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From 2020 Annus Horribilis to 2021 Annus Stupendous; Here’s Your Map to Joy

We declare 2020 Annus Horribilis. And we invite 2021 to be Annus Stupendous! The year 2020 dared us to be human: vulnerable, mortal, and adaptable. We realized how important laughter is to our wellbeing. And we learned that rage and grief are not one-off emotions. They are rough landscapes to travel through again and again, until we spot joy.

How has this year given you a map to find joy, even contentment, within a terrible storm? 

I learned that I am more of a wild beast than a domestic creature. I thrive on spontaneity and variety, connection and travel. I used to feel bad that I needed variety, that I wasn’t focusing on only one thing in my business. But I learned in 2020 to own my need for variety and to embrace it, because it makes me happy. So I will bring that forward with me in 2021 and make it a part of my business plan. My friend discovered that she has zero tolerance for B.S. and for high heels. She wants to carry into 2021 her desire to do more things that are meaningful to her and to wear fuzzy socks in flip flops more. What will you bring forward with you? 

Here’s a fun activity: Draw a map of the year as if it were a landscape, complete with what you learned about yourself. 

  • What were your personal peaks? What were your valleys? 
  • Where is the quick sand, the place you get stuck in the role of victim?
  • Put an oasis on your map and label it with the things that fill you up.
  • Draw a couple of rivers of curiosity. Where might they lead in 3 years?
  • Don’t forget to include your home . Let it stand for relationships, too. What do you want to keep? What do you want to let go?
  • What else could you put on there? The forest of uncertainty? Your 3-2-1 plan? 

(I’ll send you a t-shirt if you send me a picture of your map drawn with enthusiasm and honesty to [email protected]

Life is the rarest of gifts. Time is our most precious resource. We have to honor those truths daily by living the most courageous, fulfilling lives we can imagine. To navigate what lies ahead, it helps to have a map to your true self.

If there is no way of knowing what life will hand us, why not do what you love? Why wouldn’t you ask for what you need? Or write that book, study Spanish, learn to play the flute? What stops you? Can you talk back to the voice, to that inner critic, that says you can’t?

We are much more powerful than we think. 2020 showed us that we can pivot and that we are deeply creative and capable. Choose to lean into what you love.

Xo

susie 

***

…to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward

What’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. 

What would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

–from “Dead Stars” by Ada Limón

***

image credit: Helen Cann from her book, How to Make Hand-Drawn Maps

What you should give your dearest ones this season

If wonder is the precursor to joy, how can we help each other kindle moments of wonder? Can we give our dearest ones gifts or moments that foster curiosity, creativity, and astonishment?

When we practice pursuing wonder, we can find joy. The goal is to get out of our heads and grown-up thinking, and into our child bodies. Wonder requires zero talent or skill.

Have you ever been in a hot tub or sauna and hopped out of it to roll in the snow? With naked legs and bare feet, you run across the freezing ground, screaming? Then when you finally roll in the snow, your skin tingles all over? That feeling is wonder. Hazel and I tried this at the rec center recently. It cost $5.

Pick someone and become their “Wonder Buddy.” Ask them, When have you felt wonder? Or What are you curious about trying? Next, make it your job to foster their sense of wonder all next year. (You can call yourselves the Wonder Twins. No one in the Justice League cartoon will mind.) For example) Ever since watching My Octopus Teacher, I want to learn to hold my breath under water longer, so that one day I could free dive. My Wonder Buddy would remind me to reserve a lane at the rec center to practice. (Did you know you can’t get Covid-19 in the water?)

Wonder is smaller than joy. Like the word “jot” is to writing a novel. (Thank you, Seth Godin) Like “whim” is to running a marathon. Like sketch is to building a cabin or painting a landscape.

The top three ways to kindle wonder are: 1) learn something new 2) create with your hands 3) spend time outside with nowhere to be.

