Spring Escape Plan

I have been jonesing for weekend vacation getaway. This winter, without an escape vacation planned has felt long to me. Don’t get me wrong. I realize I am very spoiled by my ability to travel to Latin America for work, and I had I trip to Mexico in December.

But I have been wanting to go on a retreat of some kind, to get away from the day-to-day with my sweetie and/or go on a workshop. I just saw a promo from Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert for a weekend workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona yesterday and today I decided: let’s book this thing! I am so excited now!

Liz and Martha

I have been reading Martha Beck for about 16 years now, and I discovered Elizabeth Gilbert just a few years ago. Her work also speaks to me at a soul level that is hard to describe. Both of them have been like magical gurus to me over the years.

I am kind of dazzled and amazed that I just booked this weekend trip. I asked my hubby to go along with me. He’s not into the workshop part but the enticement of motorcycling in the Arizona dessert sounded like a good deal to him.

Fortunately I have a gazillion Skymiles so the flight from MSP to PHX costs us $22.40 in total. So now the task will be to find motorcycle rental while we are on the trip. I want  my hubby to have his share of fun while I am indulging my own fantasy of meeting two of my favorite authors.

Scottsdale McCormick Ranch
This is the photo of Scottsdale Resort in McCormick Ranch where we still stay for 3 nights.

This is one reason why I love vacation: planning head and having a couple of months of sweet anticipation is fun. Then the event itself! So cool! And the memories afterward: priceless. I’m thrilled my hubby is game for my random adventure ideas, and so very jazzed about the opportunity.

I started my taxes last night and realized we were getting a modest refund, and when I plan for the expenses of the trip I realize we are covered. No need to take the money from savings, though I was willing to do that if needed. So much gratitude right now. It will be a little hard to calm down and breathe in my yoga class. But it’s all good.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

Dark nights of the soul

I have not yet read the book by Thomas Moore bearing the title “Dark Nights of the Soul” but I just added it to my Amazon list. Perhaps the universe is nudging me in that direction. This concept that rises up now and then as I try to anticipate changes ahead.

Lately I have been struggling with some insomnia, despite my commitment to get more sleep and the strategies I have put in place to help me do that. I power down my devices by 8:30 p.m. and try to get myself “wound down” by reading a book (an actual paper book), taking my magnesium and 5-htp supplements and leaving my electronics outside the bedroom. Sleep

All of those things help, to be sure. But sometimes my brain still gets stuck in the “on” position. I meditate, I try watching my thoughts and letting go. I try breathing exercises, with nice long exhales to activate my parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of the body. And still: the brain latches onto things and spins them.

I trust that someday I will get better at this, and I am practicing the skills to help me get the rest I need. I have struggled with insomnia since my teen years, I think, when anxiety about school or other issues crept into my consciousness. My Dad used to tell me how I needed my sleep, that I would have a heart attack if I did not sleep adequately. I was a skeptic back in those days, and I knew this was extreme. So I did what all teenagers do: ignore their parents’ warnings.

I have always enjoyed mornings, apparently since I was a tiny baby, and my Mom tells me I was a bit colicky after eating. But I always woke up with a smile, and I guess that persists to this day. Well, most days. As long as I have my coffee

Instead of tossing and turning in bed and waking up my poor husband, I typically go out to the living room and journal things out. It’s a “thought download” of sorts, and I hand write all those spiraling thoughts, to empty out my head and externalize them. It is a practice recommended by psychologists. It can help, but my brain is a determined little monkey.

dark night
Photo credit

Reading fiction books is also helpful. But when they are too good? That can be a problem. Liane Moriarty was my “drug” of choice last night, but her books can be too engaging so I suppose that backfired a bit. I finished re-reading Truly Madly Guilty last night and enjoyed it as much as the first time I’d read it. It is a bit of a mystery, you see, and I wanted to see if I could appreciate the craft of the story as much as I had the first time, now knowing the ending.

But I digress…

I tend to do that a lot when I’m sleep-deprived.

