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.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

My closest friends from high school and college all had babies in 1993. Five babies born all in one year. My good friend, Janine, was the first that year to give birth to her son in March. I followed closely behind in April.  I remember talking to her on the phone after her some 48 hours in labor in the back hills of Vermont. I recall she said, “There is no gold star or medal if you don’t have drugs.” Interesting. If you take the shortcut, the easier way; the fast pass, you still arrive at the same place. No one remembers that you did or did not have an Epidural. All they remember is that you had a beautiful, healthy baby. All five of us did by the end of 1993. There was no one keeping score on who did or did not try and escape some pain. Point being, no one remembers if you asked for help or not.

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Salt Pans of Mara, Peru

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I am hiking in the Andes. I am navigating down the Salt Pans of Mara, Peru. The Salt Pans are man-made shallow evaporation pools for the harvesting of salt. They have been using these “pans” to harvest salt since the Incas. I have wobbly knees, the sun is slowly setting and my guide Danny has shown me the way forward. The way forward is what I feel looks like a balance beam across the edge of hundreds of salt pans. It’s about a four to five-foot drop off the edge I hesitate. Danny looks at me, “Do you need help?” I am embarrassed. I am the only one teetering on whether or not to proceed (although I have absolutely no choice since the bus has left). The rest of my group is ahead. Danny offers for me to hold onto his shoulders as we march across what was probably in reality a foot to 18-inch-wide path. I accepted his help.

Here is what I learned about asking for help:

Pride. I remember that there was a show many years ago called Weakest Link. The announcer would say to someone that was being eliminated, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” When Danny offered his help, I felt like everyone on that trip was looking down at their score card to check off [Cathy needed help. She is the weakest link.] That was my pride creeping in. Blasting in, actually. Pride is a dangerous occupation. You can put yourself in a lot of danger. You can worry more about what people think instead of plain old self-preservation. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your safety…and sanity. Ask for help.

One step.  It is immensely cliché to say: “One foot in front of the other.” It is completely true. As I held onto Danny walking across that imagined “balance beam” on the salt pans, I really did just put one foot in front of the other. My head was down. I couldn’t see the finish line. I didn’t want to see the finish line. I focused on my feet. It’s amazing how an enormous project like my dear friend Susannah has been going through for the past several months of moving to another country; can become manageable by doing one step at a time. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming. It hijacks our brain into believing we must get it all done today. It won’t. It can’t. Take a breath. Take one small step. Worry about the next step when you need to. Get the help and take a step.

Adapt. On another leg of this trip, we ended up hiking down about 2,000 feet in altitude on the Inca Trail in a ruin called Pisac. There was rarely, if ever, a hand rail. The size, shape and width of the steps varied with each and every step. My foot would end up dropping from 18 inches to 2 inches. From gravel to stone to dirt. Hairpin switchbacks that llama’s apparently glide up and down. We had no idea what was next. There was no anticipating what the next ten feet might bring. Sometimes our trusty assistant (read Lifesaver) guide Juan Carlos anticipated my need for some balance and arrived at the ready as we descended yet another uneven set of steps. Sometimes he wasn’t. I muddled through. I adapted. There is no perfection in hiking. There is only a safe arrival at the bottom. Get help and adapt.

Acceptance. My hiking mentor and Appalachian Trail hiker, Roy, instructed me to do whatever I need in order to be safe on the trail. Even crawling. Well that doesn’t sound very graceful. I needed to accept that if I wanted to get on my butt and scoot down the mountain, that was just fine. If I wanted to accept help from my guides, that is also just fine. There are no gold stars at the bottom (or top) if you use or ask or accept help. When I arrived at my bucket list destination of Machu Picchu and needed to lean on Juan Carlos down a set of uneven steps, I finally accepted it. There is no one keeping score except for myself. Get the help and, most importantly, be accepting.

This might be an American construct where we all need to be like Teddy Roosevelt and be the rugged individual. The person who can conquer it all. I can’t. I admit it. It’s freeing to actually look for help instead of being what my brother calls “a juggernaut of strength.” Be human and accept the help. It will make all the difference.

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.

Riding a Bike Again

Getting on a bike and riding again is a great metaphor. You never forget how to ride a bike. It doesn’t mean it’s easy and that there isn’t just a little bit of fear that you may not be successful. All the trips, falls and faux pas in your life come roaring back to tell you that you can’t do it. I believed that. I figured I was too old to be able to bike again. Too uncoordinated. Too out of shape. Too, too!

