Category Archives: The Enlightened Path

An ever-growing collection of what I believe are signs pointing us in the direction of the living the optimal human life. I believe that we can do better. I believe that I can do better. I believe that there is a set of practices that are indicative of just how civilized we are; and that we are individually and collectively responsible for making sure that if we call ourselves civilized, we truly are. It follows that I’m not a fan of “good enough”. Sure, it works in a pinch, or as a temporary fix. But it is certainly not my end goal. I wish with all my heart that it was not anybody else’s either.

The Blessing of Integration

Education is power:  Equal Justice Initiative’s recent educational video.  

Last year I watched Selma  with a grateful heart, but I didn’t share my thoughts here.  This year I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative.  With that, I can finally see where the frontier of the Civil Rights Movement is extending.  I have been reveling in Bryan Stevenson’s insights because I can finally feel grateful for another living soul who cuts to the heart of the matter like Dr. King did.  I feel that we are at a new point of departure with our collective conversation on our race problem in the United States of America.  The reality of white privilege is gaining more exposure, the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum, and much more.  While social media isn’t the news, it is serving as a way of sharing information and ideas.  I’ve learned about plenty of stories through my Facebook feed that did not make the news, presumably because of bias.  And I’ve experienced some emotional relief from being able to share my personal thoughts on a topic that is close to my heart but not obviously key to my daily existence as a person benefiting from white privilege.

I certainly do not deny the reality of white privilege.  But I do wish to point out that privilege doesn’t do much if it divides you from others and therefore from parts of yourself, and our current divisive system imposes internal divisions on each and every one of us.  Most of us in the USofA have some blend somewhere in our hearts, minds, or personal and ancestral histories – our country is fundamentally multicultural.  I believe that we ALL desperately need a basis for celebrating that blending because it gives us such a blessed opportunity and because without that celebration we are essentially broken-hearted.

To me it boils down to full integration, to the fundamental truth that we are all connected; that on a personal level we cannot find complete fulfillment in our own lives until we connect all the parts of ourselves, and that on a social level the only way to truly connect all the parts of ourselves is to lovingly connect with the people around us.  If we are part of the majority in seeking to be truly happy and content, then we are really seeking something much more profound than enjoying a set of benefits that are not shared amongst all citizens of humanity.

  • If we are holding another person apart from ourself as an other, then we are really holding a part of ourself as an other and we are not fully integrated.
  • If we take that holding apart to a more hateful extreme, then we are all the worse for it.
  • If we look upon the suffering of an other as separate from our own then we miss the subtle yet powerful truth that when one of us suffers, we all do.

I firmly believe those things, and yet I still have this life of mine which thus far has been painfully isolating. Because of that, I’ve got a hefty list of goals to work on between now and next January:

  • This is my year to figure out how to leverage what I’ve got professionally so I can invite more fun and collaboration into my professional and personal lives.
  • This is my year to dance more and regularly celebrate the cultures of Oakland that bring my heart so much joy.
  • This is my year to know that I’m doing it all with a connection to a greater cause.
  • This is my year to go deeper into the process of personal integration that accelerated when I became a mom.

This is my year to accept nothing less than the blessing of complete integration.  I wish the same for each and every one of us.

Happily Ever After

When I think of fire, I think of the sun

When I think of fire, I think of the sun

“The best thing you could do is master the chaos in you. You are not thrown into the fire, you are the fire.”
― Mama Indigo

I’ve started a new project recently.  Today’s the official Day One.  It’s about being happy in my life and with my husband.  Basic stuff really.  And yet both have been rather out of my reach for a few years.  In many ways this writing space has helped me with that and so perhaps I’m simply stating the obvious.  But sometimes that’s a good place to start.  That and a little knowledge of why.  I’ve spent too many therapy sessions to count sorting out the why – I’ve got a fairly good handle on it.  So I’ll keep this announcement brief and to the point.

I’ve asked for help from a fun lady who also happens to be a highly-skilled Marriage and Family Therapist, Megan Kelly Smith.  She’s giving me daily assignments for 21 days.  These assignments are meant to help me shift my perspective to reveal the reality of my life for what it is right here and right now:  my own personal happily-ever-after.

I’m pretty excited about this because it’s clear to me that Megan’s got a strong handle on the process of building a truly happy self.  And I know that I’ve been doing years of prep work to launch myself far from my current point of departure.  I’ve completed my Foundational Assignment and my Day One and will be sending them off to her shortly.  I’ll definitely report back here at Day Twenty-One and maybe sooner if something really wants to be written.   But the truth is that I’ll be doing a lot of journal writing off-blog so a Final Report may well be sufficient.

