what our places value (and what it means about us)

BrooklynBridge

Over my holiday visit to Brooklyn, I realized with new clarity just how much New Yorkers value efficiency.

 

It feels as if distance from NYC living is giving me new insight into what that humming machine of a city is really about.

 

New Yorkers, I can tell you, value a quickly-moving queue.

 

At Christmas Eve dinner with a friend’s family, my dear Brooklynites praised the speed with which the Court Street Italian pastry shop filled orders this holiday season, quickly ticking through an out-the-door line of customers buying Christmas cookies.

 

There’s great appreciation, too, for the New York traffic merge. Mary doesn’t mind letting me know that Seattleites are terrible mergers in comparison. As she says, “You can’t stop when you’re merging! You have to keep moving!”

 

On the tail end of our trip, the line at JFK Airport’s Delta terminal moved so swiftly that I hardly had a chance to rest my bag. Airport workers processed travelers through constant movement, like we were toys on a life-sized assembly line.

 

When I’m in New York, I encounter lots of people who really value efficiency, because New York is a city of things happening quickly, of stuff getting done and checked off the list.

 

It’s a city that excels at moving millions of people around a tiny island every single day, and doing it quickly, because these people have places to be.

 

New York attracts people who value what it, as an amorphous being, values.

 

Like any place, its inhabitants’ beliefs shape it, and it shapes them.

 

When I realized all of this over vacation, I got curious about what it is that Seattle values.

 

Because I so longed to move here, I wondered whether these values would align more closely with my own. Here’s what I found:

 

  • Intellect: Seattle reads a lot of books. The Seattle Public Library System has the highest percentage of cardholders per capita in the United States. Being brainy is considered pretty darn cool here.

 

  • Nature: Since moving to Seattle, I’ve met a lot of people who work in Earth sciences, volunteer their time to promote environmental justice, and/or take composting very, very seriously. People here tend to spend a lot of time in nature, to be reverent of it, and to know a lot about it.

 

  • Time for Recreation: According to my own biased observations, it seems that people here tend to leave work closer to 5 than New Yorkers, and to take weekends really, truly off. Workers take their vacation time here. They get out and about when they’re not at work. It seems like this city values leisure and quality of life pretty highly.

 

After making this little list, it’s even more clear to me why I moved here.

 

I value learning, I’m mildly obsessed with libraries, and I’m a great proponent of time off.

 

When I lived in Brooklyn, I desperately yearned for more time in nature. I adore rain in a way that few others do. To me, the subtle, haunting beauty of the Northwest is like magic. And much to Mary’s chagrin, efficiency isn’t always the highest value on my list.

 

As I get ready for Who Am I Now, I’m starting to ask more probing questions of myself on a regular basis:

 

Where do I feel at home?

What is it about the things I love that draws me to them?

What does this location I’ve chosen have to teach me about myself?

 

In learning about what Seattle values, I’m learning about what it is that I value at this point in my life. What I yearn for. And also where I might be headed.

. . .


Who Am I Now? begins in five days. Hop over here to join us.

 

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you’re invited: who am i now?

who am i now? blog post photo

I wake up, and it’s dark outside. It’s quiet except for maybe a car starting or a crow squawking.

I no longer wake up to the muffled yells of our apartment neighbors, scrambling to get ready for work and school.

I wonder what they’re doing right now. Whether they still yell the same amount, or less.

Sometimes I miss the hubbub.

 

Here, the air is wetter.

 

My hair has grown out quite a bit, and it curls in the damp air. I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet, mostly because every couple weeks, it calls for something else.

Different products, a different process. A new curl where there wasn’t one yesterday.

 

It’s dark, dreary, and damp. My favorite sort of weather.

 

Every time I take a walk, I pause to look at the mountains, and the foggy clouds seeping down to embrace them. No matter how many times I stop walking, pause to look and listen, that view never fails to startle me into reverence for this place and this moment.

A year ago, I had no idea that I’d be here now. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me.

This isn’t a place I need to “cope with.” I’m not managing my interactions to prevent overstimulation, the way I was in New York.

There are no weekend train schedules to dread. Instead, I can hop in the car to drive to the store, literally moments away.

I can buy a twelve-pack of toilet paper and store it under the bathroom sink. (It’s the little things.)

 

This is all new and different and, even after several months, sometimes surprising.