Think of something you could do with your Wonder Buddy (ies) this holiday season. Here are seven silly ideas to get you started:

  • Fill the birdfeeder and watch what comes.
  • Invest in a wildlife camera; see what passes by in the night.
  • Get up early enough to watch the sunrise.
  • Make a point of being outside and IN the sunset.
  • Learn to identify trees by their twigs.
  • Listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and embody the freedom of snow falling. (Thank you Ms. Seham and Siobhan Burke in the NYT)
  • There’s always dinner with a squirrel. I found this guy on our local “Craigslist” (Kijiji in Canada) who makes tiny picnic benches for squirrels to sit and enjoy their nuts (and leave your birdfeeder alone!) I bought one yesterday for a friend and plan on mounting it to her tree this week.

I am looking for a Wonder buddy. I’ll nudge you to do whatever lights up your curiosity if you will nudge me to learn to free dive and hold my breath longer under water. And remind me how to knit hats. And make snow angels with me in the park.

I’m fairly certain that pursuing wonder is like dropping bread crumbs to joy. Like paying attention is to prayer. I’ll leave you with this gem by Mary Oliver.
Love,
Susie

Praying
It doesn’t have to be the
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver. Thirst.

Lessons from Swedish Death Cleaning

It began with the fires. Then it continued because Covid-19 continues. Then anxiety around my scans added a level of intensity to the exercise. I am talking about “Döstädning” or Swedish Death Cleaning. Have you heard of it? 

I’ve purged my stuff before, following Marie Kondo’s advice to keep only objects that “spark joy.” But it often seems more complicated. What if the object sparks nostalgia? Or gratitude? Or is part of my identity? Maybe it is time for a new cleaning idea. Hence, “Swedish Death Cleaning.” 

The Swedes are so practical. Margareta Magnussen, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning says, “I am between 80 and 100 years old…Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” She finds joy in giving things away and is committed to not leave a mess for her children to have to clean up after she passes.

What if I tame my closets as a way to prepare for death? And also update our wills and get our finances in order? It’s not as dark or as sad as it sounds. It’s completely liberating. 

Let me be clear: I am not planning on dying soon. Quite the opposite. I am treasuring my life more than ever. It’s just that every three months, I spend four hours inside MRI machines, getting scanned from head to toe to see how the tumors in my skull and on my spine are doing. Then I wait about two weeks for my doctors to find a coordinated time when they can discuss the results with me. While I wait, I am forced to face my mortality. 

What if we all intentionally faced our mortality? Could it make us live better now?

Swedish death cleaning is one way to start. Here’s what happened yesterday. I was getting rid of things I had accumulated and making piles. Piles of things to donate, some to sell, and some to add to the landfill. Then I came across running medals that I earned winning races. I took them down from the wall in the laundry room, and put them in the “landfill” pile. Then I pulled them out of the pile and put them back on the wall. I took them off the wall again, and wondered if they should be donated. Who could use old medals? I decided that only I could, and put them back on the wall again. 

What the heck was going on? Why was it so hard to let them go? They were dusty and covered in cobwebs. I rarely looked at the medals and no one else saw them next to the washing machine. My choice was to move them somewhere more visible, leave them where they were, or get rid of them. I didn’t think I cared about the medals, and I knew I didn’t want to display them more prominently, so it seemed obvious that I needed to let them go. But I couldn’t do it.  

What was I afraid of? Did I think I would forget that I won those races? Or that my children, after I’m gone, might not remember what I had accomplished? The medals were triggering an array of emotions that caught me by surprise. This simple exercise was forcing me to reckon with my death and the death of my identity as an athlete and a champion. There is a difference between intellectually understanding that no one or nothing lasts forever and actually processing the feelings around that fact. When it comes down to it, letting go is really hard. 

The only thing we can count on is that we are going to die. Why don’t we have a ritual to teach us about how to die with grace? Or how to face the loss of someone we love? Or how to let go of parts of our identity, so that we can move on? 

Western traditions are about adding or acquiring things on our birthdays and holidays. Where is the holiday that is about letting go? 

