Be Present

How to tap into more joy when you need it most

In these last days of summer, our house is full of family, people and things are everywhere. Plates of food with warm stone fruit next to plates of food with fried rice. People yelling each other’s names from across the tiny house. I am grateful and full of connection. 

Mind you, I am also an introvert, and I took a few days out alone, away from all my family before this next batch of sweetness arrived. I needed time to connect first to myself, to say “oh hello there Annie.” I needed time to be outside. My body and being need time near the water in stillness to recalibrate my inner compass. I am grateful for a supportive partner who did the household preparations for a month of family time so that I could have alone time. I am grateful for the moments we can be outside in the woods or near a river.

Now, in this house full of people from 80 to 4 years old, I am feeling joy. I am feeling the joy of good food, of laughter, of stories shared with our son. I am delighting in the feeling of creating a life with this wild family.

And when I was alone with my thoughts, books, and a shoreline, I felt joy. I felt the joy that comes when you notice the sound of water moving at the same time as a bird call. 

It is not all sunshine and ease, we’ve had major changes in life plans in the last month that caused stress. We are navigating the fires and the virus with apprehension and sadness. We are listening to the news from around the world and our own town – people navigating devastation and loss of life, lands, homes, and rights. We are fielding phone calls from friends and family about illnesses. 

This is to say – the connection is essential. Amid all the changes, and our own and other’s fights for a safer and more just world – we need to remember our connections to each other, to ourselves, to the natural world, to our experiences, our breaths, our stories, and the bigger picture.

And the connections lead to joy. And we all need joy. Joy is a reminder of delight and “aliveness” in the middle of the mess and the heartaches.

This week think about using connection as a source of joy.

What do you need to connect to right now to make a little room for joy?
Who do you need to connect to now?

Want to dive deeper into what joy can be and how to access it? Here is a quick video for you to go further into this practice and how to apply it even in a work setting.

Guess what? I asked a few amazing communities I am a part of what they do to build joy. The answers form an inspiring list you can use to build joy & connection into your life anytime – especially when you need it most. 

Get it here!

Want to share this joy-building list and video with a friend so you can inspire each other? Send them this link to share for free!


Looking for genuine connections in your professional life?
Clear Harbor is a community of fellow leaders who practice equity and make room for joy!

Get on the waitlist before the doors open in September.

Rheanna SmithHow to tap into more joy when you need it most
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The first hug in a year

I gave my first hug to a friend I hadn’t hugged in over a year. I felt a mix of tenderness, joy, relief, sadness, and distance. The feelings surprised me. I expected sheer delight – I love this person SO much! Instead, I think the hug was exactly what is meant by the word bittersweet. 

I recognized something else in that hug and subsequent first hugs after. My feelings right now are different than I assumed. They are milder and murkier than I expect. I think this is because for the last year, I was not able to have many nuanced emotions.

My mind has been locked down tight. I was focused on attending to the safety and wellbeing of my family and the community. I watched Covid take people’s lives, wellbeing, and livelihood.  I witnessed the racial reckoning of our country with held breath and continued to find what I must do and undo professionally and personally to be a part of ending racism. I observed friends navigating hardships from a distance and did my best to send love. I supported clients in their huge lifts to carry on their missions.

This last year I felt sad, and angry. At times I felt grateful and glimmers of sweet joy. And that was it.

My focus was tight and that was necessary, but it had its repercussions.  

I did not make room for a larger reflection on what was missing.

My spectrum of thinking, feeling, and experiencing was constrained to attend to the immediacy of survival and to respond to immediate personal and societal concerns.

This is not a new thing for humans. We all close in our emotions, and perspective in our daily lives in moments of pressure, trauma, conflict, violence, and loss. 

As tender and quieter thoughts and emotions emerge, I can feel the shape of the cold, exterior container I built to get through the last year. I do not want to be in that container but I know it will take awhile to set it down.

I want to share with you the slow ways I am dancing with the re-emergence of a fuller spectrum of emotions and thoughts. (I am not a trauma-expert, so I am including other resources below.)

You can better see and support others in your work and life, if you tend to where you are emotionally, mentally, and even physically, in this transition.