 

People ask, “When did you move to Seattle?”

I find myself waffling when I respond, “March.”

Because I feel like I don’t know how to fully be in this place, not yet.

Even though this is a good, good place for my soul to be.

Who am I here?

What do I want?

What do I need?

What do I yearn for?

Who am I, a week, a month, a year after the last time I checked?

 

Who am I now?

 

I’m going to be exploring this question, and the multitude of others it contains, from January 5th to 18th.

You’re invited to join me.

We’ll be going deep, getting curious, letting go and returning to ourselves. All through daily emails containing prompts for inquiry and action, plus a private Facebook group to support each other and evolve in community.

Who am I now?

Who are you?

Let’s find out together.

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i wonder what would happen

big basin redwood forest

“I think I’m going to join a gym,” she says.

It’s been too long since she’s had a place to move and sweat. She can feel her body aching to lift, to stretch, to writhe.

“The gym is good for you,” he says. “You’ll feel strong and able. You’ll be really alive.”

“I feel so good when I sweat in the morning. I feel awake. I’m happier. I sleep like a puppy.”

(I say it because it’s true. Not because I do it every day. I don’t.)

I notice how much our culture admires people who go to a gym to sweat. People who wake up early. People who do both, on the same morning, before even getting dressed for work.

 

There’s so much cultural enthusiasm floating around, available for people who start an exercise habit, or people who lose weight. The latter more than the former, really.

 

And I wonder what would happen if more of that enthusiasm were available for people who were learning to listen to their hearts.

(Listening to your heart can, of course, overlap with having a good workout. Sometimes your heart tells you to go to the gym. Mine sure does.)

 

What if, every time someone cast off a social construct that had been oppressing them, everyone cheered, asked them how they did it, threw them a veritable party in honor of their glorious, sparkly personal agency?

 

I wonder what would happen if our culture supported the risky, scary leap-taking not with caution to have a Plan B, but with the hearty, “Good for you!” reserved for those who are newly devoted to “clean living.”

Can you imagine if, each time you upheld a boundary you set with your family, a portable cheering section of friends and acquaintances said, “Way to go, you!”?

That would be . . . different.

 

It isn’t that there isn’t enough enthusiasm to go around. There’s plenty. Enthusiasm is a renewable resource.

 

There’s no need for it to be doled out only to folks who are pursuing culturally-sanctioned goals and dreams.

Everyone’s goal, everyone’s dream, is different.

And each and every one of us deserves that sort of excitement and support when we learn something about ourselves, or when we take an action that leads us closer to harmony with our deepest self.

 

We deserve the hopeful support of our community whether our dream is culturally sanctioned or not. 

 

Whether or not what our soul wants happens to overlap with the primary ideals of our civilization.

So until the day comes when we can expect to receive the same enthusiastic support for our dream-chasing as for our exercise or weight loss efforts, know this:

I am cheering for your sacred communion with your deepest self.

I recognize that it is hard, and it takes work, and it is scary.

I am impressed with every single time you listen to your own needs and wants over what society has dictated to you.

You have a  cheering section. It’s right here.

I am proud of you.

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i admire you.

spiky flower

I admire you.

You, who dares to stray from what others expect of you.

Who listens to the murmurs and calls of your own heart.

 

I admire your faith.

 

You maintain a belief in unseeable notions, even when life tries to deter you.

You take risky leaps in service of what matters to you.

You’re in it for the long road, which is sometimes rocky and treacherous in the middle.

Still, you press on.

 

You don’t settle.

 

Even when people say that you should.

You know you deserve better. You know everyone deserves better.

You iterate, you journal, you make art, you contemplate.

You seek communion with yourself, your purpose, your something-bigger-than-you.

 

You show up.

 

You step into cafes where you know no one, uncertain of what you’ll find there.

You reach out, you ask, knowing that you might hear, “No.”

You wear your favorite shirt, stand taller, roll your shoulders back.

Even when all you want to do is go home and nestle yourself beneath a blanket with a book.

You dare to show us who you are.

 

You dare to detail how you feel.

 

And you don’t always know if we’ll offer you the compassion you need.

 

I admire you, and I am grateful for you, and for people like you.

 

You make it worthwhile to be in the world.

Eye contact,

And hugs,

And absorbed conversations,

With people like you.

That is what fans the flame of my well-lived life.

