Nourish and Forge Wellness

health and life coaching for those experiencing stress, transition, and overwhelm

Category: risk-taking

Coming Home

When my dad died in February, I lost all sense of home. I was half-orphaned — a gaping, black hole in my life and my being. 

Home has been tricky for a while. Long ago, it was my childhood house on a cul-de-sac; the place I did my homework and laundry, where I slept and ate and spent time with family and friends. Then, it was a city—Fort Collins for six years, Denver for seven.

At age 31, I moved overseas and became an expat. Home took on layers; it was not just locations, but people, emotions, experiences. Home was sensory—certain smells, tastes, and sounds. I lived a dual existence—intensely missing one home while working, and yearning for the other while vacationing—never quite feeling settled, but also knowing my life had expanded exponentially. Not always easy or pleasant, but f*%king beautiful.

My dad died seven months after I moved back to the U.S. It’s been nine months since then. I’ve moved three times in those 16 months; I’ve had a few jobs; I’ve hesitated to fully commit to a location, a job, a relationship. My life that had been generally stable and rooted become exploratory—home being something from my past, not my present.

Death is a thief. It stole most of what I believed to be true. It took away the illusion that everything would be ok. It snatched my lightness, joy, and energy. And then it left me crumpled on the floor, disoriented and disconnected. When the ground disappears from beneath you—what’s left? Home carried no meaning, no comfort for me for a while. Maybe until now, in my last few days of a couple nomadic months. I’m in Asia again, feeling at home for a moment or two in the embraces of expat family. Flickers of joy and lightness have shimmered in and out of my days, whispering promises for the future. In odd moments, walking to the subway or gazing up at all the tall buildings, I’m feeling something frantic inside me begin to slow and still.

This strange calm started in a beautiful valley in Thailand, where I came together with three teachers and fourteen other students on a five week journey that culminated in a yoga teacher certification. Sure, we did yoga, but beyond that, it was a fiery, spiritual experience filled with discomfort and empowerment, self-doubt and self-discovery. During our three day silent meditation retreat, a seed of knowing sprouted in me — what if home is not a place, not people, not experiences? What if it’s not a journey somewhere, but a journey within?

Home has been increasingly complicated for so many years. But, in this moment, it’s simple: I am my home. My heart is home; my soul is home; my path towards more love, more meaning, more growth is home. When I stop looking to home as a destination, but instead as a turning inward, it feels like truth. No matter where I go, I am home. So, it’s time to settle in, build my life here, cultivate deep self love and acceptance. Not easy or comfortable, but f*%king beautiful.

Before losing my dad, I wouldn’t have arrived here. I couldn’t have—I didn’t have the capacity yet. So cheers, Dad. I love you. Thank you for helping me come home.

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Do less. Be more.

Last Friday, I made a decision to do something new. Something risky. Something audacious.

I’ve always loved being outdoors and have backpacked many times in my life. But on that weekend, I decided to go solo for the very first time. After a quick search on the internet and a visit to my local REI, I was ready to go. (Side note: I’d always wanted to do this, but have never quite had the gumption or the courage to go for it.)

In the course of those three days in the wilderness, I felt expansive—stretched beyond my comfort zone and learning how to deal with conflict alone as it arose. I also felt peaceful—my tornado-brain calmed in a way that only nature and solitude will. But that’s not what I want to write about. Here’s a big in-your-face realization that came to me on day three as I was crunch-crunch-crunching my way down a gravelly trail in the Rawah Wilderness.

I need to do less on a regular basis. And you do too.

In the space I gifted myself, here’s what I did NOT do for three whole days.

  • Go on the Internet or social media
  • Work
  • Check off to-do lists
  • Make to-do lists
  • Feel guilty about ignoring my to-do lists
  • Check my phone
  • Talk to anyone (exception: myself, baby deer, massive moose that scared the crap outta me, tiny chipmunk corpse on the trail)
  • Analyze past interactions
  • Plan future interactions
  • Think about my future, my finances, or health insurance
  • Watch tv
  • Worry about anything except what was in the present moment (Is a bear going to attack me? Will my tent blow over? eff-bomb, I’m a little lost…where am I?)
  • Read for self-improvement or learning
  • Listen to podcasts (this was a temptation…but I stayed in the present, listening instead to the creatures and life around me)
  • Listen to music

You know what? This created a whole lot of space that I didn’t even realize I needed. The surprising part was what happened in that space. I began to notice these inner nudgings that I wouldn’t have ever noticed had I filled up that space with noise or distraction or even productive work.

