Cry? It’s Good for You

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and, being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifled down the tears and kept a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned on; for either gender, although the pressure on boys seems greater than for girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying a sign that you can’t control your emotions, that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

 

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

 

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need a medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without the side effects, except for puffy eyes.

 

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

 

Stress.  It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure that crying can reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is annecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

 

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD writes for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

 

Through. Richie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship, can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

 

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen.

Tenacity. Lessons from Kayaking.

I have been called tenacious as long as I can remember. I can remember driving in a blinding snow storm to get back to Ithaca, New York after Thanksgiving break. I was alone in my Honda Civic and regardless of the twists and turns down route 79, I was bound and determined to make it back to school. I did. When it came time to reopen my restaurant in Santa Rosa, California after the health department decided I needed a new tile floor at the cost of $20,000 that was not in the budget, I did. When my children wanted to go to Medellín, Colombia for Christmas and my home was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, I still made it happen. If life throws down a gauntlet, I will pick it up and run with it.

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Vicki and I kayaking on Lake Titicaca.

A few months back, my resolve and tenacity were tested. My friend Vicki and I sat in a two-person kayak a thousand miles from shore (well, that’s what it felt and looked like) on Lake Titicaca! The wind was pushing waves higher, the water was 40 degrees and there was no one in sight. At the time I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew; that maybe this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Obviously, I am able to write about this now, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

 

This is what I learned about tenacity on Lake Titicaca:

 

Discern. As we headed to the launch site on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca, we were on a large, comfortable boat. I was observing the water. In retrospect, I was actually assessing the landscape. Vicki and I had initially decided we would be in single kayaks for the 3.5 mile paddle. As I watched the water out the window and saw the waves starting to rise, I asked Vicki if she would be OK in a two-person kayak.  I felt like a larger boat would be more stable on the waves. It was a decision I did not regret. Only one brave soul in our group, Debra, did a single kayak and she was sorely tested. When handed a big task, make sure you use your discernment before jumping it.

 

Gear. As we suited up in our rain jackets, life preservers and paddles, I thought back to kayaking on the Newport River about a month earlier with my boyfriend, Roy. I had gotten blisters from the 45-minute paddle. I quickly got the attention of one of the guides and asked for a pair of gloves in Spanish. Luckily, we were the last group to depart from the beach, and he made it back in time with two right handed gloves. I made due with putting the extra right-handed glove on my left hand. The water was cold and I knew that it would be a lot more than 45 minutes for the 3.5 mile trek. Tenacity is important but making sure you’ve got the right gear is important as well.

 

Learn. This was not my first time in a kayak. It was the first time I’d ever been in a two-person kayak. It was also the first time I would be steering the kayak with a rudder and pedals to direct the boat. We watched as two kayaks departed and how the rudder was deployed. Our rudder was not deploying via a pulley as expected. Once in the boat, I checked the pedals to make sure they were operational and asked one of the guys on shore to make sure he physically put the rudder into place. I also made sure my kayak spray skirt was tight so that water (did I mention the water was cold?) did not spray into the boat. I watched as others who had just deployed went in circles in the small bay from our departure point. As you gather information, make sure you use it to your advantage. I had used a kayak spray skirt some three days earlier and knew it would be important to be snug. I knew that operating the pedals for the rudder would be important. When you have a big project, make sure you learn as much as possible with the time allotted to gather it, and more importantly, use the information.

 

Team. The biggest advantage of a two-person kayak over a one-person is teamwork. Vicki and I paddled two strokes on the right side and then two on the left. We started off by saying right, right, left, left. Then we started counting 1 right, 1 right, 1 left, 1 left. This morphed into to 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, etc. We would decide initially on 10 strokes, then 15, then 20, then 25 and took brief rests in between each set. We took turns calling out the numbers and then finally decided to just count the first set and the rest were in our heads. We had the ability to adapt. If 25 strokes were too much, we cut it back to 20. If calling it out loud was too taxing (it was), then we would count to ourselves. If I started to get off course from the waves, Vicki would point it out. I’m not sure I would have made it across without Vicki. As Vicki said, “I really am glad that we did the 2-person kayak. It was only my third time in a kayak ever and my first in a 2-person kayak. I would have been miserable by myself and not sure if I physically would have been able to make it.It was a tough paddle that took about two hours. When you want to achieve something, use teamwork and devise a system, if possible.