Here’s to reaping the many benefits of self-mastery and fire-safety!

A Timely Reminder

Proof that I don’t always rock the boat

I wrote the following piece with the editorial help of an online magazine.  After a couple rounds of working with my embarrassingly crude initial draft, the editors rejected it.  I’ve never known why they put in so much work only to discard the results.  In keeping with the content of the piece, the experience taught me a lot and revealed just how much I stand to learn in the arena of publishing my writing.  That was over a year ago.  Since then I’ve thought about the points that I was attempting to share with a twinge of regret since they never made it out into the world.  In any given piece of writing, it is the content that matters more to me than other elements.  Perhaps that puts me in the minority and will ensure that I never become more than someone who writes for merely personal gains.  In the case of this piece, I recognize that the quality may not be great, but the points I was attempting to make were nonetheless important to me.  Furthermore, I’ve had enough glimpses into others’ experiences to know that what I say here doesn’t just reflect my reality, but also that of other moms working their darnedest to balance their professional and parenting ambitions.  Currently, I’m wrapping up another round of hard-won lessons in that very area, and my MFT reminded me that while I may have thought that I was working on a project based in this material world of ours, I was actually working on some spiritual growth.  I’m always grateful to have the trusted insight of another person to help me put together the story of my life because it can be tricky to craft a version that leaves me with no regrets in spite of what I’d aptly describe as failures.  I’m grateful to have this independent space in which to present a summary of that analysis that’s polished just enough for public viewing.  There is real healing for me in that multi-staged reflective process.  With that said, today is finally the day to stand by what I wrote, even if it’s not exactly what a couple editors deemed appropriate for their publication.   

Growth Notes
Since becoming a mom, relentless obstacles have been my daily routine. What had begun to feel like a continuous stream of suffering shifted into a discovery process as I figured out how to confront what challenged me. My process of reflection began in earnest when I realized that I was engaged in the unpleasantness of growing, and that the impetus for so much of what challenged me was the choices that I had made with respect to the very thing that I had wanted for so long, to be a mom. Once I was able to see that I had placed myself in each predicament expressly to learn and grow, I was empowered to do so. Along the way my understanding of the personal growth process deepened. I’ve gathered my principle insights, along with the strategies that either helped me discover them in the first place or to keep them in practice, into a list of notes to self. Because there will most certainly be a next time, and I’m hoping to make it through with a little more grace and a little less pressure.

Growth Note One: Hardship is a sign of hard work being done beneath the surface
Given that I often felt depressed and completely void of confidence in my early days of motherhood, it was no surprise that things in my life were not going too well. But beyond that simple cause and effect relationship, I came to see that there was more going on. I’m not sure that it’s important to extensively analyze our life’s circumstances, but I have come to see that it can be very helpful to remember that there is nearly always more at play than meets the eye. In the case of my foray into motherhood, I had built up a romanticized view of growth and parenting as principally positive experiences.

I was due for a reminder that growth is messy and painful.  Only then could I enjoy a reinvigoration of my self-discovery process that reminded me of my own personal tendencies, namely that I’m something of a personal growth enthusiast.  Once I realized that I was in the power seat, my sense of empowerment was primed to grow as I learned to fully inhabit the life I’d created for myself. I arrived at that clarity of understanding by continually changing my thought patterns around the situations that were frustrating to me. In short, I kept my mind moving. I have found that when my mind feels stuck, there is usually some other way to keep moving. Chores, taking a walk, running an errand, and visiting the park, have all been instrumental in shifting my perspective.  In all likelihood, I got the idea to redirect myself from my son, and the non-stop pace of engagement that so typifies us in our early years.  More often than not, he is with me when I’m feeling stuck and it turns out that he’s quite happy with a change of scenery too.

Growth Note Two: Change is Integral to Being a Parent
Becoming a parent initiated such a large degree of change in my life that it took me a while to get my bearings. Now that I have settled into my new identity as a mom, it seems so obvious that my struggles were par for the course, and that I could approach them with the same spirit of expansion that I’ve embodied throughout my life. Perhaps the enormity of the change that parenting brings is intrinsically disorienting, as to make us forget some of our most common strategies for responding to the circumstances of life. At this point, I’ve had enough fellow parents confirm my assessment to have established something of an expectation. Of course the content varies, but everybody tells me the same thing: your life will never be the same. Mostly I take this open-ended statement as a consolation and a reminder to be kind to myself. Whatever the inevitabilities of parenting are, we have a choice as to how we respond to them and I tend to think that kindness is a reliable guide.

