on each one as it happens and drop your agenda, you develop a practice that honors your desires, accumulates benefit, and allows you to make progress.

TL;DR: How you get unstuck — Take one small step. Focus completely on it. Show up without an agenda. This grows into an ongoing practice of movement.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Four

Picture by Cubby

Picture by Cubby

Your Turn Challenge prompt: “Teach us something that you do well.”

In my life, I’ve had a lot of experience with crazy. Crazy takes all forms: mental illness, personality disorders, neurosis, idiot compassion, poverty mentality, confusion, greed, obsession, addiction, victimhood, aggression, etc.

Through my experience, I’ve learned that there are only four ways to deal with crazy.

1. Agree with it. No matter how out there the logic or argument or plan, you agree with it. You go along, you help, you support it. You say things like “oh yeah” and “you’re right” a lot, and otherwise you say nothing. The problem with this approach is that it requires you to be crazy too.

2. Disagree with it. When something seems crazy, you say so. You say “no.” You contradict, you argue, you refuse, you reject and resist. You look crazy right in the face and say “that’s crazy.” The problem with this approach is that you become the target of crazy. You make crazy mad and now crazy wants to hurt you.

3. Avoid it. You see it for what it is, crazy and harmful, and you want nothing to do with it, ever. You get as far away as you can. You stay out of its way. You do not engage crazy. There is no interaction, no connection. The problem with this approach is that sometimes you are related to crazy or crazy is involved with someone you love, so opting out isn’t so easy. The other problem with this approach is that there’s really no avoiding crazy — it’s everywhere.

4. Compassionate engagement. This is the most difficult one of all. It requires you to be fully present with crazy without judgement, neither agreement or disagreement. Staying present, connecting with your own innate wisdom, you drop your agenda and give your attention to whatever might arise. With wisdom and compassion, moment to moment, you determine how to respond. If you are unsafe, you leave. If you can help, you do. You keep your heart open but you don’t allow crazy to infect you. The problem with this approach is that it requires you to be present with every moment, to adapt to the way things shift and change. It’s not easy.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Three, Improvement

Today’s Your Turn Challenge prompt is: “Tell us something that you think should be improved.” This is a complicated question, specifically the way in which it invites criticism and judgement. It’s tempting to host a bitch fest, or to write a long list of a bunch of little things that would make for a super boring read. So many things come to mind because there are lots of things that could be better: education, healthcare, the environment, the economy, government, religion, the diet and fitness industries, media, the quality of our food, how the Earth Balance Peanut Butter I buy says “no stir” right on the label but every time I open a new jar some of the oil has separated and settled on the top and I do indeed have to attempt to stir it and I always end up with peanut oil spilled everywhere.

After spending some time contemplating the prompt, I landed on a clear answer: our attachment to “busy.” I had a meeting with my department chair at CSU yesterday, and she said something like, “How are you? I mean I know you are busy, but other than that how are you?” I responded that I don’t think I’m going to be busy anymore, not doing busy from now on. I’m rejecting busy and all its speediness and stress. I don’t mean I’m going to stop working hard. I’ll still be fully engaged, but it’s problematic when we ask each other how we are, and the most likely response is “busy” — by which we mean that we are stressed out and overwhelmed, working too hard and doing too much. We’ve agreed upon a cultural norm in which we prove we are working hard enough, that we’ve earned the right to be here, to make a living and have a life, by being busy. This worn and jangly thing is what we whip out as the evidence that we are good enough. “See how frazzled and frantic I am? Aren’t I good?”

In Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks a lot about this issue. She has two chapters that deal with it directly, “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth,” and “Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle.” In the first of the two chapters, she says,

We are a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children. We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing that’s keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down.

In the next chapter, she digs a little deeper into this discomfort, looks more closely at this dis-ease, suggesting that,

If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up. So we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel.

Does this sound familiar, kind and gentle reader? Rushing around, pushing ourselves beyond our limits, always trying to squeeze just a little more in, expecting so much of ourselves and, in turn, of everyone else. We see “Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.” We don’t even really know how we feel because we are moving too fast. We set the bar so high there’s no way we could ever reach it, ever be successful. We end up both tired and disappointed. We are trying so hard but nothing seems to be working out. Busy, busy, busy.

