Waiting for Traction

I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting for things to thaw around here. No matter how much I love winter, I reach a point when I start longing for things to turn green, for the days to grow longer, for my focus to move outward.

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21 Day Challenge

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As we near the end of the year and 2018 is just around the corner, are you beginning to think about goals, plans, new skills or hobbies, you want to further develop?

Neuroscience tells us that our brains are infinitely capable of taking in new information, learning, stretching and growing, more than we have ever imagined.

Do you have a hobby you want to try but keep putting off because you don’t believe you have enough time?  Or how about a new habit you’d like to develop but haven’t found the will power to get started?

Good News!  It is never too late to learn and master something new.  It’s only too late if you don’t get started. In fact, it only takes 21 days to develop new neural pathways in the brain and jumpstart a new habit or skill.  So what are you longing to do?  Learn to play an instrument? Tackle another language? Run your first marathon? Develop healthy eating and exercise routines? Change your lifestyle?  Discover more quality time?

Begin thinking about something you would like to learn, change or improve!  I’ll send more details soon about how to set up your very own 21 Day Challenge to begin in the new year. We’ll walk through the steps together and ensure you’ve chosen something that will bring satisfaction and success.  We will also check in several times during your 21 day plan to help you stay on track and experience the results you truly desire.

Sign up for the 21 Day Challenge at this link and stay tuned!

Stepping Out of Our Uncomfortable “Comfort” Zones

We are told at an early age that growth, true growth, comes from getting out of our comfort zones.  So, why is it so hard sometimes to step out of those safe and familiar places in our lives and seek out opportunities that can actually help us to grow?

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Recently, I stepped out of my comfort zone by participating in an emergency services incident management training that was largely new to me.  Getting ready for the class, I noticed how “uncomfortable” I was feeling. The questions and concerns that kept replaying in my head were things like:  “ I don’t know this topic and material.”  “ This is not my expertise.”  “Should I really be here?”  “I feel like an imposter.”  Any of these sound familiar? My inner critic got really loud as the training grew closer.

Ironically, I am the one who signed myself up for this class. I did that all on my own.  No one was pushing or prodding me and I wasn’t required to be here.  I was the one who wanted to get out of my comfort zone.  There was a part of me that really wanted to stretch myself, learn new things, and grow.  One thing I have discovered over the years is that staying in my comfort zone eventually becomes “uncomfortable”.  While it’s safe and predictable, I start getting restless and bored. I know from past experience that stretching myself can actually feel good— but not always at the beginning when there’s time to worry about the unknown.

So I showed up for class, a bit reluctantly.  And after a few hours I started to calm down.  After several days of training, the participants in the room were no longer strangers.  The topic really wasn’t so foreign and it was interesting.  And while there was much to still learn, I experienced something new and I began to see what was possible.  I also met people with different backgrounds and expertise and that was interesting as well.

On the second day, while having lunch with some of the students, I realized how much I had relaxed, and how other people had relaxed too.  As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one in the room who came to the class with a bit of apprehension and uncertainty.  Go figure.

On the last day of the training, I took my final exam ( yes, there was a test, which brought up another kind of anxiety) and then walked out to my car.  I stopped for a moment and looked at the snowy-capped mountains, and Mt. Sopras standing tall in the distance.  The cold air and the incredible landscape took my breath away.  I felt a sense of lightness and well-being. I felt connected to something new and different in myself.

Deciding to play, learning something new, and interacting with people I didn’t know, gave me a fresh perspective and it really was the payoff for leaving my comfort zone behind.  Even though I dragged my feet to get here, the act of doing something new was worth it.  I hope I can remember this the next time I venture out and take on something new. The exhilaration of learning outweighed the feeling of certainty I had in my comfort zone.

So, how would you describe your comfort zone?  Does it serve you or hold you back?  And if you were to step out, leave the familiar for something new, I wonder what you might discover?

Here’s to stepping out of our comfort zones and stretching into something new in the year ahead.

Holiday Reflections

A moment at the Hotel Colorado this holiday season.  You can feel the joy and magic of the season... and the spreading of good cheer!