Growth Note Three: Unlearned Lessons Get Repeated
I am enamored with the idea that through cycles of growth we are given multiple opportunities to work with our most private matters, the beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world that are so ingrained in our thinking that we are completely blind to them.  Being eager to shed whatever keeps me from growing, I’m inclined to honor my subconscious and work to remove the blinders.  It has become apparent to me that spending so much time with my son is a very effective means of doing this.  By witnessing my son’s progression through the many stages of development, I’ve found a way of uncovering what lurks in the recesses of my mind.  When I have a bout of what most of us would call negative thinking – feeling angry, defensive, anxious, argumentative, anything unpleasant – I’ve come to understand that a long forgotten memory is surfacing.  That’s an invitation to take a little more time and care with myself in order to figure out what it is and how to address it.  I believe that I have discovered and healed many personal wounds only because of the nearly constant companionship of my son, another person passing through the age at which I was originally wounded. No one else could trigger such insights because I’m not so close to any other person of his age.  Given the intensity of practice I’ve had in the past couple years, it has become easier to identify the messages hidden in my emotions and to recognize the influence they wield even though they rarely come to the surface of my consciousness. I’ve come to embrace the unpleasant thoughts when they arise because I have learned how to deflate them once I am aware of them.

Growth Note Four: We Each Have Our Time
I’ve come to see our family of three as a continually expanding entity. Usually one of us is in the growth hot spot and that designates the rest of us to support roles. While we do indeed grow the most in the earliest days of our lives, that type of growth is distinct enough from the more intellectual rigors of adult growth that the two can occur simultaneously. Perhaps some divine design is at play, I have often marveled at how I could be tending to my son’s needs with apparent success while addressing my intense emotional ones. In a way, I feel that it has been to our benefit that I was equally engaged with my own personal work as he was with his, it seems to have given us each a space of our own in close proximity to each other. As I finally catch my stride and anticipate slightly smoother terrain ahead on my own path, it seems reasonable to expect that I will be more available to support my son as he takes on his own increasingly complicated challenges. My practice of self-care has served me well, so much so that it has become habitual and the foundation of my career.  For me, self-reflection goes hand in hand with growing and having some space for that is essential.

Growth Note Five: We All Learn From Each Other
The general parenting idea that has yielded ongoing inspiration for me is the notion that we are all equal in the arena of learning. Just as my son learns from me, so do I from him. With respect to growing pains, little ones experience many: teething, the frustration at the slowness of the tongue in comparison to the quickness of the mind, the rage of disappointment when good ideas are not realized; and I am constantly reminding myself that growth and suffering are two sides of the same coin. In time I realized that my son’s growth experiences could serve as signposts to my own and that simply paying attention to what is happening with him can provide me with lots of learning opportunities. I cannot think of a better framework for learning than one of curiosity and enjoyment. And so it follows that the natural act of taking joy in my child’s company can set my learning in motion.

 

I’ve been a mother for a little under three years, and already I feel that I’ve undergone extensive transformation. I am currently enjoying a hard-won respite from the demanding lessons of recent years. In all aspects of my life, I seem to have progressed beyond what challenged me. I take this as validation of my interpretations, and a possible guarantee of future successes. I am now more comfortable with the reality that my continual expansion will bring me face to face with the inextricable pairings of challenge and triumph, anguish and joy. I’ve worked with these ideas enough now to have faith that the next time I’m overwhelmed by the mess and the pain of growing, the grace of a blessing is within my reach.

The Luck of the Early Bird

Sun rising over San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts

Sun rising over San Francisco’s beautiful Palace of Fine Arts

Two little things.
1). Recently  I’ve been waking up absurdly early  – around 4a – and not going back to sleep.  My mind is brimming with tasks to complete, ideas to evaluate, and plans to confirm, all for Pilates Origins.
2).  Spring forward means my kid now gets up at 7a instead of 6a.

Those two things that could easily be cause for upset in my orderly mind have made day one of DST doable.  Surprisingly, I’m not complaining about spring forward.  Nor am I disoriented – at least no more than I was yesterday.  For the first time in my personally recorded history, I’m cool with DST.  I’m choosing to call that a case of good luck.  Furthermore, I’m choosing to mark my gratitude here so that if I change my tune in the near future, I’ll have some means of recalling my positive outlook.

It’s nice to know that through some strange twist of circumstance I can arrive at a different perspective on a topic that I’ve always seen the same way.  That feels like something of a mental breakthrough no matter how funnily it came along.  Perhaps my overall outlook on life is shifting toward the sunny side – that would be great.  Whatever it is I’ll take it, and enjoy it while it lasts.