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your desire matters. truly.

community meditation photo

These days, all I wanna do is hang out with people.

I want to co-work with friends and make them highly-caffeinated chai.

I want to take meandering walks with my love and our pup, crunching over fiery-colored leaves.

I want to be there for people when they’re crying, and try to be vulnerable enough to let them be there for me, too.

 

Desire is serious business.

 

I take these sorts of irrepressible desires very seriously. 

I consider them the blinking lights coaxing me (and you, of course) closer to my sacredest and most essential self.

When I ignore them, I get stuck. Very stuck, indeed.

And so when I remember to heed them, I do.

The wonderful thing about my current enthusiasm for spending quality time with others is that I’m realizing how many of us feel this way.

We want to gather with others who care about connection.

We want to feel accepted and heard and understood.

We want to meditate together and write together and talk to one another.

And we want all of this so. very. much.

 

An in-person gathering in Seattle.

 

Thanks to my highly scientific findings, I’m starting a meditation/journaling/sharing group here in Seattle. You can find all the details right over here.

I know that, because of the location, those of you who are far away won’t be able to join us.

But! Those of you who are in town or are visiting are so totally invited to the (introspective) party.

We’ll be having our first session next Tuesday, and continuing for three Tuesdays after that. I would love to see you there. If you can make it, please register through Meetup so I know you’re coming, and feel free to invite friends.

Whether you can make it or not, I want to know:

 

What is your most irrepressible desire?

 

It matters. 

It matters so deeply and fully and completely.

And it will not be ignored.

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none of it was a mistake.

roadside flowers photo

No part of your life was wasted.

 

Every moment of it, waking and sleeping, molded you into who you are today, and who you will be.

 

So you went to medical school and discovered you didn’t love medicine?

 

Now you know more about yourself. You can try something else. Choose differently.

 

So you spent eight years in a relationship and then broke up?

 

Now you have eight years of knowing what you’re like in a relationship.

Eight years of conscious learning and evolving.

Eight years of kissing practice, which you might share with someone new (or not).

And you’ve discovered that this one person isn’t right for you.

 

So you worked on a painting for three weeks and ended up hating it?

 

You got to paint for three weeks straight.

You worked hard at figuring out a puzzle, and that work, in and of itself, can be so satisfying.

You can paint over that canvas.

Start anew.

Maybe this next one will flow.

 

The time and energy you’ve invested in a path does not require you to continue something longer than feels right to you.

 

It doesn’t work to make life choices based on projected ROI.

Life isn’t a balanced equation that can be solved.

 

Sometimes your gut tells you to change directions, and you’ve gotta do it.

 

None of it was a mistake.

7

no mud, no lotus

kylie and winnie photo

For the past six months or so, I’ve been mired, to varying degrees, in the stickiest, stuckiest stuck I’ve ever experienced.

 

Everything has felt stuck.

 

Sometimes all at once, sometimes one thing at a time, sometimes with stucknesses piling on top of one another.

I’ve felt wretched about myself. I’ve thought the thought, “I don’t deserve to be here.” 

I’ve thought, “I am worthless.”

 

Even though, as you know, I believe everyone deserves to be here (including me). I believe everyone has worth.

 

This has only compounded the stuck, pressed it down into itself until it becomes dirt, wood, heavy stone.

Immobile.

My inner critics have raged. “How can you feel this awful when you have such privilege? How can you claim to suffer when your dream of moving to Seattle came true?”

 

Meanwhile, the stuck has become more and more dense.

 

Most of all, my work has suffered. I’ve wondered how I can possibly coach people when I, myself, feel like such a massive, monstrous, unpresentable mess?

How can I make a living as a photographer when I’ve never had formal training?

A friend of mine mused the other day about whether this was an unspoken secret of the life coaching industry: that we coaches feel so much pressure to look perfect, to have it all figured out. To be on the other side (the shiny, joyful side) of suffering, and never look back.

That’s certainly how I’ve been feeling, though I’m almost certain the pressure to look shiny comes mainly from myself.

 

And then, I remembered.

 

(I remembered because I had a session with my former therapist, and she reminded me.)

My strength as a coach, a photographer, a writer, a friend comes from my vulnerability. 

It always has. That vulnerability is what has led me to the best places in my life: to my wife, my profession, my dearest friends, my beloved coaching clients, the gloriously real people I’ve photographed.