 

Strategy. When we initially set off to go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, we had no idea where on the island we were headed. We were in front of all the other kayaks and I just focused on the far-right end of the island, hoping that someone would point the way later. Eventually, a motor boat came along and pointed to the opposite end (the far left-hand side) of the island. I then changed strategies and steered toward the left-hand side. I was open to change in strategy and Vicki confirmed our focal point. A multitude of waves kept taking us off course. A second motor boat came up dragging another two-person kayak behind it. The man on board was shouting to me in Spanish: “Wait. There are dangerous rocks.” I hesitated. I told Vicki what I understood. We seemed to be about halfway to our destination and the lake seemed way too deep for rocks. We decided to muster on. We made the decision to move on but I was cautiously scanning the water for rocks. Once you decide on a strategy, be open to more information and adapt.

 

Calm. I was pretty nervous for most of the trip to Taquile Island. The waves were even higher than I anticipated. When one wave came across the kayak between Vicki (in front) and myself (in back), I was really nervous. What happens if we tip over?  I don’t see a rescue boat close by. I don’t think I can swim that far. I had a thousand concerns running through my head. I shut up the voice of doubt. On a rest break, I looked up at the blue sky, I counted two beats longer and just appreciated the fact that I was on the highest navigable lake in the world (at 12,500 feet) and just tried to take it all in. I kept my worried thoughts to myself and tried to remain as positive as possible. Panicking Vicki or any other kayakers was not going to help anyone. Keep calm and carry on.

 

We made it. A total of 4 kayakers were towed to Taquile Island. Three kayaks made it in one piece, although it was a lot more arduous than we expected. The current was against us rather than with us. It ended up being life affirming and I am proud that we made the journey. I believe that tenacity won out in the end and it made all the difference.

 

Do you really need all that stuff?

That question is rhetorical. I’d wager most of us don’t need most of our “stuff.” If you have moved in the last year, or lost or gained weight recently, you may be feeling the pain of dragging, moving and reshuffling your stuff. Your “fat” clothes and your “skinny” clothes. Your low carb cookbooks and your crockpot cookbooks, and your low carb crock pot cookbooks. Your ticket stubs to that off-community theater show and the coupon for the oil change that you don’t want to misplace; but do. It’s a whole bunch of stuff. It’s all weighing you down. At least it’s weighed me down.

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The Uros of the Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca (Dolores far right).

A trip to another culture can help you refocus your priorities. I found myself at the end of my trip to Peru on the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, its charming Uros people and my guide on the island, Dolores. It was sobering. Twenty or so folks living on a floating island of reeds (yes, you could feel the island actually float above the water) and Dolores’ one-room “house” that had nothing but a bed and some clothes (perhaps three sets) hanging on the wall. Dolores had a one-month old baby wrapped in a blanket on her back. That’s it. No bottles, diapers, bottle warmers, baby blankets, pacifiers, pink hats or booties or any other baby paraphernalia. My travel partner Vicki and I compared notes as she had a newborn granddaughter back in the U.S. with the typical compliment of baby trappings. This was austere. Cue in the mirror. “Wow, Cathy, you have got a lot of stuff.”

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

 

Does it fit? I’ve lost over forty pounds in the last year. I don’t want the forty pounds back. I have dropped over four dress sizes in the last two years. There is no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too baggy, the wrong color or made of wool (it’s scratchy). There is also no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too tight. Some things just don’t fit my body type. My torso is too long, I can’t stand bell shaped sleeves, and even though I can wear something, doesn’t mean I will. If it doesn’t fit? Donate it, sell it or give it away. There is no point dragging “sets” of clothes for being fat or being thin.

 

Does anyone else want it? Go google Swedish Death Cleaning. Basically, your children (if you have any) don’t want your stuff. They are not going to want to sort through all my stuff upon my death. My kids aren’t going to fight over the candle holder on my desk, the ceramic goose from Cozumel or the treadmill. If no one else is going to want it, and it is gathering dust in your attic or a far-flung closet, it may be time to donate, sell or give it away to a better home. I realize this may be adding to someone else’s stuff, but that’s their heir’s problem, not yours. I can assure you that when someone passes away from the Uros tribe, it probably takes about thirty minutes to sort through their belongings.

