My 100th Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing

I hope you write some things sometimes. And maybe even share your writings with the world. Finding words to express what’s in your heart can be so freeing, healing, and inspiring. And you never know whose life you’ll touch…

Tonight, I’m writing my 100th blog post. Looking back at my experience as a writer, I’ve come to realize a few things: Some surprising, some encouraging, some useful, and some inspiring…

 

Writing can be an incredibly freeing outlet.

Sometimes what you think is your best work is your worst. And sometimes what you think will be your worst work ends up being your best.

Three years from now, you may look back at words you wrote today, and be reminded of a life-changing truth you had forgotten.

Keeping at something–no matter how unimpressed you are with your results–is the surest way to get where you want to go. Lots of little steps add up.

One of the most effective ways to learn, think, clarify, and explore ideas is by writing about the thing you’re learning.

Feelings are vital. Write from your heart. Yes, it’s cliche, but I promise it makes for the most powerful and effective writing.

You will get just as much (or more) from what you write as others will get from reading it.

Other people want you to succeed and will support you.

You never know who your words will resonate with on any given day. Sometimes, in the randomest way, they were exactly what someone else needed.

It’s fascinating and eye-opening to look back at what you’ve written through the years. Even if it hasn’t been Dear-Diary subject matter, it still acts as a journal in some surprising ways.

Don’t be afraid of saying what you really think.

You can be great at writing, love writing, and feel that it’s the easiest thing–and still some days, weeks, months, or even years it can be very, very, very difficult.

You don’t always have to follow the same formula or write what people have come to expect from you. Sometimes a little change or surprise is perfect.

Short and sweet is often best.

Persistence is key, but be prepared for persistence to feel next to impossible when inspiration decides to take the week off.

You will look back at something you wrote and you’ll blush and you’ll cringe and you’ll think “I put that out for the whole world to see?!?” And then you will realize that it didn’t actually do you any harm and that everything is okay.

Sometimes a thing you wrote long ago turns out to be the perfect solution to a problem you’re having today.

Confidence is good and it’s important to learn to brag on yourself a little.

It is okay to say “I am a writer.” (“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach)

Having a hundred different pieces you’ve written can prove very useful later on, like when you’re asked to give a talk, or like when someone asks for advice and you realize you’ve already written down your answer.

There’s no right or wrong way to write. Sometimes you should just rattle off what’s inside and click “Publish.” And sometimes you should plan, think, draft, scrap, draft again, edit, proof-read, worry a lot, and then click “Publish.”

People want to know about you more than you think.

Even if you don’t feel like it, your life has given you so much wisdom and experience and help to share!

You are not writing for the people who will disapprove of what you write. Don’t get stuck on them.

“Mean it. Whatever you have to say, mean it.” – Neil Gaiman

I owe this one to a dear friend, but it’s been proven time and time again by my experience blogging: “People connect at the level of their struggles!” (Thanks Glenn)

Discovering that you helped just one person makes all the hours and energy you’ve ever spent on writing more than worth it!

 

If you have a message burning inside you, try writing it down. You may experience all these good things I’ve experienced. And you may find other good things of your own. And your words may do you and the world a whole lot more good than you expect. Good luck!

(Shout-out to my fellow bloggers and writers! You make the world a better place!)

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

7 Ways Meditating Has Helped Me

Jon Kabat-Zinn - Time By Yourself

I love meditation.

But I feel like that’s a strange sentence. It’s kind of like saying “I love sports.” There are a million different kinds of meditation: Body scan, mindfulness, mantra, loving kindness, transcendental, breathing, visualization, contemplative, affirmations, etc. Meditations ranges from the very scientific to the very spiritual, from the very basic to the very ritualistic, and from the very thought/idea-filled to the very quiet/empty.

There are also so many different purposes in meditation: Releasing stress, freeing yourself from constant judgments, slowing down, finding peace, appreciating life, building confidence, accepting yourself and the way things are, feeling present and thankful, increasing physical or mental health, and the list goes on.

