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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

Cowboys Were My Weakness

At twelve I had a crush on the Marlboro man–

rugged, self-reliant, riding in his dusty cloak,

lone hero of the American west,

protector of our freedom.

I thought I needed a cowboy to rescue me

from bad guys and Indians.

 

I should have let it go when he died of lung cancer,

but I didn’t look deep enough,

didn’t see beyond the billboard bullshit.

 

Years later, I drive with my family on WY 296, 

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway,

over Dead Indian Pass.

I feel sick,

And I don’t think it’s the winding road.

 

I’m done with macho white myths,

let the dust cloak my need for their protection.

I’m done with freedom’s gun-toting guardians,

let them rescue the 4th amendment instead.

I’m over cowboys,

let them ride into the sunset for good.

–Susie Rinehart 06/10/20

image: Reuters/Theatlantic.com

Breathe: a poem

Breathe

All morning I’ve been thinking

about the beauty of a breath,

a child’s body breathing

as she falls asleep,

a sweetheart breathing

next to us in bed,

a tree breathing in carbon dioxide

and giving us oxygen

in an ancient, astonishing exchange,

my own lungs giving and receiving

without me having to do anything.

 

Meanwhile, a radiologist tells me 

to take a breath in, hold it, release,

as he scans my chest for cancer.

Meanwhile, in a hospital bed alone, 

someone takes her last breath.

Meanwhile, on the cold ground alone,

but with untold others, 

George Floyd cries, “I can’t breathe!”

His words, their deaths, 

our loss, our failure.

 

The first struggle humans have 

is to breathe,

our next struggle is to breathe 

light into darkness–

Breathe,

and remember

those who can no longer breathe.

What do we need to take in?

What do we need to let go?

We fall, we rise. 

We inhale pain,

we exhale love.

 

–Susie Rinehart, 06/09/20

How Many of Us are Feeling Emotional Overwhelm?

Cancer, COVID, white privilege, uprisings, menopause, teenagers…I know a thing or two about how to cope with intense emotional overwhelm.

Symptoms: trouble focusing, difficulty finishing tasks, may feel unsettled, unclear, unsteady.

Treatment: Avoidance coping is what we do to distract, numb, or escape our way out of discomfort. We watch TV, pour another glass of wine, run errands, work without breaks, power wash our windows. Active coping is what we do when we want to make real forward progress. 

3 active coping strategies: 

  1. Write down your emotions after breakfast. Don’t judge your feelings, explore them. No need for complete sentences
  2. Call a friend and say, “I need to vent to someone who won’t judge me. Are you available?” 
  3. Do the smallest brave over perfect thing. Take one vulnerable step forward. It might be asking for help. Engage imperfectly.

Refuse to be defined by Fear. Let me help you find healthy, active coping strategies that work for you. 

Love,

Susie

Act Local; A Guide to Boulder Elected Officials + Tips for Finding YOUR Representatives

Boulder, CO Elected Officials June 11, 2020

Act local and make real change. It took me too long to find out who my elected officials were last year, my first year to vote in the USA as a brand new citizen. I made this quick reference guide for those of you living in Boulder, CO in 2020. For those of you outside Boulder, the best resource I found for searching for elected officials AT EVERY LEVEL, no matter where you live in the USA, is on the website for The League of Women Voters under the tab “Elections.”

Our Federal Representatives:

US Senator Michael Bennet (D)

Webpage: Michael Bennet 

Phone: (202) 224-5852

Russell Senate Office Building Room 261

2 Constitution Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20510-0609

 

US Senator Cory Gardner (R)

Webpage: Cory Gardner

Phone: (202) 224-5941

Russell Senate Office Building Room 354

2 Constitution Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20510-0610

 

US Congress Representative: 

Rep. Joseph D. Neguse (D)

Webpage: Joe Neguse

Phone: (202) 225-2161

Longworth House Office Building Room 1419

15 Independence Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20515-0602

 

Colorado Governor:

Gov. Jared Schultz Polis

Webpage: Jared Polis

Phone: (303) 866-2471

 

Our State Representatives: https://leg.colorado.gov/findmylegislator

House District 10

Edie Hooton

Email: [email protected]

