Keep Our Hearts Open… and our Wills Strong as Steel

Signing off from an email this week, a very wise friend wrote: “Let’s make sure we keep our hearts soft but our wills strong as steel.”

This is going to be my new mantra. My rally cry. My mission.

With one edit: “and” instead of “but” – Keep our hearts soft and our wills strong as steel

They are not mutually exclusive. One feeds the other.

Since the election, I’ve been focused on love. Choosing love over fear. Choosing to open my heart instead of allowing myself to get constricted. (I wrote about that in What Do We Tell Our Kids… and Ourselves?) Since I had written that little essay for myself – letting the words and feelings flow out of me simply as a way to process the helplessness and chaos – I shared it very selectively at first. Based on feedback from friends and their interest in sharing with others, I decided to share it here so that others who may benefit from it could seek it out.

The discussions that the essay opened up have been a gift – I so value those conversations and appreciate the healing that follows. Like this: one friend replied that she loved it; and that she had come to a somewhat different path – that she wants to show her daughter that “when you care deeply about something you speak up and you fight injustice.” And “…that she can’t take this sitting down.”

What an important perspective that was for me to hear. Were openness and love at odds with fighting injustice? Are they different paths?

No. They are not mutually exclusive. Choosing love and choosing to stand up for what we believe in are close companions.

I believe that in order to make change, I need to first have a foundation of compassion. Of love. Of softness. I need to be loving and caring towards myself. Then and only then can I stand up – on feet that are grounded, with a spine that is strong, a mind that is clear, and a heart that is open – to fight for what I believe in.

As Ram Dass writes in Polishing the Mirror:

“If you feel a sense of social responsibility, first of all keep working on yourself. Being peaceful yourself is the first step if you want to live in a peaceful universe.”

Whatever we cultivate within will radiate outwards exponentially. In the same way that by taking care of yourself, you create a stronger you in order to better support and serve others, when you nurture love and peace within yourself, you will be better prepared to release the same to your family, your community, the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m craving nurturing content right now – simultaneously devouring and trying to savor writing and thinking that inspire and guide. Much of that I’m finding within podcasts: Jonathan Fields, Tara Brach and Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert to name a few.

In one of her “Magic Lessons” episodes on how to harness creativity, Liz was talking with an aspiring artist about how compassion can be “soft and velvety;” but that compassion can “lack traction.” She told the guest that in order to produce the art she wanted and make an impact, she needed to add another essential ingredient: ferocious, bracing courage

Yes. Right now we need love. And we need ferocious, bracing courage. Boy did that speak to me. That’s the recipe: Love + ferocious, bracing courage = action that will have an impact.

Post-election, I first chose soft and velvety: love, openness and compassion. (I needed to offer myself that love and security because the world certainly wasn’t providing that. Nor will it ever, right? Love and security are not things we can attain from external sources. They come from within.) And now I’m prepared to build on that, adding the “bracing jolt of electricity” (Liz’s words) and spinal fortitude in order to stand strong.

Stand strong.

Stand up.

Look up.

An open heart creates space – space that prepares us to act from a place of both peace and strength. In order to be the peaceful warriors we need to be right now, let’s keep our hearts soft and our wills strong as steel.

Every sentence that Tara Brach utters reaches inside my soul and fuels me with the certainty that this is the path for me right now. So I will leave you with an excerpt from her recent teachings:

“If we… courageously open to what’s inside of us, we will get to the caring that makes acting the most natural thing in the world. Our actions will be planting seeds for true transformation versus the seeds that continue the old patterning. Because we have to change consciousness.”

 

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What Do We Tell Our Kids… and Ourselves?

I first lost it when I was lying down with my daughter at bedtime. The end of an era. The end of innocence. When she wakes up Trump is going to be president elect. She had fallen asleep and I lay next her, my body wracked with sobs.

Then I kept losing it. There wasn’t going to be that moment in the middle of the night when I could go down to her room, wake her up and whisper giddily: “Hillary Clinton is our President!” Any time I thought of my daughter, and how I would tell her, and what it meant for her… for the future, I lost it.