So to say I love meditation is to make a very broad statement. I’m not sure I want to narrow it down much, though, because I haven’t yet found a type of meditation that, when truly embraced, doesn’t seem to provide some good and some peace.

I personally have done more mindfulness meditation, breath awareness, mantras, and contemplative meditations than other kinds, so that may be worth knowing when I share a few of the ways meditation has helped me. But at the same time: I’m not you. I encourage you to try (“try” might be the worst word to use about meditating) various kinds meditation with an open mind and see if one helps you. Keeping in mind that many kinds of meditation will not feel like they “work” for a very long time, if ever. In fact, for some kinds, not having to “work” or “make a difference” is the exact point.

I’m no guru or yogi and it’s not like I spend hours every day meditating. But meditation has become a pretty regular part of my life, and I’ve found that it has helped me in more than a few ways. Here are just seven ways it’s helped me that I hope might pique your interest:

 

1. Releasing physical tension and pain.

I’m starting with an interesting one, because I have found a lot of peoples’ experience with “spiritual” and “out there” things has turned them off to meditation: It’s too weird. It is weird, but it can help even the most down-to-earth realist (which used to be me).

Meditation has actually made a significant difference for me with chronic headaches and muscle tension. Like many others, I “carry my stress” in my neck and shoulders. Massages and hot showers help because they relax tense muscles. In the same way, meditating can help by relaxing your tense muscles. Body scans and deep breathing have been especially helpful for me in calming and relaxing tense areas, and they often provide quick relief. Other meditations that help with developing peace and acceptance also provide more lasting help in relieving the stress that causes physical tension.

2. Stress relief and management.

People have a million different strategies for “stress management.” Stress seems to be a universal part of the human experience. For me, meditation has done more than almost anything else in the world to release stress–both in the moment when worked up or anxious, and longer term through regular practice.

Often mantras, chants, and other similar meditations which reflect on a hopeful, calming, relieving truth or idea really help to reduce stress. What has been especially helpful for me in this area, though, is mindfulness meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn has created an entire program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has been used in work places, hospitals, and more to help people reduce stress, which in turn leads to many other health benefits. One of the key aspects of mindfulness meditation is the incredibly simple allowing and accepting of things, relaxing from the constant strain of wishing everything was different.

For those of you who experience times of intense stress (so, all of you), various forms of meditation can be very helpful in the moment to calm down and regain clarity.

3. Getting through anxiety

I’ve dealt this last year with a lot of anxiety, and mindfulness meditations, deep breathing, mantras, and guided meditations have definitely been in the top three or four things that have helped me deal healthily with and find hope and peace during anxious times. I know anxiety can be a very dark and scary and draining experience, and I hope that if you sometimes experience it, you’ll try some meditation for yourself. I’d encourage you to look up some guided meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh or Jon Kabat-Zinn and try it–see if it gives you a little break and helps you find some peace and strength in your anxiety.

4. Getting and staying in touch with myself.

All of life is crammed full of noise, ideas and thoughts and emotions being forced on you, people trying to influence you, events shaping your mood and impacting your mental health. I bet you can totally relate when I say it’s all too easy to lose touch with yourself.

Meditation can be extremely helpful when it comes to regaining self-awareness and staying in touch with yourself–your emotions, your dreams, your desires, and your own thoughts. Body scans and contemplative meditations have been very helpful for me in this area. A lot of people think that meditation is about trying to get rid of thoughts, but many types are not. In fact, some meditations are all about providing space for your mind to wander and think thoughts it doesn’t usually have the time or safety to think. One of the most helpful practices I’ve ever incorporated into my day-to-day life is sitting alone in silence for ten minutes with no agenda, just allowing my mind the time and space to run free.

5. Noticing the little things.

Meditation is a really great way to slow down your mind. It is hard not to get carried away in the fast pace of daily busyness, constantly having to worry about a hundred things and keep track of a hundred more. One of the healthiest, happiest things you can do is slow down enough to start noticing and appreciating the little things around you again. Meditating has really helped me with this.