A moment at the Hotel Colorado this holiday season.  You can feel the joy and magic of the season... and the spreading of good cheer!

As the holidays arrive and the year comes to a close, there are so many things we’ve been faced with this year that have us pause in reflection.  We live in challenging times and so many communities have suffered through disasters.  Hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings are only a few and these events have caused destruction and untold hardship for people in communities near and far.

So, how do we make sense of it all, in the midst of a holiday season when there is still so much despair and uncertainty?  As I reflect on this season of peace and giving, I’m reminded of those things that seem most important during a holiday and each and every day.

Here are a few things I invite each of us to consider this holiday season.

Gratitude.  It has been said that gratitude is the secret to a joy-filled life. It’s about finding what is good in each moment in our lives. No matter what is happening around us, there is always something to be grateful for. So, discover what you are thankful for—even the people or situations that have been challenging and watch how gratitude can change everything.

Connection.  Now is a great time to connect with family, friends, co workers— the people in your daily lives that are important to you.  Slow down.  Be present.  Listen.  Show empathy.  Be authentic.

Serving. There are so many people working together to serve those in need this year. We can each find a way to contribute to others to serve in our communities and lend a helping hand.

Celebrate. During this time of the year, we get to celebrate the holiday season and soak in the meaning we derive from it all.  Before we know it, the season will be behind us and the new year will unfold.

In these fleeting moments, I’m going to look for the joy in this season and notice love is all around us.

Wishing you peace this holiday season!

 Dawn

Following Through on the Stuff That Matters

I worried I wasn't strong enough to do this...but I did it!

I worried I wasn't strong enough to do this...but I did it!

Recently, a new client shared her dream of wanting to run a half marathon, but quickly threw out a disclaimer during our conversation. “You know, I’m probably not strong enough for the challenge right now.  I really should lose more weight, go the gym regularly, and find a time that works better for me,” she shared.

Is that true”?  I asked her. “How do you know you are not strong enough?”  I remember asking myself the same question when I did my first long distance bike ride and when I decided to join our local volunteer fire department.  “Geez, can I really do this?”  “Am I strong enough?” “What am I thinking?” 

During the conversation with my client, we gradually peeled away layers of fear, self-doubt, and even an apprehension about succeeding… because, well, if we do the thing we say we want to do and we complete it, well, “then what”?  My client figured out how her thinking often holds her back from the things she says she wants.  This can happen when we decide to go after something that is important to us.

Do you ever find yourself struggling with follow through? Does your thinking ever hold you back?  When it comes to health and wellness, or testing our own resolve, follow through can often feel like a slippery slope.  We can create lots of reasons why NOT to do something new, challenging, maybe even risky.  But, there are a few things that can also help us when we are determined to jumpstart our own follow through.

Here are a few steps you can take the next time you are ready to follow through on a dream or goal and find yourself holding back.  I continue to practice these steps personally and share them with clients who are determined to live on the other side of following through.

1.      Be clear on what you want to accomplish and ask yourself, “Why?”  If your goal is to lose 10 pounds or to exercise regularly, get to the bottom of this desire. What will being 10 pounds lighter or exercising regularly give you? When a goal ties directly to a core value (something that is truly important to you), then it is more likely to be something you will want to follow through on.  If you’ve chosen a wellness goal that begins with the word “should”, you might want to re-think and ask, “What is the outcome I want to achieve and why?”

2.      Notice your own internal chatter about this goal. What does your “inner critic” say about this goal?  In coaching, the inner critic is often referred to as “monkey mind.”  This is our own internal chatter and it often messes with logic and reason and keeps us in “status quo” and even prevents us from achieving our goals and dreams. What is your inner critic saying?  Monkey mind likes to remind us that we are either “not enough” or “too much” of something. For example, “I’m not strong enough or smart enough or brave enough or I’m too old, too young, too smart.”  Don’t let monkey mind talk you out of something before you begin.  The first step in managing this internal chatter is to identify what it’s saying and ask yourself, “Is this message helping or hurting me?”