Webpage: Edie Hooton

Phone: (303) 866-2915

Colorado State Capitol Room 307

200 East Colfax AvenueDenver, CO 80203-1784

 

Senate District 18

Stephen Fenberg

Email: [email protected]

Webpage: Stephen Fenberg

Phone: (303) 866-4872

Colorado State Capitol Room 346

200 East Colfax AvenueDenver, CO 80203-1784

 

Mayor of Boulder

Sam Weaver

email: [email protected]

City Council Office, City of Boulder, 1777 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302

 

Police Chief

Ms. Maris Herold 

Sheriff / Police Chief

Phone: (303) 441-3310

Power to the Imagination

I’m listening and learning to Black leaders. One gem I found recently is this:

Angela Davis(told a crowd at UPenn in 2010)

“Activists in America in the late 1960s were saying,

“Power to the People!”

while activists in France were saying,

“Power to the Imagination!” 

It’s so important to use our imaginations to create the future we want for our children.

Watch this 3 min video clip from Angela Davis: How Does Change Happen?

What if I don’t want to go back to pre-COVID reality?

Dear Susie,

What if I don’t want to go back to my old reality? I used to run around so fast I had bugs in my teeth. It feels good to slow down. To have breakfast with my kids. To spend more time on relationships and deep work. To spend less time in airports and reacting to coworkers. I feel guilty saying this when so many don’t even have jobs. But I like the quiet. I don’t miss the noise, the commute, or all the travel. I have time now to exercise because I am not sitting in traffic. As tough as it has been working from home, homeschooling, AND trying to stay healthy, I am scared of going back to the pace of life before we had to shelter-in-place. Plus, I haven’t cleaned out my closets yet. I’m not ready!

What can I do?

Signed,

Woman formerly known as “Bugs-in-my-Teeth” 

***

Dear Woman formerly known as “Bugs-in-my-Teeth,”

Whenever the shelter-in-place is relaxed, you don’t have to rush back to your old reality. There is no guard at your door saying you must act exactly as you did before.

That would be a real loss. If we all did that, none of us would integrate the lessons we’ve learned about what’s important. About what matters. About the value of reflection. Or about how creative we are. Or about how strong we can be when we emphasize solidarity, health, and wellness.

This is a time to create a new reality. You are right. We are privileged if we still have jobs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful and innovative at the same time. This is an opportunity to transform the way we live and work together.

Some questions I have:

  • What is the pace just under “bugs-in-your-teeth” fast? Can you aim for that? 
  • Can you lead your family and colleagues in conversations about integrating what you have learned from this time? 
  • Can you claim space for deep work and rest?  

Here are three ways that may help you to imagine creating a new reality instead of having to go back to the status quo.

3 ways to create a new reality: (Start now. Don’t wait for your governor to give new orders!)

  • Protect space and time

Get in your calendar and block off time for exercise, deep work and also for what restores you. Take control of your time and don’t let others schedule meetings for you in those times.

  • Advocate for integrating lessons learned

Use existing forums or create one where people can anonymously share learnings from sheltering in place. Let people freely express new ideas about how to work smarter, not harder. Do people want to telecommute more, have shorter meetings, limit travel, and make space for research and innovation? 

  • Say NO respectfully. Be the voice for deep work and focus

If you had to drop some obligations lately, don’t rush to revive them. We want to say yes to everything, but it has a cost. Be the voice that respectfully says “No” to projects that impact your wellbeing or hurt your relationships. Be brave and challenge the old reality’s tendency to add, add, add to everyone’s plates in favor of a new reality that encourages deep work, reflection, efficiency, and effectiveness.

I also imagine that you feel more connected to some of your coworkers now than before because you are checking in on each other’s safety and health more often. We are seeing one another as human beings now in our messy living spaces, with our toddlers and pets interrupting video calls. It’s a reminder of how little we knew about one another before this crisis, and how much we tried to hide. But no need anymore! Work can bring out our best selves, if we felt free to show up real.

