What about your own oxygen mask?

I write. That is what I do. All the time.

Sometimes I hear from a friend, or someone I don’t know at all, that my words made a difference for them–made them feel understood, not alone, inspired them. And that is why I write.

When I write, life makes more sense to me, and I feel the big feelings like thankfulness or courage or determination, and I begin to understand complicated subjects as I wade through them sentence by sentence. And that is why I write, too.

So . . . I write.

Except, not a whole lot these last few months.

The dry spells feel like “failure” and “fraud” to me. But the calmer, more thoughtful part of my brain reminds me of a big lesson I’ve been learning this year.

“Please put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.”

Why?

Because if you run out of oxygen while trying to help others breathe, you can’t help anymore.

Only by ensuring your own health first, can you continue showing up to help others.

Do you realize, once in a while, that you’ve been running around trying to help others with their oxygen masks, neglecting the fact that yours has slipped off?

And what do you do when you realize that you’re showing up for others so much that you are no longer showing up for yourself?

Have you tried just keeping that pace up? Ignoring the burning in your lungs, insistent on showing up for others, even if it means you’re suffocating? What happens then? Do you finally hit a wall? (Or do you know you will?) And does your depleted energy even help the people you’re so determined to help?

So my challenge for you today is this:

Can you remember that your own oxygen mask has to come first?

And in an exhausting year like this year, full of sad and angry and lonely people, can you still remember that your own oxygen mask has to come first?

Are you allowed to disappear for a minute?

The magic of conversation

How many unsaid things do you have simmering inside of you?

Saying things out loud helps in so many ways. It helps us think through things, solidify things, feel things, get over things. Sometimes just letting out a frustration makes it stop hurting, or putting an anxiety into words suddenly reveals its harmlessness. Many of us learn what we believe and care about by talking through our thoughts.

There is power in saying our stuff.

We are all surrounded by people. If you know a hundred people, you know two hundred ears. That should be enough, right?

And yet . . . how many unsaid things do you STILL have simmering inside of you?

~

A really wise friend likened a marriage to walking on a plank over the Grand Canyon. The view couldn’t be more beautiful, but the height couldn’t be scarier. Lay the same plank on the grass in your backyard, and you’d do it with your eyes closed.

The value and depth of our relationship and attachment to someone significantly impacts the fragility, the fear, the pressure, the importance. Saying the wrong thing–or even saying the right thing the wrong way–to your co-worker is, you know, oh well. . . . Saying it wrong to your best friend, to your life partner, to your mom, dad, daughter, son . . . those moments leave bigger scars.

Obviously–bla-bla-bla get “better” at your close relationships, go to therapy, learn to open up, etc. (Legit, actually do those things.) But the truth is still: The more Companionshipy a relationship, the higher the stakes when it comes to what you say, how you say it, when, why . . .

So we clam up. Because the people we talk to are people that need us to say this, to not say that–people who need us to keep showing up the way we’ve shown up for them, people in whose lives we function a bit as an anchor–stable, consistent, strong–dependably us. They’re people who we want to speak extra gently to, people who we want to be extra positive toward. And sometimes they’re people we’re extra worried might have a problem with who we are becoming. The people I’m close to know Peter as Peter. Some of them need Peter to keep being Peter. They stand to lose more if Peter suddenly sounds more like Jason or Jack or Jimothy. (#fortheofficefans)

On the other hand, we’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of people every day who live and sleep and think and talk and listen less than a mile away from us who don’t know that we’re Peter and don’t need us to sound today like Peter has sounded all his life. What if you could talk to one of those people today? Do you think maybe you’d get some stuff off your chest? Try on a new perspective? Find some freedom to learn who you really are, what you really believe and care about? Would it help to practice the tough, weird, scary topics with people who aren’t going to be as worried or sad or stressed or hurt if you don’t get it just-right today?

I feel like I need to say a thousand times: A good goal is that you feel this freedom in your close relationships. AND . . . I bet that’s a goal you’ll never stop working toward, so in the meantime . . . what freedom is waiting for you in conversations with everyone else? Everyone you haven’t talked to yet?

Conversation is different than companionship. It’s not better, just different. They’re not totally separate: You find companions in conversation. And then you get lifelong conversation from those companions. But we frequently limit our conversation to those with whom we can already claim companionship. And I think this limits us a lot. Robs us of a lot of magic.

I propose that you and I should talk a lot more to a lot of people who we know a lot less.

