Coloring Outside The Lines

I’ve recently taken up oil painting. The decision to paint just appeared from nowhere, although I certainly have expressed myself through arts and crafts of some sort throughout my life. I mentioned my desire to paint to my husband Andy and he surprised me on my birthday with a beautiful and functional easel that he built. I haven’t played with oil painting since I was a little girl. I dabbled a few times with my dad in his art studio and at my best friend Peri’s grandfather Presto’s studio. I also remember painting landscapes and especially trees with my great Uncle Jack who painted landscape primitives.

My dad was a very talented and successful artist in a number of mediums. Perhaps my favorites are his large and colorful abstract oil paintings (though some of them were painted with acrylics). He passed two and a half years ago and I am pretty certain that I my urge to paint wouldn’t have been revealed while he was alive.

Every day after the easel arrived in my life but before I actually put brush to canvas, fear had been gripping me. Fear that I can’t do this; fear that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this; fear of the unknown. When I finally started painting, much, though not all, of the fear dissipated. As I began to mix the colors and play with the brush stroke techniques, I felt a release of tension replaced by a great freedom to let creativity flow from my hand. My first piece is abstract. I didn’t have a single thought or plan in my head as I allowed the painting to completely unfold from nothing. I needed to let go of any restraints in order to move through the uneasy feeling of starting something when I have no training. I even found the experience pure fun.

And so I am coloring outside of the lines. I am not taking a class that prescribes what to do. I am not setting up goals and timing for outcomes. I am not establishing rules for how or what I create. Coloring outside of the lines means that I am not holding tightly on the reins as I paint. I am allowing creativity to explore the canvas through me and my brush. I am letting the ideas flow even if they aren’t in line with anyone’s thoughts on what makes a good painting. And coloring outside the lines also means that I am letting go of whatever expectations I have built up in my mind that my dad would have if he were alive. I suspect a big part of my sudden rushing need to paint is knowing that he can’t judge my paintings—even though I am sure he would try to be kind and loving in his reviews. I am letting go of the desire to fit in. I am welcoming whatever arrives. It’s a great way to approach everything.

xoxo Rachel

Bringing Yourself Back To Balance

I am taking an adult ballet class and not surprisingly there are lots of balances on tip toes. Not having taken a ballet class in many years, I had forgotten how often one is in relevé. Whether doing soussus across the floor, pas de bourrées or just holding a relevé for a long time, it can be difficult to maintain balance.

There are a few helpful approaches for keeping yourself balanced in a pose. The easiest is to not lose your balance to begin with. To find your strong balance at the start, begin with a positive belief, take it easy rather than forcing it, find a mid-distance anchor point to put your soft focus on and envision yourself being pulled up into balance. If you falter, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to try to get back to the center place. Often it is not possible to regain balance while you are in the midst of losing your hold. Instead, better to start over again by re-grounding yourself before you go back into your balance stand.

I find that starting over again when you lose your balance is a great technique in general when life throws you off. Yesterday I was feeling off-balance and I tried to push myself into a centered place without any success. I kept on trying to force my emotions back into balance when what I needed to do was to start over. And by start over I am talking about shifting expectations and re-engaging as if you have a blank slate. Go back to the ground before you attempt your balance again. Basically, reboot and re-balance.

One way to reboot is by stopping whatever you are doing and trying something completely different—best if that something different comes easy to you and feels good. Moving the body helps. I took a swim in a cooling pool on a hot day for a burst of feel-good re-centering. Another way to re-balance is by reading a passage that gives you a different perspective on your situation—perhaps a favorite book that makes you laugh or gives you hope. Writing or journaling also works for me. Pushing yourself back into balance rarely helps. Easing back into a good place is so much more compassionate.

And giving yourself some compassion, if you aren’t familiar with it already, is an amazing elixir worth trying when you are out of balance. In fact, compassion is an amazing balm that not only you can give yourself but is equally balancing when you give to others. When you offer compassion to others who are out of sorts, not only are you encouraging their re-balancing, but you will likely feel more in balance too. Compassion is a heart-opening process that gently serves to re-center. Think about that language a bit. The heart is in the center of the body. Bringing energy and focus to it means that you are quite literally going to your midpoint of physicality. And with that heart-centered focus, there is a natural softness and ease that allows you to regain calm and balance. Not unlike the soft focus I use to hit a relevé balance pose in ballet, having a soft focus and compassionate approach towards life helps to smooth out imbalances that are a natural part of life.

xoxo Rachel

When Your Computer Crashes, Life Goes On

Two weeks ago my iMac computer screen went black out of the blue. It turns out that is a common problem with macs. It is sometimes called “black death”. Fortunately for most people the issue is easily repaired. Unfortunately for me, not so much. After trying without any success to fix the problem over a two-week span using many different approaches, Apple techs diagnosed that the video card is broken. It is a very old computer that had a good life first for my brother and then for me. So I am finally going to have to say goodbye to it.