The Buddhists say. “The more you let go, the more you can receive.” Being forced to face death is difficult, but it also roots me strongly to what really matters: relationships and experiences. With fewer things to have to put away, I find I have more time and less stress. Last night, instead of tidying up after dinner, the kids and I made chocolate fondue and played cards.

I confess. I kept a few medals. I thanked the others and let them go. But having to make the choice helped me to see something important. I may no longer be competing in races, but running has given me discipline, endurance, and life-long friendships. I don’t need to fear letting that part go. I’ve integrated running into who I am. 

Let me know what time of year you think we should have a holiday about letting go. What would we do and what food would we eat? What would we call it? “Swedish Death Cleaning Holiday” doesn’t have the best ring to it. I am open to ideas. These days I’m open to everything that allows us to go deep into life. 

Love,

Susie

***

What’s Underneath Fear?

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease and we elected a leader who ruled with fear. I was sick and the country was sick. I was afraid and the country was afraid. It was exhausting. And it didn’t feel like me to be scared, angry, and sick all the time. I learned to meditate and I listened. I listened deeply to find out What was underneath all this fear? It was not comfortable. I prefer movement to sitting still. In the quiet, all I heard was the loud, fast-paced, and mean voice of Fear. But eventually I felt the steady presence of joy. It wasn’t even joy at first. It was more like a calm current of possibility. And that felt more like me. When I tapped into what was underneath the fear, the real healing began. What I want for this country is what I want for myself: to feel more like who we truly are. Beautiful, powerful, and connected to place and to one another.    

Disease and division don’t have to be our identity unless we want them to be. It’s time for healing. It’s time to shine the light on places of division and disease and watch fear shrink from the light. Our tired bodies will slowly heal and learn that it’s okay to exhale. We can listen and find out that we are not what the headlines say we are. 

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””

We are hard-wired to help one another. Everywhere I look, I see helpers; people who are trying to make the country, and the world, better. And statistically-speaking, each of us is related to someone who has a very different idea of which direction this country should go in. The kind of brave we need right now is to listen, to seek to understand, and not to convince. That’s how healing happens. Listen for the fear, and then listen underneath the fear. From that place of common humanity, we can be the helpers that our children are looking for each day.

Love,

Susie

***

image credit: theatlantic.com

The Value of Getting Lost

I wake in the middle of the night, feeling lost and anxious, and ask Kurt, “Do we know the election results?”

“No, not yet.”

I can’t sleep anymore. I get up and put on the kettle for tea. Our teenage daughter, Hazel, can’t sleep either. At dawn, she wraps herself in a blanket and comes to the kitchen. She pours a bowl of cereal and makes me one too. I sit next to her and hand her a cup of tea. The two of us eat our Cheerios and drink our tea in silence. 

“What do we do now?” She asks.

“We feel all the feels.”

“I read that we only have seven years before climate change is irreversible.”

“In my experience, change rarely comes from the top office.”

“Then where does it come from?”

“From the ground up. They say that women are going to decide this election. I think women are going to lead us through the challenges ahead. The old ways aren’t working anymore. Women will create a new way.” 

“With a really old, white guy as President.”

“This time.”

I sound strong, but my heart is beating fast. My breath is shallow, and my chest is tight. I can’t get enough air. I know this feeling. It is grief. 

Fear wins. 

Science and truth and dignity lose. 

It isn’t for sure. Nothing is. 

I need to get away from the red and blue map. I can see it inside my closed eyelids. 

Luckily, my friend Tania knows a place in the forest where we can surround ourselves in geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change.

I leave Hazel and Kurt watching Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” and take the dog out to meet Tania at a trailhead.

We scramble up a scree field to the western side of one of the Flatirons, the slab-like peaks rising above Boulder. We lean our backs against nothing but sky and a 290-million-year-old sloping mountain. We stay there for a long time in silence.

The rocks and their lichen necklaces say to me, “All will be well. All will be well.” 