 

Can it be digitized? You never know when catastrophe can hit. My dear friends lost their home last year to the fires in Sonoma County and I personally had my home flooded by Hurricane Matthew. Irreplaceable things were lost. Digitize all those portraits of your kids and back up the videos of the soccer and football games from their youth to the Cloud. I am about one third of the way through this process. There are services that will save a digital copy of these irreplaceable moments of your life. My daughter playing clarinet at age sixteen and my son running for gold in the all state track meet come to mind. I don’t want to lose those moments that are on film or in photographs. Thanks to technology you don’t have to. Think worst-case scenario and digitize those moments that matter.

 

Are you really collecting something? If you have a doll collection that has two dolls in it, is it really a collection? I’ve read about people suddenly starting to collect turtles, giraffes or Hummel ceramics, and now their friends and family start adding to the collection on every birthday or holiday. It’s fine to have a collection, just make sure you love it and, perhaps, make sure it doesn’t define you. Your stuff does not define you. I try and purchase a Starbucks coffee cup in any major city I visit. I only have room for seven mugs to display. I weed out mugs as a more exotic location is added. Chicago just lost out to Peru (sorry, Chicago). Make a decision about what or when you truly want to collect something, and then inform your family and friends that your turtle collection is something you truly cherish, rather than something that becomes an embarrassing liability.

 

Do you own uni-taskers? Alton Brown, while on his show Good Eats, was famous for using one single item, like a garbage can lid, for multiple uses. Let’s say a smoker, steamer and, well, lid to a garbage can. Since moving back into my home over a year ago, I have been slowly culling out “doubles” like can openers and 3-quart pots. I had a menagerie of icing tips, misfit spoons and candles that did not fit any of my candle holders. I had crazy uni-taskers like round ice cube molds, cheese cutters, and sausage stuffers. Perhaps these could be used for more than one use, but if I haven’t touched it in five years? It’s time to go.

 

Is it essential? I just finished the book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. My boyfriend Roy is planning a hike on the trail for next year. What you carry, as the author did, are the essentials. One pair of underwear essentials (yikes). One pair shoes. One pair of pants. One t-shirt. Folks tear a guide book into thirds to keep down the weight in their pack (having the other thirds of the guide sent when needed). You really need to hone down what you need when you decide to hike for four to five months. When you carry all the belongings you need on your back, it has a way of resetting your priorities. You are there for the experience, not keeping score of material objects. I’m not suggesting you get rid of anything that can’t fit on your back, but it’s sometimes helpful to look through that lens to help you decide how necessary it is.

 

I was amazed at how simple the Uros people and Dolores lived. One common cooking area for the entire island. One solar panel for electricity. One bathroom. There are some 116 inhabited floating islands and their way of life dates back the 15th century. The simplicity of it all is inspiring.

Machu Picchu: It’s Worth It

I traveled to South America in 1988 with my first husband, Orlando. Besides visiting his native Colombia, we planned to make a trek to Peru and its treasure, Machu Picchu. The issue at the time was Peru’s internal terrorism and most of Orlando’s extended family recommended against a visit to Machu Picchu. Ironic that we spent an extensive amount of the month-long visit in the long-standing democracy (until recently) of Venezuela and ran into most of our issues with the police/army of Colombia. Perhaps we should have taken the bet on traveling to Peru, but we instead stuck to Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.

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Suffice it to say, Machu Picchu has been at the top of my bucket list for the last thirty years. A very dusty bucket list since I’ve had children, a career and am no longer married to a bilingual adventurer. So I learned Spanish myself. When I saw photos of the classic photo taken atop Machu Picchu by a college friend, Lisa, about two years ago on social media, I reached out to find out how she had accomplished such an extraordinary feat. In addition, I have a co-worker from a past job, Claudia, who is a native of Peru. Without these wealth of resources due mostly to social media, I would probably not have had the wherewithal to head south of the equator to finally check off the item at the top of my bucket list.

 

This is what you need to know traveling to Machu Picchu:

 

Remote. I have traveled internationally several times over the last few years. I have taken Uber rides to far flung Colombian villages, like Guatapé, some three hours outside of Medellín, Colombia. No need for a bus token or much Spanish. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo are all very remote with mostly gravel and rutted roads in between. You will not be able to get an Uber or taxi ride to the train station at Ollantaytambo or Agua Caliente. I point this out because, unless you are hiking the famed Inca Trail (I did not), you will need to have transportation set up in advance. I was on a tour with REI, so all of the transfers were set up well in advance. In addition, outside of tour buses and tuk tuks, you won’t see many other vehicles on the road. Be prepared.