At first I though I’d try to live without a computer. I mean, couldn’t we all use a little less screen time in our life? It turns out that living without a computer is a blessing in disguise or a nightmare depending on your point of view. I don’t do tons on my computer although I always seem to be in front of it. I check email, use my calendar, surf the web and most importantly write and post blogs. So I tried for a week to just use my phone for email and calendaring. I didn’t do any writing during the computer down time but frankly I spent so much time trying to fix my computer that I didn’t have much bandwidth to write.

The thought of buying a new computer made me crazy. They are expensive and given my ambivalence about having a computer at all I really was in no rush to get a new machine. The limbo experience was fascinating. I think I checked my email more often than usual but used my phone instead of my computer. I also have a very old LG pad that is close to obsolete given how quickly it loses power and crashes. Given desperate times, I decided to keep the LG pad open on my desk to facilitate email, web surfing and reviewing my schedule on the larger screen.

After I got the final diagnosis that my computer was kaput, I was talking with my husband Andy when he realized that we have my dad’s old 2011 Lenova ideapad. The laptop had been my mother’s before my dad went into a nursing home. So mom bought a new laptop and gave her older one to dad. (Yes, we hand-me-down computers a lot in our family.) I remember cleaning up the laptop for my dad so that he could write bedside, which he did. After he passed in 2017, we took the computer and stashed it away. I hadn’t thought that much about it but I am glad that Andy remembered.

My dad didn’t use the laptop very long (unfortunately) so although it is slow and runs Windows 7, it is in fine shape. So I thought I’d give it a try as my computer. It didn’t need much of a makeover. I offloaded a number of my dad’s files onto a jump drive then cleared the way to upgrade and personalize the computer for me. Today is my first real day of use. Using LibreOffice, a wonderful free word processing software package, here I am typing away again.

I certainly have mixed feelings about using dad’s laptop (it doesn’t feel like it was mom’s even though I logically know that it was once hers as well). For one thing, it is very old in computer years. That mostly means that it is slow to open and close programs and files. The fact that it is Windows based doesn’t bother me because I have many years experience with both PCs and macs. It does make transferring my old mac files more difficult. Much of my work is on the cloud so those files are really easy to access. Files in my time-machine that are not on the cloud will have to wait for me to have enough energy to go through the recovery process. So I’ll take my time setting up iTunes and moving over older files.

But there are the lingering feelings about my dad to process. Grief never really goes away, it just behaves differently at different points in your life. As I was looking for paperwork on my dad’s computer I found a folder of his hand-written notes from while he was in the home. The rush of emotion and tears was intense. Using his computer is a bit strange and yet also wonderful. As I type I can almost feel the remnants of his fingertips on the keyboard. His energy fuses with mine. I can handle that.

Finally, I am approaching my use of the computer differently this time. Rather than keeping it always on and surfing the web far too often, my goal is to use my computer sparingly and mindfully. I am so grateful that I have a full keyboard so that I can write (although it always takes some getting used to a different keyboard). My goal is to rely more on my phone for calendar reminders and checking my email which I hope to do less frequently for my sanity. The nice thing about a laptop is that you can close it. My big screen iMac was stunning but more enticing. My hope is that I will have many years ahead of me with my new, old laptop and that I truly embrace the less is more approach to using it.

xoxo Rachel

After Loss You Get The Chance To Do Something You Couldn’t Do Had You Not Had That Loss

I just watched Marie Forleo interview Elizabeth Gilbert. I love both of their work so it is not surprising that I found their discussion interesting and inspiring. Although the interview was mainly focused on Liz Gilbert’s new book City Of Girls, which I am looking forward to reading, I found their discussion about grief incredibly useful. Liz Gilbert talked about the fact that after losing the love of her life Rayya to cancer, she realized that although she will no longer be with her, because of that loss she now has the opportunity for other paths in her life that she couldn’t have had if Rayya hadn’t died. Of course she would have preferred her to live longer. But the realization that she now has new paths to take sheds a different light on processing her grief. Profound and such a different perspective on grief and loss then is commonly discussed.