When you just be quiet and sit in silence, your mind is sometimes able to calm down further and further, to let go of some of its intense stress about the past or about the future. And then, at least in my experience, the Present around you suddenly comes to life. You remember that there is a giant world full of beautiful present moments all around you, every day, a world that you don’t usually see. And the more frequently you get quiet enough to see it, the easier it becomes to find.

6. Developing the ability to quickly re-center or re-focus when needed day to day.

Somewhat related to the last one about finding the little things in this present moment, getting in touch with the Present also helps find perspective that we are too often missing. Slowing down and stepping out of the mind’s busy cycle of manufactured stress offers helpful reminders that everything really is okay, that life is more than our current chaos and worries, and that we are safer than we feel.

The more frequently you visit this place of perspective in quiet meditation, getting practice stepping outside of the constant rushing mental stress cycle, the easier it becomes to access this perspective and peace at any time you need it during crazy day-to-day life. The more regularly I have practiced meditation, the easier it is for me to refocus and regain a big picture perspective when I’m busy stressing about little chaotic life things. Stress has a way of completely blinding you, and meditation can help you to keep a clearer head.

7. Becoming more compassionate toward myself and others.

Meditation has a way of making you feel very deeply human. It strips away outer layers of styles and plans and accomplishments and messages and everything else that we see and judge every day. Mindfulness meditation particularly has really helped me accept things just the way they are without needing to constantly be judging–myself or others. It is an active practice of observing without judging, of fully accepting. Learning this and practicing this makes being compassionate to yourself or to other people very natural.

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.” – Sylvia Boorstein

 

So what do you think? Have you tried any kinds of meditation? What has it done for you?

I hope that if you haven’t already, you give meditation a shot. Or that if you’ve tried and been discouraged by distraction or invisible results, you’ll give it another shot. I hope that if you try meditation, you find it helps you as much as it has helped me. If you want any suggestions or pointers on where to start, let me know!

(If you’d like help getting started: How to Get Started Meditating)

Waking Up in Addis Ababa

I climbed down the stairs out of the plane and walked across a big runway and in through a little door into a big warehouse-like building. Mobs of people crowded the little airport, all speaking languages I didn’t understand. I had arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Scanning the crowds, I finally found my host. Accompanying him was a young Ethiopian man who kept laughing nervously. I got a weird vibe. We found my luggage and left the airport, walking down the long ramp to the parking lot, where Giovanni’s big brother the Taxi Driver was waiting to give us a ride.

Suddenly I heard a sound behind me I’d never heard in my life: Ear-piercing, high-pitched, “Le le le le le le le le!” Like a siren. I turned around to see women with their faces covered, wailing alongside a coffin that had been carried out of the airplane. Others were sobbing or even screaming. I later learned the sound I’d heard is a very common ritualistic song of sorts called “ululation.”

Everything was dark, and everyone was beautiful. I was in the most foreign place I’d ever been.

I hopped into the little blue and white taxi and felt like I fell straight through to the concrete below. The entire back bench was caved in. I reached up to buckle my seat belt, but who was I kidding, there were no seat belts. Off we went, careening at an uncomfortable speed up and down windy roads, through a dark Ethiopian night. Coming around one bend, my door flew wide open and I held onto the seat in front of me for dear life.

I could see very little in this darkness—there were no lights like you see in the night here. I could make out the occasional shack or shed we passed and saw a few wild dogs. Eventually we turned down a dark dirt alleyway and arrived at my new home, a little house on a compound with high walls. We barred the iron gates behind us and I was shown up to my bedroom to sleep after the longest journey I’d ever taken. I was in a very different place. Very new.

 

Let me pause my story to tell you about what I knew of Africa. You see, I’m from America, and I had grown up in a home where I learned only very specific things about Africa: That everyone was poor and uneducated. That everyone was sick and desperately in need of help. That I was on my way to save them.