When it’s time to go, we aren’t ready to return home. 

“What if we bushwack up to that ridge?” Tania suggests.

It’s exactly what I feel like doing. 

We bushwhack through dense pine forests and up steep, slippery rock faces. At one point, I have only one good hand hold on the rock. I’m perched precariously. It’s unclear where to put my foot next, or where the next hand hold might be.

“How are you?” Tania calls up to me from the ground. 

“I’m okay right now. Just not sure what’s next.”

Then we laugh at the obvious analogy to the whole nation waiting in the unknown about the election. Maybe that’s how we get through this uncertainty: one hand-hold at a time. And when someone asks, How are you? We can take it moment by moment and answer, We’re okay right now

We climb like this for several hours. When the rock is too steep for Leo the dog, Tania goes first, and I pass Leo to her. We scale the rock this way, passing Leo between us, making slow but steady progress. Leo clings to me with a look that says, You have gone totally insane.  Then a raven flies over us, his wingtips only an arm’s length away.

The jagged ridge is in sight. I wonder, Will there be another ridge to climb or have we made it to the top? We crest the ridge and look. It’s a jaw-dropping view. Snow-capped peaks touching bluebird skies for miles. The Continental Divide runs north to south before us. 

The only problem is we don’t know how to get down. Then I hear Tania shout with joy. She has found a trail. We can’t believe our luck. Hidden behind a boulder is a well-worn path. There’s even a sign tacked to a tree pointing us home. 

We intentionally got lost and found our way home. 

On the first switchback down, there’s a Limber Pine.

A rare species whose scientific name is Pinus flexilis. Limber Pines can live up to 3000 years because their branches are remarkably flexible, even in the driest of climates. Their branches twist, bend, and bounce back from the heaviest snowstorms and the strongest gales. 

I hug the tree, hoping some of its wisdom sticks to my clothes.

Tania laughs, “That’s right. We all need to be more flexilis to get through this year.” 

Soon, we are back at the trailhead. I feel stronger, lighter from our adventure. I was unsteady before and now I feel brave again. 

One way through all this painful waiting is to physically feel our way through the unknown, in order not to fear it. Courage loves action.

How are you? 

I’m okay right now.

Love,

Susie

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

My clients tell me they are exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed. One powerful woman said, “Remember last year when I was handling three crises and some uncertainty and I thought it was a lot? Those days seem dreamy now.” She was talking about managing big helpless feelings about the election, but also about climate change, four nearby fires, systemic racism, her kids growing up, early menopause, work stress, loss of income, and loss of loved ones. We’re not hardwired to handle so many stressful challenges at once. We need to make a 3-2-1 self-care plan.

My plan is the same one I’ve used while waiting for scan results (that announce whether the cancer has returned). The purpose is to remind me to Connect. Move. Breathe. I think of it as a 3-2-1 plan: 3 people-2 places-1 thing that nourish me, center me, and restore me.

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

3 people (who lift you up):_______  ________ ________ (I’m available if you need a 3rd!)

2 places (that inspire and center you) : ______ _______ (Mt. Sanitas, Boulder Creek)

1 thing (that calms you and makes space for joy): ________ (Dalai Lama playlist)

How do you choose your 3-2-1?

3 people. Pick three people you adore, but you don’t call because they are far away. Who haven’t you spoken to in awhile? We can get stuck only talking to the people we have been isolating with since March. What helps is to connect with others, those people who lift us up and just listen, without trying to fix us. If you struggle to name three, you can add me to your list.

2 places. Where do you go to support your mind and mood? Do you feel better when you walk outside? Nature grounds us. Especially if you need to move your body to get there. I chose a nearby hill and creek because they remind me of geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change. But you can pick a place in your home: your bathtub, a square of floor to dance, or a chair by a window. 