In a very broad sense this view of loss captures the fact that when we take a path in life, whether we have chosen it or it has been thrust upon us, other paths are eliminated. This is such clarity of understanding that there are unlimited ways in which our life might unfold. Rather than trying to control the path, we can embrace and celebrate that as things unexpectedly change in our life, we get the opportunity to do something else. That something else might be fantastic or awful or just plain ordinary but we are fortunate to do something different. So if we continue along this line of thought then whether or not something is presented to us unexpectedly why not try something new just for the sake of it and see how it goes?

Perhaps the new adventure will be wonderful, perhaps not, but given that it is kind of miraculous that we are here to begin with and we only get one chance at this life, isn’t it worth trying different things along the way? Holding back is no way to live. When we are open to reaching for all that we can get from life, in spite of and actually because of our losses, we are so lucky to get new opportunities to experience. There is no straight-line path in life even if we think we can make it a smooth ride. Because inevitably along comes something devastating that creates big changes for us. We lose our loved ones, our health, our work situation, or our homes. And yes there is grief big time, no doubt. And there is such great potential for whatever is next. I am going to look for what’s next, will you?

xoxo Rachel

Is Your Job Giving You What You Want?

Remember when you first got out of school and you were so excited about the work you were going to do in the world? Perhaps you were fortunate to find a job that you loved right out of the gate. Most likely it took some time to find a position that suited you and your skills. Perhaps you had to compromise more than you expected but it was decent work. Or maybe you fell into a position and never really thought much more about it other than getting raises. So ten, twenty or even thirty years later, how do you feel about your work? Are you comfortable but bored?

I hope that you really love your work. And I hope that you really love the company where you work as well. If you don’t love it or you haven’t given it much thought lately, then I encourage you to take some time to review what work means to you and explore what you want from your workplace. Maybe it is time to change jobs, start a business, or even retire whether or not you are retirement age. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are lackluster about your work situation.

Are you working only to get an income?
There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Financial security is very important. And though you need to take care of your living expenses, it is always worth assessing what exactly you need financially and whether your job is fitting the bill. Perhaps you do the work you do just for money as a side-hustle to enable you to do the unpaid work you love, like writing or art or whatever. If that works for you, great. On the other hand, if you have been working your way up the corporate ladder, you might ask yourself am I making much more than I really need? Are the job and related activities and stress worth the money? Would you prefer a different position that gives you more enjoyment at a lower salary? I know that sounds counter to the go-go-go mentality of corporate America where you are always trying to get salary increases for greater status and bigger houses, nicer cars and all the trimmings. Perhaps you already have all those trimmings. Do you really need more? It is a wonderful problem to have, but it is so easy to get caught up in the game of making more money. Does the money matter as much as the work itself to you anymore? If you love the job and the money too, then go at it. If not, then it is very important to figure out how much money you really need and find work that gives you joy and satisfaction that matches your financial needs.

How is your workplace treating you?
What do you like most about going to work each day? What do you like the least? Do you enjoy your workplace environment? Do you like your office and where it is located? What is your opinion about the executive structure and how the company is run? Do you align with the values of your company? Do you enjoy spending time with your colleagues? These are very important questions. Life is made up of the day-to-day moments and if you aren’t getting any satisfaction from the minutes that make up the day, your life will be very dull. Perhaps you love your work, but you are in the wrong environment. Then look for a position at a different company. As you look for a new job, spend a lot of time getting to know the company and its people and workplace style and feel before you accept a new position. Companies are wide ranging depending on their size and business attitude.

Are you working because you don’t know what you would do otherwise?
For some people this seems like a crazy question. They can’t wait to retire and do nothing or do anything they want. But if this question rings true to you then I suggest that you take some time to explore what you want from your life. First make sure that you are fully clear on your financial situation. Then explore what’s next for you. Maybe that means going back to school to get training or certification in a new area. Maybe that means volunteering. Maybe that means starting your own company. Or maybe that means exploring new hobbies and activities. The important point is that if work isn’t very satisfying but you are just punching the clock because you don’t know what else you would do, take some time each week to explore other opportunities. There are lots of books out there to help you on a new path in life. Life coaches are a great resource.

Is the effort you are putting into your job worth what you are getting out of it?
This is the bottom line. If you are enjoying what you do in your work, getting the money you need to make your living, enjoying the company you keep and getting your work wants and needs met, then you are lucky to be doing what you are doing. Congrats! Check in periodically to make sure that you feel the same way at different points in your life. If you answered no to this question, then it is probably time for a change. It takes effort no matter what route you choose, but you deserve to get more out of life than feeling like you are going to work, going to bed, getting up in the morning and doing it all over again. Step out of your comfort zone if you are feeling dissatisfied at work and find a way to create the life that you want.

xoxo Rachel