Here is what is supporting me:

  • I am paying attention to how I am feeling in the moment.
  • I am moving at the speed I can and trying to understand what others may be feeling or experiencing (i.e. go at your own pace and support others in their own pace.)
  • I am building connections with people who can listen without judgement or shame and whom I can offer the same to.
  • I am reflecting alone with walks, movement, and writing. 
  • I am finding moments of appreciation, thinking “I appreciate this… I appreciate you for…” and then letting the appreciation sink in.

The cliff notes:

  • Notice your feelings.
  • Go at your own pace.
  • Know and understand other peoples’ pace.
  • Connect with others who can listen, and you can listen to.
  • Reflect alone.
  • Appreciate the people, moments, the things you can.

Reflection questions to go deeper alone or together:
– What have I been feeling about…
– What am I feeling now about…
– What do I need? What do you need?
– What am I experiencing right now?
– What do I want to take with me from last year?

May you have moments of real connection with others and with yourself this month.


Here are two guides from the past months to support in this continued time of transition:

5 steps for grounding during instability
How to prepare for reopening


Trauma, grief & tending to emotions – a mix of resources

People on Insta for support & resources:
@nedratawwab – Nedra Tawwab
@Alex_elle – alexandra elle

Websites
Self-compassion – Dr. Kristin Neff’s resources & meditations
Cloud Sangha – facilitated mindfulness groups, including groups for people of color and women
Spell for grief & letting go – adrienne maree brown

Movie
The Wisdom of Trauma movie – Dr. Gabor Mate

Books
The Body is not an apology, Sonya Renee Taylor
The Body keeps the score, Dr. van der Kolk
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking each other home: Conversations on loving and dying, Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Nadine Burke Harris

Thank you to my social work colleagues for these resources! 
Have others I should include in my list? – Please send your recommendations.

Rheanna SmithThe first hug in a year
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How I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)

Here, in the Pacific Northwest, flowers are beginning to peek up out of the ground. The days are getting longer. A smattering of them have been without rain. Which means there are less mud puddles. That means a lot less loads of wash for me to run. 🙂

Thankfully, some of my family have managed to get their Covid shots. In most places, infection rates are reducing as opposed to rising. 

I find myself thinking… perhaps I should be feeling more relief. More hope. 

Yet, I find myself sitting with a strange mix of emotions these last weeks. Here are the words that come to mind as I try to name them: exhaustion, wariness, nostalgia, sadness, hope, gratefulness, and grief. As we face the prospect of returning to gather in person, my hope and relief is mixed with powerful reminders of what family, friends and community have had to endure this past year – the loss of time spent together, the loss of jobs and security, the loss of loved ones. 

That’s when I begin to notice my posture of “just put your head down, Annie, get through it, push on.” This is not the first time in my life I’ve used this survival technique. It works. For a short time. But it takes a toll when I do it for long enough. 

You see, in order for me to “push through” I must also actively avoid feeling my own emotions – both negative and positive. That includes empathy, grief, tenderness, and gratefulness. This year provided me with moment-to-moment opportunities to both experience and avoid my feelings. Because of the intense magnifying glass our lives have been under this last year – I am noticing the moments I’ve avoided my feelings in order to simply “push through”.

The key for me moving towards hope and accessing my ability to open myself back up to people and public space, is to move myself from a posture of avoidance into a position of allowing myself to experience my own feelings. I am doing this now… ever so gently.

Here is how I am opening myself up to the feeling of hope and the learnings of the last year:

I am focusing especially on my feelings of grief and gratitude.

I am noticing in a specific way. It’s a technique coming out of mindfulness and Buddhism. 

I try to be aware of any feelings I may be experiencing in the moment. Then, I see if I can slow down and acknowledge the feeling, whatever it may be. It goes something like this:

“Hello there, sadness.” 
and 
“Whew, here it comes again… I’m missing someone…” 
and 
“Wow, I am so grateful for…”

I say to myself or (if appropriate) to those around me, just what it is that I am feeling.  I offer appreciations out loud when I am experiencing gratitude. 

I try to offer some variation of Valerie Kaur’s offering around grief if I am grieving with or because of something someone else is experiencing, “You are grieving, but you are not grieving alone. I am here with you.”

I let the feeling remain with me. Till the next one comes.

Then, I am practicing being quiet and present in the moment. (You know me – this is taking a lot of practice!)