~

Photo by Micki Benson

This year, I’ve been part of a movement that is spreading across the world. A movement that has connected brave voices with listening ears from Minnesota to California to New Mexico to Florida to Manitoba. I’ve seen people try on their voices and discover they can make an impact. I’ve watched people voice their anger about “those kinds of people” and then learn that “those kinds of people” turn out to be you and me and then discover that we actually can connect. I’ve witnessed people express their biggest fears and insecurities only to find a bunch of people waiting to hold them up in loving support. I’ve heard people open up about their mental health, their traumas, their loneliness, their struggles, their demons, and their dreams.

It’s really not a complicated movement. We call it 5K Everyday Conversations, because every single day, some place (or places) at some time (or times), we gather–three of us or eight of us or twenty-two of us–to spend 3.1 miles (ish) having conversation. Some people run 3.1 miles with each other fast and talk about the stuff they’re angry about, or the habits they’re building. Some run it at a calmer pace, listening to each other share about a stressful family relationship or dream out loud about the work they’d like to do. Some, understanding that that the conversation itself is magic, show up for the conversation without worrying about the movement. And some hop online in Canada to be an ear for someone holding conversation through live video from their home in Wisconsin.

Why the running part? Hmmm . . . helping rid the world of the superfluous statement “I’m not a runner.” And because movement is fun. Happy. Because a few run every mile they can, and a few have been looking for motivation to run. Everyone has their own reason. . . . What I’ve found, though, is that running turns out to be the best anesthetic to the pain and fear of saying hello to someone you don’t know. Nothing quite like panting and sweating to make us immediately drop all the posturing and see that you and I are just two humans. Movement breaks ice and warms hearts. It fuels the conversation.

So yes, it really is as simple as conversation. And it’s a powerful thing.

~

Experiencing so much no-strings-attached conversation this year, I’ve noticed a few magical things about it:

Conversation can hold no expectations for it to be more than conversation. Free. Pressureless.

Saying things out loud helps us get over things, release things.

It helps us see things clearly, helps us think through things.

Helps us feel seen, heard, appreciated, cared about, accepted, loved.

There is something really freeing about talking through the yucky stuff, the hard stuff, the delicate stuff–with a total stranger who doesn’t expect or need anything from you.

The braveness and freedom you get to practice with a stranger is easier to bring back home to the people you love deeper and therefore stress about more. No-strings-attached conversation is like a gym for your speaking-your-truth muscles. . . . Sort of like with that plank-over-the-Grand-Canyon analogy. What if you could practice walking on that narrow plank from not quite so great a height. Like–practice saying how you actually feel but with someone who doesn’t need quite as much from you. I wonder if you walked that plank in the grass every single day if next time you had to walk it over the Grand Canyon, you might trust your feet just a little bit more?

Not only do you get to try on bravery, you get to try on new ideas. Maybe I don’t usually speak kindly, or I’m not usually really open-minded, or not very accepting of this or that “type.” And maybe I want to try changing that–try a new way–see how it goes. What better place to try on a new way than in conversation with somebody I may have never spoken to and may never speak to again? It’s a free space. A safe space to try something new. (For example: I think a group run with a bunch of new faces was the first place I ever answered the “What do you do?” question by saying “I write a blog.” It felt good.)

Conversation with random-people can also be a helpful place to talk a little about your demons. I know there can be great risk in sharing, depending on the context. It’s hard to know where and when to open up. But . . . I’ve been really amazed–in a no-strings-attached conversation space–amazed at the stuff I’ve heard people get off their chests or open up about, and at the acceptance I myself have found as an also-complicated human being. Sometimes it’s easier to finally get words out like “I don’t think I can keep up this façade anymore” or “I think I have a problem” or “I need help” when it’s someone who doesn’t already need stuff from you. There is some safety in . . . strangers. Weird? Yeah . . . but it works.

