What I learned from NYC subways

I was in New York City over the holidays. This year’s trip included illness, travel snafus, a lot of visiting and a lot of rushing. I was sick and not relaxed. I found my meditation and calm on the subway, of all places. Here is one of my subway thoughts.

There are a lot of human beings,
with a lot of different ways of talking and being, many languages, many families.

Alone not lonely.
Together still lonely.

Holding on, swaying, millions of stories on the move
All in stop motion for the ride

Very connected by one common experience
One common moment

Very few take notice

Daily we are offered
ways to slow down, connect, reach out,
ways to hear a new story, to meditate, to let go,
to honor each other with a glance, a smile or nod.

Don’t miss your subway opportunities.

Annie Von EssenWhat I learned from NYC subways
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Beauty in the undone

This time of year there is so much to do.
And there is a constant to do list, plus a set of goals and a plan constantly under revision in my head. The to do list amplifies and grows to monstrous proportions right before the end of the year.

I can be quite hard on myself when responding to my to do’s.
My little ego voice says, “I can’t believe you did not get that done”!

Today on a short jaunt in the cold, I talked myself into stopping by our garden plot. The little ego voice in my head has been nagging for months about putting the garden to bed properly for the winter.Taking care of the beds with sweet piles of compost and cut back plants. Alas, too many to do’s and it is now freezing outside. Nothing more to do.
What is done is done in the garden.

As I climbed the path to the garden, puffed up birds rustle in the half frozen leaves and a few bushy rats scurry by. When I reached the garden and began to survey the rotten zucchini and frost bitten succulents, a mossy green sparrow, white around her eyes, visits my garden. She scavenges, clearly undisturbed by my presence, she flies up close and sits down right next to my knee. I give her a good look and a smile. She pauses, tilts her bird head and looks me in the eye. Then she is off to the next crisp garden bed.

This little bird was enjoying my garden, finding something useful in the unkempt, winter dead.
My heart is set at ease again.

It isn’t all going to get done this year.

That is okay there is beauty to be found in the undone.

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A quote for keeps

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

– Thomas Merton

Annie Von EssenBeauty in the undone
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How to keep seeing miracles

When the work is stacked up; the meetings are back to back;
you’re slightly sick from staring at the onslaught of emails;
the insurance company reopened the claim;
another friend is sick, sad, grieving…

Get up from your chair.
Squint out the window. Find a good looking tree through the glass.
Pet an animal.
Crank up the music. Dance like a 3 year old full of sugar and good vibes.

Walk outside. Find another living creature to watch, a bird, a squirrel, a human at a bus stop.

Buy a piece of fruit.
Go to the shore, any shore.
Ocean shore, lake shore, river shore.

Lay down on the kitchen floor, close your eyes, breath.

Invite yourself over to a friend’s house for dinner.
Say hi to a stranger.
Smile at yourself in the mirror.
Watch a sad movie and cry.
Turn the t.v. off.

Go back to the shore.
Any shore.

Annie Von EssenHow to keep seeing miracles
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6 ways to access joy in the darkest moments

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball or two or five. Your moving along mostly content. Good days, full of work you love, a few errands, pleasant interactions with strangers, sweet talks with loved ones, it is all good. Yes there are grumpy days, agitations, worries, perhaps a month with too many expenses and not enough money flow, but for the most part you are in a pattern of smooth sailing.

You know it is coming. You try to But you know – because you have lived long enough to know – that something hard will come soon. You know about the hard part that makes life precious and beautiful, the abrupt reminder, the moment when the sky falls into your lap. As you walk to the bus, a flutter in your sternum reminds you of the precarious balance, the limit of this life on this earth now, for you, for your loves.

The last time I had this wake-up call was when I got into a bad car accident with my beloved. The accident shook everything in my life up, just like when you poke a stick in sedentary stream.

Since the accident and the awareness of our lack of control and brief chances in this life time, I have gone back to cruise control. Living mostly calm, happy days with one eye open, ready for the next precious life reminding moment to bounce into my lap.

A few days ago the reminder came. A community of dear friends have been intimately involved with our friend, and her husband’s battle with cancer. She has the bad kind of cancer, more than one kind actually, the kinds that are out to kill and refuse to listen to the multitude of modern medicine’s “magical” treatments.

Two weeks ago, she got the news that a whole new form of cancer had showen up and it was bad, it wasn’t going away and did not appear to be treatable. As the news was shared during dinner – one person after another experienced the quiet sops in their throats, the chill of disbelief and hot of anger.

What do we do in these times when the bottom drops out?

Right now, the key for me is to continue reaching for the joy place inside – I can still access it even when I am sad, it is always there. My joy is anchored to something much deeper than current emotions, current experience. It is anchored to something that goes back before my birth – that grounds us all. Everyone accesses joy differently. Below are a few of my strategies for accessing joy.
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Accessing Joy in the darkest moments:

1. Feel the emotions

Sometimes I even talk to my emotions, “Hello there – you are feeling so sad. I am sorry you are sad. It’s okay to feel sad right now”.
(For more on not ignoring emotions check out Raphael Cushnir’s work).