Even now, in my unshiny state of stickiness, my strength comes from my vulnerability. 

 

No mud, no lotus.

 

There’s this one Thich Nhat Hanh quote that I really love. He says,

“There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.”

In my meditation community, this is shortened simply to, “No mud, no lotus.”

I think this period is a bit of my mud.

And who knows? Maybe this blog post is a lotus.

 

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anjal chai

homemade chai recipe

It was always such a treat. That mug of rich, milky deliciousness.

Watching Anjal grate the ginger, stand quietly at the stove, poke at the liquid in her playful way.

The wafting scent of the scalded milk, which would draw me away from Gloria Anzaldua and bell hooks and back into late evening in the dorm room.

Many of my college evenings were improved by Anjal’s chai-making, just one of the many perks of being her university roommate. That chai kept me awake long into the night, sneaking up on me with its verve because it was so sweet and comforting going down.

homemade chai recipe

Between those college years and today, Anjal Chai (as I now call it) has become one of my favorite things in the world.

So many good memories unfurl from its smell and taste. So many late-night conversations. So much enthusiasm.

When Anjal visited earlier this summer, she showed me how to make chai the way she does, which was very exciting for me (toootal understatement).

I made a lot of chai after that. And I’m extremely proud of the fact that I can now make my very own chai. (It’s the little things, y’know?)

homemade chai recipe

With Anjal’s permission, I want to share with you her method for chai-making.

It’s truly simple, you don’t need much to do it, and it’s imbued with a lot of goodness, this process.

While most chai recipes call for lots of spices, all you need for this one is ginger.

Anjal will sometimes add cardamom or cinnamon, but ginger is all that she considers essential. After you try this, I’m guessing you’ll agree.

(Anjal doesn’t measure when she makes this, and neither do I. So take this little “recipe” and mold it to your liking.)

homemade chai recipe

 

Anjal Chai

Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 cups water

About an inch of fresh ginger root

2 teabags of strong black tea, or two teaspoons of loose black tea (Anjal recommends Numi’s Emperor’s Pu-erh)

1.5 cups whole milk, or whatever sort of milk you like (I recommend using the best quality milk you can find; it makes a difference)

Honey or your favorite sweetener to taste

 

Instructions:

Pour the water into a saucepan and set on the heat to boil.

Snip the tops off the teabags and empty their contents into the saucepan, too.

homemade chai recipe

Grate the ginger with a microplane or grater (or mince finely if you don’t have one of those), and add that to the saucepan.

There’s no need to peel the ginger, since we’ll be straining everything at the end.

homemade chai recipe

Chai4

homemade chai recipe

Bring this to a boil, then add the milk.

homemade chai recipe

homemade chai recipe

Whisk the mixture a bit, and watch it carefully, as milk can boil over really quickly.

Once it comes to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and pour into mugs through a very fine mesh strainer.

homemade chai recipe

Serve with honey or any other sweetener you like.

Anjal often drinks hers unsweetened; I always add plenty of honey. It’s up to you!

homemade chai recipe

 

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let’s have a laugh

fancy a laugh?

I think we can all agree that this week has been intense in the U.S., yes? 

And even if you’re in another country, there’s always something distressing happening in the news, no matter how good times are.

Halfway through this week, I felt an overpowering urge to laugh.

So I compiled a handful of videos that make me burst into fits of laughter.

I hope they do the same for you.

. . .

My fellow House of Cards fans will, I hope, love this: House of Cue Cards.

Speaking of which, did you see Ellen Degeneres’ cameo on the show?

Barkley’s New Boots made me laugh so hard. So hard.

This shark-cat cleans the kitchen in style.

This corgi really knows how to relax for a massage.

2 Chains’ youngest fan? Quite possibly.

Behold: The ferocious armadillo pounce.

This is definitely what cats are really thinking.

Truth or Truth with Stephen Colbert.

This is a song about a baby monkey riding on a small pig. You are so very welcome.

The sleepiest li’l baby!

And this doggy kissing booth is just . . . precious. Just totally precious.

. . .

Wishing you all some giggles, and a happy, safe weekend.

 

5

sunny seattle portraits (with thekla!)

thekla richter

A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to photograph Thekla Richter, a productivity coach for parents. Because she’s so full of playful smarts, I asked her if she’d be willing to tell us all about herself and her work. Luckily, she obliged! Here’s a peek at the photographs from her photo session, along with some sage advice on the power of fun. Enjoy!

