Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Opening Up Your Heart – and Living Wholeheartedly

The Dance of Human Connection
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful Biodanza weekend retreat up at Harbin Hot Springs called “Heaven On Earth” – basically it was a workshop about affectivity and sensuality/sexuality, two of the key themes that Biodanza works with.  

When I first signed up for the weekend, I did not think very consciously about the topic that it was about – I was just eager to center my life more around activities that bring me joy – and Biodanza brings an overflowing amount of joy and connection into my life.  Since November 2010, I’ve been regularly attending my Biodanza circle every Thursday night in the same safe space, with mostly the same group of people, the same fantastic teacher – my little nest.  

Meanwhile, in my personal life, since breaking up with my ex-boyfriend in mid-May, I’ve really been focusing a significant amount of energy on getting comfortable being by myself and on supercharging my personal growth journey – something I am still very committed to.  I’ve been putting more energy into my professional development and taking this new CareerDevelopment Facilitator training course that I’m enrolled in this summer.  I’ve been trying out new and old yoga, pilates, and dance classes – a process of experimentation that I am continuing to enjoy.  I’ve been getting more intensively into local Bay Area meditation groups and finding community among people who share that interest.  I’ve been reading inspirational and educational books and blogs and getting into writing on this blog more than I ever thought that I would.  I’ve been taking time that I never previously had to catch up on old and new Grey’s Anatomy episodes.  And, I’ve been making efforts to connect more with people from my Biodanza circle outside of class.  

Go See It!
These are all wonderful things that have given me a hope and reassurance that there is plenty of joy out there in the world as a single person – in fact, as a single person, the world is kind of your oyster.  I certainly haven’t been locking myself away in my room by any stretch – in fact, I am overjoyed to be growing closer with some wonderful new friends.  For example, I went to go see the fabulous Happy movie documentary which is slowly starting to circulate around the world with a big group of new friends on the 4th of July – a perfect way to spend the holiday in my opinion – I totally recommend seeing the movie if you have the chance.

Still, despite the fact that I’ve been growing and changing and connecting out in the world this past few months, “taking things on the road” to this Biodanza workshop and exploring the topics of affectivity and sensuality / sexuality made me realize that in my own way, I have been closing myself off and placing significant emphasis on having things be ‘safe’ – I’ve been avoiding my vulnerability in order to avoid getting hurt – in a way my trust in relationships and the inherent given and take in relationship with others has been shaken over the course of my past few romantic partnerships.  Now that I’ve seen how easy it is for me to lose myself in relationship, there is a part of me that is afraid to venture down that road again.  

It’s like I trust myself hitting a tennis ball against a wall and pat myself on the back for being a good “tennis player,” but the idea of actually playing a tennis match against another person seems way too complicated.  That brings up the question – can you really play tennis or play the game of life and love all by yourself?

For those of you who are wondering, affectivity is basically our emotional connectivity and solidarity with other people and sensuality / sexuality is basically our overall enjoyment of sensations and pleasure in the world.  For more information about it and Biodanza, I encourage you to read more here, watch the Biodanza videos, and check out a class if it ever comes to your area. 

A badge from Brene Brown's website
For me, exploring these themes of affectivity and sensuality / sexuality up at Harbin Hot Springs this past weekend really opened me up in a way that I haven’t been open for quite some time – certainly not since I embarked on this more celibate, solitary path.  It gave me excellent opportunities to test the new skills of standing my ground and speaking my truth that I’ve been working on and gave me many chances to let go, set my anxieties aside, and enjoy the present moment.  I did Biodanza in a new space, with new people, with a new teacher – and even outside in nature from time to time – a big departure for me.  

Excellent book!
This past weekend reminded me how vibrant and loving I can be while also giving me a chance to explore the topics of vulnerability which I’ve been exploring through the work of Brene Brown lately.  I don’t have enough time to discuss all of her ideas today, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this woman’s work since I stumbled onto it a few weeks ago – I think she could become one of my main sources of inspiration and teachings.  I’m partway through her book, The Gifts ofImperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who YouAre, and I am finding it really helpful – almost as if she has been reading my mind!  

A great initial introduction to Brene’s work is through her Ted Talk video available at this link or below – I encourage you to watch it.

In a nutshell, Brene has found that people who are “Wholehearted” (as I hope to be) believe inherently that they are deserving of love and open themselves up to it even though doing so requires them to be vulnerability – they love with their whole heart and aren’t afraid to be with whatever comes up in their lives as a result.  I also came across this quote of the week in her Blog archives recently, and I feel that it really speaks to some of the things I am reflecting on coming away from the workshop this past weekend.  I’m sure I will speak tons more about her work on this blog in the future!

Finally, I am including a link to a great song by Modest Mouse, “Float On,” that I seem to have running through my head this morning – I find it reassuring and a great reminder to just go with the flow! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Mindful Vacationing - and the Joys of Traveling Alone

What an enchanting evening! 