Nudgings is the best way I can describe the stirrings or whispers inside of me that I began to pay attention to. What I found on that last day was that I was so much more in tune with what I wanted to do in every given moment.

That may sound strange. We all know what we want, right?

I don’t think so. The demands and details that fill our daily lives leave very little room for the nudgings that lead us to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our existence. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about pleasure and how we deny, deprive, indulge, and overindulge ourselves in the various pleasurable human experiences. Much of this thought is inspired by the incredible Maddie Berky, who writes about pleasure in an engaging and thought-provoking way. (Seriously like brain-crack. Check her out here.)

As I was trekking down the mountain, I realized I had invited awareness around these simple pleasures by simply creating space for them. How? I did less. For just a couple days.

Let me tell you about a few of these moments.

I noticed when I saw a spot on the mountain that begged me to sit and rest—a pair of rocks working together to create nature’s recliner—and watch a blue jay fly back and forth, pecking at pinecones at the tops of nearby trees. As I sat, I felt my shirts clinging to me and decided I wanted to be free of them for a while, to feel the sun warming my skin and the breeze cooling me. I took my shirts off and hung then on tree branches. My feet felt hot, so I took of my shoes and socks and stretched in bare feet, feeling rough rock and sharp twigs under my toes.

I noticed these nudgings towards small pleasures and I followed them. I was rewarded. With each choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I felt deep satisfaction. I smiled at the birds. I closed my eyes, becoming fully aware of the sensations on my skin. I relished the spaciousness of that moment.

Do less. Be more present. 

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I rested until I felt the urge to begin walking again. I slowly regarbed and donned my pack, resuming my trek downward. I walked until I found another divine place that was pulling me. This time it was curiosity that led me—a cairn lay by the trail and I wanted to know what it was marking. I was rewarded by a valley exploding with yellow aspens and green pines.

Do less. Be more curious.

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On my last bit of trail before the parking lot, I walked along a mountain stream. It called to me, I could hear it—come, cool off, play! I almost ignored it, my mind rushing ahead to the things I needed to do before the day was done (drive home, laundry, cook dinner for the fam, get some work done). But somehow, the previous two days of slowing down and doing less, prevailed.

I stopped, dropped my pack, unsnapped and stripped out of my long sleeve shirt, rolled up my black pants, and took off my hot, gritty trail shoes and green, wool socks. I stepped down into the river, gasping with utter delight as the icy water touched my skin and the rocks and pebbles at the river’s bottom massaged my aching feet.

I laughed out loud. Reaching down with cupped hands, I splashed the deliciously cold water repeatedly on my face, my neck, my hair. I scrubbed three days of dirt off my calves and feet and arms. I raised my face to the sun and threw my arms wide, taking this moment in. It was full of joy and pleasure.

Climbing out, I did not want to put those hot, dirty shoes back on…I felt a playful inner nudging that whispered, walk the rest of the way barefoot. And so I did. And it was beautiful.

Do less. Be more joyful.

happy-river

I don’t expect to always have the freedom to escape the daily grind for three days alone in the stunning Colorado wilderness.

But, I do expect to carry this lesson forward into my life: do less, be more.

Even if it’s for an hour a week, let’s do less. Let’s turn off our devices, ignore our distractions, and postpone our duties. Let’s create the space to be more.

More present.

More curious.

More joyful.

You might be surprised at how alive you feel.

 

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Lessons from My Expat Life: Say Yes

The expat life starts with a yes that feels like leaping into an abyss.

Yes. I will sign that multi-year contract, person I met yesterday. I’m pretty sure I would love to work for you.

Yes. I will sell or give away most of my earthly possessions.

Yes. I will move ALONE to a new country where pretty much everything is unknown and trust that I’ll figure it out.

The first lesson I learned from my expat life: learn to say yes. 

Saying yes is not a comfortable thing. Often, it includes some level of risk and responsibility. However, saying yes is the way we humans break new ground. It’s how we find new capacities within ourselves. It’s how we continue to expand.

My first expat yes was at the Search Associates international teaching job fair in San Francisco, February 2012. After three sleepless days of interviews and research, I signed a two year contract to teach at Korea International School. I had never been to Asia before. It was a breathtaking moment that changed my life forever.