And I lost it most uncontrollably at the end of the night. As I was going down to bed I saw one of her stray signs cast aside on the dining room table – ‘go HILLARY’ written on a piece of paper and attached to a popsicle stick. She had so much enthusiasm and so much unbridled hope in that little six year old body and that massive six year old heart.

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What are we going to tell her?

I am going to tell her that Trump won and Hillary lost. And that means three things:

  • that Trump will be President;
  • that Hillary will still be working for everything  she stood for during the campaign; and that we must sill be WITH HER – because everything that Hillary stood for and all that she believes in and all those values of being kind and good and welcoming everyone are not lost; she will still be fighting for those and we must do the same; and
  • that we need to turn to ourselves for the answer: that even though love didn’t win on the national stage, it needs to – it needs to so, so desperately – win out in our own hearts.

What we tell her, however, is secondary to how we act.

How are we going to model for her in her most intimate environment the values that she needs more than ever? How are we going to walk this path with some modicum of grace and compassion and integrity? What legacy do we want to leave her with, in the small orbit of our family – the only environment we have any control over right now?

How will we hold onto our values when we feel the floor has dropped out from under us? Because that’s the thing: it wasn’t just a glass ceiling that wasn’t shattered; it was our foundation doing a free fall. A free fall into negativity, hate and constriction.

In the face of this, we need to soften, to keep our hearts open. As I read before bed on election night, Pema Chodren writes in “Practicing Peace in Times of War”:

“…to the degree that each of us is dedicated to wanting there to be peace in the world, then we have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s true spiritual warriorship. That’s the true practice of peace.”

When we feel anxiety and fear and constriction, we need to soften our hearts. We need to allow love to have a seat at the table so that we don’t fall into the traps of anger and fear. It’s a moment to moment to moment journey. Choose love. Choose love. Choose love over fear.

I also know that we pass on feelings – our own hurts and fears – to our children on the deepest cellular level. They take them on. Like they instinctively absorb our love and affection and nurturing, the flip side of our human emotions are also imprinted. That’s not to say that we should pretend to be happy. On the contrary, we need to be more authentic. We need to allow ourselves to be sad – to name the feeling, live the feeling, then let the feeling go when we have walked through it sufficiently.

We all need to take time to mourn. It is OK to be sad. It is OK to feel. What is not OK is to let that sadness rot into destructive fear or anger.

In this time of lacking control on the outside, we need to go inside, to our inner selves, to our inner bodies, to our inner hearts. It is through self-care that we will heal. Every choice we make, every step we take becomes infinitely more important – if we can heal ourselves, we can heal our families, we can heal our communities, we can heal our country and our world and the universe. I believe that with all of my being. I get chills writing it and chills thinking about it.

When I told my daughter the news at breakfast, she rested her cheek on the cold counter. “I’m tired,” she said. Yes, her little body was surely tired. But those words also conveyed to me that her soul was tired.

She is exhausted. The world is exhausted. We feel like we fought so hard. We hoped so mightily. And we were squashed. But we have to remind ourselves that we were defeated only in the election – we can’t mistake the election as a direct representation for humanity.

This is a time for love. For telling the people you care for how you feel. For reaching out with a phone call or a hand or a hug. For really seeing people and really hearing them. It’s time to nurture our ability to embrace others and acknowledge differences and one action at a time, create connection. Show love. Speak love. Give and receive love.

When we feel down – and put down – we can’t give in or give up. And we can’t fuel what attacks us with more anger. Fighting back with anger is fighting back against love

What’s become obvious to me is that this pervasive question of “What do we tell our kids?” is really a more reflective question: “What do we tell ourselves?”

Only by first figuring out how we want to respond to the situation can we then adequately respond to others. Now is a time to love ourselves and love others even more fiercely, to allow those most vulnerable and most authentic depths of our being remain open, remain soft.

Be love. Choose love. That’s what I’m going to keep telling my daughter. And that’s what I’m going to keep reinforcing to myself.