1 thing. What brings you quickly back to your best self? Do you have a breathing practice? (If not, try a triangle breath: inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 4, exhale through the nose for 4.) I also learned that the quickest way to move out of the “fight & flight” nervous system and into the “rest and digest” nervous system is to hum. Humming activates the Vagus nerve which tells the body it’s okay, the lion is gone. You don’t have to limit it to one thing. But you need at least one. What is one thing that restores you? Music? Belly dancing? Baking? Yoga? Meditation? Writing?

Write down your 3, 2, 1 and stick it to your fridge or your forehead.

Mine lives next to our list of numbers for the nearest hospital and fire station. You think you don’t need to display it because you know the responses by heart. But in the midst of a crisis, it’s easy to forget. Your 3-2-1 tells you to Connect. Move. Breathe. Then you can handle whatever comes your way.

This is election week. Get your 3-2-1 ready and make a plan. 

You made a voting plan. Now what’s your Voting Day plan? Don’t sit in front of the TV and listen to moment-by-moment, breathless updating of trivial changes when what matters is what happens when the night is done. Many are saying that it could take a lot longer than a day to know the outcome. Use your 3-2-1 to brainstorm what you are going to do Tuesday night and Wednesday to handle the waiting and the results.

I am an impatient person. If I don’t have something to do while I wait, I become a terrible, mean, nasty person. So I made a plan. 

On election day, we’ll invite our pod of friends for an outdoor dinner and leave our phones inside. We want to be around people and in fresh air. On Wednesday, we’ve blocked out two hours of work to hike in the mountains. 

If the outcome doesn’t go the way I want, I choose to feel the despair fully without trying to numb or distract my way out of it. Then I’ll need my 3-2-1 to stand back up. What’s your 3-2-1? And what’s your plan for Voting Day? 

Love,

Susie

***

Ride your fear like an octopus

I’m watching My Octopus Teacher for the second time. Cole and the dog fell asleep in the middle of the first screening. But I’m transfixed. This tiny octopus is covering her vulnerable head with shells and stones for camouflage. She has been through impossible odds just to make it to this moment. I, too, have made it through impossible odds just to make it to this moment. Haven’t we all?

But now it looks like it’s all over. A shark grabs her shell-covered body and shakes it violently just as the filmmaker has to surface for air. When he returns, we see that the octopus has somehow made it on to the shark’s back. She is literally riding the shark, safe from harm.

Lately I feel like a hunted octopus, trying her hardest to outwit a shark with no idea how to get on its back. Each day, it seems like there are more sharks patrolling the figurative waters where we live. Today it is two new wildfires burning just 10 miles northwest of here. Yesterday, ash was falling from the sky. The smoke was so thick it was tough to breathe, turning the sky red, hours before sunset. And of course, the election is only 13 days away. And when my head aches from all this uncertainty, I wonder, Is this a headache or a new tumor

In the midst of all these incredible difficulties, it helps to think like an octopus. She knows she is vulnerable. Alert to her weaknesses, she learns from them and adapts. This is different from being fragile. Fragile is waiting for life to become more predictable and safe. 

By imagining the worst, the octopus actually becomes more creative, not less. When she can’t change her color and texture enough to match the ocean floor, she tries something else. She becomes algae or kelp or this strange cluster of shells. We think being brave means pushing down our fears. But being brave means doing the more difficult work of working with them. Even riding them! We have to ask, What else can we become? What can we make with what we have now? 

My diagnosis forced me to face my own death repeatedly, and that has not made me shrink from the world and all of its painful craziness. Instead, it has made me fierce, and alert to the world’s beauty. It has also unleashed more creative energy than I thought possible.

If you are haunted by worst case scenarios, turn and face them. After you have gathered your old photos and valuables in a box and prepared to evacuate, see if you still want to say yes to life and all of its challenges. I trust that you will. You have survived unimaginable attacks before, you can do it again. Maybe this time you will end up riding your biggest fear like an octopus rodeo star.

Love, 

Susie

This kind of resiliency takes training. And grounding. There are still 14 days left in the free mind-body-spirit challenge. Join me! It’s never too late to drop something you resent and do something joyful in its place.