I for one am opting out of “busy.” Instead, I’m practicing calm, seeking stillness, cultivating compassion. I’m not stopping, just slowing down. It seems entirely reasonable to do so, the sanest choice I could make, even though it means going against the norm.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Two, Three Truths and One Wish

threeOn Tuesdays, I usually write a Three Truths and One Wish post. I don’t plan or draft these posts ahead of time. Their particular magic seems to be that I show up without an agenda, open up a new post and start writing, beginning with the three things that are true for me right at that moment. Based on those three truths, I end with some sort of wish. This Tuesday, I’m taking part in the Your Turn Challenge, and the day two prompt is, “Tell us about something that’s important to you.” So, I’m going to give you three truths that are important to me.

1. Truth: Cultivating compassion is the most important thing. That includes self-compassion. Compassion is the antidote to all the crud, the muck, the mess, the yuck, the ways that we generate suffering — judgement, criticism, discomfort, irritation, impatience, speed, busyness, dullness, laziness, distraction, anxiety, worry, disorder, neurosis, addiction, anger, hatred, aggression, all of it. And when I say compassion, I’m not talking about “being nice.” I’m not referring to idiot compassion. I don’t mean something that is weak or passive. Compassion, paired with its twin wisdom, is the most powerful force there is. It’s part of the reason we are so afraid of it.

2. Truth: The way to cultivate compassion is through practice. For me, practice is writing, yoga, meditation, and dog. I show up without agenda, connect with my innate wisdom and compassion, and keep my heart open no matter what might arise. I watch how I react, the ways that my mind wanders off or creates a story about what is happening. I notice the ways I generate suffering. I contemplate reality, attempting to know what is true underneath all my bullshit. Even though I have specific, regular and ongoing practices where I can do this directly, what I’ve realized is that everything can be practice, your whole entire life, every moment, every breath is the opportunity to practice.

3. Truth: The goal of practice is to embody compassion. To become a physical manifestation of wisdom and love, to become a being that acts always from that truth. Showing up in the world with an open heart. Letting what is touch you. Not resisting, rejecting, hiding, numbing or freaking out and running away. Doing our best to ease suffering, in ourselves and the world. Connected to our innate wisdom and compassion, we know just what to do, and we can keep our heart open to the contradiction that life is both tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal.

One wish: May we continue to cultivate and embody compassion, and through the merit of our practice may suffering be eased.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day One

thechallegeDay 1 prompt: Why are you doing the Your Turn Challenge?

#40 on my Something Good list today was the Your Turn Challenge. I wasn’t planning on doing it, but then my friend and fellow blogger Kirsten Akens said she was going to do it, and I changed my mind. Maybe it’s a case of FOMO (fear of missing out), but I love a good blog challenge. In fact, this blog was initially built on the commitment to an ongoing practice motivated by various 30 day challenges.

The 30 day challenges I’ve completed: Blogtober (twice), August Break (three times), Reverb (three times), January Mindful Writing Challenge, Small Stones (twice), August Moon, and NaBloPoMo. There may have been even more, but those are the ones I remember. Making that commitment to posting every day, no matter what, finding the time and figuring out something to say whether you felt inspired or not helped me develop a sort of determination and focus I’m not sure I could have any other way.

Blogging has been some of the best writing practice I could give myself. Writing knowing that people will read it is very compelling, both thrilling and terrifying. Blogging regularly has helped me find my voice, helped me figure out what I had to say. Being consistent and involved in a larger community has gifted me a group of kind and gentle readers, gives my writing a feeling of being in conversation, being part of a collective that shares a common goal. The way I see and show up in the world has shifted because of this practice. I notice and engage with things differently.

I’ve actually been accused of blogging too often. Friends who are also readers are frustrated because they can’t keep up. I understand, and yet I can’t stop myself. There are just too many days when there’s something I need to write about, and it feels like if I need to write it, maybe someone “out there” needs to hear it. In that sense, it would feel wrong not to share, not to publish, not to ship.

The reason to take part in this challenge, the one under the fear of missing out, is that I feel a shift attempting to happen. I’ve been meeting myself with a lot of resistance, engaging in what seems like unnecessary struggle. In yoga class this morning, my teacher focused on the notion of surrender. Not to mean “giving up,” but rather finding the places where you’ve created an obstacle and softening, relaxing your grip, letting go, allowing things to go as they will go rather than fighting reality or forcing your own agenda. “Flow with the go,” as I heard someone say recently. So the plan is to attempt to write myself through the resistance, to practice in an effort to relax, to surrender my agenda, and as always to show up with an open heart.