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Sign we made for a local peace rally last weekend — her words, her concept and ideas.

Namaste

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US Sled Hockey: Going for Gold x2

140311jk-hockey-007Following their  3-0 win over Canada today, the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team goes on to face Russia in the Gold Medal match on Saturday, March 15. If they win, they will defend their Vancouver Gold medal, making history as the first team to win consecutive Paralympic Games titles.

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Known as “sledge hockey” in most of the world, the U.S. calls it “sled hockey.” It was invented in Sweden in the 1960s as a form of rehabilitation, and is designed to allow athletes with physical disabilities (e.g. those with spinal cord injuries or amputations) to play ice hockey.

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Of note, four military veterans are part of the U.S. team:

  • Goalkeeper Jen Lee (San Francisco, Calif.) – Sergeant, U.S. Army
  • Defenseman Rico Roman (Portland, Ore.) – Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army (Retired)
  • Forward Paul Schaus (Buffalo, N.Y.) – Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
  • Forward Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.) – Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Love this photo with a view of the puck in the net

Love this photo with a view of the puck in the net

According to SledHockeyUSA.org:

Equipment for this sport consists of a light weight tubular framed sled, about 4-5 feet long and approximately 3 inches off the ice, with two hockey skate blades mounted beneath the seat. A portion of the front frame rests on the ice and provides lateral stability. Straps around the ankles, knees and waist securely hold the player on the sled. Two 1.5 feet “sticks” are used. The sticks are modified hockey sticks with 4 cm teeth attached to the bottom of the non-blade end. Leaning left or right while digging the stick into the ice, turns the sled. Players slide to a stop on one or both blades like a skater. All players wear regulation protective hockey equipment.

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Don’t miss it! NBC will air the Gold medal game – US vs. Russia – at 1pm ET on Saturday, March 15.

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Snow Returns to Sochi

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Over the last few days, the combo of rain and fog has made for more tough conditions for the athletes. These moody photos aren’t the typical shots you see from a Winter Paralympic Games! (Another big thanks to Joe Kusumoto for sharing the images.)

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But today, Sochi finally got some snow.

According to alpine skier Stephanie Jallen, the course was shaping up: “We suddenly went from spring back to winter. It made it tough that we couldn’t warm up in those conditions, but luckily the race track was pretty good. Especially the second run, the track was amazing.”

Laurie Stephens took bronze in the slalom today, adding to her bronze medals in downhill and super-G earlier in the week. This makes her a 7-time medalist, though it’s her first in slalom.

Fierce and focused on the course, her intensity transforms into a zen-like calm post-race: “Every day is different and all of the conditions are different, you never know what’s going to happen.”

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Laurie Stephens extends medal streak with slalom bronze

 

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Stephanie Jallen gets a fist bump from USA coach Ray Watkins

 

In overall medal count, Russia is dominating, with 47 total (16 gold!) Ukraine follows with 14 medals (3 gold.) The U.S. and Canada rank next with 8 medals each. While Canada has already won 2 gold, Team USA is still in search of its first gold medal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Vulnerability

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First Kiss, Tatia Pilieva

In Tatia Pliieva’s “First Kiss” film, she asks 20 strangers to kiss for the first time. (If you haven’t seen it yet – give it a shot! It will be 3 minutes and 28 seconds well spent!) To me, it offers the perfect storyline of vulnerability:

+Nervous excitement. They’re giddy and shy.

+Then a bit scary, as the strangers try to figure out how to break the ice and lean in for a kiss.

+Awkwardness follows as they experience the first few moments of the “new” — which in many cases, quickly transforms into fun: maybe this can be more fun than expected! Pleasure follows fear.

+Then relief. (For the viewer too?)

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First Kiss, Tatia Pilieva

+And ultimately: connection. Some looked like they didn’t want to stop!

This is vulnerability: breaking through the fear and nerves and uncertainty to come out on the other side with a new connection; getting through the “crunchiness” of what’s uncomfortable to the sweetness and beauty that’s underneath.