This is not new information. It is centuries old and across traditions. However, there is a reason we continue to strive to learn it – it is hard work & it is life changing.

Here is what happens when I allow myself to notice & experience my emotions, especially grief and gratitude:

  • I experience more love and connection in my life, and less resentment.
  • I give love and acknowledgement to those I am with, allowing them the opportunity to feel loved and appreciated.
  • I can stay in the present moment, which reduces worry, anxiety, and fear of the future,
  • I feel human and notice the humanity in others.
  • When I notice gratitude – it expands and unearths more appreciation. Gratitude and appreciation can coexist with pain and grief.
  • I move through the emotions so that unexpected emotions are less likely to surface later, which reduces the harm I enact on myself and others.

It can be hard. 

I am still head down, barrel through at times. And that is okay.

However, the more I drop into my emotions and the lessons they point to, the more prepared I am to keep showing up as a human being.

As I practice feeling more, I process more of the incredible lessons and hard moments of the last few years. As I sit with the grief and the gratitude, I find myself learning how to be a better friend, partner, and teammate. I recognize that I have more capacity than I imagined. 

And that gives me hope.

What are you feeling right now?
What emotions are you paying attention to? 
What are they teaching you?

May we allow each other the space to feel as we enter a new time of transition.

Feelings and emotions too overwhelming right now? Here is a place to go for support: NAMI Hotline

Want more resources to support feeling your emotions, supporting others in their grief, and practicing gratitude? 

Here are a few offers:

See no stranger, Valarie Kaur, The People’s Inauguration  and other learnings
A guide to transition from winter to spring, Kirin Bhatti
Lama Rod Owens – Acknowledging emotions meditation
Tara Brach – Pause for Presence
Untamed, Glennon Doyle
Emotional Agility, Susan David

Need examples? Here is what this looks like in real-time:

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the lost time with people I love.
  • It hits me in a pang in my chest.
  • I sit with it and I say to myself, “Whew there is that feeling of missing and loss.”
  • I send a message or call when I can to tell the person I miss that I love them.

Gratitude

  • There is always more to do in our house, with our child, in my work. It is easy to get bogged down.
  • I am practicing noticing when my family is actively working on supporting someone else in the house or helping with a household task (which is actually very often).
  • I try and see it in the moment or shortly after and let them know I am grateful for what they are doing and/or I am grateful for them.

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the people I care about who have lost loved ones to Covid.
  • I am feeling grief when I hear stories of people who have lost loved ones, including their children because of hatred and violence.
  • I offer my love and feeling of grief in the form of a mediation. 
  • When I can I drop into the moment with the person or the story and practice listening not solving.
  • I look for actions I can take afterward, in response to the grief – learning more about the story, taking a direct action, and supporting a person or organization.
  • For individuals in my life I am grieving with, I look for simple ways I can show up in support (and ask them first).

Gratitude

  • I notice when my heart is welling up with tenderness. It can be when I watch Lino and Rob dance in the living room or play cars. It can be when Lino is creating a hilarious made-up scenario or when Rob or his sister Lisa is preparing a warm meal.
  • When I feel the tenderness rise up, I notice it if I can.
  • I set down what I was doing just for the moment and take a mental polaroid.
  • I say to myself “THIS” and I say to myself or out loud, “I see you, I appreciate you”


What are the ways you acknowledge grief and loss?
What are the ways you offer appreciation?


I’ve created a guide to help you move forward during this time. Grab the guide here.

Rheanna SmithHow I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)
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Make a big change in your career and life

In the past few weeks, I offered up steps to take in preparation for a life transition and what you can do to create a shift without making the immediate big change.

Now I am sharing a process that sets you up to make a big life or career transition.

There are two ways to use these tools:

  1. Try out these steps when you know you are ready to implement a change in your life and you feel, “this is it! Now is the time!”
  2. Use any of these tools to move you closer to the change you want in your life or career sometime in the future. Hint – these processes work at ANY TIME to give you more clarity and alignment in your life!


If this moment in our history has awakened something inside you, igniting your creativity and a new direction, and you are ready for a change – use these tools to begin decisive action.

If this time of challenge has provided you or your family with clarity that what is currently occurring cannot continue in the same way – use these tools to walk toward a more sustainable future.

