On Love and Fear in the Face of Unspeakable Violence

Last night my 15 year old son told me he wants to flee the country. 

He said he saw the statistics about the number of mass shootings per year in the US vs the number of mass shootings in other major developed countries. The US  had more mass shootings than the next ten countries combined. In 2018 alone, we had 268.

And here we are again, faced with two more unthinkable tragedies. There’s so much pain, so much loss, so much senseless loss of life.

And as we feel that pain of it all, there’s an inevitable pull towards fear and anger, towards a feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness. It sometimes feels like pushing play on an all-too-familiar toxic stew of feelings that look something like a big black tornado, waiting to suck us in everytime one of these senseless acts of violence happens.

So my question is: how does the inside-out understanding guide us as we watch the approaching tornado, or even after we’ve already been sucked into it and are trapped in it’s vortex of fear and anger?

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Don’t just slow down. STOP!

How often do we hear about the value of “slowing down.” 

It’s a really important part of starting to invite a new experience of life.  It’s a beautiful thing to invite ourselves to slow down our minds, slow down the crazy pace of life, slow down our frantic doing, long enough for something new to emerge: a new thought, a new experience, a shift in our perspective on something that’s felt sticky for us. 

My husband and coaching partner Jason and I often talk to clients about mental “gears.” 

When we’re in 5th gear (or even 6th or higher!), we’re revving at super high speed and life can look and feel frantic, overwhelming, out of control, even impossible. When we slow down any amount towards 1st gear, we often experience a positive shift in how life looks and feels. Frantic becomes interesting or “full,” insurmountable becomes challenging or even fun, we go from stuck to unstuck and life seems to flow again.

Shifting to a slower gear can be truly life-changing, but what if there’s an even bigger shift available to us, a shift that people rarely talk about, but definitely should?

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Confessions of a Former Worry Wart

It’s high school graduation season in America.  If you have a graduate or are close to one, you know that it’s an exciting time of gratitude, hope and celebration. And fear. For many parents, it’s one of the scariest days of the year. Because graduation night in many places means graduation parties. Big graduation parties.

Our little town is no exception. Our high schoolers head way out into the woods and have a big, all-out, rowdy party to celebrate the grads. They’re out of cell phone range, there’s alcohol and marijuana involved (at the very least), they make a big bonfire, and they all spend the night in the woods. You can just imagine the scene.

As I was chatting with another mom about all this, she shared with me just how gripped with fear she was about the party. Her son and mine, both seventeen,  were planning on being at the there and she seemed truly terrified by the prospect of what might happen. She was already planning a miserable, sleepless night.

What really struck me as we talked was not that she was so worried, which seemed pretty standard,  but rather that I surprised myself by not being worried at all. And I mean really truly not at all.

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What if We’ve Got it all Wrong About Stress?

I’m grateful to all the Paleo pioneers for leading us down the path of greater understanding of how our bodies really work. Because of them, millions of us no longer waste time and energy on health and fitness strategies that are based on a misunderstanding, and many of us have discovered a level of wellness that we didn’t even know was available.  So it may not surprise you to learn that there is also a huge misunderstanding of stress in our culture. The way we currently think about stress leads us all too often in the wrong direction and causes us to spend far more energy than is necessary trying to cope with, or manage, our stress. A deeper understanding of how our minds work has the potential for a life-changing shift and will dramatically change the frequency and amount of stress we experience. And if a Paleo lifestyle advocates a life of less stress, then it only makes sense that we would strive to understand the real source of stress.

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The Beautiful Game

I just came back from a three-day Three Principles conference in Manhattan Beach, CA. It was a magical three days, spent soaking in the presence of some of the most grounded, loving and beautiful humans I have ever met.  On the first day of the event, I listened to a deeply moving description by Jack Pransky of a profound experience he had where he saw that life as we experience it every day is simply an illusion, just a game that we’re playing.  The experience had affected him very deeply and his account of it was truly moving.The next day, I got up early, borrowed a bike from my hotel and set out to find my way to the beach. It was 2.5 miles away through congested CA neighborhoods, I had no helmet, and the bike had no gears and only foot brakes. But somehow, I managed to make it to the beach. And I was so glad I did. I rode down the bike path along the edge of the beach, taking in the ocean, the sound of the waves, the cool salty air. This mountain girl was loving every minute of this ride. I was grinning from ear to ear.

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Why Horses Are Excellent Spiritual Teachers

Horses have always captured the human imagination.  As early as 30,000 years ago, early humans painted horses on cave walls. That love affair with the horse has never abated. For much of human history, however, horses have been beasts of burden, seen as dumb animals to be used for human needs, human work. More recently, the horse was replaced by cars, trains, tractors,  planes and chainsaws, which has freed up humans to start a whole new relationship with the horse. For most people, that relationship still falls into the category of “use.” While most horse owners love their horses, they are still beasts of burden, used for human recreation and pleasure. A  small but growing community of people around the world are finally seeing the horse in a whole new light, and partnering with horses in a whole new way. A way that does not involve “use,” but partnership. I am one of those people.