3.      Next, develop an empowering belief and say it every day. This is your reminder to believe in yourself.  “I am smart enough. I am resourceful. I am strong enough.”  Make your statement powerful and something that energizes you.

4.      Find an accountability partner.  As a coach, I believe this is one of the most important benefits of coaching.  Find someone who you can check in with, an accountability partner, who supports your wellness goal and will encourage you, push you, and remind you about why you are doing this in the first place. Consider hiring your own coach and spend a few sessions getting clear on your goals and dreams and let your coach help you create action to move you forward.

5.      Finally, spend time in reflection.  Most days we rush from one thing to the next and don’t make time for our goals and dreams or we sabotage what we say we want.  Use a journal to reflect on your goals, what you want to do, why it is important, and what is getting in the way.  Ask yourself, “What’s working?” And “What’s not?” Break down the goal into smaller manageable steps.

Following through is something we all wrestle with.  It’s up to us to quiet the inner chatter and stop second guessing ourselves. We can choose to be courageous and bold, to trust ourselves and to go after the things that we truly want and to start living.

--Dawn

 

 

What Do You Want to Learn Next?

Working on my ukulele skills !

Working on my ukulele skills!

Last week, I helped my son move into his new apartment off campus. We found a desk, a book shelf, a bureau for clothes and a soft blue “Papasan” or Dish Chair he can read in when he needs a break from his computer.  He has been gearing up for another year of study and learning and wanted to make his room comfortable and cozy for the academic year ahead.

As we stacked his new text books on his bookshelf, I was struck by the diversity of subjects and titles.  My son is studying mechanical and biomedical engineering and so there were several hefty textbooks, including one on astrophysics. Sprinkled in with his science and math texts, there was Shakespeare, Hemingway and Descartes for the humanities classes that make-up part of his engineering major. As I placed the books on the shelf, I found myself day dreaming about my own college days, and remembered that feeling of anticipation about learning so many new subjects each fall as a new semester began.

I've always loved learning and the autumn season seems to bring out that yearning.  As kids gear up for school, I often feel compelled to find something new to learn or experience and to exercise my brain again, after a long summer of being outdoors and reading more for pleasure.

Learning feels like a natural part of the fall season. As the days get shorter and the nights become cooler, I find myself drawn to new challenges. Perhaps the rhythm of school still lies deep inside each of us. For me, it is triggered by the sight of the yellow school bus in our neighborhood, the sudden surge of college students on our local campus, and the changing of seasons and the invitation of fall.

So, what will you learn this fall season?  I'm drawn to a stack of books on my office shelf, an online class that has captured my attention and a new training I'd like to develop for work. In my personal life, I'm ready to complete my certification as an Emergency Medical Responder, which will help with my local volunteer work. And, I want to learn to play the ukulele that sits on the wall in my loft.

Ambitious?  Perhaps.  But, even if I focus my attention on one of these areas I know that I will begin to move the gears of learning and my brain will thank me for it.  As for my heart and soul, well, I do notice there is less time for worry when I am learning, less time for regret.  Learning something new plants me smack dab in the present and fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.  And that must be good for our well-being, right?

What will you declare as your learning for the fall season?  I hope it is something that inspires you and feeds your heart, mind and soul.

--Dawn

 

Dog Days of Summer

Now that June is behind us and the 4th of July has been celebrated, we find ourselves in the dog days of summer. 

The days are still long, but they’ve grown hot, dry or humid, depending on where you live. There is still the promise of ease, perhaps a more relaxed schedule, a family vacation. Or maybe, despite the summer season, you find yourself working frenetically to meet the demands of your job while the kids are in the middle of a long summer break. Are you stretched between two places and feeling guilty that you aren’t giving either the attention you’d hoped?

In June, the promise of summer lies right at our finger tips.  I told a friend recently that I wished I could bottle June and spread it out over 3 months, and then ease into July and August --all of this before autumn when we hit the ground running.

So, what is this thing I’m yearning for? Is it just about slowing down?  Not being bound by a schedule? Is it about shedding some responsibilities?