And if you are currently working hard to manage each moment in front of you, using your energy to tend to your well-being and your family’s well-being, and cannot possibly think of or talk about a change right now – you are not alone!

You can try only one of the first steps to gently lay the groundwork for the possibilities of what you want to come in a year or two. (Or come back to this process when you are ready.)

Here is the guide that includes these tools, plus the previous processes offered for building towards a transition in your life.

May you be well as you move toward change or stead yourself right where you are.

Rheanna SmithMake a big change in your career and life
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Back in the thick of it.

Are you back in the thick of things?

This can be a hard time of year because we want to feel that fresh start. Yet here we are, still pushing through the same work and juggling all the same pieces of daily life.

It can also be a refreshing time of year. Some people can harness the new year’s energy and then launch into both new and old work with a renewed sense of passion.

If you are working on a project that feels like it just keeps going with no end in sight, then this note is for you. If you are feeling super excited about the year ahead, then consider this note an extra boost!

When you are pushing through work that never seems to end, here are a few things to remember. You have heard these things before. Many wise teachers and dear friends have said these words. But for you, now in the midst of January, I am going to say them again.

Look back at what you have accomplished

You have done many things in your life that are awesome and powerful.  You have already done things in your work that are HUGE accomplishments. I know you have. Right now remind yourself of the great things you have done. (I won’t judge if you brag a little.)

Trust yourself

Yes! You actually have the ability to keep going. You have the ability to do this work. You have everything within you that you need. That includes the ability to ask for help and innovate with other folks who would be great work with. You can do this.

Find ways to sustain yourself for the journey

If you are going on a very long road trip, it is a good idea to pack snacks and food. It is also a good idea to pull over and eat that food, get out of the car and look around, move your body a bit, get some sleep, and even ask someone else to drive for a while.  Think of your big project like a road trip. Eat, sleep, listen to good music, see the sights, have fabulous conversations – get out of the car sometimes! You will still get where you’re going. And you will enjoy the journey a lot more!

Nothing is forever

“This, too, will pass,” said Persian Sufi poets and lots of other wise people. And it’s true. Everything ends and begins again anew. This current project will be over, this challenging job will end, the kids will grow older. Hold this knowledge, at least just for a second. This moment right now is the moment you have to make the most of. A few moments and blinks later, things will be different.

You’ve got this! Keep going. Look back and congratulate yourself on what you have done. And don’t forget to take a few breaks along the way.

You can even tell me! Feel free to write me a note or post a comment below.

 

Do you want to commit to finding ways to have a calmer, more connected 2016?

My Room Next Door class begins on February 14th. Choose now to be less stressed next year. Get more info and purchase your seat here.

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015Back in the thick of it.
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What is sweet in your life right now?

There are a lot of expectations at this time of year. Expectations we place on ourselves, expectations of our loved ones, end of the year expectations of our co-workers. If you are religious, then this time of year can also bring expectations for your spiritual life. Some of these people and their expectations want the best for you: to have a merry time, to feel loved and connected, to experience delight. However, expectations can feel heavy.

For me this year, the expectation to participate in the holiday season and year-end rituals is commingled with the heaviness of my heart.

My heart feels heavy because of all the hate, lack of understanding, and murders that so many communities in our world are facing right now. And I do not want to ignore the complexity of the expectations for the holiday season and the sadness about what is happening to people in my country and in countries far away. So I am not going to. I am going to hold both.

This year as I shop or decorate the house, I am also feeling a mix of delight and sadness.

I am choosing carefully where to invest my time and energy. I am putting my energy into this time of thanksgiving. I am focusing on the upcoming holidays, which are most dear because that’s when I gather with my family. I am lucky to have them.

I work hard to not shut down my heart with the constant barrage of news focused on hate and suffering. I have one technique I am using this year to keep my heart open and remember the essence of this season. At least once a day I take time to remember what is sweet in my life, what I have given to others, and what gifts I have received.

You can do this every day, perhaps right before closing your eyes or as you take the first sip of coffee in the morning.

Close your eyes and ask:

What is sweet in my life right now?
What have I given to someone in my life?
What have I received from someone in my life?

As you answer each question, say thank you. This ritual does not have to be a big thing.