One of the simplest and most important things you can do as a leader is to show up whole and human, and encourage others to do the same. It may feel small, but it’s a radical act. You can do the following 1-minute activity on video calls, beginning now. Ask, “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being terrible, 10 being amazing, how are you doing right now?” Have everyone throw fingers at the same time so you can get a sense of who is a 3 and who is an 8. Encourage everyone to check in later with those who may need a listening ear or a helping hand.

Every day, devote space to what matters to you most. Next, be genuinely interested in your colleagues as people. If we all resist returning to an unsustainable pace, we can create a new reality that feels whole and balanced. And you won’t need to clean out your closets because you’ll need less stuff to feel happy!

Love,

Susie

***

photo credit: Tracy Kahn/Corbis

You do not have to be good

Today I discovered how freeing it can be to write down all the ways in which I do not have to be good. These are stressful times and yet we don’t give ourselves permission to do less without feeling guilty.

We imagine that everyone else is productive and creative and bringing healthcare workers meals and saving deportees at the border. We think we are the only ones who are struggling to get dressed or have a shower.

But tense times make it difficult to motivate. And If you are a well-meaning person who wants to make an impact in the world, you are probably beating yourself up right now because there are people with much more difficult problems than yours.

Stop it. Give yourself a little self-compassion. Then join me in a little game that writing geeks like to play.

It’s called “extend a line.”

Here’s how you play: Use the first line of Mary Oliver’s famous poem “Wild Geese” which is “You do not have to be good…” and extend it with your own words.

Imagine you are writing a gigantic permission form to yourself and you want to list all the ways you do not have to be good. Lower the bar. You do not always have to be a self-improvement project. 

Here’s my attempt at extending the first line of “Wild Geese.” *Thanks to Adrie Kusserow for the idea!

Wild Geese in the Time of Corona

(by Susie Rinehart, with deep apologies to Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk 

on your knees through your Clorox-wiped floors, repenting.

You do not have to be good at sheltering in place.

You do not have to be good at sewing masks.

You do not have to be productive.

You do not have to wear pants.

You do not have to feel shame for losing your cool.

You do not have to pick up the laundry you threw out the window, 

or the iPad.

You do not have to keep your voice down. 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours. And I will tell you mine…

–Read the whole, real poem here.

When I was done, I laughed out loud. I felt free of the loud inner critic. I felt light. I felt connected to all of you who might be going a wee bit mad. There is power in celebrating who we are rather than who we strive to be.

Love,

Susie

***

Want to join The Resilience Journals? It’s a 30-Day Journaling Challenge you can start anytime, for free. And unsubscribe anytime. Sign up here.

 

30-Day Journaling Challenge

Starting April 1, I’m running a 30-day journaling challenge that I’m calling The Resilience Journals. I am doing this because I am used to being in isolation. I had to separate myself after major surgery, and after chemo and radiation

What sustained me then and now is keeping a journal. Any act of creativity works, but journaling is simple, and doesn’t require a lot of space or time.

Journaling untangles my knots. It wakes me up to beauty. 

I don’t know how it works; it just does. 

I know a lot of you journal already. Some of you began your first journal in my English class when you were sixteen. I say we rediscover the practice. I want to invite you ALL to join me for the month of April. 

Let’s do something creative together, while apart.

It’s an antidote to fear. And a ladder to clarity. 

Turns out that this idea of a 30-day journal challenge is not mine alone. In a case of simultaneous discovery, one of my heroes (and a cancer survivor), Suleika Jaoud is also doing a 30-day journaling challenge. The reason I’m so late to launch this idea is that when I found out that she was doing it, I hesitated. I let my idea wilt. But today I realized that the brave over perfect move is to keep going. I can build a mini revolution WITH her by doing a challenge with you. It will be one steeped in creativity, and in resilience and resistance journaling!

Here’s how it works: 1-11 minutes of free-writing each morning. No rules. It starts today.

I’ll give you 7 prompts each week by email. Here’s the link to sign up to receive for FREE daily journal prompts!

I’ll also be posting prompts each day on Instagram (@susierinehart) and Facebook (Susie Rinehart Home of the Brave)

You do not need to share what you write. But send me pictures of your journal or anything you feel ready to share. I would also love it if you passed the idea forward and invited others to join. They’ll need to sign up for my newsletter at www.susierinehart.com to receive the prompts, or they can follow me on instagram (@susierinehart) or on Facebook: Susie Rinehart, Home of the Brave.

