It has been awhile since I’ve blogged. It’s been too long. But I’ve been working and living and yes, playing.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about one of those times when I was playing. A few months ago, I accompanied my niece to her trapeze classes. It’s probably better that I didn’t think too much about it before saying yes.
So that’s how I found myself climbing up a narrow ladder, legs shaking, to a very high platform. I’ve never thought of myself as paralyzed by heights, but I certainly wasn’t feeling comfortable and was in fact rethinking my relationship to acrophobia at that moment.
But with the calm guidance of the teacher standing next to me on the platform, I grabbed the bar with my chalked-up, sweaty palms and jumped (or maybe the teacher nudged me off…I’m not sure.) Swinging through the air, I felt a rush of excitement and giddiness. This was, dare I say it, FUN!
Listening for the commands of the teacher, I learned different moves — hooking my knees on the bars and letting my hands go, hanging upside down. And then, I heard the command to let go, to drop. But for some reason, I couldn’t. It wasn’t fear of letting go. It was something else.
I think I was trying to time my drop to land squarely on the mattress perched on the net below? I’m not certain. All I know is I couldn’t let go. (You can see this moment in all its awkward glory here.)
On second thought, maybe it was fear. Fear of a loss of control. Fear of surrender. Surrendering to not being the brain, to being in control.
Obviously, I did eventually let go of that bar. And I landed safely on the net below. Talking about this experience afterwards to my sister and partner-in-crime in this adventure, she wisely offered: “Our job is to be the muscle, not the brain.”
I’ve been thinking about that profound statement a lot in the weeks since my time on the flying trapeze. Most of us are used to being the brain, in work and at home. We’re trained and rewarded for being the brain, for planning, organizing, executing, making decisions. And there are obviously plenty of times in life where we need to be the brain. But what happens when we we’re always the brain and we forget about the muscle? What do we lose (besides muscle atrophy)?
I’m still living this question, but in my little experiment thus far, being the muscle has created more space. More space for my coaching clients to explore meaning in their lives. More space for conversations to open up with my husband and my kids.
So here’s to 2016 and to more space. And to being the muscle. Now, off for a run.
Burning Man, the intentional community event that happens each year in the Nevada desert, just concluded this past weekend. As I’ve seen photos from this year’s event crop up in my social media feeds, I’m reflecting on what I learned from my adventures there ~15 years ago (yes, we’re talking Y2K!) And no, it doesn’t have to do with nudity, illicit substances or lots of dust (though there’s plenty of that). The lessons I took away from my time on the playa these many, many moons ago as a carefree, single 20-something are ones I find myself calling on now and adapting, as an almost 40-something parent in the next chapter of career and life:
The importance of play. I’ve been reminded of this as a parent more recently, but being in an atmosphere where throngs of adults were playing and creating for the sake of play and creativity felt new and nothing less than magical. I remember wandering into a group of people launching watermelons with a trebuchet and pitching in….because…why not?
And very much linked to this idea:
The necessity of creating open, unstructured time. Spontaneity, adventure, reflecting, being — all of these need space and freedom to occur. As a parent living in a busy, scheduled world, I feel I often have to defend creating this open space and time for my family and for me. We had one of the best family days the other weekend when we did just that.
The role of community. Community is crucial when you’re in the middle of the Black Rock Desert and someone gives you water after yours runs out. It’s also just more fun, like when someone invites you to jump on the giant trampoline they lugged out and set up.
Destruction is part of creation. The final night at Burning Man involves burning the enormous art installation that required endless time and energy to create. Sometimes you gotta Let it Go in order to move forward. This isn’t easy. Watching my son struggle with destroying a Lego creation to build another one feels a little reminiscent of my own struggles to let go of a professional identity I carried with me for a long time.
Finally, on a lighter, yet no less important note, once you get playa dust in your tent zipper, that tent will never be the same. Similarly, once your kids’ cracker-infested car seats have lived in your car, your car will never be the same, no matter how much cleaning you do.
I’ve been struggling these past few months, and it has taken me awhile to figure out why. There’s not an obvious culprit; my family is healthy, our kids are generally happy and thriving, things are going well career-wise. I shouldn’t feel like I’m struggling. But, after sitting with this for awhile, I’ve gradually realized that I’ve been going through my own (relatively unacknowledged) transformation. Over the past 2+ years, I’ve gone from working full-time to a brief stint of not working, and gradually have been transitioning back to working almost full-time. I think I’m pretty good at noticing the developments and stages my kids go through, but I often forget that I’m still growing and going through my own transitions.