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Well, then there is Roy. Roy doesn’t seem to know a challenge he can’t take on. And he doesn’t see why I can’t attempt something as well. Roy isn’t held back by limiting beliefs. I’ve been seeing Roy for about three months. When I first met him, he was talking about jumping out of airplanes. He thought I should quit my current life, hike the Appalachian Trail and sign up for a triathlon in August. So when he started mentioning me buying a bike, that seemed like small potatoes compared to some of his other suggestions. Might as well start small, right? I bought a bike about a month ago. This is what I have learned from the experience.

 

Getting back on the bike again:

 

  • Safety first. I have previously viewed helmets and bright yellow reflective shirts as optional. When my first husband and I owned a motorcycle in California in the late 80’s, wearing helmets was optional. If you weren’t required to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, why would I need to wear one on a bike? I knew I wouldn’t be able to pedal faster than five miles an hour. I know I never wore a helmet when I was riding my Schwinn with training wheels at age 6. Times have changed and regardless of whether or not there is a law requiring the wearing of a helmet, it just makes good sense. I’ve learned from running at 5 AM that cars can’t see folks without a reflective vest. I would never even think about driving without a seat belt. The odds of crashing are slim but my gray matter is more important than having hat hair. Safety is always first.

 

  • Easy does it. I appreciate that the first time I rode the bike, Roy and I didn’t go much farther than two miles. Any time you are reintroducing yourself to something new or something new to you in the last few years, take it easy. I think most of us are guilty of getting a new gym membership and overdoing it the first time at the gym. I’ve done this with things like playing a guitar or knitting. My fingers get sore and I never want to pick it up again. Easing into it makes it more pleasurable and less daunting. Make sure you don’t overdo anything, so that you want to come back and do it again.

 

  • Get a coach. I really appreciate that Roy rode beside me that first time out. I had not been on a twenty-seven-speed bike ever in my life. I really didn’t understand the point of twenty-seven speeds. I mean, wouldn’t three work just fine? That’s where a coach comes into play. Roy coached me through changing up the gears and down and where and when to change them. I messed up quite a few times like down shifting when I was supposed to up shift but having someone coach me through a really simple two-mile ride was super helpful. I can imagine that if I had tried this on my own, I probably would have stayed in one gear the entire ride and never have understood how all those gears really do make it so much easier, especially all the hills. Having a coach was invaluable. Don’t go it alone, find a coach.

 

  • Buy the gear. So one two-mile trip on my new bike taught me that I was going to have saddle sores if I didn’t buy some bike shorts. What a difference bike shorts made! I can ride for ten miles now and be relatively saddle-sore-free. I also bought a cycling shirt so I can take my cell phone in case of emergency and added a water bottle holder to the bike frame. I have been admonished by cycling connoisseurs against a kick stand as it slows down your speed (although I don’t see me breaking any speed records). Buying the right gear makes it all much more enjoyable.

 

  • Enjoy the ride. It’s amazing how much different things are on a bike instead of driving or walking in the same neighborhood. You notice different things. I would previously never have run if it was 80 degrees or warmer outside. It was too uncomfortable. On a bike? It’s a relief to get out in the breeze. If thunder clouds are rolling in, as it did this past week, there was still time to get in two more miles before it started to rain. On foot, I would have had to turn around the minute I saw dark clouds. In a car, you don’t even notice “a hill” or branch in the roadway. It’s a different perspective and you are alert to different things like cars and dogs being walked. It’s nice to have a change in perspective.

I had what seemed like a thousand reasons never to get on a bike again. I’m glad I had the support to go out and give it a try. What are you holding back on? What hobby do you need to revisit?

Just Two Beats Longer

I just finished Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. It’s a thought provoking book but what I found most useful were the last few minutes (I listen rather than read books). Burchard recommended having things last two beats longer. It’s a captivating thought. Not a minute longer. Not a week longer. Not a century longer. Just two beats longer. Well that’s pretty doable…isn’t it? So, breath in for two beats longer. Gaze at your lover two beats longer. Pet your dog two beats longer.

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It’s such a simple concept. It doesn’t require a new notebook, new tennis shoes, or a new rain jacket. No equipment required. Just two beats longer. I’ve been paying attention to this and this is what I have found.

The benefits of two beats longer:

  • The greatest luxury. Burchard writes, “the greatest luxury of life is an unhurried mind.” Is this not completely and utterly true? When you are not hurried, it’s like a giant down comforter. Things soften. Life is richer. Moments extend. It’s like letting off the gas and just coasting. It’s such a relief not to be pounding forward. Taking two beats longer provides for a more luxurious life. An unhurried mind waiting and able to focus.