***

Image: Getty images

Invest in Joy. The 33-Day Challenge.

Yesterday I was so tired I fell asleep on the cement walkway to our house. I woke up to the postal carrier tiptoeing around me to the mailslot. She did not freak out about me lying there on the ground. She said, “Oh hon. I know. Can I curl up and rest with you in the sunshine?” 

That was my Delight #57. I have been tracking delights, inspired by the poet, Ross Gay. I am home now after you helped me get through another surgery and radiation. I feel great physically and the kids and Kurt are doing well. I am genuinely thrilled to be alive; I am just worn down by fires and homeschooling and COVID and presidential debates. But this moment with my postal carrier reminded me of the goodness of people. It also made me wonder, Are we letting people know how tired/sad/scared we are? Are we showing up for one another–(even willing to curl up on the cold cement (6 feet apart) with one another) through hard times?

We are all tired. Disheartened. Scared. I keep hearing, “I don’t know what I’ll do if this election doesn’t go (the way I want).” We can say yes to challenges and this crazy life, even when we feel cranky, triggered, angry, and sad. We need to choose love and choose trust that we are bigger and mightier than COVID or the presidential office. When we get attached to a certain outcome, we deny our power to make bigger changes on the ground and within ourselves. 

Fear is our kryptonite. Trust and action are our antidotes. The brave we need now is to raise the vibration in our communities from fear to joy. 

Invest in Joy. Do a 33-day-mind-body-spirit challenge with me. 33 days until November 4th, the day after the election. (Ok-maybe Nov. 5th or 6th by the time I get this blog out…) The goal? To remember that we are not victims, we are creators. We are far more powerful than we think. We can choose to do everything we can to heal our country (see below) AND heal ourselves by  building our inner resiliency. Unless yours is already humming…When I asked Kurt what his challenge was going to be, he answered, “Get through October.” “And, how are you going to do that?” I asked. He flexed his muscles for humor and said, “Like a BOSS!” His confidence is ridiculous and…contagious.

The 33-Day-Mind-Body-Spirit Challenge Starts When You Read This.

  1. Do something for your spirit. Do one small thing that brings you joy each day. Joy is a possibility-expander. You are not just doing this for you, but for us. When you tap into your joy, you get out of your rut, and you inspire me to get out of mine. You raise the vibration around you. Joy puts us in touch with who we are and what we are capable of each day. And when we are connected to self, we can easily tap into inner wisdom, guidance, and strength. For me, joy includes napping in the sunshine, foraging for wild mushrooms, walking Leo the wonderdog, making a new painting for the outside of our house, and learning to tap dance. For Cole, it means putting his full weight on his not-broken-anymore foot to press in the clutch and drive. For Hazel, it means learning to breakdance. For Kurt, it’s mountains, elk, and deer. What is joy for you today?
  2. Do something for your mind. Choose Books over News. Your nervous system is not designed for our addictive-headline-consumption habit. There is nothing in the news that will truly help you to learn more about something. Read a book. Might I suggest (again) The Book of Delights by poet Ross Gay?
  3. Do something for your body. Will you do 11 minutes of arm weights and squats with me? (I just found out that muscle mass makes the body inhospitable to cancer!) And how about a warrior pose while we wait for the coffee to brew? I don’t know where to put walking…under spirit, mind, or body? It feels like all three. Get out and walk.
  4. Do something for your country. Adopt a voter. More than 40% of the country does not vote. Write a letter to an unlikely voter and let them know why you vote, not who you vote for. Infrequent voters who received letters voted 3.4% more than a control group. Doesn’t sound like much? Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by less than 1%. With Vote Forward, I was able to adopt 5 under-represented voters and 20 infrequent voters. 
  5. DROP something that you resent. Drop one thing that you do out of duty, but that drives you nuts. Drop emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen, that zoom meeting that doesn’t really impact your work. Involve your kids, your sweetheart, your boss. You’ll need to have a couple of hard conversations in order to win a month of relief. Do it.

