vulnerable path

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Lights, Camera, Confidence!

It was that moment when the spark ignites, the moment I look for all year long as a Girl Scout Leader.  “Miss Chris”, said one of my Scouts, “I think that people who are bullies really feel bad about themselves.  And maybe if we try to help people have more self-confidence, then there would be fewer bullies.”  Then another one added, “If people had more self-confidence, bullies and cliques wouldn’t bother them so much.”  These kids were on to something, and I knew we had the ingredients for a great Take Action Project.

Award_editedIn case you are unfamiliar, a Take Action Project culminates a Girl Scout Journey.  Journeys are an integral part of the Girl Scout Leadership experience.  It’s the heart of the National Program, and Journey curriculum is available for every age level in Girl Scouting.  It focuses on three core themes — It’s Your World, Change It; It’s Your Planet, Love It; and It’s Your Story, Tell It.  Journeys teach girls the three keys to leadership — Discover, Connect, and Take Action.  Discover something about yourself or an issue that is important to you.  Connect with others in your community who hold those same beliefs.  And Take Action to create a sustainable solution to that problem.   The ultimate mission in all this is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place!

The Journey our Cadette troop (6-8 grade) did this year is called aMAZE, and it focuses on how teenagers can improve their relationships with their peers.  I knew how much my girls needed to have the chance to talk about what they are going through in school.  I knew that several of them had already suffered bullying.  And I knew some of them struggled with self-esteem.  They needed tools to navigate “the twists and turns of getting along,” as the Journey book calls it.

As adults, we sometimes forget.  But being a teenager is not easy!  I wanted to encourage some heart to heart discussions about peer pressure, gossiping, cliques, stereotypes, first impressions, bullying, and more.  But in the end, my girls pinpointed one root cause of many of these issues — a lack of confidence and self-esteem.  And they decided to throw a “Confidence Rocks Party” to help solve it.

pop rocks_editedThe girls created a playlist of confidence boosting songs that they felt would uplift and inspire others.  We decided that a good place for a party is our local roller-skating rink, and the Skateaway was more than happy to partner with us on this project.  We designed a flyer to promote the event and emailed it to all the Girl Scouts troops in our community.  We pulled inspirational quotes from the songs on the playlist and made party favors with Pop Rocks candy, attaching the quotes.  We created some awesome decorations by “tie dying” coffee filters!  And we set up a photo booth with a backdrop, costumes, and props to encourage Party-goers to let their Confidence shine.

When I plan Journey sessions, I go on a Journey myself.  I learn just as much, probably more, than my girls do!  I find amazing resources on the Internet that I use in my lesson plans.  This year, I found so much good stuff that I decided to put it all in a blog post so I could share it with parents and other Girl Scout leaders.  Here’s how my journey began.

ConfidenceOne day last summer, I received an email from my niece.  She sent me information about a group called Lehigh Valley Girls Rock.  She thought my daughter would be interested in their program.  What this group does is pretty amazing.  They teach girls how to play instruments, help them write music, form bands, and perform — all in a week long camp setting.  But if that wasn’t cool enough, it was through their website that I discovered some other very inspiring women who have a thing or two to say about self-confidence and self-love.  A whole bunch of inspiration just fell into my lap!

First there is Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love Manifesto.   Gala started out as a fashion blogger, but soon discovered her true calling and devoted herself to helping other women fall in love with themselves.  Admitting that her teenage years were full of turmoil, she found a way to overcome her struggles and turn her life around.  She is now a very successful entrepreneur.  Her website is just chock full of inspiring essays and activities such as her “Radical Self Love Bible School” which is an art journaling self-discovery program.  I recommend watching her TedEX talk on You Tube.

Then there is Jaime Karpovich.  Jaime is a Vegan, produces a cable TV Show called Save The Kales that airs in several markets, and keeps a blog of the same name.  She’s a freelance writer and public speaker and loves to talk about vegan cooking and lifestyle, body positivity and self-esteem, and personal empowerment to name a few.  I tried to arrange for her to speak to my Girl Scouts, but it didn’t work out this year.  I still have my fingers crossed that we can work together soon!  I think she would really impress upon them how important it is to be true to yourself and follow your dreams.

crafted with beautySomewhere along the line I stumbled upon a gem of an article by Anna Lind Thomas called, “Life is too short for crappy friends,”   Thomas is a writer and comedian who really nails it when it comes to explaining to girls why being “popular” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  She also has some hilarious things to say for us grown-up women.  Here’s a link to her blog.

Oh, and I cannot leave out Brene’ Brown.  I am absolutely obsessed with her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  I carried it around for months on end.  I read and re-read it, marking it up with pencil and highlighter.  I preached it to anyone who would listen.  Her guideposts for wholehearted living resonated with me like nothing else ever has.  It just makes so much sense.  It was inspiration from her research that led me to create this blog and name it Vulnerable Path.  If you follow my blog, you know I have talked about her A LOT in previous posts.