. . .

thekla richter

Thekla, tell us about you!

I’m a playful productivity coach for parents — I help parents find creative ways to get the most important things done with less stress. I live in Seattle with my husband and 4-year-old son, and we have a new little girl on the way arriving in November.

I love coffee shops + the beautiful nature in the Pacific Northwest. I’m always dabbling in new artistic + musical mediums, sometimes earnestly and sometimes just for fun. Right now, I’m learning to play the ukulele. Though I might have to pause that soon because my big belly is not leaving much room for a stringed instrument these days!

thekla richter

What made you get into this coaching line of work? And how did you decide to focus on serving parents, in particular?

I decided to become a coach because I love helping people live the life they want to live. And I decided early on that I was primarily interested in helping people do that through the lens of productivity + time management.

To me productivity is really not about getting more done. It’s about making your dreams happen in super-practical ways one step at a time.

Every single potential client I’ve talked to, and I bet every single person reading this, is getting a LOT done already, though they might not realize it because we can all be so hard on ourselves and take our own efforts for granted.

Sometimes productivity can actually be about getting less done and creating enough space for the most important stuff to fully blossom.

We all have the same number of hours in the day and week, so getting done what we want usually means letting some things go. That’s not easy.

The parenting aspect of my work arose naturally when I had my first child and discovered how all the tools I’d developed for managing my life needed a major overhaul. Everything was so different when a small child was in the mix. Tons of my tools + structures suddenly didn’t work for me anymore.

That first year was a time of rebuilding + discovery for me. I noticed that there’s lots of tips for parents on the finer points of how to be more efficient or organized, but the advice out there typically focuses on the small details– little tricks for how to get more done, and advice about how to be a good parent.

To me, little tweaks weren’t enough. I needed to shift the whole way I approached productivity + life balance.

I wanted to offer other parents the chance to change their whole mindset on getting things done and taking care of themselves + their family, not just optimize the bits + pieces.

And I wanted advice that was about the parent and their own needs, not just the role of parenting but the actual person doing it. So I set out to bridge that gap.

thekla richter

Since you’re also a parent, what have you found to be the coolest thing about parenting? What’s the hardest?

The coolest thing is the pure joy of getting to love someone as much as I love my son. There is nothing else like it.

I’ll sneak in some more cool things, if I may: getting to listen to all the mind-blowing things that come out of my kiddo’s mouth. Getting to see through his eyes as he learns about the world, and learning about myself in the process. Getting reminders every day about how to play.

The hardest thing is getting my need for peaceful downtime met. I’ve always needed a lot of solo time to be my best self, and some of that time needs to take place when I’m not totally exhausted or else it’s not very replenishing.

Quiet downtime when not exhausted is in low supply for a parent! I’ve learned a lot about how to be super creative + persistent in taking care of myself.

thekla richter

What’s the wackiest/oddest/randomest exercise or homework you use with your clients?

Probably the thing that surprises people the most is that I’ll offer them homework that’s purely about fun.

Clients will come to me with super serious big goals that they feel stalled on. And I honor how important those goals are, but I often will first encourage them to set aside some time for the things they love that maybe don’t feel so productive.

It can be counter-intuitive but generally if we are exhausted or procrastinating a lot, the first thing to do is figure out how to replenish ourselves from the core outward. And that can mean getting homework like taking dance breaks or going for walks or blowing bubbles or doodling, whatever helps that person feel vital + less rushed. Because that’s got to be there first before you can get the most out of time spent working.

Wholehearted play makes wholehearted work a million times easier + more effective.

thekla richter

What’s your very favorite resource that you like to recommend to your clients?

It can be a dry read but I really encourage anyone interested in being more productive to read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.

Understanding how we can process the STUFF that comes into our lives is super valuable. It’s really easy to get emotionally bogged down by loose ends and put-off decisions, and David Allen’s workflow for incoming information + tasks is a brilliant approach to addressing that challenge.

The system itself is not for everyone, but the ideas behind it can be used to help anyone bring more clarity + real choice into their life.

. . .

Big, big thanks to Thekla for stopping by and offering up her wisdom and heartfelt smile. You can learn more about her and her work at theklarichter.com.

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