With that personal note made, I’m jumping back into the fast lane.

Pilates Plus Life

Sometimes the only choice is to keep on going.

Sometimes the only choice is to keep on going.

I read something online recently that pulled at my heart and mind.  It’s a notion that I’ve heard over and over again throughout my years in the Pilates world:  that we Pilates enthusiasts must embrace our lives beyond Pilates because there is more to life than Pilates.  On the one hand I say, here here!  On the other hand I sadly say that sometimes my life feels all about Pilates.  There are a couple reasons why, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone which is why I’m inclined to share.

I am not wealthy now and I never have been.  I grew up with divorced parents and lived with my single mom.  I left my home state when I graduated from college and moved alone to a place where I didn’t know anybody.  It happened to be one of the most expensive places to live in the United States of America and I’ve been hustling ever since.  I have always been determined to follow my dreams.  Dreams first, everything else second.

This has meant that pretty much all my resources have gone into my Pilates training and little studio.  I don’t know from experience, but I imagine that wealth affords us a bit of distance between time and money.  We can luxuriate more in the fun of life because we don’t have to be earning every available moment to cover our bills.  For me, the link between the time and money has always been pretty short.  It’s meant that I haven’t had the spare time to build community around other pastimes.  I’ve done my best and have had pockets of fun here and there with dance, tennis, and other interests, and I do love my craft projects, but these days life is mostly about work.  And family.

Aside from work, I did also manage to find a mate out here in the wild west and we have a son.  My husband has his own business.  Between our businesses and our child, we are packed schedule-wise.  I don’t like it at all.  In my head or out loud, I complain about it most days.  Which I realize is a personal problem that I can address.  But there it is.  Dreams first.  Neither my husband nor I is ever ready to throw in the towel at the exact same time that the other one is so we keep on going.  With time I do believe that we have become more tenacious which is a blessing and a curse.  As a means of emotional survival, I keep working my mind to find the little nuggets of joy that sparkle up my days.

I tend toward the introverted side of the scale and along with that goes being sensitive to my environment.  I noticed something back when my teaching practice was really full and I was talking for several hours a day all the while engaging in the peculiar brand of relationship that Pilates instructors have with their clients (I call it intimacy with strangers).  I stopped listening to music or NPR in the car (I love music and have always listened to the radio) – I needed the quiet.  The fullness of my teaching practice and my sensitive nature demanded that I retreat when I wasn’t working.  Which was fine, but where were the fun social activities?  There weren’t many.  That could be fine for a span of time right?  We all have different phases of life.  I also live far from longtime friends and family so I don’t have those regular social interactions happening around me as I would if I lived back in Michigan and I have a sort of wacky spread out family anyway.  All that adds up to even less social time.

Then I became a mom and I tried to do it my way.  I was determined to keep my work with my little studio right under our home, and even more than that I was determined to keep connected to my son.  My dream of being a mom has always been my biggest and dreams come first.  I’m glad that I’ve done it my way even though it has been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done – by far – and I’m not even four years in.  Compounding the challenges has been the extreme loneliness.  I never joined a moms group because I didn’t have time – I work when other parents play with their kids.  Unlike working moms who still have their colleagues, I work alone and I’ve become much clearer on the boundaries between professional and personal relationships thanks to a few instances of professional relationships gone “bad”.  Bottom line is that it’s hard and lonely to do things in an unconventional way.

Looking back I can see how it all fits together to create the life that I’m currently living.  The life that frustrates me.  My singular focus on following my dreams no matter the cost, the challenge of building a life far from my original home, how I needed to respond to the particular demands of my work, and how that all set me up for being even more isolated as a new mom than I would have otherwise been.  It’s true that it’s my design and that I have the power to change it.  But it is also a rather tangled web of desires and knowing which thread to pull free in order to loosen it all up is difficult.

I’m trying my darnedest not to feel pitiful, I’m trying not to whine.  But I’m also trying to understand.  I’m trying to figure out why I’m not perfectly happy living the life of my design because clearly this was not the plan.  I’m pretty sure that I’m close to cracking it, I’ve got almost all the pieces perfectly in place.  In the meantime I mull over the ideals and compare them to my reality and try to stay positive.

When I read that same old idea, one of my guiding lights in putting together my life I felt sad and compelled to dig a little deeper into the topic and shed some light on the complications that make setting up the perfectly balanced life such an involved project.  Against the odds, I do believe that we can all get there.  Sometimes writing it out serves us toward that end.