What I do now thought, instead of beating myself up for not mastering the process of getting good sleep EVERY night is to acknowledge I am getting better at it. No, I have not mastered it, but with practice we all get better at skills. Humans are fabulously adaptable creatures, when we let go of the need to control everything (which does not work anyway).

So I am going to offer myself patience and kindness. I am going through a transition right now, and there may be a few dark nights of the soul. And that’s okay, I will get through them just fine.

Questioner here

This post is a tribute and a thank you to author Gretchen Rubin, who has shared some great insights in her most recent book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better. A year ago I read Better Than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less and Generally Build a Happier Life.

Gretchen Rubin

At that time I was attempting a couple major habit changes: giving up alcohol, quitting sugar and attempting to sleep more. All of these changes have indeed made me a happier and more balanced person. I was in a parallel discovery process, and I appreciated her way of breaking down different ways we can manage habit change, starting with self-knowledge. In Better Than Before she introduced the concept of the Four Tendencies, which relate to how people respond to outer expectations (work, family, etc) and inner expectations (personal goals, resolutions, etc).

In summary, Upholders meet outer and inner expectations. Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations. Questioners resist outer expectations but meet inner expectations. Rebels resist both outer expectations and inner expectations. The best part of her work really is in her empathy with Obligers, in my opinion. Rubin, an Upholder, hosts the Happier podcast which I review on my audio philes page of favorite podcasts. Personally I preferred the earlier days of the podcast when there were less advertisers per episode, but I recommend it if you need an alternative to listening to news on your way to work. Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft (an Obliger) have a great dynamic and are “real” people despite the fact that Liz Craft is a Hollywood writer. Liz co-hosts new podcast called Happier in Hollywood which is also kind of a fun listen, but I digress.

As a Questioner, of course I questioned the validity of the Four Tendencies framework (as Gretchen predicted I would) but I also think it is very useful. Questioners are data-driven, interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective, comfortable bucking the system when it is warranted and unwilling to accept authority without justification. Possible weaknesses include analysis paralysis (which I know all too well), impatience with what we may perceive as others’ complacency, and inability to accept closure on matters others consider settled if questions remain unanswered (summarized from page 83). All of these things explain why certain workplaces and lines of work have appealed to me, particularly as a clinical researcher.

I have had bosses that understand my need for a rationale for our activities, or for starting new projects, and others that have not. We questioners thrive in environments that emphasize research, so in that way I am well-positioned. We dislike arbitrary rules or dates like January 1st for starting new things. We may have some trouble delegating decision making, because we may suspect others do not have sufficient basis for action (unless they are questioners, and then we believe they have done the research).

Obligers (41% in the population of a nationally representative sample) are the rocks of the world. They “show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out… Because of their sense of obligation to others, they make great leaders, team members, friends, family members.” The downside to their tendency of needing external accountability is that sometimes they have difficulty setting boundaries when others expect more than is reasonable for them. They can be exploited, and Rubin explains that they often are. This can lead to a phenomenon called “Obliger Rebellion” in which they simply refuse to meet some expectation, often dramatically and without warning.

Rubin explains that this is actually a protective mechanism and a safety valve that relieves excess pressure. Before learning about this framework, I have to admit that I was probably unsympathetic to Obligers – shouldn’t one be able to prioritize their own needs and desires over others’ needs? The book covers some very useful advice for health care providers, spouses and children that I will not cover here, since Rubin has written a whole section on the topic, but are very well worth reading.

I will not cover the Upholder and the Rebel tendencies in this post. But if you are interested in what your tendency might be, check out the online quiz which takes less than 5 minutes and can help you access some insights about your own tendency. It always pays to know ourselves better, and I am grateful to Gretchen Rubin for giving us another framework to do just that.