That big ol’ yes was followed by so many more yesses. Some comfy-cozy, others super uncomfortable.

Yes, I will move around the world with only two suitcases of stuff. Yes, I will attempt to start learning Korean (a language so difficult, I often teared up during my lessons from sheer frustration). Yes, I will break out of my introvert shell and go out when I’d typically stay in. Yes, I will connect with others, letting down my walls more quickly than I would at home, because I left all my support peeps back in Colorado.

Yes, I will explore (almost) fearlessly. Yes, I will communicate through body language and pointing in public (because I have to). Yes, I will break bend the rules, even when my rule-following, first-child, perfectionist brain wails, “nooooooooooooo, don’t doooo it!”

I will say yes to travel. I will say yes to staycations. I will say yes to getting uncomfortable.

I will say yes to negotiating a deal to coach CrossFit part time to mostly Korean clients in a Korean gym in exchange for a membership, even though it terrifies me. Then, continue to force myself to say yes every time I walked through the doors.

tdg coaching

That’s me, coaching a CrossFit class of mostly Korean men. Annnnd mostly through body language.

I will say yes to learning how to speak up, lead, and be brave. Yes to caring less and less about what others think about me and more and more about if I’m at peace with my actions. Yes to accepting the good and the ugly parts of me that are opened up and splayed out clear as day through the expat experience.

Yes to continue to work on myself, even when I feel like giving up. Yes to knowing that the dark days come and go. Yes to realizing that here, I’ve had my sparkliest highs and my blackest lows. Yes to the conclusion that expat life is fu%&ing hard, but intensely beautiful.

Yes.

Now, I say yes to sharing my personal experiences with others because I believe the more we talk to each other about the hard sh%& in life, the better we get at it and the less alone we feel. Now, I say yes to sharing what works for me, because maybe it will work for you, too.

My expat life has taught me to say yes, when it’s easy and when it feels impossible.

It has taught me that leaping into an abyss is not a bad thing.

In fact, it might be the choice that changes everything.

 

 

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Limiting Thoughts: Stop Living Small

The last few days I’ve been percolating on the idea of limiting thoughts, and how these little nagging buggers have such power to negatively impact our lives and our happiness when we let them have free reign in our minds.

On Friday night, I was getting ready for bed and mentally preparing for the big CrossFit Competition the next day. I had qualified as an individual, but opted to compete with my team to continue to build the friendships started with my teammates. About 8 pm, my coach (Teddy) messaged me asking if I’d like to compete both for the team and individual.

My first thought? My elbow. Is it healed enough? Can I handle five workouts in one day, even though they are short and pretty lightweight? What if I injure something else? What if I can’t give my best to the team because too much energy goes to individual events? In other words, my first reaction—fear and worry.

My second thought? What if I make a fool of myself? I used to be great at competing, but that was before Korea wreaked havoc on my routines, diet, and exercise. What if I suck? What if I start but can’t continue due to reinjury? Will everyone view me as weak? What if I don’t live up to what they all think of me? My second reaction—fear of feeling vulnerable or not measuring up.

How often in life do we let these sorts of limiting thoughts keep us from achieving, or beyond that, keep us from even trying something outside of our comfort zone? For me—many more times than I’d like to admit.

Here’s the thing: having the courage to live more in our edges, to risk vulnerability, to occupy new space…that’s where the vibrancy of this life resides.

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

No matter the outcome (win or lose or epic fail), when we push into new spaces of life and ourselves, we enrich our minds, increase our understanding of ourselves and the world, and begin to build up a resilient and courageous spirit. Not only will you grow, but those around you will too. Because you know what? Courage is contagious.

Friday night, I almost didn’t do it; I almost chose to bypass the individual competition and stay safe, stay comfortable. But, a friend and a whisper in my head pushed me forward. Do it. Try. Why not? 

So I did. And it was the most energizing, scary, fun, triumphant day so far this fall. I felt so alive. I can’t believe I almost missed this experience because of limiting thoughts—nasty little voices that are better ignored (or acknowledged and released for what they are—just thoughts) than heeded. As a friend said recently, “You can’t have the win if you don’t risk the loss.”

What are you missing out on due to limiting thoughts? What can you say “yes” to this week to move into your edge, to practice courage, and to occupy a new space in this world or yourself?

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.


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