Pilates, Love, and Kindness

With Liberty Comes Responsibility

With Liberty Comes Responsibility

I was born and lived in Detroit’s city limits, I cut my teeth surrounded by underdogs.  After years of reflective thought I have arrived at a personal philosophy of kindness as a guiding light through this complicated and strife-full world.

Sometime around the new year I was among many Pilates instructors to receive a solicitous email in my inbox promoting a 90-day online certification program.  I didn’t look carefully since I’m not in the market and sadly have hundreds of more pressing messages to attend to in my inbox.  I was drawn into giving that message far more thought than I would have otherwise due to a post in one of the online forums that I frequent where folks were lambasting the people behind that message.  I was embarrassed by the blatancy of other’s criticisms.  Especially when I learned about the source of the original email – a training program closely linked to my own separated only by one professional parting of ways (I don’t know the story and don’t care to, I only know that had I entered Romana’s program at an earlier date I would have known the senders of that message personally).  My feelings of discomfort only increased when I read their follow up message a few days later.  For the record I did not see the follow-up message, one that would have quieted any criticisms excepting ones addressing marketing techniques, mentioned in the same forum.  Somehow for me there was a line that had been crossed in all the critical remarks that had been made and it probably had something to do with the fact that the people who sent out the original email were in some way privy to them to the extent that they knew about them and were compelled to send a follow up email.  I’m pretty sure that the senders of that email wish that they had sent a test message to a sample group because the message they intended to convey was not at all the one that was received and harshly criticized.  I came away with a reminder at just how challenging marketing is.  And just how cruel we can be as individuals, but even more so in a group that has a certain degree of ephemeral anonymity.  I find myself saying, I must remember to be kind, it is so easy to slip out of that mindset when sitting at the keyboard.

I wanted to say something, to stick up for the folks who had been blackballed, but I wasn’t sure how.  Then this morning another post popped up.  A response from an organization that was mentioned in the original email.  (Boy, what a can of worms!)  I’m only sitting here in my apartment with a  sliver of free time because my son is sleeping late, with piles of more pressing TO DO’s all around me, and yet I must add something to this online exchange.  Because I feel that our humanity is missing and that concerns me.

The same old stuff is being raked over in this recent storm of furies.  With Pilates it seems to always boil down to the people and how the work is shared.  Who’s right, who’s the best, who’s legit, etc.  And while that provides us all with a lot of juicy drama, it also drives us crazy and certainly makes us look that way to those who do not share our fanatic passion for Pilates exercise.  I’ve settled into my own little sphere of influence here which involves a few clients and my family.  I have a small studio and enough professional training to keep it running respectably.  This situation has influenced my perspective.  I don’t have employees, I don’t train teachers, I don’t have a lot of overhead.  And I wonder if I’m part of the majority or the minority.  Just like Pilates lessons have evolved from an open gym, supervised workout format to individual lessons in which the student has the complete attention of the instructor; so it seems that more and more people are opting to purchase their own equipment and set up small studios.  The interpersonal challenges of working with others seem to be driving us apart.  I do think that we are losing to power of the collective in isolating ourselves and yet I see that we are not equipped to gracefully navigate collaboration toward an end that suits everyone involved.  Here in the US, the individual rules (and is lonely and depressed for it).  I think that this is something to keep tabs on and I think that it directly relates to the big looming legitimacy question in Pilates.

Legitimacy.  Some people want it, others (like myself don’t).  I used to.  I used to want the respect of professionals.  I used to want to be the one consulted when movement was a concern.  But then I realized all that I’d give up to be legitimate, all the extra costs, all the extra hoops I’d have to jump through.  Then and only then did I realize that I prefer autonomy.  I prefer following my intuition and allowing my intellect to catch up rather than the other way around.  I prefer to keep things small- scale and personal.  I prefer to remain clear about what is my responsibility and what is the responsibility of my clients – I do not want the power to know more than they do about their bodies.  Rather, I want to bear the more subtle and elusive power of helping them find their own internal power source.  In my case I partly wanted legitimacy in order to bolster my confidence.  But now I know that confidence only comes with time.  During the years of my most active learning, when I was laying down my foundational knowledge of Pilates, it was important to be a part of a particular community because the information that I wanted was in that community – Romana was in that community.  But now that I have learned, and now that Romana has departed I do not have a desire to be part of a group associated with Pilates.  I understand that some people do and that reasons differ.  But given the impetus for this post, I am compelled to point out the risks of groups, the very real danger of allowing oneself to be subsumed by a collective.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.  Joe Pilates was a self-learned, self-made man who beat his own drum.  In large part that is why we have the situation that we do, he didn’t manage to pull together a functional organization around his work in his lifetime.  The reasons are theoretical, but the reality is there.  What he did do was inspire others completely, along with passing on a remarkable body of work and the apparatus to go with it.  That is the substance of the work and the reason that we still have it.  And the reason that I just had to write all this out is because some of the people who uphold that tradition have come under fire.  In that way they have become the underdogs, at least for January 2015.  I prefer to stick up for the underdogs.  I prefer to extend a bit of kindness toward anyone who is receiving a lot of something else.  Just as a balancing measure.  Just to steer the conversation back toward our humanity, back to the place where we all started.  A love for one man’s work:  Pilates.