Recently, I did an “energy” check-in with myself to see how things were going. I wanted to take notice of what was energizing me and what was taking my energy away.

Immediately, I noticed that cooking meals in a hot kitchen in the summer was zapping my energy. So, we are now making more salads, snacking on healthy appetizers and sipping iced drinks on the porch in the evening.  I also noticed my “To Do” list had tasks like filing old receipts, cleaning out a cluttered closet, and touching up some kitchen trim—all things that can be done when the weather is colder and the days are shorter. So, I took that list and put it away where I don’t have to look at it.

When there is more light in the day, I find myself more energized and drawn to the outdoors.  To my garden. To the back porch.  To a trail in the forest.  There is something satisfying about being physical again. Breathing fresh air. Feeling the sun on my skin. Wearing my hair in a ponytail. For me, it’s a time to give my mind a rest, take some time away from the office, reconnect with family and friends, and to slow down and become intentional about doing things that give me energy.

 So, what about you?  How is your summer energy?  On a scale from 1-10 where is your energy today?  Notice where you are spending it and notice where you are longing to spend it.

We are now in the dog days. The sultry part of summer. The ancient Romans called the hottest, most humid days of summer “dog days” because they associated the summer heat with the presence of the star, Sirius.  Sirius was known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog).

So, what will you do with your “dog days” of summer?  It’s never too late to stake a claim for what we are yearning for, in the sultry part of summer or during a cold winter. But for now, the days are longer and the promise of summer is right here in front of us and alongside of us-- waiting for us. Beckoning us to take it all in.

--Dawn

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So… Really, What’s Next?

Now that summer is upon us – and spring graduations and school ending are behind us, have you ever wondered how to keep the things you’ve learned alive? What do we do after we complete a degree, a week-long training, or even a ½ day workshop?  How do we move from learning to application, from skill development to setting a vision for the future?  And what motivates us to move forward rather than putting our new learning on a shelf in our office?

Here are 3 steps you can take to help you “frame up” your learning and get to “What’s Next.”

Step 1.  Accountability.  This leadership “buzzword” really has many meanings.  But in the coaching realm accountability is a way to measure action and a way to report on learning.  Accountability can help you stay on track as you plan and commit to action and it allows you to learn from the actions you take or don’t take.  Accountability really means taking stock of what you’ve been working on and what will be worked on as you move forward.  It’s a great time to check in with yourself and ask, how will I be accountable for my own success?  And who can help?  This is where a mentor, supervisor, colleague or coach can partner with you as you claim your learning and begin to test drive it.  Accountability is about commitment—to self, to others, and to a higher vision of yourself.

Step 2. Take Action.  Develop an action plan for moving forward.  It sounds simple enough, and yet this is where many of us stall out or freeze up.  Our inner critic reminds us that there’s too much to choose from and never enough time.  An action plan, however, can be just the thing to ground us, keep our learning alive, and move us forward.  And, action plans can be simple.  Don’t try to tackle everything you’ve learned in one plan.  But, rather choose a few key areas where you’d like to focus.  Work with a coach to develop the specific steps or actions you will take.  Consider the SMART Goal formula to clarify your next steps.  Is your action step:

  • Specific - Your objectives are clear and detailed.
  • Measureable - Results can be measured.
  • Action Oriented -Those who are invested in this goal, agree to it.
  • Realistic - Achievable with available resources.
  • Time Specific - achievable within a realistic time frame.

Step 3.  Thread to the Future.  As you reflect on what you’ve learned, notice what stands out for you. In other words, what is compelling? What excites you? And once you’ve identified this, ask, “Why”?  Why is this compelling and what meaning does it hold for you? What value does it have to you?

When we can identify what holds meaning for us, what energizes us, and what ignites passion or motivation, then we can begin to link this to the future—to the steps that enable us to take our learning and to apply it. The act of taking new steps, putting our learning into action, opens doors to new opportunities and new possibilities—these steps thread our learning from the present to a new vision in the future.

Each new step can change our thinking and our actions—propelling us forward with purpose, new understanding, and a deeper connection to the things that bring meaning.