Here are my answers for right now:

What is sweet in my life?
Our home is warm and clean, with a sweet cat and caring neighbors.

What have I given to someone in my life?
I offer a careful listening ear and steadfast commitment to my partner.

What have I received from someone?
My dear friend trekked across the mountains in the snow, bringing her 10-month-old for a visit.

What is a sweetness in your life right now? Post in the comments or on Facebook.

 

Do you want to commit to finding ways to have a calmer, more connected 2016?

My Room Next Door class begins on February 14th. Choose now to be less stressed next year. Get more info and purchase your seat here.

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015What is sweet in your life right now?
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“I’m tired of it!” Now what? PART TWO

You’re doing your work. You’re involved in a project. You want to keep going… you need to keep going… you must keep going… but you’re TIRED OF IT!

What do you do now?

In my last post I suggested taking the time and space to think things through. I suggested asking yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now the right thing for me? Am I doing it the right way?”

Which answer did you hear?

Answer #1. “Stop doing the work because it is no longer good for you.”

Answer #2. “The work is good! Keep going and do things a different way.”

Answer #3. “This work is important and you need to do it! Keep going and don’t stop even if you are tired.”

Answer #4. “Wow, am I confused! I’m unclear about whether to keep going forward or change direction.”

 

Let’s take a look at each of those scenarios, because each one requires a different strategy.

Scenario #1. Stop doing the work.

Just for you, I have a series of posts about this! Check out my three-part series “When things aren’t working at work.”
 

Scenario #2. Keep going but do things a different way.

This scenario requires two strategies.

First and most important: Take good care of yourself while you’re still working. This means getting good sleep, taking breaks from work, and getting physical exercise. Start with a few little changes. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Take a walk during the workday. Stop eating lunch at your desk. Or start your day with five minutes of stretching.

Second: Reflect on the ways that you could do your work differently. Create space to reflect with trusted friends and coworkers. Ask yourself and your colleagues, “What if there was another way to do this work? What could we change?” Get curious and creative. Problem-solve with your team. Make a new plan and get help implementing it. Notice what works.
 

Scenario #3. This is the work that must be done and you know you must keep going.

This scenario requires a few additional strategies.

Just as in Scenario #2, practice self-care techniques while you’re still working. Get some sleep. Taking breaks. Move your body. (I’ll share a lot more about this in my next post.)

Then, do the work. Really tell yourself you can keep doing it. And do it.

Next, put a time limit on how long you will keep working with your head down before you check in and think about how it’s going. It is helpful to set up a check-in with someone. Tell a friend, a coach or a trusted co-worker, “I am working really hard on this. But in two weeks, if it’s just as hard and I’m not making progress, I’d like to check in with you and reflect on a different way to do the work.”

And most important, rally the troops. Get support doing the work. Ask co-workers and colleagues for more help. Delegate! And get connected with loved ones outside the work. They can provide a sounding board and an escape valve.
 

Scenario #4. You are confused about whether you should keep working or quit.

For now, do not stop doing the work. BUT slow down. Put in a little less effort and time. Make some breathing room. Back off the throttle as much as you can without losing momentum.

As in all the other scenarios, practice techniques that allow you to take good care of yourself while still working: get good sleep, take breaks, and move your body.

Then build in more time for reflection. Find time to get quiet. Take a walk to get coffee during the workday. Take a moment in the driveway before you go into the house. Gently ask yourself, “Do I want to keep doing this the same way?” Talk with only a few trusted confidantes about your struggle to understand whether you can “keep going.”

And be gentle. Give yourself time to figure out the direction you want to go. A new direction may come to you in a flash or it may dawn as slow awareness. Or you may just finish the work you are struggling with. And when you’re finished, your reflection time could lead you in a new direction.

Are you still craving a more techniques for revitalizing the work you are tired of? Stay tuned for a checklist that can help you keep going when exhaustion and frustration set in.

Annie Von Essen“I’m tired of it!” Now what? PART TWO
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If you are not your work, what are you?

A few weeks ago I began a series about “making it work at work.”
In the first post, I wrote about a technique for finding your balance in the workplace: actually realizing that “you are not your work.”

Check this post out if you haven’t already. Your Not Your Work

Let’s back up.