Recent Thoughts on Being a Working Mom

backyard chalk doodles

backyard chalk doodles

I’ve realized in the past few months, another reason why writing has been such a salve for me in my first years of motherhood and I’m inclined to share – for myself, for others who have had or are having a similar experience, and for those who have noticed some curious tendencies in new moms.

New moms can be rather demanding of attention.  Has anybody else noticed this?  They can keep on talking beyond the standard social cues that would have previously silenced them.  They keep on writing in the same fashion.  They keep on pushing forward against obstacles that would in other circumstances be considered significant enough to alter their course.  Why?

I think that it’s because becoming a parent has the effect of simultaneously making us the most relevant person in the life of our child and the least relevant person on the broader playing field of our life.  Parents tend to disappear from the public view.  Some of us take this in stride and simply abandon whatever endeavors interested us before becoming parents.
I wish that I could be that person, because it seems like it would be a lot easier to maintain a state of grace with that approach to parenting.
Others of us keep trying, keep pushing, keep talking, keep writing.  We probably have different reasons for doing so, but I’d guess that some of it has to do with how much we’ve married our identities to our work.  Those of us who have invested a tremendous amount of our energy in our work will find it very difficult to relinquish those ties in exchange for the fulfilling intimacy that we have with our children.  We just can’t quite imagine that it will be enough for our hearts and minds, because we thrive on the sense of accomplishment that we get from our work.

What we get for trying to have all-that-and-heaven-too is a nearly constant state of trying to-do-the-impossible.  Eventually we come to accept that we are going to do pretty much everything half-baked and not really look our best in the meanwhile.  I’ve spoken to enough working moms to have a sense that this is the norm within my little sphere.

I’m learning to have compassion for myself and constantly working to strike that perfect balance between all the aspects of myself that I feel are important to my happiness.  My life is a constant work in progress.

In that practice I’m also learning to have compassion for others.  It’s easiest to have compassion for others who are having a similar experience to me and in doing so I find some portion of healing for myself and I hope for those others as well.

Please share this post if you are a working mom, or you care about one.  A little compassionate understanding goes a long way.

A Question Worth Asking

I love it when a city gets behind its people.

I love it when a city gets behind its people – Go San Francisco PRIDE!

If you’re anything like me you have some voices way in the back of your head that are rather critical and have a tendency to question your choices.  I’m increasingly interested in quieting these voices as responding to them wastes my time and energy.  I’ve come with an idea which I  am inclined to share – maybe because I think that might help me along in my endeavor.

First off, I’m going to remember the mantra:
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
I have found it to be very helpful in resolving unproductive thoughts.

Secondly, I’m going read more of Mary Oliver’s poetry and think of her question often:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Somehow I think that question will help me keep things in perspective.

Pilates with Personality

Now that's a barrel with personality! (pilatesrigger.com will get you Vil's number)

Now that’s a barrel with personality! (pilatesrigger.com will get you in touch with its creator, Vil Shaynurov)

I’ve just returned from the most extended time with Pilates colleagues that I’ve had in nearly six years.  My husband and I got married shortly after my professional organization went through a dramatic revision that left me without my continuing education and the economy went bust.  Soon, I was pregnant.  All together, those happenings kept me close to home and granted me many important personal lessons upon which I’ve often reflected in this very space.  But it has also left me lonely for the sense of collegiality and the learning opportunities that come from working with my far away teachers.

This spring a really cool thing happened when Siri Dharma Galliano visited me – we started talking about putting on a Pilates conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We are doing it, and soon I’ll have a pretty little button over on the right side of this blog page to prove it.  In preparation for our project, I did some on-the-job training at Siri’s recent conference in Big Bear.  It was a really great weekend, and I’ve come away with all sorts of insights and ideas that will be distributed amongst my various avenues of expression.  I created this space for the sort of personal reflection that clears my mind in order that I can perform the many tasks-at-hand that fill my days, so it’s here that I will delve into the thoughts on Pilates and personality that came home with me.