Her name is Kimberly, too!
Instead of going directly home after the career conference that I was at this past two days, I decided to stay in San Antonio and enjoy an afternoon and evening in the city.  While I have had many solo adventures in San Francisco the past few months and have tackled many airports and train stations by myself, this was the first time I can recall being a “solo vacationer,” particularly on a Saturday, prime weekend day and night - "date night" as it was once referred to in Sex and the City by Charlotte.  (Note - picture of Kimberly from the following link)

While traveling by yourself can at times make you feel isolated and somewhat sad, there are some remarkable things about it.  I’ve found this weekend that I have been so much more observant and aware of everything around me – and less concerned about the details of traveling.  It is fun to watch all of the people around me – families with their children, young adults out on dates, the staff diligently serving patrons, and groups of partiers living it up – it is neat to observe see the dynamics of their interactions unfold. 

Even better, I’m finding that if you can resist the temptation to bury yourself in a book or distract yourself with your smart phone (a hard thing to do), there are so many rich and delicious things to be mindful of while you are traveling.   This evening, I went down to the concierge station and bravely asked for a restaurant recommendation (something I ordinarily do not think to do) – and I ended up with the most delicious find – a delightful Tuscan Italian restaurant called Tre Trattoria overlooking a park and horse drawn carriage rides and beautiful rustic style buildings. 

Courtesy of Trip Advisor
As each course of my meal came, I made a real point to savor each and every bite – to smell each sip of the wine and let it ease down my throat, let the marinated Portobello mushrooms and gnocchi move around my mouth before swallowing, and enjoy every rich bit of the decadent nutella / molten chocolate cake that I had for dessert.  I interacted with the staff and the manager, listened to the soft classical and jazz music in the background, and watched the sun set slowly outside the window of the restaurant. 

Instead of being consumed by my conversation (or argument) with my dinner partner, I was instead consumed by the very experience of eating and enjoying delicate cuisine – it reminded me of the “Eat” part of Eat, Pray Love – and my own days studying abroad in Florence the summer after my freshman year in college and enjoying the rich wine and cuisine of Tuscany in abundance.  While I am very much in favor of meditation and a focus on the basics, I can definitely see how cultivating a genuine love and appreciation for the joy of eating can make one’s life more joyful.  One final plus of dining alone – I was able to double-dip my bread into the olive oil and no one cared!

Fiesta Noche del Rio
After dinner, I made my way down to the Riverwalk, and managed to stumble into Spanish singing / dancing Mariachi Band concert (Fiesta Noche del Rio) – in an outdoor amphitheater along the river –for $5 – donated to a children’s charity.  What an awesome find!  Rather than being consumed by pre-set expectations for the night, I bought my ticket and just went with it – the music was great, the performers were vibrant and colorful, and the environment was magical – it had a real historical, uniquely San Antonio feel.  (Note - picture from the following link)

Courtesy of Arellis49 on Flikr
Altogether, the evening was magical – it was such a treat to stroll along the Riverwalk in a skirt and tank top completely comfortable with a pleasant breeze coming off the water – the breeze felt truly enchanting.  Again, I probably would have noticed the breeze if I was traveling with a group, but not the degree that I was able to all on my own – I could feel it on my body, breathe it in my lungs, smell it in my nose – the degree to which I perceived the sensory details of the experience was notably more intense than it has been at other times in my life.

Of course, perhaps part of the reason I enjoyed the experience so much had less to do with the fact that I was by myself and more to do with the fact that I am becoming more mindful and making a point to “let go” and enjoy the experience of letting life unfold more – I am fully willing to admit that.  I’ve also noticed positive effects of my being more assertive these days in my hotel stay – I just called the front desk to ask when the omelette station opens up at the brunch (because it wasn’t available this morning) and without blinking an eye, they compensated me for $25 of my dining charges – basically about as much as my breakfast was this morning – amazing! 

Who knew all of these wonderful things could result from simply speaking up and honoring my experience – I didn’t get mean or make a big deal – I just asked some questions and stayed true to my desire to (ideally) have an omelet in the morning if I’m paying a significant amount for breakfast.

Anyway, whether or not the positive experiences I have had on this trip have been due to my traveling alone or whether they’ve been the result of my personal growth (or a combination of the two), I highly encourage each of you to travel by yourself at least once in your life if you haven’t yet had the opportunity – and I encourage you to practice mindful eating and mindful sightseeing the next time you are out and about in a city that it is not your own.

I’m curious, those of you reading this blog who feel inclined to comment – have any of you ever taken a vacation trip on your own?  Or made a point to be particularly mindful on a trip?  How did it go?  What did you learn from the experience? 

On Early Role Models, Favorites, and Career Story

 This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a fascinating session at a career conference on Mark Savickas’s Career Story Interview.   