Why would you be in need of this reminder in the first place?
Well, a lot of us work A LOT.
Even when we are not at work we fret about our work, we check emails, we answer calls.
We even dream about our work!
With technology and increased expectations and demands to get more done with less time and a smaller staff, we carry our work with us. And then the parents among us are never really away from the work of parenting. Combine parenting with a job and the result is competing priorities, almost all the time.

Sometimes it can feel like work is sitting right between our shoulder blades all day and into the night —a subtle pressure between the bones.

That’s a heavy weight. It can lead to no longer liking your job (if you liked it in the first place). It can grow into a sense of dread whenever you think about going to the office. You may find yourself teetering once the edge of burnout, which I will write about in future posts.

If you feel tired, overwhelmed and overloaded with work, you can begin to reduce the burden by reminding yourself – YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK. (That’s pretty loud, I know.) This technique is critical to avoid becoming fed up with your work.

But if you already know you are not your work – then what are you?

Right now you might be saying,

“Really, Annie? What am I?”

I know this is a big existential question.
And yes, people have written about this for millennia.
And yes, when I ask myself this question I think,

“Whew – too big, too big!”

You don’t have to look at the question head on.
It’s OK to give it a sideways glance.
But it’s a question worth asking.
Who are you?

What are all the exquisite, powerful things that make you – YOU?

Think about your experiences, history, identity, heritage, choices.
Then think about what’s at the core: the solid uniqueness of you.

Here’s something you can do.

Try it in your head, in your journal, or even on a sticky note!
Say to yourself: “I am me. I am_____________.”
Fill in the blank at least 5 times with adjectives.
Be kind. The list could include things you are all
the time or just some of the time.

Here are a few of mine:

I am me. I am bright energy.
I am me. I am gentle.
I am me. I am generous.
I am me. I am small.
I am me. I am strong.

Now ask yourself:

“Besides my professional self, my parenting self, my care taking self, what do I love to do? What do I enjoy?”

Keep it sweet and simple. These do not have to be BIG ideas.

Here are a few of my answers:

I love to read, knit, cook, run, hike. I love to be with my friends, neighbors, and family. I love to be near water and in the green space behind our building. If you want to go deeper, you can think of a way you already nurture these other parts of yourself.

Take note.

Is there a way you can do something this week with your non-work self or your non-parent self?

Just one little thing. Give it 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

Maybe you already do these other things. You go for walks with friends, paint, write poetry, ride your bike. Shine a light on those things. Remember them at work and outside of work.
When work is looming, we need to remind ourselves that we DO have a life outside of work.
There may be beautiful parts of our lives and our lived experience already happening —we just need to notice and acknowledge them!

You are not your work.

You are so much more than your work.

You are YOU.

If you are feeling really DONE with your work and pushed beyond the limit, don’t worry.
You don’t have to stay forever.
In my next few posts, we’ll work on developing a strategy to help you make a bold switch.

In the meantime, here are a few more posts on finding balance in the workplace:

How to love the job you are in (or survive the job
you hate)

You are not your work
Invest in who you are – not what you do

Annie Von EssenIf you are not your work, what are you?
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Find your center during the holidays

The holidays are here. If you’re like me — if you’re like many people — you’re feeling a combination of excitement and pressure, joy and sadness.

Right after Thanksgiving in the USA, everything around us explodes into green and red lights. There are so many ads, so many shopping deals. So many expectations, so many parties to go to. And so much year-end work to be done.

The holiday time can be sweet. We look forward to sharing food, laughter, and love with family and friends. We experience faith in something bigger — faith in each other.

But the holidays can also weigh us down.  Amid the rush and the twinkling lights, many of us can feel alone, disconnected and unsure.

For many people, this year’s holiday season is laden with sadness, anger, mistrust and disillusion. Recent events in Ferguson and New York — and across the United States — point directly at our long-standing divisions and the injustice that continues to reside in our midst.  The global crisis of Ebola points at our fragility and dependence on each other. Deep in my bones, I am feeling great sadness and anger and loss.

How then do we make it through the holidays? How can we manage not to droop under the grinding challenges at this year’s end?