Sometimes, with life being as complicated as it is, it can be easier to be there for people as an encouraging, accepting, listening ear when we don’t know them. Again–end goal would be this level of acceptance and trust in companionship, too . . . but it’s also true that in no-strings-attached conversation, it can be much easier for us to be there for people. Take, for example, the dad who is estranged from all his kids, because he screwed up a lot as a dad. And it haunts him. His family can’t be there for him anymore. But maybe a stranger . . . can? A stranger can see the very true and very important and very safe reality that, no matter the struggles or weaknesses or history–this is a beautiful human being who is worthy of love. A lot of us have had to let go of some people, and now spend sleepless nights worrying over where they’re getting their needed doses of love and acceptance. Conversation and respect with a family member comes with a ton of baggage that can be too heavy. But that same family member can find baggage-free conversation with a total stranger, a stranger who can be there for them. Maybe you’re that person who needs a stranger’s listening ear. Or maybe you’re that stranger who gets to be there for people who don’t have many people left. Or maybe you’re that stranger who can be there for that kid who just got chewed up and spat out by the unloving world they grew up in. You never know . . . lots of people with lots of weird stories who just need an ear sometimes. Sometimes a conversation with a stranger is exactly what is needed. Hope-giving. Life-saving. Perfect.

Conversation detached from ongoing companionship is also a healthy place for those of us who are struggling, going through rough patches, to shine–to be appreciated for exactly who we are, without this pressure to first graduate to a healthier season of life. That’s powerful and really, really good, too.

There’s another reason conversation with people we’re not close to is super powerful. It’s this: I’m probably, probably, probably close to people who are a lot like me. Think like me, enjoy the same stuff, rant about the same things, see the world through the same lenses. And sticking to the conversation of my closest companions means that I’ll never ever hear all the other truths screaming to be heard. The world is a big place with countless cultures and experiences and hurts and passions and values. And so much suffering in our world comes from “my group” not listening to “your group.” The only way we’ll ever take your experience seriously, care to help, notice how we’re affecting you–the only way to improve our world for each other is by listening to each other. Not listening to each me-clone. Listening to each OTHER. Hearing different perspectives.

Those thousands of people who aren’t your companions . . . they’re holding the eye-opening revelations for you. Waiting for you to say, “Hello, who are you, and what is happening to you, and what do you wish I understood about your world?”

Nothing bad ever came from listening more, understanding more, learning more, seeing people more. And nothing good ever came from settling comfortably into our own way of life and thinking, blocking out the inconvenient reality that our world really is very diverse and complicated.

Especially this year. We clearly haven’t been listening to each other in this world. Listening to our own people, yes. But not to those OTHERS.

So . . . say hello. Start the conversation. Watch the magic. Change the world.

Oh and just because this is one fun little bit of the magic: You never ever ever know where you’re going to find your life-long companions.

~

This year I’ve come to believe that you and I and EVERYONE would benefit from regular conversation with no strings attached, no expectations, no pressures, no agendas. Just conversation for conversation’s sake.

Conversation. Freedom. Magic.

Photo by Micki Benson

~

If all this sounds good to you, sounds . . . intriguing? A little hopeful? Magical, powerful, or like maybe there’s some hope there . . . I invite you to try one of two things:

Start a conversation with somebody.

And . . .

Follow 5K Everyday Conversations on Facebook and find a local time and place to join the conversation.

If you don’t find any local members, pick a time and place and invite a friend . . . or a stranger. Bring the magic of conversation to your own community, and feel your community open its arms a little wider every day. The whole world needs conversation.

And when you show up for a daily convo, and find yourself thinking “How does this work?” you can look back to that simple invitation a few paragraphs ago: Start a conversation with somebody. As simple, scary, and magical as that.

“Everyday in 2020 we have held space for people to meet for conversational movement. At the same time, we have been making the term “conversational movement” a thing. For 285 days we have been working to normalize and inclusivize two things: (1) People talking with people that they don’t know regularly. (2) People feeling safe “running” together. . . . This is what we mean when we say conversational movement. We move at the pace that allows conversation to happen between two or more people. We define running as an act not defined by speed but by the way it makes you feel…alive, full of breath, moved forward by things that are filling you up and people who are lightening your steps.”

JC Lippold, who extended the first 5K Everyday Conversations invitation, sparking the magic

The whole world needs conversation. You need it, I need it. You need my ear, I need yours. We both have some unsaid stuff, and we both have some corners of the world to open our eyes to.

It only happens if one of us gets up the courage to say “Hello.”

And from there–watch the magic unfold.

~

P.S. I feel like I just wrote a bunch about the heavy stuff with conversations–the struggles, the overcoming . . . also, maybe even especiallyconversation is just FUN and BEAUTIFUL and totally AWESOME. It WILL brighten your day.

Photo by Micki Benson

The lifelong freedom of not needing approval

I say lifelong for a reason.

Approval feels really wonderful, so it’s hard not to fall back into living for approval after we’ve once found freedom.