 

Water. The water in Peru is not potable for US travelers. Every hotel and restaurant served bottled water. Most hotels instructed us to brush our teeth with bottled water. Basically, your stomach isn’t ready for whatever parasites and bacteria living in the water versus the water you drink every day in the United States. It’s not bad; it’s just different. I was amazed that every place we went to served drinks from a bottle without ice. Funny that when we arrived at a buffet restaurant right outside the park with self-serve drinks, most of the kids had put ice in their glass along with one of our tour group. When we pointed out the error, she came back without ice in her glass. It may just be the custom not to serve ice with drinks in Peru, but avoiding ice and tap water is important. I, for one, was guarding my digestive health to make sure I summited Machu Picchu successfully. Be prepared with plenty of bottled water.

 

Transportation. We took the train from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente (Pueblo de Machu Picchu) the morning of hiking Machu Picchu. I made the mistake of sitting opposite the direction the train was traveling. It’s a pleasant 90-minute ride but facing backwards may have led me to be a bit queasy later. What added to my queasiness was the insane, harrowing bus ride up to the actual archeological site. It’s about 30 minutes long and the full-size buses ride up switch backs and hairpin turns on a gravel road with no guard rails, inches from a precarious thousand-foot drop–as well as passing buses running down the mountain! It was a really bad movie scene waiting to happen! I don’t normally get car sick, although it may have been the anticipation of finally arriving at Machu Picchu. I do have one recommendation: keep your eyes shut. And the only other way in is hiking for several days on the Inca Trail. Don’t forget that you come back down on a bus on the same road you went up. If it sounds sobering, it is.

 

Altitude. I remember focusing on the fact that Machu Picchu is at about 8,000 feet in elevation. That, in hindsight, is not the issue. Cuzco, the closest major city with an airport, is at 11,500 feet. When we strode up a short flight of stairs upon arriving Cuzco, you feel it. You are out of breath. You start to get a headache. For some in our tour group of ten, you get sick. You feel dizzy and can’t stand up. Cuzco and its altitude is a bigger obstacle than Machu Picchu. Seems counterintuitive that the big city is at a higher altitude than what was once misnamed “the Lost City of the Incas” (it was never lost but the Spanish Conquistadors never found it). Apparently, altitude sickness is random. You may or may not get it. Just know that Machu Picchu is much lower than Cuzco. Acclimate in Cuzco and Machu Picchu will be a breeze.

 

“Steps.” I remember that by the end of my trip, I was sick of “steps.” There are “steps” everywhere in the various archeological sites we visited from Pisac, to the Saltpans of Mara, to the 250 “steps” up Ollantaytambo. I use quotation marks around the steps because they are not a set of steps that you would expect in any given public building with an even uniform height to the steps, singular material such as wood or metal, and, of course, a nice handy railing in case you want to grab on for balance at some point. Well, on the initial approach up to Machu Picchu there are “steps”. I’d guess there were about a hundred or so. There are many tourists in varying phases of fitness on those steps either going up or coming down. There are no railings, no escalators, no elevators (yes, I did sheepishly ask a few times during my tour of Peru). The steps are uneven, nonuniform, and disjointed. Poles might have been useful but having help from our guides and some fellow friends was invaluable.

 

AweThere are few sights in this world that bring tears to my eyes. The Golden Gate bridge, Yosemite Valley and the New York Skyline come to mind. On that approach just a few short weeks ago, to see that view? I had tears in my eyes. That breathtaking view of an ancient village built in the 15th century, nestled into the shear edges of mountains. The engineering feat in the middle of an impossibly steep mountain range. The civilization that masterminded the moving and shaping of the landscape without beast or wheel. The sheer beauty of the extraordinary backdrop. It is breathtaking. It is magical. It is inspiring. It was completely worth the thirty-year wait. Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring.

 

I am so fortunate to have traveled with my REI cohort of ten to Machu Picchu. A fantastic group of tenacious and fun hikers with knowledgeable, helpful guides. It wasn’t easy or simple but worth the wait for that awe inspiring view.

Return to the Amazon Jungle

When I left the Amazon jungle thirty years ago, I had no illusions that I would ever return. In 1988, I was there with my then husband Orlando to see the sights of his homeland Colombia; the Amazon River and Manaus, Brazil were tacked on for good measure. Flash forward thirty years and here I sit, under mosquito netting, the sounds of cicadas and frogs outside and the humid air that hangs on you like wet jeans. This time, I am in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle and half a mile from the Tambopata River, a downstream tributary to the great Amazon River. I am husband-less, older but no less tenacious and traveling with a friend; I think tenacity is a requirement for this type of journey.