 

  • Multi-tasking is a lie. I used to think I was multi-tasking. You know, driving a car, listening to the news, putting on lipstick and drinking a Grande Frappuccino all at the same time. Instead I was skimming through and doing each thing less than 25%. Uni-task and focus on the moment. I was hiking the Balsam Trail on Mount Mitchell a few weeks back. As you hike along there is this waft of balsam. The smell of Christmas. I stood there and closed my eyes. I took two beats (perhaps more) longer. I soaked it in. I won’t soon forget that moment. Don’t skim. Take it in two beats longer.

 

  • Linger in your relationships. Burchard writes, “What would happen to the quality of our life and relationships if we simply amplified our senses just a little longer?” Hold the kiss for two beats longer. The embrace. The touch of the hand. Gaze into your lover’s eyes. Be there now for two beats longer. What would such a minuscule change do to your relationships? It’s like turning up the volume with a slight touch. Bringing things into focus. Being present and available for those you love. Love just two beats longer.

 

  • Respond versus react. Most of the unsavory moments of my life were when I reacted instead of responded. Those moments when I came back with a snarky comment or rolled my eyes. If you take two beats between reacting and wait to respond, it can be the difference between keeping a job or losing a job. Between maintaining a friendship or becoming enemies. Between getting a client or repelling them. As I look at the difference between responding versus reacting, it’s all in the moments in between. Two beats longer gives you space to respond; not just react

 

  • Savor the moment. Burchard writes, “Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.” I inhale food. I have to be one of the fastest eaters I know. I think I have been racing my older brother Rick since elementary school to eat all the Cap’n Crunch before it was all gone. I’m still racing and I can afford all the Cap’n Crunch I could want. Taste the moment. The food. Enjoy it. It’s not something to get through but to enjoy. Slow down for two beats.

 

  • Be present right now. That’s what this all comes down to after all. Be here right now. There is a really easy way to do that. Wait. Two. Beats. Longer. Eckard Tolle told us this in The Power of Now, “The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.” Waiting two beats longer gets you into the moment right now. Let go the worries of the future and regrets of the past and be in this moment right now. Two beats longer.

 

This is so simple. So elegant. It’s not that hard to do. It’s just a conscious effort to wait…two…beats…longer. Give it a try and see what a difference it makes.

Getting Past Doubt.

Doubt is paralyzing. It grabs you by the shoulders and says, “There is no way in hell you can keep this house, Cathy.” “There is no way in hell you can ride a bike for ten miles.” “There is no way in hell you can run in a marathon.” It’s the super glue that suddenly holds your shoes to the ground. It’s the snooze button on your alarm that keeps you from the training run. It’s the second, third and fourth chocolate chip cookie that keeps you on the couch, instead of calling the mortgage company. Doubt is insidious and pervasive. It’s the devil’s advocate running amok in our head. You and I both need to shut it down.

I have struggled with self-doubt my entire life. My bet is that you have it as well. The thought that only the people who were blessed with magical powers; the chosen few who can actually achieve their dreams. But as I sit here, almost 57, I have overcome that nasty self-doubt and when I really reflect, I am pretty fortunate and, dare I say, happy.

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Here are the secrets to getting past doubt:

  • The Rule of 10-10-10. I have used this in coaching. Suzy Welch wrote on this in her book of the same title. When you are faced with a decision, look at the ramifications for each way in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. So, in a major decision like holding onto your house or foreclosure, it’s important to follow the process. In 10 minutes, either holding onto the house or letting it go is devastating. In 10 months, the credit implications of walking away could be catastrophic but the financial burden of staying could be paralyzing. In 10 years, the equity in the house could be a financial boom and the credit fiasco would be a long-ago memory. When faced with doubt in a big decision, be sure to look at the long-term ramifications.

 

  • Notice that you’re alright right now. This is from Rick Hanson.  Our negative biased brain wants to look for negative meaning in everything around us. So that rustle in the bushes is a venomous snake instead of an innocent bird. Doubt is partially built on this same negative brain bias. Thoughts of I am too old; too fat; too slow start to paralyze our forward momentum. In reality. If you take stock. You are alright, right now. I say this because if you are reading this post, you aren’t on a sinking ship or in a burning building. I have shoes on my feet, a roof over my head and, thank goodness, a good WiFi connection.

 

  • Take stock. It is so easy to dwell on what is not going right instead of what is going well. Take stock of your accomplishments. This does not mean you are a narcissist. It means that you can take ownership of what you have done. I’ve lived on both coasts. I’ve traveled to South America and Europe. I can speak Spanish reasonably well and I bake a damn good loaf of bread. I have two fantastic kids who I raised through some pretty rough transitions in my life. Most importantly, I’ve made a difference in many people’s lives through my coaching and facilitation. There are several people out there who started running in 5k’s and half marathons because of me. That is incredibly gratifying. Taking stock keeps doubt at bay.