 

Sleep, Sleep, Oh Wonderful (and Elusive) Sleep

A number of years ago, I took pride in how little sleep I could get in a night and still function at full capacity the next day.  I would often work until 1 am and rise by 5 am to start my day.  At the time, I had 2 small children and worked for a company that required being on call 24/7 and traveling frequently. When I was home, I tried to keep up with my household chores, parenting and family responsibilities, find time for friends and self-care. Clearly, I was kidding myself.

Eventually my 4 to 5 hour nights of sleep caught up with me.  But there was a brief time when I believed that I was invincible, until I wasn’t.

What I hadn’t realized at the time, was how skewed my perception of the world was when I was sleep deprived.  Emotions were more on the surface, feelings were magnified, problems seemed unnecessarily complicated, and life seemed to carry me along in a whirlwind of urgency and anxiety and certainly a lot more drama.

It took me several years to untangle myself from a lifestyle that was taking its toll, day after day.  I started to get more sleep and I liked it.  I felt more like myself again.  I vowed to never go without sleep again.

Do you have Sleep Debt?  That’s what the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) calls it when we skimp on sleep and try to navigate our lives in deficit. When we are awake a chemical called adenosine builds up in the bloodstream and when we sleep our bodies break it down, according to NSF researchers.  However, when we deprive ourselves of sleep this chemical builds up in the bloodstream and can make us drowsy, slow our overall reaction times to things like driving, decision-making and even bogs down our thinking.  Lack of sleep can make it harder to focus and pay attention, impacting overall brain function.

Sleep debt, or inadequate sleep over long periods of time, can impact the heart, lungs and kidneys, our appetites, metabolism and weight control, even our immune function and disease resistance, and, here’s one for you--our sensitivity to pain. Poor sleep is also a risk factor for depression and substance abuse and can leave us more susceptible to diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Okay, we get it!  We need those Z’s.

If this list is incentive enough to push us towards the bedroom, how much sleep is really enough? In a 2015 study by NSF, researchers have updated guidelines on how much sleep we require at different stages of our lives. For adults (age 25 and up), 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended per night.

Making Sleep a Priority

To begin focusing your attention on healthier sleep and a healthier life style, first determine your own individual needs and habits. And notice how you respond to different amounts of sleep.  Pay attention to your energy levels, your moods, and your overall sense of well-being after a poor night’s sleep versus a good night’s sleep.  Ask yourself, “How often do I get a good night’s sleep?” And “What gets in the way of having a good night’s sleep”?

And, my friends, if you are overly stressed from everything that is currently on your plate, and work-life balance feels impossible, then hire a coach to help you sort out your priorities and make the changes you really want.

Like a healthy diet and exercise, research shows that sleep is a critical component of overall health and well-being.

Here are Some Healthy Sleep Tips from the NSF:

  • Stick to the same sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends.
  • Follow a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Make sure the room is set to the right temperature, sound and light.
  • Beware of hidden sleep stealers, like alcohol and caffeine.
  • Turn off electronics 30 minutes before bed.

And for those of you who find that sleep is still elusive, you can read more about healthy sleep in NSF’s new publication, Sleep.org. Also, learn more about what you may need in order to get a better night’s sleep in The Mystery of Sleep, by Meir Kryger, M.D.

Here’s to getting more restful ZZZZZ’s and enjoying a renewed sense of well-being.

Dawn

Creating Energy

Ever feel like there is never enough time in a day?  Do you find yourself trying to schedule or squeeze in one more thing and feeling exhausted?

We often forget that time is a limited resource. Yes, we get 24 hours in each day, but we act as if this will somehow change and we will be able to get more stuff done.

The Science of Stamina points to a different way of getting things done. Rather than focusing on time, we can actually focus on personal energy. Unlike time, personal energy is renewable.

Replenishing your energy can build your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resilience.

So how do you start? The first step is about self-discovery. Begin by asking yourself how you spend your energy. Take some time to think about how you spent the last 24, 48 and 72 hours.

Start by drawing a circle and dividing it into four quadrants.  Label each section with one of the following words: Mental Energy, Physical Energy, Emotional Energy and Spiritual Energy.