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There are many differences besides the language and technology, but there are many things that are magical and otherworldly. This is what I found:

  • Tour guides. The first time around, I was in Manaus with Orlando searching tour companies that would take our American Express card. We were willing to go with any guide that would take our “plastic”. At the time, Brazil had extraordinarily high inflation rates so they would actually receive significantly less cruzeiros to the dollar once they received reimbursement from the credit card company. Nonetheless, we prevailed and ironically found a young Peruvian guide to take us upriver on the mighty Amazon. Our guide in 1988 knew English, Spanish and Portuguese but mostly regaled us with Michael Jackson songs instead of biology. This time around, I searched and received recommendations from several well-traveled friends, set up the dates and itineraries 6 months before and, most importantly, had a very well-educated guide, Saul, who was a wealth of information on all the flora, fauna and culture of the region. Saul knew where to go and at what time to fully take in the rich variety of nature in the Amazon.
  • Food. In 1988, we followed our guide around the streets of Manaus purchasing provisions for our two-day trip into the jungle. I remember limes, chicken and rice along with Brazilian rum. I know bottled water was not so ubiquitous as it is today. I think we typically drank bottled Coke. We traveled on a small boat and would stop at riverside places that would cook for us. This would take several hours and I never knew what we would be eating. In 2018, we had freshly-prepared buffets for each meal with salads, soups and desserts. Fresh juice from an array of unpronounceable fruits that were all delicious but completely foreign and not replicable. Bottle water dispensers were located throughout the jungle lodge where we stayed. Hot coffee and tea were available all day. We could eat at our leisure and have as much as we wanted. What a difference 30 years make.
  • Animals. I can still remember dragging a 15-pound “state of the art” camcorder with film cassettes and trying, haplessly, to record the monkeys and birds as they flied and romped in the trees. I failed. Orlando failed. We could not record a thing but we pointed aimlessly above, in the hope we’d accidentally caught something on tape. This time around, we cruised right up to a chalky cliff and saw 50 to 60 parrots flying, swooping and cackling. Amazing. We walked 25 yards and enjoyed coffee and cake as we saw some dozen or so brightly colored Macaws perch, soar and lick the chalky cliffs. There were about a half dozen scopes set up to record or view the varieties of Macaws that came out to play. Most amazingly, for me, was running into, on three or four occasions, the romping, swinging and flying of six or so Saddleback Tamarins. Two would jump from branch to branch like they were synchronized swimmers. They are very small monkeys and their bodies were the size of a squirrel with a very long black tail. I felt like they would show up mid-hike just to entertain us or perhaps we entertained them with our cameras, scopes, flashlights and iPhones? Who was watching who?
  • Accommodations. This is a drastic change from 30 years ago. My first time here, we slept in a one-room house with what seemed like 15 hammocks. The family we stayed with included their children, our guide, our driver, Orlando and myself, where each of us slept swinging from the rafters in individual hammocks. No bathroom. Just the woods and stories of pythons lying in wait (I recall relieving myself once on the entire trip…but perhaps my memories have been edited). This time, we are in a beautiful open air two-story lodge complete with television, masseuse and store. Our rooms had a private bath, mosquito netting, and intermittent Wi-Fi. There was a hammock by an open wall facing the jungle full of howler monkeys and exotic birds, like the Amazonian Oropendola, which made a sound like water dropping in a barrel.

Regardless of the decade, the Amazon is timeless. The water rolls by ceaselessly, the animals still make sounds foreign to my urban ear, and there are a million species of insects who ignore Deet and still penetrate long sleeve shirts. The beauty and grace is unmatched. It cannot be recreated by animation or drawings. It must be experienced. And to do so is life changing.

Look and Listen: Lessons from Birds

I had an amazing experience in early June, I went on a birding expedition with the Lower Neuse Bird Club. When my companion Roy suggested I go, I was a bit intimidated since “I know just enough about birds to be dangerous.” That means I know the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay (the former being red and the latter being blue). My knowledge starts and ends about there. Getting up at dark o’clock and heading out to a preserve with a bunch of folks I don’t know, to look for elusive bounty seemed impulsive. I figured I’d be lucky to see one yellow bellied sapsucker or some other assumed mythical creature. I was wrong.