In creative solidarity, let’s write!

Love,

Susie

***

Here’s the link to sign up to receive for FREE daily journal prompts!

When Will This Pandemic End? A Cancer Survivor’s Tips on Facing the Unknown

WHEN WILL THIS END? This is the question everyone is asking in light of the new CDC guidelines on the coronavirus pandemic lasting at least eight weeks. 

“Remember a flattened curve is longer. So the longer this takes, oddly, is a sign of success,” writes Juliette Kayyem, Harvard professor of international security, safety and resiliency.

We have to imagine that this is going to take a long, long time. 

The sooner we can accept our reality as the new normal rather than try to get back to the way things were, the more likely we are to thrive. 

“When you are in the life raft, it doesn’t help to wonder when you’re going to get back on the ship,” says my husband Kurt. “What helps is to look around the raft, see what you have, and get to work paddling.” (He adds: “You don’t want to be the one not paddling. You want to say to the people who are pointing out the sharks in the water, “I know there are sharks. Nevertheless, we must keep paddling.”)

To put it another way, if we focus on our new reality and take stock of what we have instead of what we don’t, we adapt quicker, and thrive faster, too.

As a cancer survivor, I have had to learn how to adjust to a new reality the hard way. When I was diagnosed in 2016 with a rare, skull-base tumor, my world came to a grinding halt. I had to quit my job, stop competing in ultramarathons, talk to my children about terminal illness, and cancel all plans for the future.

At first, we talked about “beating” this aggressive cancer. I would need skull surgery and a neck fusion, plus chemotherapy and radiation. Kurt and I wanted to fight it until it was behind us. The goal was to overcome this major obstacle and get back to our normal lives again.

The goal was motivating at first, but not for long. Soon it was frustrating. Every day that I wasn’t at work because I had to do treatments was a setback. Every morning that I wasn’t out training for a race felt like I was falling behind. The problem was my focus was on the past. 

What cancer survivors know is that you can’t ever go back to the way things were before. The key to happiness in a new reality is to look forward, not back. 

So we shifted our objective to face forward. The new goal was to accept my diagnosis and create an even better life than before. It didn’t do me any good to wonder when I would return to my life as a competitive ultrarunner, for example.

What felt good was stepping out of the victim chair and onto the creator stage. What helped was to ask, What can I make in this new universe? How can I help others? 

I created tools and habits that make it easier for me to focus on my new reality instead of dwelling on the loss of my old reality. You can read about 5 of my favorite tools for facing the unknown here.

I’ve even changed how I wake up. In the past I used to mentally run through my “to-do” list. Now I run through my “grateful-for” list while still in bed. Sometimes I can only think of one thing. Next I ask, What good can I do today? I think of one small gesture like checking in on a neighbor after breakfast. Before getting out of bed, I give my husband a kiss. 

I’m learning how to make home in my new life. I can count on two hands what I cannot do, or I can write ten pages of what I still can do. I choose to focus on what I can do. I do my 11-minute Face Fear First meditation, then I move into action mode. Or as my husband Kurt says, “I get to work paddling.” 

In this new life, I am not the person I used to be. I am much happier. This is not what I expected when the doctors gave me that scary diagnosis. A big part of the joy I feel comes from accepting my current situation and focusing on the new reality. 

I hear stories every day of how people around the world are doing this. Friends are gathering online for Tea Time or Happy Hour. Companies are shifting how they show up for their customers. Others are making Art and music. The Berkeley Music Circus is inviting us to step outside our door Wednesdays at noon to collectively sing and play any old instrument. 

It is possible to pivot and find peace during this pandemic. If I wake up afraid in the middle of the night, I use my SAFE tool, and go back to sleep. The world needs us to be fierce enough to see challenges as opportunities and to choose joy over fear.

Maybe the question to help us through the coronavirus pandemic isn’t “When will this end, so I can get back to real life? But “We don’t know when this will end, so how can I make a real life in this?”

Love,

Susie

***

photo credit: W+K Portland