Notice where you are spending your energy each day.  Mental energy refers to the energy we expend thinking or learning something new, often using our intellect.  This is time spent in our heads.  Physical energy is about motion.  It’s about how much energy we expend moving and being physically active. Emotional energy is about how we expend energy in our relationships, in how we connect with others. Fueling positive emotions and defusing negative emotions is part of our emotional energy.  Spiritual energy, while it can be about faith, is where we spend our energy living our core values. It’s also about spending time reflecting on what is most important to you.

What does it take to lead a productive life, tackle tough challenges and discover a life with few regrets? Research is showing us that when we focus on our well-being we actually boost our resilience, feel better and live longer!

So let’s consider these four energy areas and how you can boost your well-being and resilience and have more energy.

Physical Resilience—don’t just sit there, move! Research proves that people who are active live longer!  For starters you can: enhance your sleep, exercise to reduce stress, stretch and get outside.

Mental Resilience—Brain science tells us that we can build new neural pathways when we engage in and learn new things. So, tackle something new. Fly an airplane. Drive to work a new way. Do a puzzle. Learn to speak a new language.  It turns out that our willpower gets stronger the more we exercise it.  So, think and tackle something new and build your mental resilience.

Emotional Resilience—did you know that we are biochemically wired to want to connect and help one another?  So, be sure to connect with those around you! Yes, family, friends, co-workers,  neighbors, and new acquaintances.

Spiritual Resilience.  A great way to boost our spiritual energy is to practice mindfulness daily, slow down. Reflect, decrease judgment, practice gratitude. Take time for “you”. Live your core values.  Spend some quiet time walking, meditating, reflecting on what is most important to you.

So, as you begin to take your next important steps to rejuvenate and renew your energy, remember this:  Science is now telling us there is no limit to what we can inspire the brain to achieve. By focusing on energy and renewal, we begin to follow a lifelong trend in the direction of well-being.

 

Self--Care Isn’t Selfish: It Sustains Us for the Journey Ahead

It has been over 3 weeks since the Women’s March took place across the globe.  I came down with the stomach flu the night before this milestone event and I remember being incredibly disappointed at that time – however, being forced to stay home and sit on the couch was a strange blessing. It meant that I had plenty of time to think about how I wanted stay involved with so many issues at stake.

“We have to pace ourselves,” a wise friend recently reminded me. “Either that or we’ll just burn out.”

Activism is vitally important. Yet for many of us the thought of adding one more “to do” item, one more meeting, one more cause pulls us precariously close to the edge.  The edge of exhaustion.

You see, we already know how to push ourselves hard. But, does our “selflessness”, and our so-called “resilience” come at a price?  We frequently dismiss self-care as “selfish” – forgoing sleep, or exercise, or doing nothing in favor of doing MORE.

But think about it - self-care isn’t selfish.  If we are going to take on more and remain resilient there are some lessons for all of us to remember. 

South African social rights activist and renowned opponent of apartheid, Desmond Tutu tackles this dilemma eloquently when he asks, “Do you know how to eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

Self-care is about mindfulness.  It’s about managing energy and about choosing to take care of ourselves.

So, let’s get back to the elephant for a moment. I’ve been thinking about my own small bites, the actions I will take moving forward. 

First, I will continue to enlarge my own circle so that I can understand different points of view. I will spend time with people who see things differently than I do—acknowledging that diversity of thought is a powerful way to create understanding, build communities, and work for the things that are important.  I will also do what I can in my own life to make sure that those less fortunate, those who are struggling or facing hardship, aren’t forgotten or neglected or invisible. And I will pace myself.

I am only one, but still I am one,” said Edmund Everett Hale. “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

I will give my time to good causes and I will not judge how others spend their time. I will strive to understand issues and concerns that have not been my own.

I will also give myself permission to take time to do nothing.  You heard me. Nothing.  Easier said than done.  But, if I am going to be involved in my local community, pay attention to national and world affairs, I will need to unplug now and again.