2. Tap into gratitude and say thanks

Name 1 or 2 things you are thankful for. And say thanks.
“I am thankful for cool breeze in spring leaves. Thank you cool breeze.”

For more on gratitude check out Brene Brown’s work.

3. Go for a walk

Feel the air against your face, notice things, only talk a little or not at all, feel life moving around you

4. Reach out

Be with the people that are good for you. (These are the people that are okay with you and still loving even when you are not wonderful to be with.)
Tell them how you are really doing.
Be with them.

5. Breath

Inhale, exhale.
Feel your breath.

6. Let yourself feel joy

It is okay to feel joy even in the hardest moments. Joy is not the same as happiness. You are not denying the experience of grief or anger by also taking in joy. When it moves through you, acknowledge it, nod, pause, touch your heart.

Joy for me feels like a welling up, from my gut to my chest, it is a sense, a knowing that there is something to be thankful for right now and there will always be something to be thankful for. Joy helps me see the moment.
Joy connects me to now and to something bigger than now.
Joy keeps me courageous and open.

How do you connect with a sense of joy even when life is very dark?
What does joy feel like to you?

When you share your practices and ideas it will give others new ideas and ways to connect to their sense of joy.

Annie Von Essen6 ways to access joy in the darkest moments
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How to have confidence during a downturn

I am working with multiple clients who are making huge life and career changes in the midst of our anxiety producing economy. One of my clients is in graduate school, more than a few years over 40 and completely changing his career trajectory. When we meet, I am inspired by his courage and his determination. I can only imagine how jolting it is too know so much and be treated like you are just beginning again.

Many of us in the United States, in the changed economy, are beginning again. And if we acknowledge it, we know that we are going to have to begin again fifty more times in our lives.

As my client gets ready to enter a new job market he also has a depth of skills from his old career. He is combining a past career in a creative field with a current Masters in a technical field. He has demonstrated persistence, adaptability, and stick-to-it-ness. It is clear to me that he has a multitude of skills to offer and is developing a clever response to a lay off and the downturn economy.

Yet he is still not getting noticed.
Even in his intern position people are not making use of the skills he has to offer.


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I know that it is very hard to get a job in this economy. I have seen the statistics. And it can be difficult to prove how your other skills apply in a new field. But, I think something deeper is happening. The sticking point is not just the skills we have. Rather I think it is the energy we project as we try and get the gig.

Once you have been turned down 3, 4 or 14 times during the resume, internship, or application process it is very hard to keep your head up. I was depressed and held little faith when I graduated in 2008. Rejection is exhausting. And future employers and colleagues can sense when you have already given up on yourself.

The job hunt, the career change, applying for school, finishing school, starting a business, maintaining a business requires two things: Persistence and confidence.

The very same two things under attack when you are beginning something new.

Does it feel like the universe is testing you a little? A lot?
Getting to the next level, the next step, your next dream is hard.

But the more confidence you project and persistence you display the wider the door opens.

Here are two practices I use for keeping persistence and confidence going:

1. Be endearingly annoying (persistence)

Do not give up. Go for one more interview. Ask for a meeting for the fourth time.
The trick is to be endearing while you ask – tap into the part of you that people like.

Ask yourself – what do my close friends and family like about me?

Now use this characteristic energetically. Hold on to that while you pick up the phone and ask directly to speak to the person in charge of hiring, or in charge of student services.

(My friends like my positive energy, joy and ability to see the possibility in a situation. I call on that when I have to call back about a project I applied for.)

2. Challenge the negative the minute it enters the scene (confidence)

You know that voice that plays over in your head when you do not get the interview. Or even as you try to fill an online form? The one that says “Why bother? You’re not going to get it.” And, “You must be really stupid.” And “You’re too young.” Or, You’re too old.”

Catch that voice in the act.

RESPOND with a positive truth.

Say, “I got you!” Then answer the fearful voice with another truth, a positive truth about yourself or a story from the past that deflates the nasty voice. “I have worked before and I’ve done great work for organizations.” “I am young and flexible.” “I am older and have years of experience.” “I am smart, savvy and courageous.”

Oh, and it helps if you find a cheerleader or two. Someone to keep the flame burning when you’re down.

Keep doing the work!

How do you keep persistent in spite of set backs?
How do you convey confidence when you’re pushing up hill?

Annie Von EssenHow to have confidence during a downturn
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Not doing it the “right” way

For those folks following along on my business journey – you may have noticed a quiet, static sound coming from my blog space.

Perhaps you thought, “Annie must be really busy with client projects.” And that is true, I have been.
I have directly experienced the truth that when you create something new and pour yourself into it opportunities come.

But that is not the main reason I haven’t been on my blog.

The main reason is fear.