According to Savickas, the role models that people admired growing up reveal key elements of their character and ways in reach they responded to challenges growing up; their favorite books, TV shows, and magazines reveal the stage or environment in which they want to act out their careers; the script of their current favorite book or movie reveals the key chapter of their life story that they are currently acting out; and their favorite saying or motto reveals the best advice they have for themselves – the direction for their life. 

For more details on Mark Savickas’s Career Story Interview and other key career development theories that he supports, here is the link to his most recent book on Amazon, Career Counseling (Theories of Psychotherapy).

In order to illustrate and learn this technique, I’m going to do my best to answer four or his Career Story Interview questions on this blog.  Please feel free to comment on what you think my answers might mean – or feel free to answer the questions for yourself – I encourage you to share your story!

1.    Who do you admire when you were growing up?  Tell me about her or him.  (3 key role models)

The first heroine that came to mind for me was She-Ra, Princess of Power – who had her own spinoff of the popular He-Man series.  

She-Ra, Princess of Power!
She-Ra  was born as He-man’s twin sister but was kidnapped as a child and raised in the homeworld of Etheria by that world’s evil ruler, Hordak.  He-man rescues her and eventually helps her remember her birthright as Princess Adora, and she works with a group of freedom fighters called the Great Rebellion to try and free her homework.   She-Ra, like He-Man, has a double identity, morphing from the more youthful and innocent Adora to the powerful and wise She-Ra by invoking the saying,”For the honor of Grayscull, I am She-Ra!”  

For some more background on She-Ra, see this article about the 25th anniversary release of the show on DVD.  Also, note this picture of She-Ra is courtesy of Kyra Smith /

What does this mean for me?   As an only child, I grew up in a more sheltered existence and didn’t have much opportunity to serve as a mentor or leader until later in life when I realized that I really enjoy guiding others.   Just as Adora had an alter ego full of wisdom and self-assured power, I am continuing to learn as I get older that I do as well.  By being such an early fan of She-Ra, I believe I was expressing an inner desire to cultivate my inner strength and insight and use it to help others and “save the day!”

Francis "Baby" Houseman
The second heroine that came to mind for me was Francis “Baby” Houseman from the classic 80’s film, Dirty Dancing.  I first saw that movie when I was about 5-6 years old, and my mom tells me I used to run around the house dressed just like her (as best I could) shouting, “I’m Baby, I’m Baby!” 

In the movie, Francis is 18 years old and has the “Time of her Life” at Kellerman’s resort in the upskill Catskill Mountains.  She comes from a fairly upper class family and a sheltered existence and has an idealistic heart and aspirations to join the Peace Corps and help others.  She finds herself drawn to the various staff members running the camp rather than her fellow camp patrons and saves the day by filling in to learn a dance with Johnny, the dancing instructor, when his partner Penny gets “knocked up” and has to have an abortion on the night of their performance.  (Picture courtesy of Flixster)

In summoning up her inner strength and creativity to learn the challenging dance and in getting to know Johnny and the other staff members, Francis taps into confidence, integrity, and courage that she had not previously accessed – and risks her relationship with her family in order to help her newfound circle of friends. 

What does this mean for me? 

In addition to highlighting my longstanding love of dance, I think the deeper message from this role model is similar to that from She-Ra – despite growing up in a more sheltered existence and being protected from more counter-culture influences, there is a key part of me that wants to help the underdog, sees all people as being equal, and wants to tap into my inner strength and wisdom to help those in need. 

I think this role model also points to my desire to help others not through cleaning their wounds directly or fixing their car but rather from using my performing ability to their advantage or using my network and access to resources to assist them (as Baby does at one point in the movie where she goes and gets her Dad the doctor to assist a staff member having medical difficulties).

Nancy Drew
Finally, the third role model who comes to mind from my youth is Nancy Drew, the female amateur detective.  She is wealthy, smart, attractive, and confident – and uses her prowess to solve mysteries and help people.  (Picture courtesy of University of Maryland Library).

What does this mean for me?

Once again, we have another role model who is both strong and feminine – so I’m seeing that there is a big theme there for me – wanting to use my intelligence, be assertive, and make a difference without having to take on a masculine demeanor or appearance.   I also think this love of Nancy Drew highlights my passion for synthesizing knowledge, using my intuition, asking questions / being inquisitive and seeing patterns – these are all skills that Nancy Drew uses to solve her cases and are skills that I enjoy using whenever I can.

As an academic advisor and coach, I really enjoy “peeling the onion” with clients to uncover the inner strengths and interests that are hiding just beneath the surface – when I’ve “solved the mystery” and figured out where their unique talents and contributions lie, I feel very excited.  The challenge for me is to channel that intuition into being a good listener and helping them through creative methods to discover those talents and contributions for themselves rather than giving my report and trying to push my conclusions onto them.   Seeing this role model leads me to wonder what other ways I could incorporate “solving the mystery” into my career path!