By personality I mean the inconceivably complicated web of characteristics that make up who we are:  what motivates, upsets, and challenges us; what draws us to certain people and what repels us from others, and all the other stuff too.  It goes without saying, that I’m using the term as a lay-person and that the terminology is not as important as the idea that I’m attempting to convey:  personality matters.

Joe Pilates himself had a pretty big personality.  From the stories I’ve heard and shared, some have remarked that he’d be in jail for some of his antics if he were alive today.  It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch to consider that some of his failures could be linked to his eccentricities.  Indeed, along with the stories of Joe’s intensities often come follow-ups showcasing Clara’s social grace and ability to smooth things over.  Given that personality plays a role in any human endeavor, and since the Pilates method is less than a century old, it is even more likely that the Pilates community would still be caught in the quagmire of personality dynamics that have been there since the start.

I’ve attended six large-scale conferences and many more small-scale workshops.  I always leave inspired to do better, full of admiration for others, and fairly overwhelmed with all the associated emotions because there is a layer of self-criticism within all that.  As I’ve written before, Pilates is based on empowering each and every individual on their own terms.  I’ve observed that when we train in groups it can be easy to lose sight of that fundamental aspect of the work – I think that the performance part of Pilates eclipses the personal empowerment part in the group setting.  The performance aspect of the method is challenging to navigate without experiencing any self criticism because there is always somebody on show who is thinner, stronger, more flexible, more able, with more personal and professional connections, with more success, etc.  The answer is always that there is no reality in comparison and yet it is so easy to do in the performance intensive settings of conferences and workshops when we are mostly in the role of audience member.  If we fall into comparing ourselves to others we are bound to suffer because our performance is a result of our uniqueness and so it is impossible to replicate anybody else’s greatness.  Conveniently enough, the antidote to comparing ourselves to others is the same thing that gives us access to our own unique greatness:  knowing and honoring ourselves.  The good news is that Pilates does this by design, the bad news is that we still have to navigate the whole personality thing because we all have to learn from someone, and most of the learning of Pilates happens in groups.

Here’s a quick list of areas in the life of a Pilates professional that I believe are almost completely determined by personality and how we relate to others:  who we pick to learn from, who picks us as their teacher, who we prefer to teach, who we prefer to mentor, who we like (and don’t like) to work along side, who we chose to collaborate with on professional projects, who we build professional and business alliances with, who we are comfortable sharing ourselves with enough to transcend collegiality in order to form a true friendship.

I think that perhaps some of us take a while to sort all that out.  While we are in that process I think that two things tend to happen.  First off, there is the notion that there is something wrong with us because we didn’t fit with a particular person in a particular way that somebody else did.  If we allow the notion to take root in the depths of our thinking we are likely to project it outward with judgement and criticism which tends to conflate someone’s personality with their skills, knowledge, professionalism, or any other attribute that is considered more acceptable to analyze.  Such analyses, of which I’ve witnessed a fair amount, cause more harm than good and really boil down to us airing our dirty laundry.  If we keep those judging thoughts close enough and run them through a battery of mental tests that refuse to entertain any self-abuse, and we share with no more than a few trusted confidants who support us in finding true relief from what causes us upset, we are eventually bound to arrive back at the beginning thought with the capacity for disarming it.  In completing the disarmament, will have granted ourselves one more opportunity to free expression and saved our community from a lot of unpleasantness.

Put simply, if we were all to follow a general rule of keeping our opinions of others contained within our own mental machinations until we arrive at an understanding of what those judgements are telling us about ourselves, our professional lives would be free of a considerable amount of drama.

Over the past few years, my clarity of thinking on the role that personality plays in Pilates has sharpened.  Previously, in my judgements of myself, teachers, colleagues, and clients, personality wasn’t clearly demarcated in my thinking.  For me it has taken the development of my personal reflection skills to recognize when a personality is expressing itself.  That has allowed me to avoid getting caught up in the drama that can so easily surround our personalities.

The older I get, and the more days I log as a mom, the more I respect myself and advocate for my own best interests.  As my vigilance for self-care increases, so does my ability to see others more clearly.  I can distinguish their skills and knowledge from their personality.  With that clearer view, I can pay him or her their due respect.  Yes, personality determines so much of how our lives take shape; and yet the more we can keep it as a thing unto itself, the more we can appreciate what others share with us in spite of the limitations of our personalities.  We all have some good to share even when it comes out all wonky because of our personality.  I prefer to focus on the good and take the personality merely as part of the theater that surrounds our lives.  As far as I can tell once you see it for what it is, Pilates with personality is a lot more fun.