 

Back to my story. They warn you about jet lag, but you have to live it to really understand. The next morning I tossed and turned, barely waking up only to fall back into restless sleep. I dreamed dreams that you would only dream if you were waking up for the first time to the beautiful and enchanting sounds of Muslim prayers being chanted over a loud speaker from a nearby mosque. I kept gasping for breath as I adjusted to the high altitude of Addis Ababa.

Suddenly I woke all the way up. Something wasn’t right. I was hearing a sound that didn’t fit. The American pop-rock band Train has a song called “Hey Soul Sister” that was all the rage in America ten years ago, and it was now being broadcast on loudspeaker all across Mekanisa, Addis Ababa. Maybe Ethiopia wasn’t quite as far back in the dark ages as I thought. I went to the window and looked out to see very normal people doing very normal things outside a nearby apartment complex.

I went downstairs for breakfast and chatted with Kidane, the kid that made me nervous the night before. Turns out he was just a cool guy. The coolest! Very “normal” and just the greatest person! We talked about normal stuff, like music, relationships, and favorites.

My host sent me with Kidane to explore my new town. Sure, there was stuff I’d never seen—like a freshly severed cow head laying on the road. And yes, Kidane had a sad, scary story that included being beaten and robbed in Nairobi, Kenya. But there was more to Africa. There were skyscrapers and advertisements. People dressed in clothes far more stylish than mine, listening to their iPods, playing on their smartphones. Kidane introduced me to a local business owner in a fancy suit. We stopped at an internet café, crowded with young Ethiopian adults, browsing Facebook, looking at pictures of them and their friends partying.

It was not what I expected to see. At all. Here’s the thing, guys. The west is rich, though we have our homeless. And Africa is poor, but it has wealth, education, and progress the TV doesn’t always show you.

Don’t trust clichés and stereotypes.

 

I love traveling and exploring new cultures more than almost anything else in the world. Reflecting on my first big cross-cultural experience the other day, I found this summary from a blog post I wrote about my first day waking up in Addis Ababa:

“I can’t really explain it, but it was like my mind stood up, stepped straight out of my inexperienced head, and said, ‘You are finally beginning to understand the world. Never put me back in that narrow mind again.'”

Ethiopia 2

Ethics

When you accomplish or get something by putting people at risk, when you could accomplish or get it through a little more effort or sacrifice without putting people at risk–that is not called being productive, successful, or thrifty. In my opinion, that is just called being lazy and selfish.

Some situations are sticky because life isn’t all black and white. But some situations are just sticky because someone knows they can get what they want easily by putting others in uncomfortable situations.

This is a call to recognize the value to each person you meet of their own integrity.

You don’t have to cheat to get ahead. You can–and then just hope nobody gets hurt. Or instead, you can put forth a little more effort, be able to sleep at night, and be a good citizen of this world full of people whose lives matter just as much as yours.

Ethics of strangers - Bill Moyers

“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. . . . Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.” – Albert Schweitzer

A Glimpse Into My World of Slow Concussion Recovery

My best friend and teammate and life-person Lyssi wrote this yesterday. I asked her if I could share it on my own blog as a window into what concussion recovery can look like. Really it’s the same sort of stuff as a lot of people go through: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.

For all of us, life can be a lot more confusing, challenging, and sad on the inside than people can see on the outside. I think it’s really good to remember that with each other. So here’s a somewhat vulnerable peek into my world lately.

Also, I have to give credit and say how thankful I am for Lyssi, who has been the strongest, kindest, and most supportive friend I could have ever asked for through this!

To anyone else out there living with stuff that doesn’t show up on the outside, remember you’re not alone! Don’t hesitate to share with me, if an ear will ever help! :)

concussion

Look at this kid! He just won first place as an evaluator in a Toastmaster’s competition this weekend. He also just aced his accounting final. Just gotta show him off a lil bit. (Don’t worry, I bought him cheese to celebrate).

While I’m bragging, I’m gonna brag some more.