Gratitude for my teachers

I woke up this morning so excited to write and start this blog process. For many years I have been a journal writer and my personal, still hand-written journal will likely remain an important part of my (nearly) daily practice. I notice a distinct difference in the quality of my days when I write versus when I skip the writing. My journal is a way to clarify my thinking, sometimes to process thoughts that do not serve me, sometimes just to record the latest threads of my life that I am attempting to sort, to weave together, and to understand. I wrote this morning that my journal is like a “lab notebook of my evolving consciousness.” I like that line… it appeals to the scientist in me, the part of me that has always loved to catalog and make sense of data. I suppose making sense of ourselves and our reason for being is the ongoing spiritual quest of all humans.

I feel intense gratitude in these early hours today, and such powerful energy. It is fitting, on the first day of school for so many young people, that I thank to the many teachers in my life. From my parents, my first teachers and actual teachers (their chosen vocation) to friends, professors, wise people, mentors, authors who I read and “converse” with, I have been blessed with such wealth. I delight in ideas and new ways to understand the world, and I am constantly on the search for voices of wisdom, mentors and teachers who share their beliefs, practices, adventures, and struggles. It helps me feel less alone, when I realize the commonalities we all have as humans, and the reality that our these commonalities can unite us in a profound way.

Some of the authors I have read (and re-read) in the past year include Martha Beck (ever present in my library since I read Finding Your North Star so many years ago), Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Krista Tippett, Adam Grant, Liane Moriarty, and Louise Erdrich (and many others, but these are the first that jump out at me my from my bookshelf). How interesting that so many of those voices happen to be women. I have also been listening and consuming a lot of podcasts in the past year, starting from a recommendation toward Brooke Castillo’s Lifecoach School podcast, and continuing to Hidden Brain, Only Human, Magic Lessons (another Liz Gilbert creation), the Robcast, and a number of health and wellness related podcasts that have taught me from many perspectives.

Learning_schooling image

I am grateful to all of these voices, and to what I have learned about the process and necessity of creation, of creativity to human flourishing. Any endeavor can have a creative component, as I now realize, even navigating a large bureaucrazy (I always mis-spell this word automatically. I believe it is my soul’s way to communicate truth to my brain, which can be slow to catch on.) I also realize that I am part of this dialogue, this interaction with ideas, this attempt to make sense of our world, and to create something new.

Why create the mexi minnesotana blog now? I am overwhelmed ubiquity of social media and differing opinions floating out in the blogosphere, and I expect you may be as well. I had to severely curtail my Facebook habit for some time after the 2016 U.S. election because I realized that, while social media fosters an ability to connect with other like-minded people around the world, it can also be an echo-chamber that amplifies negativity. The democratization of media, the way in which more people can have a voice by opening up shop at a domain, is a fascinating phenomenon to watch.

We have a natural questioning of authority, a real and evolving process of learning to make choices about what we follow, who we choose to believe. Facts, which used to be considered sacrosanct in journalism, are subject to a myriad of interpretations and misrepresentations. While this has always been true, the amplification of some of these notions can have troubling implications for our culture. As a firm believer in democracy, I see this as an evolution for us, and for myself, a realization that I am also search of some “authority” to help me make sense of it all.

While spirituality will be another aspect I explore in the future, this need for authority, one emerging truth has been the validity of my own experience. In the past year and a half or so I have developed a very consistent meditation practice, a process of going inward and forgoing the distractions of the outer world. (Thank you to Nirav Sheth and Rajinder Singh for teaching me as I committed to the practice more fully in 2016). My own voice is but one of many, but it is a unique one, and I have felt increasingly moved to share my voice, to write about my observations of the cultural zeitgeist from my point of view.

My goals are largely personal, in understanding the broader world around me, and perhaps inviting dialogue on topics I believe are important. It can be a vulnerable experience to put one’s thoughts out there, to enter into “the arena” as Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) would say. But something tells me it is right to do this now, to start this process, and see where it leads. I am not expecting a particular outcome, but my hope is that, if someone reads and the words or ideas resonate, that they will feel less alone, perhaps less lost in this cacophony of voices. We all must find our own way, but with our wise teachers and mentors, we do this knowing we are surrounded by a powerful tribe, and one that bravely shows up and defends the values we hold most dear.