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Lower Neuse Bird Club. Photo by Mike Creedon

This is what I learned from my birding adventure:

  • Expert. This whole adventure would have been foolhardy without a few experts along. We met up with the caravan from New Bern, NC in Otway, NC and then traveled to the North River Preserve in Carteret County, NC. Our expert for this trip was John Fussell. This guy is mighty in his knowledge of all things birding. Our first stop on the preserve had Fussell with iPod in hand shouting out bird names like, who has never seen a Dickcissel or Blue Grosbeak? I meekly put up my hand. I had no idea if that was a bird or a disease. Well, I soon learned that Fussell had already scouted the area that morning and was calling the birds with his mighty iPod. It was fascinating. Calling up bird like ordering up fries at a drive through. Having an expert along when birding is critical.
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Indigo Bunting. Photo by Mike Creedon.
  • Patience. As I have written previously, patience has never been my strong suit. Well, when you go birding, you better be patient. Fussell would be trying to call up a bird and there all fifteen of us stood at the ready with binoculars, high-powered cameras and scopes waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then suddenly someone would call out the bird and its location. I was skeptical that my patience, albeit finite, would pay off. Sure enough, after struggling to find an elusive Indigo Bunting on the top of the large pine next to the tallest grass on the right of the electrical pole and five feet to the left of the ditch. Magic. There is the bluest bird I have ever seen. Not in captivity but there flitting in the top of the brush singing its song. Patience pays off.

 

  • Observant. Veteran birders are super observant. I figured a newbie like me might be lucky to see much more than one or two birds. I have never been super observant. I will say that when I am in the market for a new car or phone, all I notice is that particular car or phone. The same thing applies to birdwatching. With a few experts along, suddenly all the brush and grass disappeared and there was a Dickcissel perched on a branch. Focusing on movement and the environment around you. It’s funny, all of a sudden, there would be a bird flying overhead and someone would call out “Common Yellow Throat.” Paying attention paid off with all kinds of sightings.

 

  • Notes. It didn’t take long to notice that many of the birders were taking notes. Pretty soon, I had my phone out to take notes myself. I had no idea that I would see so many unusual birds and that I would want to remember the names. It’s like everyone was keeping tabs on the various birds they observed. Initially, I figured, what was the point? But then I realized, I might want to find out more about the birds later. And…I just might want to write a post about this experience. So, I better keep track. There were at least five to six people keeping track. By the end of the trip, I had at least twelve birds I had never seen before. And I can pull up a name like Indigo Bunting without having to use my faulty memory. Keep notes of your observations. It will keep things fresh.

 

  • Listen. I had no idea that most of birding centers around listening. This may be obvious to you. We all have heard birds singing first thing in the morning. I rarely listen to a bird’s song. Well, these birders? They know a bird’s song! They have little things that they believe the bird is singing. It’s similar to a Mourning Dove’s sound, which sounds like weeping. I can’t remember what some of the more experienced birders said, but it was interesting how once they gave an identity to what a bird sounded like — “That’s a dog, that’s a dog, that’s a dog” — that was all I could hear. The real lesson here is to just listen. Now all I hear is bird’s singing and notice how one is different from another. It’s easy to just skim over the sound but if you focus in and listen, they are all unique.

I cannot begin to tell you how helpful everyone on the expedition was. If you asked, “What is that?”, someone would chime in. If someone didn’t know, they would say so. It’s like we were all there just to experience whatever came our way. I have to say, it was a lot of fun and opened my eyes to what is really going on out there. Get outside and start to notice what is around you.

I am Intelligent and Witty. Blind Spots and the Johari Window.

I worked on a coaching certification several years ago and the classwork involved the Johari Window. The Johari Window is an instrument developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and it helps you understand the way you view yourself and how others view you (or don’t). It has 56 adjectives and if you’d like to try, go to this link. So our assignment at the time was to coach a classmate through the Johari Window and my classmate, Stephen Starkey, coached me.

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Blind spots on the Johari Window are those adjectives that others selected to describe you. Of the friends and family that participated, the majority chose intelligent and witty to describe me. I was taken aback by this and my coach Steve helped me uncover why. Although I think I’m smart and that I can be witty, I don’t really own it. It’s OK for me to describe someone else with those adjectives, but it seems egotistical to own them myself. Wow. Was that a breakthrough! I thought it was OK for me to describe others as intelligent but I couldn’t embrace it myself. How is that holding me back?