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Weathering Life’s Storms

It’s the middle of winter at 8885 feet in Colorado. A snow storm has blown in and is slamming our ranch with howling winds of 50–60 miles per hour and temps in the single digits. It’s snowing sideways and the conditions are miserable by any standard.I watch my horses standing out there in the storm. They’ve chosen to stand downwind of a stand of trees rather than under their shelter. They stand with their back to the wind, side by side, motionless.The conditions are unpleasant and the horses uncomfortable. But here’s the most important thing I’ve learned from them: they’re uncomfortable, but they’re not suffering.

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The Unbearable “Busy-ness” of Being

Have you ever noticed how often people use the word “busy” when you ask them how they are? You run into someone you know at the grocery store, the bank or the post office and inevitably the word “busy” emerges almost immediately when you ask the simple question “how are you?
“Super busy”
“I’ve been so busy”
“It’s just so busy right now”
“Crazy busy”

It’s seems to be a badge of honor. If you’re not “busy”, you’re not trying hard enough, or achieving enough, or working enough. It seems you have to be busy to show your life is worth something.
It doesn’t seem to be a red flag for most people, but it should be.

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When Life Suddenly Goes Gray

Sometimes the circumstances of our life just look dark. Sometimes even really, really dark.Like earlier this week, for instance. For the last few weeks, a nasty flu-like virus has run amok through our household. We first caught it on a wonderful family trip to Barcelona a few weeks back. One by one, we have succumbed to the sniffles, sneezes, chills and coughs. It has been so utterly nasty that we’ve fondly given it its own special nickname: the Spanish bird flu of 2019. For weeks of sore throats, stuffy noses, aches, chills and coughs (not to mention travel), Jason and I have mostly kept our sense of humor. We’ve stayed connected, graceful through the low, supporting each other to keep the household and business up and running.Until last Sunday. Sometime around mid-afternoon on that day, we both were hit by the low-mood gremlins. At the same time.

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From fairy tale to nightmare and back again

Seventeen years ago, I was in the midst of the most challenging stretch of my life. I had just wrapped up a Ph.D. in education and my husband Jason and I were co-founding an innovative middle and high school in Boulder, Colorado. The school was definitely the first “child” we birthed, but we also had two real babies in the midst of it all, both boys, both humans that came into this world with absolutely no interest in sleeping. Ever.

Our first child, Owen, seemed incredibly challenging to us in the first year of his life. He was completely content so long as he was being held or nursed. But when we put him down, Mr Hyde turned into Dr. Jeckyl and just howled. And he wouldn’t stop until he was picked up again. The only other time he was content was when he was in some sort of conveyance that was moving, e.g. a stroller or car seat in a moving car. So we held him, and I nursed him, and we took him for walks in the jogging stroller and took him for car rides. And then we held him some more, and I nursed him some more, and took him for another walk in the stroller and then another ride in the car.

And he was mostly content.

And Jason and I were completely exhausted.

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A little more than 7 years ago, after a lifetime of privately poking fun at picky eaters, I became a very picky eater. In response to some unusual health issues that had surfaced, I jumped on the Paleo Diet bandwagon. Lots of protein and fat. Very low carbs. No sugar. No dairy.

I loved it. I had tons of energy; I could ride my bike for hours at high intensity; and I could eat truckloads of food and be as trim as I was in high school. And, despite a long history of being a kitchen nincompoop, I was so excited about my new diet that I became the go-to guy for most of the cooking for our family of four.

Recipes, it turns out, can make anyone look pretty good in the kitchen. My coup de grace was the full Paleo Thanksgiving that I made a few years ago for friends and family. My mom still talks about that as if I might have my own cooking show someday. (There were low points too. Like the barely edible spicy meatballs, that I resorted to covering in chocolate sauce to get my boys to try a few bites.)

But a funny thing happened along the way.

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The Language of Smell

“How about this one?”

“Ummm… licorice maybe? Kinda earthy. Not sure.”

Here I was, a few weeks out of sinus surgery, hoping to regain my sense of smell, which had gradually dwindled over the last few years until it was completely gone. With it, my sense of taste had left as well. At times, this was an advantage, as I no longer minded dealing with the garbage and the dog poo cleanup. Sometimes it just sucked, as the joy of eating good food has diminished, and some of my favorite smells – the moist autumn leaves under my bike tires, and the sweet aroma of the Russian Olive tree in the springtime – had become merely memories. And at times, it was awkward, since farting in my office while I’m alone didn’t really register with me, but seemed to have a different effect on my clients who might cock their heads a bit as they entered.

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