A foolproof way to stick to the challenge:

Put two jars out on your kitchen counter. Label one with a charity that you love. Put $30 in that jar. Label the other with the name of the candidate you do NOT want to win in November. Leave that jar empty. 

Every time you skip one of the days of your challenge, take $5 out of your-favorite-charity jar and put it in the other candidate’s jar. You MUST donate all of the money at the end of the 33 days. This works because we are disproportionately motivated by negative consequences. 

If you’re cozy in bed and don’t feel like doing the arm-weights that you promised to do, just think of this scary fact: When you donate to the other candidate’s campaign, you’ll receive that political party’s emails for life.

Ha! But what will truly motivate me to do this challenge is knowing that you might be doing it, too. It feels like you are saying “Can I curl up with you on the cold cement in the warm sunshine?”

Love,

Susie

***

 

Focus on Five; Navigating Uncertainty like an Ultramarathon

I used to run marathons and ultramarathons for kicks because I loved the feeling at the end that comes from knowing we are capable of far more than we think. But to get to the finish line in an ultramarathon, you can only run five minutes at a time. You don’t think about the next 30 or more miles because it’s too much. You go into overwhelm; your mind spins and your body rebels. To tackle uncertainty and a big challenge, you need to break it into small, manageable pieces. For me, that meant that during long, ultra-running races, I had to focus only on the next best step. I ran from river crossing to big pine tree to ridgeline to mountain peak in five minute intervals. I learned that you can go a long way five minutes at a time.

I’m going to take this next month of surgery, recovery, and radiation in the same manner. What do I need right now? Who can I ask for help with this? What is my goal for the next 5 days or 5 minutes? I want to bring the calm of a clear lake to every decision and sleepless night. I’ll need your help. You can remind me to focus on five. We can visualize all of us reunited and thriving in September. And we can all visualize this nation healing one step at a time.

Love,

Susie

Walking the Labyrinth

Out on a walk with Leo the dog, I came upon a big, beautiful labyrinth made of carefully chosen bricks and stones. It looked inviting, like something I had to do. But part way in, I’m sure the dog thought, Why do we keep going around in circles over here when the squirrels and ducks are over there? And I thought, This is taking a long time. I have a lot to do today. Can I sprint through a labyrinth? 

I stopped and took a few deep breaths, scanning for an easy-out. Leo sat down. And in that little sliver of calm, I decided to stay in the labyrinth. I thought, My to-do list can wait. Leo can wait, too. I’m here now. I started walking the labyrinth’s bent path again. But I couldn’t focus. My mind kept spinning on my latest health challenges. 

This week I found out I need brain surgery, on the fourth anniversary of those first surgeries on my skull. Then yesterday I learned that my son broke five bones in his foot. Knowing that we both might need operations during COVID and that we will be apart for another five weeks has sent me into a small tailspin with the big emotions of a mama bear who cannot care for her young. 

But as I walked the labyrinth, certain that I was doing it wrong by not being meditative, it started to work on me anyway. I walked the turns and realized, This is my life. It is not straight. It is this labyrinth: curved, cyclical, full of turns and uncertainty. The problem isn’t the shape of my life, but the size of my expectations. I expected my life to be more straight and clear by midlife. But that has not been my experience. And yet that has not changed its quality or beauty. It is still magnificent.

So I kept walking, and Leo came right along with me. Before I knew it, I was standing in the center. I was home. I felt relieved, confident, and calm. Leo naturally relaxed and lay down. I noticed that the way out was back the way I came. I thought, I know how to do this. Back through surgery and radiation and recovery. I ran back, laughing. Leo liked this part and started leaping a little. I know how to do surgery. I know how to recover from surgery. I know how to heal with radiation. I am here. I am still here. I will be here for a long time to come. You can find me riding the hairpin turns, one at a time, always bending home.

Love,

Susie