When you find independence, you chase the things you’re genuinely interested in, the stuff you really believe in. And then that new version of life brings you new approval from new approvers. People that love you for who you are now. Only, those people are complicated and come with new pressures and expectations for you. And those people change. And so do you. So it’s easy to find yourself right back where you started: Not being true to your heart, walking the tightrope of your new tribe’s approval.

What would happen if you got out of your head? What would happen if you just hit refresh on that independence every couple of months. Mindfully said, “Hey, I don’t have to . . . [fill-in-the-blank].”

We are free. Freedom brings life, life brings community, and community–no matter how wonderful–can be a complicated thing for our codependent little hearts to navigate.

So here’s your reminder, whether you’re on round two or three or four or twelve of rediscovering yourself, reinventing yourself, letting yourself live your genuine life instead of the one expected–here’s your reminder to keep ignoring that loud, persistent longing to be “normal” or approved of–no matter who your current tribe is.

You are you.

P.S. You may just find that you have some true community–some fellow humans who don’t even have the expectations of you that you’re trying to live up to. Who just see you as you.

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” ~ Neil Gaiman

lys louisville

Watching the clock

Almost done with work. Almost the weekend. Almost time to eat. Almost time to go. Almost bed time. Almost done with this workout. Almost done with classes.

Then, it will be better.

Someday. When all the stars have aligned, our lives will begin.

In that perfect moment, we’ll be alive. We’ll be happy. We’ll want to be present.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who falls into a cycle of waiting–watching the clock–wishing the time away. Almost done with work. Almost the weekend. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for later.

“But then,” says Eckhart Tolle, “you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”

What would happen if next time you find yourself watching the clock, you stop and ask yourself big questions like: Where am I? Who am I? What is happening right now? Why am I doing this? What is good and beautiful right here, right now? What is meaningful right here, right now?

Wishing time away becomes a habit. Our entire lives can slip away while we’re waiting for them to begin.

How can you break that habit? (Right this moment?)

Mahatma Gandhi - more to life than increasing speed

Comfortable-to-Anti-Racist ratio

A lot of well-meaning Americans are scratching their heads and, their feelings a little hurt, saying “Hey wait, I’m not a racist!”

And it’s true. Most Americans aren’t white supremacists. Most Americans think that being Black is as exactly, beautifully, perfectly human as being white.

Sure, lots of us non-racists accidentally have some subconscious biases built into us and generally expect more mischief from Black people (and yes, that needs to be addressed). But if you asked us what we thought, we’d say “Of COURSE Black lives matter, JUST as much as white! We’re all just humans! Racism is terrible!”

The vast majority of white Americans would never see a jogging Black man, arbitrarily assume he must be that criminal they heard about, grab their shotguns, chase him down, and murder him when he tried to get away, throwing racial slurs at his dead body.

The vast majority of white Americans would never kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on a Black man’s neck and listen to him beg for his breath, for his mama, and for his life while he slowly dies.

So why does America still have a racism problem?

Well maybe we’re looking at the wrong ratio.

For racists to get away with their behavior and continue their racism, they don’t need there to be more racists than non-racists. They just need there to be more people who are too uncomfortable facing the realities of racism than people who are willing to actively challenge and oppose racism.

Bullies don’t need everyone to be bullies. They just need everyone to be too uncomfortable to stand up to their bullying.

Abusers don’t need everyone to join in the abuse. They just need everyone to be too uncomfortable to call them out.

Oppressors don’t need everyone to carry out similarly oppressive acts. They just need everyone to be too uncomfortable stepping in to defend the oppressed.

The ratio that keeps racism alive is not racist-to-non-racist.

It’s comfortable-to-anti-racist.

As long as the vast majority are too uncomfortable with facing racism to actively stand up to it and choose to comfortably look away instead, racism will continue on alive and well.

As long as most people choose to stay comfortable, America’s racism problem is here to stay.

So if hearing “Black Lives Matter” makes you feel uncomfortable, because you’re “not a racist,” “of course black lives matter,” and “this shouldn’t be a race issue”–welcome to the fight. You’re uncomfortable because American racism is uncomfortable. So stay uncomfortable and help us get to the bottom of why Black Americans feel like they don’t matter.

Uncomfortable is good. Uncomfortable is the only chance we have to fix our racism problem.

Don’t just be comfortably “not a racist.”

Get uncomfortably anti-racist.

MLK - silent about things that matter