This brings up a recent book I read by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. She describes how women hold themselves back and offers advice on how to “lean in”. I can remember being in the top of my class in elementary school and then, suddenly, flicking the switch. Smart girls (intelligent girls) weren’t valued. At least from my skewed eleven-year-old perspective. Time to lean into and recognize my attributes.

If you think your blind spots are holding you back, let’s look at some ways to embrace them:

  1. Own. The first thing I did was set up an action item to own the words. My action item was to incorporate the words into my daily meditation. You might need to incorporate them into your daily prayers, affirmations or gratitude at the end of the day. You can’t live the words unless you own them. Obviously, others already know you own them so it’s time for you  to pick them up and carry them around.
  2. Utilize. So start using them. If one of your adjectives in your blind spot is “happy”, then go out and “be happy.” Live it so that you feel it. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Don’t forget, it’s you that you need to prove this to. Most others already know that you are “happy.” Utilize the adjective so that it comes alive in you.
  3. Free. Set it free. I have to say I found this to be quite empowering since acknowledging these two blind spots. Suddenly it’s not as hard to write or develop a solution to a problem. I’ve said to myself, “Cathy, you’re intelligent and witty, writing a blog post shouldn’t be that hard…pssssht.” Like I said, it’s like a road block as been removed. Now I am free.
  4. Get over it. I have to say I was terrified to write this post. I initially felt like an egomaniac, actually putting these two words out there. I can’t embrace it unless I “get over it.” Everyone out there has attributes and it’s obvious to everyone else that you are “happy, compassionate and adaptable.” Get over it, they already see it. You’re not an ego maniac (yeah, it’s not one of the adjectives available).
  5. Live. Live your acknowledged adjectives. Keep them alive and depend on them going forward. Don’t forget to make them apart of your everyday life. This is what you “are”, so live it. Quit trying to hide your “happiness” or “silly” sense of humor. There is a reason you were gifted these adjectives, so go live it.

I hope you check out the Johari Window and see what blind spots you might be ignoring or hiding. Can’t wait to see what you find.

My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

3 Misconceptions About Happiness

I have written and read about happiness a lot in the last seven years since I began my blog. My editor and friend sent me this link to an interview of Laurie Santos on the Megyn Kelly show. Dr. Santos teaches the largest class at Yale University and she has some great insights. Happiness seems even more elusive in our technology-fueled life when we have a powerful PC in our hands and are over committed in all aspects of our lives. You can imagine the stress a Yale student must be under. Just getting into an Ivy League university is a major feat of stamina, tenacity and grit.

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As written in the New York Times, Yale had such a demand for this class, with one quarter of the undergraduates enrolled, they had to move the location a few times in order to accommodate all the students. As reported, Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to de-prioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” It’s important to understand the misconception around happiness as it can shed light on what to NOT do if happiness is your aim.

Here are the three misconceptions as espoused by Dr. Santos:

You don’t need change to be happy. This is like the carrot in front of the horse spurring forward action. We believe that we will be happy when we lose 10..20..30 pounds. We believe that the next job, promotion or pay increase will suddenly create happiness. We decide that getting engaged, married, buying the house, having a child, or getting that kid out of the house post-graduation, will finally bring happiness. We put off our happiness until we attain this elusive change we imagine will bring that great joy. Weddings and births are landmark moments in your life. They are fleeting. Don’t delay what you have right now. Change will come and it is constant. I believe that being in the moment is where happiness lies. Are you alright, right now? Then feel the warmth in your heart, take a deep breath and be in the moment. Don’t delay happiness for the next hurdle.

Don’t procrastinate and veg out. When we are so over-committed, it’s easy to think…oh wow Tuesday night is free. Let me sit on the couch and veg out. Instead of vegging out, happiness lies in challenging ourselves. Think about using your hands. I am a cook and find satisfaction in trying new recipes and stretching my comfort zone through baking bread and making gnocchi (a two-day process). There is great satisfaction even if the end product is not perfect. As written in Psychology Today by Dr. Carrie Barron, “Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought.” So is that guitar gathering dust? When is the last time you picked up those knitting needles? Joy is found in the act of challenging yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in the perfection of it. Just do.