 

  • Be mindful. I’ve written about my daily meditation practice from the Art of Living. It keeps me grounded in my breath. I believe I am more present because of the practice. It’s not easy but I try to be in the present moment and not anticipating tomorrow or dredging up the past. I have recently started swimming laps. Swimming laps takes away all the distractions. There is no iPhone, no television, no music, no conversation, or mindless eating. All you have is your body, the water and your breath. I’m not thinking about my grocery list or if my daughter will call or about last night’s failed meatloaf. I’m not dwelling on doubting my abilities or skills. I am in the present moment. Whether it’s mediation, swimming, yoga or a walk, find a way to get present. It keeps the doubts at bay.

 

  • Yes and. This is the rule of thumb for improvisational comedy. It’s also a great way to brainstorm. So instead of saying, “No” or “Yes, but…”, you are keeping your options open. So if I am doubting I can keep my house out of foreclosure, I say, “Yes, and I can rent out a few rooms,” or “Yes, and I can get a second job,” or “Yes, and I can run a cooking class out of my kitchen.” It makes everything possible instead of impossible. It keeps your doubts under wraps.

I have not perfected this and there are times that when I get a phone message from my attorney or boss that I immediately assume the worst. But almost immediately, I take a moment to reframe the situation and wait for more data before jumping to catastrophic conclusions. Doubt is nothing but fear rearing its ugly head. You may have a small lapse but keep moving on.

Sticking to Your Path

You’re jealous because your coworker just got a new red sports car, and your car is a beat-up 90’s Honda. You’re upset because you weren’t selected for the super duper high profile project, but your arch nemesis from work was. Your ex is posting cozy pictures of her new boyfriend all over social media and you’re home alone on a Better Call Saul binge. You feel inadequate. You feel sorry for yourself. You are on the Comparison Highway to Inadequacy. You need to get off that highway and focus on your own path.

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I’m a speaker. An executive coach. A mother. A dog owner. An author. I don’t get paid what Tony Robbins gets paid to speak. I don’t have the same client list as Marshall Goldsmith. My kids (are awesome) but they aren’t on the cover of Time magazine or on a Wheaties box (yet). My dog hasn’t won any Westminster Dog Shows. I haven’t written a single book and, therefore, never sold one (although there is a free copy here). The point is, how high is that bar for you? If I compared myself to everyone around me on all aspects of my life, I would be sorely disappointed. Stick to your path and quit looking at everyone else’s.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Acceptance.  Be okay with the path that is in front of you. I was stuck in a should cycle for the last nine months on decisions regarding the rebuilding of my house post-Hurricane Matthew. I should have purchased all new cabinets. I should have bought new kitchen furniture. I should have gone with a different electrician. This is wearing you down. All that “should-ing“. Accept what decisions you have made and move forward. All that should-ing is making you dwell on the past and draining you.

 

  • Different.  I love this quote from Internal Acceptance Movement: “Everyone has their own unique journey. A path that’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be a path that’s right for you. Your path isn’t right or wrong, or good or bad. It’s just different.” What I try to do, say when I see that new red sports car in the company parking lot, is tell myself: “Wow. Suzy really likes cars. Good for her.” Everyone values different things, be it material possessions or experiences. I love to travel and maybe my son doesn’t. We are on different paths and that’s OK.

 

  • Pace.  This is my biggest problem. I am always in forward motion. I want to accomplish the next thing. I want it done yesterday. This makes me incredibly impatient with other folks who operate on a different pace (i.e.: slower). It doesn’t bring out my best side. As I tap my fingers, waiting for a response to ten rapid fire texts to my assistant. Take a breath and connect with your inner Buddha. Acknowledge your pace and quit trying to have people get on board with your pace. That’s how people start to stumble. Stay in lane and keep your own pace and don’t worry about anyone else’s.

 

  • Suspend.  I know you’ve done this. You see that your coworker has put on weight or is wearing something that, from your vantage point, is unattractive. You pass judgment in your head. “Wow. Janet needs to drop a few pounds” or “What made her think that looked good on her?” It’s difficult to suspend judgment but you can label it. Say instead, “So Cathy, this is what judgment looks like.” Step away from the comparing paths and label it.

 

  • Present.  Be in this moment right now. And now. And now. Don’t try and recreate history. No, your ex is not coming back and that’s OK right now. Trust that the path you are on is just fine and it’s taking you in the right direction. Don’t “catastrophicize” the future. Sometimes paths cross and it’s lovely, and there are wonderful memories made, and then they uncross. There will be new paths to cross in the future. As you walk your path, be present.

 

You may not end up where you intended to go but you will be off of the Highway of Inadequacy. Trust you are exactly where you need to be. Trust that you are enough. You are enough.