I will remain hopeful and take a stand on issues that are not only important but intolerable.  Yes, there are many.  So, I will remember to take one bite at a time.  

Self-care isn’t selfish. It can help us focus on what is truly important. It will provide us with the energy needed for the journey ahead. What is truly important for you? And how will you take care of yourself?

Reflections of India

As our plane comes in for a landing in Delhi, we witness Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, from the sky.  Fireworks explode around us, a spark of color alarmingly close to the wing of our jet.  We descend into the lights and smoke and crowds of this city of 25 million people, and enfold into a tradition that dates back thousands of years.

 Our driver meets us at baggage claim. Dressed in his crisp white shirt, starched black pants and shiny black shoes, he greets us, “Welcome to India.  Happy Diwali.”  We are each decorated with a necklace of marigolds and he whisks our jet-lagged bodies through the fog and smoke, exploding fireworks and honking horns, to our hotel in the heart of the city. This is how our journey begins.

For nearly four weeks we become several of India’s 1.3 billion inhabitants, visitors traveling from north to south and west to east in a country that has a landmass that is 40% of the lower 48 states. There are days that are a blur to me, my senses overloaded with color and sounds, chaos and beauty, diverse languages, the smell of cardamom and curry, and scented oils intermingled with the stench of rotting garbage.  An invasion of the senses and a test to what I consider my personal space.

Traveling through old cities by rickshaw, we find ourselves in a sea of humanity—cars and scooters, pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks—all  swimming along bumpy and dusty roads as we navigate around people, sleeping dogs, piles of discarded trash, pot holes, cows and goats, and the constant blaring of horns. Vehicles pass on both the right and the left.  Traffic signals and the lines on the road are merely suggestions.

On a train ride from Delhi to Agra we see India from our train car.  In the train station, people sleep on newspapers as we board the express into first class. From our air conditioned car we are served lime juice, biscuits and tea. As we sit in relative comfort our train pushes past farmland and rice fields and then past a current of tarps and make-shift housing.  The slums border the train tracks. The air is thick and hazy from cooking fires and piles of burning garbage.  Some families squat in small circles, cows tethered to a nearby post or tree.  Others are bathing from buckets of water or defecating in small patches of earth separated by the train tracks.  For many, each day seems to be about survival—eating, having a place to sleep, working—finding what is needed to sustain life. But what do I really know about this kind of struggle?

Just before 7 am the morning pushes its way past the train.  A blood orange sun climbs up the horizon and hangs in the smoky sky above us. I feel my own discomfort and the paradox of people and place, of affluence and poverty, an age-old dilemma, yet something I will choose to wrestle with and bump up against for the coming weeks of our journey.

We finally arrive at the Taj Mahal, an ivory white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra.  Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shan Jahan, it houses the remains of his favorite wife.  The Taj Mahal is known as the jewel of Muslim art in India and is considered one of the most beautiful monuments in the world.

This begins one of many tours and excursions that will show us this country’s famous palaces and temples-- their beauty, wealth and architecture of a magnitude that is mind boggling—and again we witness the contrast, the layers of affluence woven next to India’s poverty—India’s history unfolding before our eyes.

From cities of 25 million to “towns” of over 1 million inhabitants, the density of humankind presses around me like a skin tight sweater, a warm embrace, an overcrowded elevator. Even this is impossible to fully describe.

As I reflect on my time in India, two questions sit with me.  Questions that I was asked by friends and family when we returned.  How did India make you feel?  And what surprised you most about your travels? Here is how I will answer them.

During our time in India, we traveled to the ancient city of Varanasi, a place of temples and dwellings along the banks of the Ganges River—and dating back to the 12th century BC. First in early evening, and then again at sunrise, we walked out to the Ghats, steep walls of steps descending to the river.  Our guide took us to a small tour boat, where we drifted out into the river so that we could watch the ceremonies along the shore.  As we floated several hundred yards from the river banks, we passed giant pallettes  with large stacks of wood used to fuel the fiery flames of several  large fires.  It is here, for thousands of years, where the bodies of loved ones are cremated after they die.