The one thing that Brown has to say that I felt was very important to convey to my Girl Scouts was this:

You are WORTHY now, right this minute, AS IS!!!!!

Brown has an amazing TedEX Talk and other videos on her website– even one about empathy that I recommend for kids.  You can find all of them on here.

The thing is, confidence and self-esteem isn’t just a teen issue.  There are many times throughout our lives that we struggle with a lack of self-confidence.  If we feel bad about ourselves, we are performing that script for our children.  Their young eyes are on us every day as we make choices and navigate our own complicated lives.  We are in the spotlight, the camera is focused on us.  So it’s up to us, first and foremost, to be a good role-model for our children.  As I’ve said before, we can’t give our children something that we don’t have.  (Actually, I think Brene’ Brown said that!)

hero_editedTo help our children gain self-esteem, we have to change the script.  We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I look great today!” instead of “Do you think I look fat in this dress?”  We have to show them that it’s OK to walk out the door with no makeup on.  We have to make positive changes in our lives when we are unhappy.  We have to stand up for ourselves when others treat us poorly.  You can tell them everyday how awesome they are.  But what they really need to see, in addition to all that, is how awesome you think you are!

All I want for my daughter, all any of us want for our children, is that they do better than us — be wiser, smarter, stronger.  We want them to discover their talents and ignite that spark that leads them to their dreams.  The first step in helping them is to help ourselves.

This is a Journey for all of us, young and old alike.  I hope you rock your confidence!

You can download our Playlist and our confidence activity calendar from these links:

Playlist for Confidence Rocks Party

Confidence Rocks Calendar

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 

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Where are you at this moment?

Sometimes the ongoing chatter in my mind is like a constant whir of a fan, a muffled, incessant hum. Like white noise, I’m used to it. It’s always there. It keeps me company when I have no other distractions. Or more aptly, it refuses to leave me alone. And sometimes, when the chatter is all about my problems or worries, it’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed.

I had an appointment with my massage therapist yesterday. After a stressful week, I was looking forward to the chance to relax and take some much needed time for self-care. As I lay there, my thoughts wandered to all kinds of places. It raced into the future to the problems I will need to solve at work next week, and to the plans I’m making for an extended trip with my Girl Scouts. As my therapist’s hands attempted to find and relieve the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, I realized I wasn’t present on her table. I wasn’t in the moment.

I have been using massage for more than a year to help reduce muscle tightness and pain. When I first visited Susan (who is also a wonderful yoga instructor), I had a huge knot at the top of my left shoulder. I had pain in my neck that stabbed me whenever I turned my head to the left. And I had tightness across my left pectoral muscle that caused constant discomfort. I had been ignoring all this for about six months before I decided to do something about it. That was my New Year’s Resolution in 2014.

I felt some immediate relief with a stretching exercise that Susan recommended for the pectoral muscle. Hallelujah! But the shoulder and neck were stubborn, so I decided that I should rule out any kind of injury. I visited an orthopedic doctor and had X-rays and an MRI of my neck. After examining the images, the doctor could find nothing more than minor arthritis beginning to form between the vertebrae in my neck, which is normal for someone my age. She recommended physical therapy. So I worked with a physical therapist for about six weeks. I faithfully did the exercises she gave me. I saw very little improvement.

But I kept up regular visits with my massage therapist, who was able to explain more to me about how my muscle groups are all connected and affect one another. She warned me that it can take a long time to “re-train” muscles that have spent so much time in a contracted state.  We also talked about how stress can manifest in the physical body. After ruling out everything else, it was clear that I was experiencing a physical reaction to emotional stress. This realization was part of what motivated me to take a hard look at where I am at in my life. It was also the impetus for starting my Vulnerable Path blog.

I am happy to report that, with Susan’s help, I no longer have a huge knot in my shoulder, and most days are pain free.  Yet after more than a year of serious work to improve my mind, body, and spirit, I still haven’t figured out how to just “be in the moment.” It sounds like the simplest thing, yet for me it is actually a struggle.

I wrote a previous blog post about Pema Chodron’s advice to take three breaths. This basic principle of meditation, to focus on your breathing, is a tool to use whenever we feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, worried, or scared. It’s a way to push out the clutter in your mind. It helps to even visualize it, imagining all the junk being blown away with your exhales.

I have read and re-read Brene’ Brown’s book about wholehearted living. I connected with her guideposts about cultivating calm and stillness, authenticity, self-compassion. Yet it is an ongoing process to let go of perfectionism, to be slow to judge myself and others, and to choose a mind-set of sufficiency.