The dreaded fear of “not doing it right the first time.” Do you know this fear? The voice in your head that says, “Just don’t bother doing it at all if you cannot get it right the first time.”
Something inside tells you there must be a certain, concrete way to do something for it to succeed. If you cannot do it that one, specific way do not bother because you will fail.

As my close friends know – I do not have this fear all the time. Often I will throw myself into a new project or idea with both feet, nose plugged, eyes clenched tight. I figure I will swim for sure once I am in the water.

I actually like that swirling, scary feeling of the plunge.

But when I have heard from numerous different people that there is one right way to do something – I freeze. I like to do things, well, umm, as close to perfect as humanly possible (which is actually not so perfect). When I am thinking about only one way to do or be, my inner critic gets full dominion of my mind.

I have spent the last 2 years reading the recommendations on how to blog by people who blog.
Blogging has a lot of experts!
How many days you should blog, how many words, how many pictures…

Too much noise, too many rules = stifled, gagged creativity.
I might as well stick my creativity down into a long jar and twist the lid tight.

So I am loosening the lid and letting some sunlight in.
I will give the rules a quick glance, take a deep breath, look the other way and jump with my two scared feet, in my timing.

Here is help dealing with the “do it right once” gene:

1. Give the rules a sideways glance.

find your truth
let go of the rest

2. Think about it less, do it more.

move that big toe forward & chill out the fast, fury of thoughts

3. Take the courage to be less perfect.

I am admitting I do not have the blog thing perfect, as I blog!

What are you not trying because you won’t get it perfect?
Whose rules are you listening to instead of your own clear voice?

You can do it your way.

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Want to read more on letting go of perfection…

Check out Brene Brown’s blog – Ordinary Courage

And for a good take on blogging rules…

Danny Brown writes about the blog every day myth on By Bloggers for Bloggers. (Thanks Kathy for sending me this great post.)

Annie Von EssenNot doing it the “right” way
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How to Relax and Unplug

Lately I have been coming home late and I am tired. When my partner is not home, I plop myself in front of the computer to watch TV.

I have spent all day in front of a screen. I have cranked away on emails and worked and reworked drafts of Word docs and then returned to emails. Sometimes I have a day with lovely meetings and one on one conversations with human beings. I love those moments. I am a fan of human beings.

But most of the day I am clicking and staring, clicking and forgetting to blink. Click. Click. Click. I come home hating screens, and then I think “I need to unplug” and then the not so brilliant thought enters my mind…I will just watch an episode of something mindless to relax.

Here is the deal…for me TV feels good like eating a pint of ice cream at one sitting feels good. And I think sometimes it is okay to indulge in that out of control feel goodness. But more screen time is not what I really need to relax. I need to step away from the screen. I have been thinking about this for a while yet still returning to bad reality shows at the end of the night.

Until a recent Saturday morning with nowhere to go and my loved one not at home. I decided to open a book and NOT a self-help book or business book. A novel, the Living by Annie Dillard.

I proceeded to read in bed for an hour.

I know this may be basic, simple knowledge…

but reading a good book in bed is extraordinary.

And the art of a good book read in bed may be dying.
This month and into the next, when I am craving an escape, when I need to unwind and let go,
I will pick up my fiction book and find a cozy nook.
(I may even take the book on the bus with me, instead of my iphone.)
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How to step away from the screen:

1. Find a fiction book to read

Find a fiction book in your home that you have not read. Open said book and begin reading.

2. Make time

Give yourself at least a half an hour to get into the book and hooked on the act of reading.

3. Keep book with you

Carry your book around with you. Sit down with it and read. Put book down for conversations, do not put book down for more screen time.

Relax. Unplug. Turn on your creativity.

Annie Von EssenHow to Relax and Unplug
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Add Life to your Morning

At the end of a long evening, decide to make bread. Decide that you will set aside an early morning for you and creation. Perhaps it is Friday night and you will make Saturday morning yours. Or it is Thursday night and you will go into the office a tad late on Friday.

1. Make a decision to take a morning for you and for some bread baking.

Plan to make two loaves. Find a lovely bread baking cookbook at a local used bookstore. (My favorite: The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson.) Or you can grab a recipe online. (My favorite: 101 Cookbooks.)
Take the evening to knead your bread and get it ready to rise.

2. Make the bread.

Get up in the morning and make bread. Take your time, you are nurturing a living thing, preparing it to be life giving. Let the process surprise you.

3. Give a loaf of bread to a neighbor.

Take the bread out of the oven, wrap up in a flour sack cloth and head next door or down the hall. Present your neighbor with a warm loaf of bread and no apparent explanation. Watch confusion and joy spread across the face. Soak in the goodness bread provides. Head home and have a piece of toast!

Baking bread is good for:

? Neighbors going through a tough time
? Moments when life feels flat
? When you feel the world spinning and are unsure of your own creation

Annie Von EssenAdd Life to your Morning
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