According to Hindu tradition, the Ganges River is sacred to all Hindus. Followers of this religion, one of the world’s largest, believe that when a person dies and their remains touch the river, they are assured eternal salvation.  In this place where we watch ceremonies unfold, people cremate and return the ashes of their family members to the Ganges and spread them in its waters.

In the morning, when we return to our boat, the air is damp and a low fog hangs over the river and the cities buildings.  Singing and chanting echo from the shore and we can see early risers along the banks of the river, bathing themselves with soap and dunking 5 times in and out of the river.  Washer women and men beat clothes along stone slabs and steps, and dogs chase one another across the upper reaches of the shore,near a patchwork of sheets being hung out to dry.

Our boat drifts through the murky water, and we watch the debris that floats by, the particles and small remains of cremated bodies alongside plastic bottles, garbage, a bloated dog and other debris.  Drifting on this ancient river, I can’t help but think of my own mother, and the process of losing her so suddenly last spring, and the rituals we shared as a family as we said goodbye.  Maybe it is eternal optimism, or the desire to find some kind of order and meaning in a world that houses our lives on earth for such a short time, but it is here I feel the connection of thousands of people, across time, dating back thousands of years, and happening right now.  And perhaps too, my mom is part of this connection, not here on the Ganges, but in the wild river basin where we spread her ashes in the summer in the Rocky Mountains.

India made me feel connected—to humanity, to my own life, to all of life.  And that is what also surprised me.

Amidst the chaos, the diversity, the messiness of life here, there was a rhythm that I had not expected, a sense of aliveness and realness-something  I couldn’t have imagined or anticipated.  A rhythm of movement, so strong, in the most crowded of places.  It was in the busy streets, snarled with traffic and millions of people.  I found I could move with the current, not getting totally swept away by it.  Real or imagined, this required trusting that there was some meaning in the disorder and it also required having faith that as we ducked and weaved and stepped to avoid bumping into one another, that we would actually get across the street, or wherever we were each headed, in this tide of living.  Perhaps we are all not that different after all.

In India I was struck by the similarities as much as the differences among people and communities.  India continues to navigate the rise and fall of livelihoods.  Things change with the times. Steeped in history and ritual and tradition, India meets the challenges of a modern age.  There lies the paradox—traditions competing with the inevitable changes that modern life brings.  From the ancient caste system to a burgeoning middle class, from recent demonetization--an attempt by the government to deal with corruption-- to the impact of technology and the digital age—all touching the lives of citizens across this incredibly diverse sub-continent.

So, what surprised me most about my travels?  In his book, Following Fish, a story about the fishing industry along India’s west coast, author Samanth Subramanian sums up a feeling that sticks with me.  He says, “travel does nothing better than swing a wrecking ball in even your most meager expectations.  A place is always hotter or wetter or colder or drier than you suspect it will be.  People will always turn out to have stories different from the ones you set out to hear; a society will, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, always turn itself inside-out like a sock, to reveal its frayed threads, it’s seams, it’s patterns of stitch work.  The real process of discovery works not by revealing things you knew nothing about, but by revealing how wrong you were about what you did know.”

Incredible India, thank you for taking me in.

--Dawn

Setting Your Intention for 2017

The New Year is here!  What will it take to make the next 12 months truly meaningful for you?

Consider setting an intention for yourself. The word intention refers to the act of stretching towards something bigger than you can imagine.  Setting an intention for the year can be a powerful way to envision what you want and to set it into motion.  For example, is this your year of adventure, success, visibility, setting clear boundaries or maybe letting go?  Remember, anything is possible here.  Choose something that feels big to you.  If you choose something that feels manageable, you may already being doing it and the intention may be too small.  Choose something that makes you pause, gets your heart pumping, and requires courage or even determination.

Take some time to reflect on what will be essential for you in order to have the kind of year you truly desire.  The complete this statement:  2017 is my year of __________. Be sure to post this in several places where you can read it every day.

What will you claim for yourself? In the next few weeks, I’ll share my intention for 2017 and how I chose it and it chose me. Here’s to an extraordinary year ahead!