So there I was, physically on that massage table, but my mind wasn’t even in the building, let alone the room. The good news is that I realized it. And I immediately shut down the chatter. I took a few deep breaths. I focused on the soft music playing and the physical feeling of the massage. And I also realized one other thing in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bothered by that stabbing pain in my neck. A second Hallelujah!

I’m making progress. I feel more in touch than ever with my own consciousness and the way I want to grow and transform. I want to work harder at being in the moment, to appreciate fully the here and now, rather than waste any more time worrying about the past or the future. I’ve had a book on my shelf that I’ve intended to read for many months: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. In the introduction, Tolle says that people come up to him and say, “I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?”  And his response is, “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.”

I think Tolle and I are going to become good friends.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Reflections: looking back at the path

While everyone else is making resolutions, I decided to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned on my journey this past year. This blog has been a major accomplishment for me. Not only a creative outlet, it’s also been a way for me to share my personal journey. It’s helped me to solidify my own feelings about the things I’ve been through, take responsibility for them (good or bad), and take action toward spiritual growth.

Reflections on acceptance: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I discovered this quote from a Leonard Cohen lyric while reading Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. I used this quote in my very first blog post that you can read here. As many of my blog followers know, this was a life changing read for me. It provided confirmation of what I knew in my heart for a long time. That I am OK just as I am. I’m imperfect, and I am able to accept myself that way. My life has been full of cracks. I’ve made bad choices. I’ve allowed myself to fall into life’s pit of quicksand where I get stuck on stupid. I’ve been ashamed of many things I’ve done and of things that have happened to me. I bet you know the feeling; I am not alone in this! So this year I made up my mind to let the light shine on all my bumps and bruises and to use them to become a better person.

Reflections on failure: “Sometimes when things fall apart, that’s the big opportunity to change.”

My daughter watches a cartoon called Adventure Time. One of the characters is a dog named Jake who profoundly states, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” The cartoon inspired me, and I have repeated that quote to my daughter many times during cross-country practice, or violin practice, or algebra homework. I’ve sucked at many things too, especially in my relationships. Some of these failures have been catastrophic. Like a nuclear bomb going off, my life has been leveled by heartbreak. Yet somehow I found the hope and the strength to dust myself off. I wrote about how acknowledging failure is the first step to healing in a blog post you can read here. Pema Chodron points out in her book When Things Fall Apart that our tough times are there to help us grow.  This is a constant in life. It can apply to any struggle. Sometimes we need to lean into our pain in order to get closer to our truth, which brings me to my next point.

Reflections on vulnerability: “The most courageous thing we can do is allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

In yoga class we practice poses called heart openers. These are particularly good exercises for me because they force me to put my shoulders where they belong: back and down. I carry all my stress in my shoulders and neck. The muscles in this area of my body always seem to be contracted.  I’m like a cat who’s just been surprised, walking around with my back scrunched up.  I am always working to correct my posture and focusing on ways to soften and relax.  This contractedness is a physical manifestation of what I have felt emotionally many times. I put the guard up when I’m afraid. It seems natural. When we have a bad experience, we want to protect ourselves from having that happen again. So we set limits with ourselves and with others. But the truth is, we need to do just the opposite. We need to open our hearts. Vulnerability isn’t a topic I’ve written a specific blog post about, but it’s a theme that runs through everything here. We have to be brave to conquer our fears, brave enough to be vulnerable. Because otherwise we are blocking ourselves off from our future happiness. In order to love and be loved, we must take a chance on possibly getting hurt – again. In order to accomplish new things and express ourselves creatively, we must risk being judged.

So I will set forth into 2015 with these reflections in mind. To accept myself, to embrace my failures and take them as opportunities for change, and to open my heart to my own future happiness. May our journeys be blessed in the New Year!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Use Resources Wisely

What is our most precious resource?  Many would say it’s water, or clean air.  One might argue that it’s our farmland.  Some might say oil.  My daughter would say it’s the sun.  She is fascinated by science and found a You Tube video about what would happen if we lost our sun.  She has told me all about it more than once.  It’s scary stuff!  There is no doubt that all of these natural resources are very important to our well-being.

If you are familiar with the Girl Scout Law, you know that one of the commitments we make in the Law is to use resources wisely.  We teach our girls to care about this and take action by conserving water and paper, by not wasting food, and by practicing the guidelines of “Leave No Trace” when we spend time in the forest.

But there is one resource that’s been on my mind a lot lately.  It’s time.  No matter how hard we try, many of us find it very difficult to save time.  We certainly can’t slow it down.  It just keeps going like that Energizer Bunny.  The older we get, the more important time becomes to us.  As kids, we have no concept of it.  Oh, those were the days!  Now I find that it’s December, and another year is almost over, and I’m still wondering what happened to summer!?!?