Three practices are helping to buoy my spirits this month — and you may find them helpful, too:

  • Reflect on what this season mean to you
  • Pace yourself and take smaller bites
  • Do less and notice more

Reflect on what this season mean to you

Two major religious holidays are celebrated this time of year along with many spiritually and culturally significant days. Hanukkah and Christmas both fall in December. These holidays celebrate miracles and represent light being brought into the world.  The winter solstice — often the last big feast before the hard months — represents rebirth and the coming of a new year.

And it may be that these holidays are not yours and have no connection to your beliefs. Even so, you can find personal significance in the season — without the holidays. Ask yourself: what is the deeper meaning people are searching for this time of year? What deeper wish do you have?

Ask yourself: “What meaning do this season hold for me?”

For me, this season is a time to reconnect with dear ones. It’s also a time for reflection: I think about where I have been and where I am going. I reflect on love and how I want to show love to other human beings. I think about the ways I have been showing up and the ways I have not. It is a time to express openly the possibility of miracles while actively acknowledging the sadness, conflict, and injustice in the world around us.

Pace yourself and take smaller bites

This is helpful advice during a holiday meal!  It is also a good practice for the whole season. Taking baby steps and dividing tasks into smaller bites is a healthy way to handle life’s challenges. It’s a big part of what we talk about in my Room Next Door workshops.

Try focusing on one thing at a time. Break down the work, the chores, and the activities into bite-size pieces. Get very clear about the first doable piece of a task. Do that one thing. Then go on the next piece. Give yourself less work in a given amount of time.

Do less and notice more

Take a moment right now to figure out what can come off your plate. Can you change a deadline, eliminate some errands, or drop an expectation you have placed on yourself?  Say “No” once or twice — or even three times — this month. Some projects can wait. Choose the gatherings you’re attending wisely. If you try to do it all you won’t enjoy any of it.

Be mindful. Pay attention. When you’re in final stretch of a work project or preparation for a meal with friends, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and make everything slow motion (like in a movie).  What do you notice? Is it a connection between people, the click clack of computer keys, the smell of warm pie, a friend’s bright laugh, even a feeling of sorrow blurred around the edges?

When you slow down, you will be reminded why we need each other. We need each other’s support, love, and kindness. Hold onto this fact during December, because this is what the holidays are truly about.

What does this season mean to you?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenFind your center during the holidays
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A summer of family, food and jeepneys

I wanted to share news with you all from the last few months. I finally finished my move into a sweet, little office and art space. By day, it will be a place where I can support client projects and build out my next workshop. By night, it will be a place for my husband to steal away and work on his new poetry book. We are both thrilled at the thought of a space dedicated to fostering new work and supporting current projects.

PI_Food_letter

As I ease into my new office space here in Seattle, I also ease back in being the States after our family trip to the Philippines. As you may recall, my husband and I traveled to the Philippines in July. I must admit, during my time in the Philippines, I was spoiled by my new family – fed four or five well-rounded meals a day, entrusted with grand stories of family history and toured around cities and countryside full of coconut trees, jeepneys and trikes. My husband and I traversed three islands and a multitude of family homes. I spent the time learning about the tight loving bonds of family. I felt amazement as my own sense of family expanded in my chest. My traditional, American notions of a third cousin twice removed are a thing of the past. Now I consider everyone in both my own family as well as my chosen family a cousin, auntie or uncle. My new Filipino family taught me the art of bringing people into the fold, of making room for more.

As I transition back into work mode, while balancing the last full days of summer, I am remembering what is most important in this one life. For me, the most important thing are the loving bonds we create with each other. The hot meals shared around a table, the long car rides with family (chosen and blood), listening to someone else’s stories and desires. During my trip overseas I lived fully and presently. I am reminded of my desire to connect and make every moment a meaningful one with the people I surround myself with.

PI_Family_07_2014_ave_200pxThank you to my family in the Philippines for reminding me of what is important. As I enter the transition of another season I realign my fulcrum and place taking care of my relationships with my family and friends at the center. I am working to hold lightly the constant anxiety of working life so that there is always room and time for my loved ones.

May these last days of August and first days of September bring you continued reminders of what you hold most dear and the time to enjoy it. As we transition into autumn, what are you taking with you from summer? What reminders did you receive about what is most important? I invite you to share on my Facebook page. I would love to hear from you!

Best,
Annie

Annie Von EssenA summer of family, food and jeepneys
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