It reminds me of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection:

“Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”

“Life-paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.”

“…recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.”

I am absolutely confident writing business-focused or marketing content for clients, or co-writing articles under someone else’s byline. However, I often find myself frozen by a perfectionist code — the fear of failing, of creating anything less than perfect — when it comes to my own personal writing. Case in point: I never feel more vulnerable than when I’m pushing “Publish Post” on a blog, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.

In the spirit of embracing vulnerability and imperfection, I’ve stretched myself this last week, posting more frequently than ever before in order to share stories and pictures (via my talented husband, Joe) from the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. I’ve realized that spreading the word about the Paralympics is so much more important to me than cowering from the fear of rejection under cover of my “invulnerability cloak.”

ImageDoes Alana Nichols, the most decorated U.S. Paralympian in Sochi, hold back on the Super G? No way. What about Tyler Walker, Danelle Umstead, Stephani Victor, Stephanie Jallen, Laurie Stephens (just to name a few of my Paralympian inspirations!)…? Not a chance.

To succeed, they have to put everything out there. They sometimes fall – hard – but they recover. They heal; they gain strength; and they get back out there.

Writing blog posts isn’t the same as racing 70mph down a slick race course on a single ski. But they do both require being vulnerable and simply going for it. Like any athletic, creative, business or personal endeavor, I truly believe that the best path to improvement is being vulnerable and letting go.

I’m grateful for every single one of my readers. Today, 400 people have read my blog – a number that at once humbles me and makes my head kind of explode! It makes my breathing more shallow, my chest constrict and my shoulders scrunch up: all the physical symptoms I’ve learned to recognize for when I’m feeling most exposed.

But just like Pllieva’s strangers kissing, I’m going to soften into the discomfort, allowing myself to be vulnerable in order to reach connection. So to my friends, family – and strangers too – I’m blowing you all a kiss!

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Paralympic Ups & Downs

140310jk-jallen-002While we’re asleep here in the U.S., the Paralympic skiers are competing,  leaving everything on the course. I’ve been a bit sleep-deprived this week, as I’m compelled to check my phone and Facebook every time I wake up in the wee hours of the morning!

This morning I was met with updates that hit me in the heart — 18-year old Stephanie Jallen’s Super G bronze (her first Paralympic medal!) — and then in the gut: two more scary crashes during the women’s mono-skiing Super G. The U.S. Team in particular has had several crashes in competition so far, and I am so incredibly relieved to know that Alana Nichols, Stephani Victor and Tyler Walker are all healing and on a good path to recovery. I’m in awe, as I watch from afar their strength and spirit and the support of the team, coaches, friends and fans from around the world. Let’s all continue to send prayers and positive energy to Alana, Stephani, Tyler, and to all the athletes!

Stephanie Jallen competing in Super G

Stephanie Jallen competing in Super G

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Laurie Stephens, who took Bronze in the Super G

Stephani Victor, competing in Super G

I love my husband’s morning (my time) updates from Sochi, but today stood out, when he told me he cried (twice) during Stephanie Jallen’s award ceremony. After skiing with Stephanie at The Ski Spectacular event in Breckenridge — when she was only 9 or 10 — Joe was so excited to be there in person for her first medal.

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Stephanie was born with a rare birth defect called CHILDS — Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosiform Erythroderma and Limb Defects Syndrome. CHILDS is a chromosomal disorder that affects the entire left side of the body, leaving Jallen with only one leg and one fully developed arm. Instructors initially wanted to put Stephanie in a mono-ski, but she insisted on learning to ski standing up.

From today’s USA Daily: “This is absolutely incredible,” Jallen said. “It’s something I only dreamed about. I have never been a bigger believer that dreams come true than right now. I’ve imagined it for the last nine years of my life, and in my very first run in the Paralympic Games I score a bronze.”

Take note: this is not the last time you’ll hear her name!140310jk-jallen-a-001140310jk-jallen-002140310jk-jallen-001

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Snow, Ice… and Air!

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The latest shots from Joe Kusumoto — 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games. Slideshow below:

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