Don’t focus on the hassles. I have worked on this a lot in the last decade. I am impatient by nature so getting in a traffic jam ten years ago would send me in an angry spiral. I re-frame it now. I pray that no one is injured in a car crash and am thankful my car is running. If I am late, I am late. Dr. Santos encourages making a gratitude journal of all the things you are grateful for. I have been writing a gratitude journal for at least a decade and it’s made a tremendous change in my outlook. Dr. Santos recommends something I had never heard of before. She calls it negative visualization. So imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, or your pet passed away, or you lost a parent. Seems counter intuitive but it makes sense as you now have a new appreciation for what you have in your life. It’s easy to take what is in front of us for granted. You have clean water coming out of your faucet, as well as heat and a device that you are reading this on. Isn’t life just grand?

I work with many clients that have small children, intense travel schedules and financial difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Take stock, challenge yourself, and be grateful. Happiness is here.

Tenacity and Grit: Lessons from my Son.

My son Benson has always been a gifted athlete. Although I don’t like that term, because gifted implies that it’s all in his DNA. As if the DNA fairy godmother waved a magic wand and suddenly he was running in the North Carolina State Championship Track Meet with little to no effort. There has been a lot of effort. Hard work. Hours and years of hard work. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lebron James all have worked hard. Sure, there were Tiger’s hard driving parents and his commitment to golf, Michael Phelps’ abnormally wide wing span (and his mother cheering him on) and Lebron’s height. Those are all part of the package. But at the core of it all is tenacity and grit. It takes tenacity to show up every day, regardless of the circumstances and work; as well as the grit to overcome adversity in order to continue forward. My son has both of these qualities in spades.

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I am writing this after a roller coaster weekend of watching my son compete at the University and U25 National Weightlifting Championships in Ogden, Utah. I am not exactly sure when Benson first started lifting weights. There are plenty of sports that he excelled at, most which had weightlifting as a part of the regime. He was an outstanding football player in high school and an all-state champion in Track and Wrestling. These sports usually have some sort of weightlifting as a part of the preparation. The first time he decided to compete in what is termed Olympic Weightlifting (as opposed to Powerlifting or Body Building), had to be sometime during his freshman year of college at the University of Miami. It requires technical aptitude, strength, grace and resilience.

This is what I have learned from my son:

Show up. Benson always shows up. Two years ago, we were in Northern California for Benson’s twentieth birthday. He is a native Californian and it was his first trip back to the West Coast in over a decade. It did not matter. He was at the gym practically every day. Random gyms. Unknown gyms. He was scouting places to work out and he worked out. There are no excuses for Benson. It’s a rainy day. I was up late last night. I have a ton of work to do. My friends are going to the beach. I’m on vacation. He shows up and does the work. If you want something? Show up.

Support. Regardless of the sport, Benson always has a team supporting him. It might be a coach, team mates, family or friends. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I’m proud to say I am a part of that village. While he does all the work, he has a crowd of folks in his corner cheering him on. It amazes me that I attend at least three competitions a year on the national scale and there are rarely parents in the audience. I’ve seen competitors without even a coach. Support is more that just cheering. It’s knowing that what you do matters to more than just you. Someone is invested in your failure or success. It’s the emotional buoy to get you through. Have support.

Grit. During the U25 National competition, Benson missed all three of his Snatches. I was disheartened. I wanted to go back into the training area and give him a hug. There was no way he could be the overall winner without successfully making at least one Snatch. His forte in competition has been the Snatch and now he only had the Clean and Jerk left. How in the world do you come back from that? I saw several other athletes bomb out on all three attempts. It was a war of attrition. He came back to successfully complete two clean lifts in the Clean and Jerk. That is grit. The ability to rally back. To not slide into the abyss of defeat and wallow there. I’m prouder of the fact that he rallied back than for his eventual Gold Medal. Find your grit.

Focus. Benson is single-minded. When I arrived at the competition, I sat next to him in the audience of the preceding weight class. We did not speak. He with his hood and headphones, me with my smart phone. We went out to dinner the evening before and I asked about his plans. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not looking past tomorrow.” This is a lesson for me. Focus on the immediate goal. The project that is due. The exam. Your workout. Month end. The drive home. Know what you want and focus on it. As for me, for the last ten months, it’s been sobriety. As a friend told me, “Just don’t have a damn drink.” For Benson, it is the competition at hand. Not the one next month. Not reliving the two bronze medals from last year. It’s about this competition right now.

I am amazed that Benson could rally back from the extreme low of failing completely in his first three lifts to come back and get the gold medal. That grit. That tenacity to succeed after failure. That is what I am most proud of. So even if you do fail, dust yourself off and stick with it. Success is around the corner.