As most of you know, back in August my adorably happy go lucky life-person jumped headfirst into a sideways tree trunk (turns out wearing a hat can drastically increase your blindspots when mobilizing upwards at significant velocity) and what we originally brushed off as “ouch”, and later “altitude sickness” (we were 4 miles into a 8 mile hike in the Rockies), turned out to be his second concussion in 18 months. That same day he started school. When he was officially diagnosed a week later with a concussion, he took a couple days off work, but stayed in school (even though thinking through things or putting thoughts together or even speaking/remembering what he said or what was said to him was difficult). Though he was told it was a “minor” concussion, the injury has greatly affected his day to day life and the things he is capable of physically, emotionally, and mentally. While both injuries have had obvious initial physical effects, this second one has added a side dish of cognitive effects that he didn’t experience the first time around. He’s had to give up a lot of the things he loves the most, some temporarily, some that remain challenging in surprising ways. He’s been in a lot of physical pain on and off, has experienced cycles of severe anxiety and occasional panic attacks, and had to completely give up all strenuous physical activity for much longer than expected.

Sensory things like noise, or lights, or music, or emotional movies, or high energy people (or people who aren’t high energy but are sharing excitement and joy or anger and stress) often feel overwhelming or threatening and can cause him to shut down physically and emotionally. (This can look like me sharing lots of details about my day or telling a happy story with enthusiasm and a minute later he can go from totally tracking with me to suddenly overstimulated, and in need of calming sensory input. Sometimes he has to lay down and have complete lack of stimulation, take a nap, put on headphones, turn off the lights, stop talking, do something that has a calming sensory affect like deep breathing, meditating, a hot shower, heavy blankets, etc).

A lot has healed and improved in the last couple of months – he has been able to go on a few runs or do some low impact workouts recently, he has worked with a therapist for anxiety, he is more cognitively “quick”, has a little more mental and emotional stamina, and is getting really good grades in his accelerated accounting course 😛 – but a lot of things are unexpectedly difficult. There are stretches of days where it will seem that everything is mostly back to normal, he can go running, he can be around noise, the anxiety subsides to manageable, and things feel “normal”. Then randomly days where trying an easy workout or thinking too hard or processing an emotional or stressful moment sends his brain back into a relapse of sorts (he’ll experience brain “fog”, extreme anxiety and heightened emotions, and intense headaches), sometimes for an hour or two, sometimes for days. This can be frustrating because of how unpredictable it is. Lots of starts and stops and excitement and discouragement and trying and waiting again. He’ll have good weeks with bad days, or good days with bad weeks.

He’s had to relearn how to take care of himself. He’s had to relearn how he learns and thinks and processes and works and relates and finds balance and happiness and peace. So many things changed for him. We’ve had to relearn how to take care of eachother. The concussion-induced anxiety is something that’s hard to talk about sometimes, because some don’t believe it or think it’s being blown out of proportion, because some misunderstand what it is or try to help in ways that actually hurt, because it’s deeply personal and constant and affects everything in life. It’s exhausting for him. Emotionally, but the anxiety also takes a physical toll. We have friends and family who openly or secretly also struggle through anxiety (and depression, PTSD, etc – so many of the things that are still misunderstood and mishandled), and they are some of the most understanding, strong, and kind people we have in our lives. We’re so thankful for them (and to the ones we know but don’t know about, you deserve a shout out too!).

As the person who is there to see all of it every day, it makes me love him SO MUCH and it makes me hurt for him SO MUCH and it makes me SO PROUD of the way he keeps working through therapy, through school, through work, through friendships and relationships, through physical recovery, through all of life. How weird and unsettling and hard it’s been for him to build himself back up into this new person who is relearning strength and vulnerability and safety and peace and love and everything he knew about himself, after a “minor” concussion that from outward appearances hasn’t changed much of anything at all.

Peter has talked openly about some of the struggles he has faced in the last few months, and he’s always honest but completely positive about it. I just want to give him an extra shout out because it is HARD and he’s a CHAMP. And if your person ever suffers long term side effects from a head injury, big or small, obvious or subtle, you have our support and love.