Meanwhile during this time, our kids have grown from babies/toddlers to little kids. And in light of all these changes, my husband and I are figuring out how to organize our lives to respond to our changing lives and selves. That’s translated to figuring out what to farm out and how to cut corners on (i.e. quick dinners, dinner delivery, online grocery shopping, being ok with giant piles of laundry cluttering the house, etc). For him, that’s meant leaning in more to family and childcare responsibilities, and for me, it’s meant some Letting Go (Thanks again, Queen Elsa). It’s not always easy and graceful, and there have been plenty of bumps in the road (i.e. rushed mornings, grouchy evenings, forgotten class projects, etc.) But being clear about what’s important and top priority to us as individuals and as a family makes the process easier and helps me live with (embrace?) the chaos and fullness of our lives and well…enjoy life and parenting more.
So, this post-Burning Man season (which for me these days is really back-to-school season), I’m trying to remember that like my kids, I’m ever-changing, too, and that change is hard. And we’re all changing together, as a family, constantly. Change requires patience, persistence and self-kindness. As Ann Betz and Karen Kimsey-House write in their lovely new book, Integration: The Power of Being Co-active in Work and Life: “Change is uncomfortable and often uncertain and yet, nothing evolves – not a person, a relationship, an organization or the entire human race – without the development of new patterns, new neural pathways.”
And I’m dusting off these lessons gathered from Burning Man, most important, making time to play (again, echoed in Brigid Schulze’s meticulously-researched, brilliant book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time). So, if I’m not blogging as regularly in the months to come, that might mean I’m working more, or maybe I’m off playing with my kids, or just playing by myself, or perhaps, helping a bunch of people launch a watermelon.
Let’s go play.
We’ve been traveling the last few weeks – spending time with family, exploring lakes and trails, barbecuing fish and corn, playing tag at sunset, roasting marshmallows. Enjoying the beauty of summer and the embrace of family. It’s been absolutely lovely.
All except for all the packing and unpacking of our STUFF.
And yes. I realize this is one of many ridiculous first-world problems that I’m incredibly lucky to have.
I never used to mind this process when it was just me – in fact, the planner in me kind of enjoyed it. But traveling with two small kids, things have changed. Even though we try to keep it simple, the schlepping of clothes, diapers, toiletries, books, toys, camping gear and endless sundry items (i.e. a musical training potty) feels like a chore these days. Moving houses with kids in the past year has no doubt compounded my allergy to stuff.
But I’m trying to remake my relationship with packing and to take more joy in the stuff of our lives.
A few weeks before my sister and brother-in-law were married years ago, my sister broke her arm in a bike accident. Although she was cast/sling-free by her wedding day, the backpacking honeymoon in the Sierra Mountains they had planned didn’t seem possible. Undeterred, my resourceful brother-in-law researched the ins and outs of ultralight backpacking. After much reading and several trips to outdoor equipment places, he outfitted them with ultralight packs and equipment. They took only the bare essentials. No tent. Super light, nutritious food. Everything had an essential purpose or provided multiple uses.
The end result: what could have been a cancelled trip turned into a memorable adventure. In fact, learnings from that trip carried into other parts of their live. I think they even continued to voluntarily eat those super-nutritious lightweight breakfast grains for quite awhile after their sojourn.
There’s often discovery in the process of paring down and editing.
I’m trying to instill that sense of resourcefulness and discovery not only in our family travels, but in life. I had an epiphany with a recent work-related situation along these lines. I realized I was unconsciously carrying around some anxiety and judgement about a situation that wasn’t really serving me (or, the work project/relationship, for that matter). Once I “took inventory” of what I was carrying around, I did my best to unload those feelings. And it felt really good to lighten my load.
So, here are my new, guiding questions for life and travel:
What do I REALLY need?
What do I love? What brings happiness and joy?
What can I chuck off my wagon to lighten my load?
The other day, my son told me if he had Puppy (his raggedy, loved-to-pieces, on-the-verge-of-rotting lovey), he was set to travel the whole world. That’s all he needed. My grandma used to say it was her toothbrush.
For me, it’s my family. Plus running shoes and an ipod. And a really good book or two. (This vacation I devoured Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.