I mull over the list of all the things I wish I had time to do.  Remember my earlier blog post when I talked about the “have to do” and “want to do” lists?  Now that it’s the holidays, those lists are longer than ever.  I have a Christmas shopping list with 15 people on it.  It’s important to me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas by giving them some sort of present.  There are cards to write out and send.  There are cookies to bake.  There are craft projects to finish.  There are charity events and volunteer activities to plan and attend.  There are additional responsibilities at work.  And all of that is on my “have to do” list!

What do I want to do, you ask?  I want to go for a run on the trail.  I don’t care how cold it is.  I want to go to a yoga class — at least once a week.  I want to begin a consistent home yoga practice.  I want to set time aside each day for meditation.  These things are on the “want to do” list.  But I think they are things that I NEED to do, just like eating a healthy diet every day, or getting enough sleep.  I am not taking care of myself if I am not creating time in each day for rest, play, calm, and stillness.

Two of Brene’ Brown’s Guideposts are:  Cultivating Play and Rest and Cultivating Calm and Stillness.  Reading her arguments for the importance of these elements in our lives validated what I knew in my heart.  But seeing them on the page also made me feel better about raising them up to the top my personal priority list.  If the things we “want to do” are stressing us out, maybe it’s time for an adjustment.  It’s OK to question whether or not the things on your list are actually adding joy and meaning to your life or simply overwhelming you.  Her advice?  Take something off the list; add “take a nap” instead!

Brown explains that some of us respond to anxiety by “over- functioning.”  Hello!  That’s my middle name!  These people will advise, rescue, take over, micromanage, and get into everything rather than look inward.  She points out that, “If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.”

I’m beyond this already.  I have the truth of my life nagging at me internally almost every minute of the day.  And I must heed to it soon.  I need time in each day to listen to that inner voice and nourish my soul.  The over-functioner in me needs to step aside.

So I am making “Time” my most important resource.  That’s my New Year’s resolution.  To use my time more wisely.  To make an effort to create space in my daily life for the things that will nourish my soul and to remove from the lists some things that just stress me out.  I am going to take some of that over-functioner’ s spirit and direct it at ways to cut down on the items on my lists.

But first, I’m going to take a nap.  Please, wish me luck!


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Kitchen Therapy: Session Two

I wasn’t supposed to have time for this.  I try to write one blog post a week; however, it didn’t look like it was going to happen this week.  I was struggling to come up with a subject.  There was no time to to sit down and focus on it.  There were just too many commitments.  But, unexpectedly, I found some time today.

I have said yes to too many things.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  There are Halloween party invites and a craft day at a friend’s house.  I’m making a costume for myself this year (a first!) for a Halloween themed yoga class I’m attending.  I’m planning Girl Scout meetings and testing out craft ideas for our annual Girl Scout craft fair.  And this job I have keeps getting in the way.  My laundry piles are screaming for attention.  It might be a good idea to buy some groceries and plan a few meals for the week.  And perhaps I should change the sheets and clean the bathrooms.  There is no way I’m fitting in a run today.   

I have this fantasy of a restorative, unburdened life.  It isn’t happening this week. 

But I admit I put this all on myself.  Sometimes I think I need to reprioritize.  Maybe it’s time for me to back off on some of my commitments.  Nope, not likely.  I might disappoint someone.  Sounds like I need to re-read Brene’ Brown’s Guideposts.  Exhaustion is not a status symbol.  And I don’t need to please everybody. 

So to put a little calm and stillness in my life today, I happily turned to my kitchen when the opportunity presented itself.  Here is Kitchen Therapy:  Session Two.  Though I’m not sure it’s possible to get tired of pumpkin, I have also been craving another fall favorite — apples. 

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German Apple Cake

2 eggs

1 C vegetable oil

2 C sugar (less if you prefer)

1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 C flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 C apples – peeled, cored, and diced (I used Granny Smith and Honey Crisp)

3/4 C chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour one 9×13 baking pan.  You can also use two loaf pans.

In a mixing bowl, beat oil and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a bowl.  Slowly add to the egg mixture and mix until combined.  The batter will be very thick.  Fold in the apples and walnuts by hand.  I reserved some of the walnuts to use on top.  Spread batter into prepared pan.  I sprinkled the tops of my loaf pans with the reserved walnuts and some granulated sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until cake tests done.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a steaming cup of Constant Comment tea.

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Carve out some time each day for calm and stillness.  It’s a time for you to open up an “emotionally clutter-free space,” as Brown calls it, to “allow yourself to feel, think, dream, and question.”  Be reflective.  Do one thing that makes you feel peaceful.  Keep a balance.  And breathe.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014