In the Meanwhile

Michigan's Gone Green!

Michigan’s Gone Green!

It makes sense that my ten days home in Michigan which included my 20th year high school reunion would leave me with lots to think about.  It’s taken me a week or so to wrap my head around it all.

Up until now and especially back when I was a teen, I thought of myself as being in a holding pattern during my high school years.  Back then I was biding my time until I could get on with the work of my dreams and sort out the unanswered questions from my childhood within Detroit’s city limits.  I understand that many of us don’t know exactly what our interests are in high school, or we don’t have access to them, or we are completely caught up in the drama of being a teen.  For my part, I fear that my focus on moving on kept me from enjoying the goodness that surrounded me.  When I graduated, I hit the ground running.  It was only becoming a mom over fifteen years later that slowed me down.

As I process the impact that spending a couple hours with my high school classmates had on me, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my youth and the innocence of friendship for its own sake – there is such a sweetness to the affections shared when we are young.  I’ve found myself wishing that I’d had more appreciation for my friends, that I’d kept in touch with them, that I hadn’t forsaken them because I was so focused on getting on to my next endeavor.  I’m realizing that I’ve been given another reminder to enjoy the meanwhiles of life or maybe to just stop thinking of them as meanwhiles in the first place.

I’ve often thought of how a life takes shape, how there is so much happening before that thing that captures the attention of the masses.  I’ve wondered what was happening before that big accomplishment, what does it feel like to be a regular person living day to day with a passion or a dream as a primary motivator but not as symbol of success?  Why do some of us experience impatience and frustration at the difference between our aspirations and our reality while others are simply content to be alive?  I think that the answer is that we are thinking of things in terms of results and the meanwhile until the manifestation of those results.

The past few years have felt like a meanwhile time for me, while my passion for my work has only increased, my successes are few and on a remarkably small scale.  It’s been a let down for my ambitious self.  I’ve been forced to acknowledge and embrace that all I have.  In doing that, I’ve discovered the opportunity to enjoy the moments as they come, to stay present.  While I may be in the meanwhile of my aspirations, I’m living out the days of my life.

Toward the end of my college years I spent the better part of one summer in Cuba.  I’d gone with the plan of solidifying my Spanish language skills so that I could avoid taking a course the following year.  Lucky for me, my plan fell through – I was in such an excellent language program I can’t imagine now why I would have wanted to skip any bit.  (The truth is, Cuba really isn’t the ideal place to hone Spanish speaking skills, but it is a wonderful place to spend a summer.)  I kept company with other long-term tourists who were also on a vacation from life-as-usual.  While I did manage to keep in touch with some for a short while once returning home, I bid a final adieu to others on the island.  We knew that we’d met up in the meanwhile and that our paths would never cross again.  And yet those people and that time have left a permanent mark on my life.  Why did I put them into a particular category in the first place?  Why be in such a hurry to get on to the next thing?  In doing so I surely created some limitations on my experiences and the relationships that I formed.

One of my friends’ children doesn’t speak much due to a condition for which he receives speech therapy.  Spending some time with them and then fielding my mom’s inquiries afterwards made me realize that when some people see certain attributes as a challenge or limitation, I see an opportunity for something else.  While our young friend isn’t speaking, he’s doing plenty of other things and developing in a way that is ideal for his situation – his way.  If we think only of his speech then we put him in the meanwhile and risk missing all that he’s doing in the present.  I have no doubt that he is and will be all right living a life with a characteristic that might cause alarm in some people.  I can also see how lucky he is to have a mom that knows that.  If his primary caregiver were to look at him only in terms of his speech then all that he’s doing, being, and becoming while not speaking would be ignored.

It all just made me realize that some of us come up with lots of ways to create meanwhiles.  And that really meanwhile is a limiting condition we put on our lives.  The amazing work that we people do happens in the meanwhiles, friendships happen in the meanwhiles, life happens in the meanwhiles.  Even having the idea of meanwhile separates us from the fullness and joy of life because it holds us apart from what is happening in the now.

I wanted to write this for myself because my visit home was so full and I needed a way to process it all.  And I wanted to write it for my friends, family and classmates to share just how significant it was to see them.  And I wanted to write it for anybody who is on the fence about attending a reunion or going home, to encourage them to go and see what discoveries are to be had there.  There’s a lot of life in our days, as much as we are able to take in, this post is my way of celebrating that simple fact.