2.    Do you read any magazines or watch any television shows regularly?  What do you like about these magazines or television shows?

Great Magazine!
First of all, as I think about the books and magazines and internet sites that I read most regularly, they often relate to Self-Help, Psychology, Career Development, Personal Development, and Spirituality / the Meaning of Life - e.g. Psychology Today) I am almost always reading Non-Fiction books directed towards a popular audience – or Personal Memoirs.   One of these days I am going to add in a reading list from Amazon and start sharing some of the many great books that I have encountered and am continuing to encounter.  (Picture courtesy of

The fact that I like these types of magazines, books, and internet sites confirms for me that I am acting in exactly the right stage as an Academic Advisor, Career Development Facilitator, and Student Advocate.  It does, however, continue to lead me to think that I should give more serious thought into becoming a Life Coach and/or incorporating my spiritual beliefs more consciously into my professional practice.

My Favorite Show!
The more revealing thing for me is thinking about why Grey’s Anatomy is hands down my favorite show – what is that?  What does that mean?

For one thing, my love of Grey’s Anatomy likely signals my desire to be part of a helping profession – to assist people on a daily basis as the doctors in the show do when they diagnose, treat, and heal their patients.  (Picture courtesy of this website).

I also really enjoy Grey’s Anatomy because the voiceovers and actors in the show convey a lot of wisdom – they live life to the fullest and are pursuing their dream careers.  I admire their hard work directed towards fulfilling their life goals – goals that are directed more at saving lives than making tons of money.

Grey's Anatomy also appeals to my love of learning - I've always enjoyed reading or watching shows about training programs - I enjoyed Ender's Game, a science fiction novel for that reason, I enjoyed reading a book about a girl named Cherry (Cherry Ames Student Nurse) as a little girl who was part of a Nursing residency program...throughout my life I been drawn towards accounts of people learning new skills and putting them to use - for that reason, working in higher education or some sort of training and development enterprise is and would be a good fit for me.
Finally - and most interesting to me – I also enjoy Grey’s Anatomy because I have a curiosity about medicine, health, and wellness.  Most people who’ve spent any significant amount of time around me will tell you that I am a hypochondriac.  When I have the slightest degree of illness, I am immediately Googling it, checking the symptoms on WebMD, and developing a treatment plan for myself – of both traditional and alternative means.  When I see my doctor, I am a highly informed patient - and I ask questions to better understand my condition.  In recent months, I've been intrigued by new modalities like acupuncture and Reiki and hypnotherapy and yoga that treat illnesses and injuries – particularly psychosomatic ones.   Whenever a co-worker or friend is sick, I love being able to help direct them to the right medical provider and suggest potential treatments to investigate.

What does that mean for me?   Who knows? – I’ve never considered working in a hospital or medical environment, but maybe I should add it to the list as a back-up option.  Perhaps I would be a good person to do career development or organizational development for a medical residency program?  Maybe I should become certified in an alternative mind-body therapy and work that into my practice?  Hard to say for sure – but some food for thought!

3.    What is your favorite book or movie?  Tell me the story.

Great Movie!
My current favorite scripted book or movie right now is Eat, Pray, Love – the movie version with Julia Roberts.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I just love her idea of the quest – of acknowledging uncomfortable truths about yourself and seeing each person as a teacher and each experience of your life journey as a clue.  (Picture courtesy of this website).

I believe that my love of this movie right now is encouraging me to continue on my own personal quest – to continue being mindful of each moment, keep growing and learning, bring more meditation into my life, and explore what it means to experience real joy.  

4.    Tell me your favorite saying or motto.

My most consistent saying is the quote that goes out beneath my signature line on every email that I send out at work:

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life"
– Confucius

I believe this quote gives me direction or advice to continue staying true to my heart and searching for work that energizes my soul and brings joy and wellbeing into my life.  Luckily, there are many elements of my current job that I do really enjoy – which is one of the key reasons that I have stayed there for almost four years now. 

This quote challenges me to continue paying attention to how much or little I enjoy my  job and not be afraid to move on and try something new if things change and I no longer look forward to coming to work each day.  This quote challenges me to avoid becoming someone who dreads coming in on Monday morning and makes excuses about why I “have” to do my job.  It lets me off the hook from the idea that I need to stay in any position mainly due to a sense of obligation – because in the end, life is too short. 

There will always be aspects of a job that feels like “work” – this quote is a bit idealistic in saying that you will never have to work a day in your life.  Still, there is a noticeable difference in your professional living when you are doing something you love and value versus doing something just for a paycheck.  This quote encourages me to remember how important it is to enjoy what you do for a living – and encourage clients to find the careers that engage their passions, interests, and values – bringing them much-deserved joy and fulfillment!