Taking the Leap

Taking the Leap

The title of Pema Chodron’s book Taking the Leap inspired this year-end e-newsletter. We’re on the cusp of 2012 transitioning into 2013. Some folks believe we’re also at the end of one long era and at the beginning of another. Certainly, as I turned in the final edits/proofreading of Bouncing Back a few weeks ago, I sensed the closing of one big chapter of my life and the opening of another.

After two years of solid writing on the book, but a good ten years of percolating ideas, stories, and exercises before that, I can sense both a poignant but welcome releasing of the old and a burgeoning receiving of the new. I’m on the brink of so many learning curves (be careful what you wish for!), it’s time to pause and reflect before taking a leap into more teaching of workshops and presenting at conferences.

Not all leaps fall neatly in place on the calendar at year-end. The last child leaves home or the first grandchild arrives on their own timetable. But we can choose to take stock of where we are at year’s end, and to identify which horizons we wish to open up.

You’re closer to your glory leaping an abyss than re-upholstering your rut.
– James Broughton.

May these reflections on taking the leap at the turn of the year, perhaps of a chapter in your life, be useful to you and yours.

Reflections on Taking the Leap

1. Closing a chapter

William Bridges suggested in his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, that all new beginnings begin with an ending. We release so that we can receive anew. As I’m de-cluttering more than 30 reams of previous iterations of the book, and notes from past workshops and conferences, journal articles, stories and examples that proved tangential, there’s a need for a retrospective – honoring the threads of concepts and values that continue to inform my work, honoring the lessons learned. (Do one scary thing a day is now part of me at the cellular level.)

2. Finding new maps and compasses

When my friend Lorrie heard I had “put the book to bed,” she e-mailed me, welcoming me to “The Land of Now What?” So true. And…there are several ways we can sift out the core values we want to guide the unfolding adventures.

a. from the retrospective: reviewing what has been the golden thread in the previous epoch, what never got lost no matter the details or the de-rails. For me, I could clearly connect the dots between the e-newsletter I’ve been posting for 5 years – Healing and Awakening into Aliveness and Wholeness and the title of the book which finalized itself just this past November: Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Ahhh. [The neuroscience of] Healing [psychology] and Awakening [mindfulness] into Aliveness, [resilience, well-being] and Wholeness. That is the larger process that holds the book or any other product of this journey. Reassuring to have a larger map to fit the pieces into.

b. from new imaginings: Jonah Lehrer suggests in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works (see May 2012 e-newsletter) that we need the down-time, daydreaming, reverie, mental play space of the holistic right hemisphere of the brain to percolate new ideas as much as we need the planning-producing functions of the analytic left hemisphere if we are to be both creative and productive in our leaping.

One of the ways I let myself daydream is to browse the shelves at my local bookstore (an endangered species) and let my unconscious mind steer me toward what I might be interested in next. The Compassionate Brain by Paul Gilbert? The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley? Letting the possibilities open.

c. from role models: I know emerging into a larger world with my integrity intact is a core value for me. The third season of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey” begins January 6, 2013 on PBS. Given our current socio-economic and political climate, I know I’m not the only person on the planet who has been drawn to the portrayals of integrity shown in many of the series’ characters. Someone would rather go to prison than to tell a lie; isn’t that unbelievable in this day and age?

I also have realized that my favorite genre of films is not romantic comedy or historical drama but is triumph over adversity on behalf of a noble cause. Films like the documentary I saw over the holidays – Chasing Ice. National Geographic photojournalist James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey spent three years documenting the disappearance of the glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Glacier National Park. The images are stunningly beautiful. The revolutionary time-lapse photography offers incontrovertible evidence of the impact of global warming. And the intrepid perseverance of the team is a stellar model for me of resilience and integrity on behalf of a noble cause. (see Resources below)

d. from recovering unfulfilled dreams: Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote in her book The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 (September 2009 e-newsletter) of the power of recovering dreams from childhood, to pick up painting or the saxophone again, to prime the brain to move in a new direction in life. I never gave up hiking the ridge trails near my home while I was writing the book. Trekking through wide-open vistas was one sure way to re-calibrate my brain. But hiking the open spaces now helps prime my brain to think larger and to trust the unfolding mystery.

3. De-cluttering

It’s so very common to use the down-time of the holidays to clean out the basement or the garage of old things we no longer need. De-cluttering includes clearing out old habits and the baggage of past fears and worries, too. The sub-title of Chodron’s book Taking the Leap is Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. This phase of de-cluttering is an important phase of any coaching or personal growth process. As we seek new paths, new projects, it’s necessary to identify the saboteurs, inner gremlins, automatic negative mumblings of our inner critic, that would block or de-rail us.

Development involves giving up a smaller story in order to wake up to a larger story.
– Jean Houston

My gremlin, of course, is techno-phobia. My brother, who still doesn’t own a computer but who also gave me the title of the book; once said “I’m a 33 1/3 rpm record in an i-pod world.” I can relate. When I finally got an i-phone, I learned how to use it, in part, from someone who was 8 years old. I have a lot of brain cells to re-train in the coming months, and especially need to dissolve any blocks that would keep me from doing so.

4. Setting intentions

I would love for the maps of step 2 to be all filled in with concrete destinations and strategic action steps to get from here to there. The part of me that faithfully colored within the lines in the third grade still loves the certainty of to do lists and the sweet feeling of arrival when I meet a deadline. But it’s no accident that a friend gave me another of Chodron’s books over the holidays – Comfortable with Uncertainty.

Research shows we are actually more likely to reach our personal goals if we set our intentions in a spirit of “May I…” rather than a fierce determination of “I will!” We set ourselves up for possibilities rather than failure, and we are more likely to succeed if we can leap fully into a possibility rather than hold back for fear of failure.

So I can set the intention to create for myself the experiences that will teach me the skills I need to move forward, without boxing myself in to goals and steps that will organically evolve anyway.

5. Taking action

That said, the way to get through any doubt or daunt about taking a leap into something new is to begin. Noted anthropologist Angeles Arrien says, “The cure for anxiety is action.” My favorite line from John O’Donohue’s poem “For a New Beginning” is “learn to find ease in risk.” I wrote quite a bit in the book about the natural body-based dread of trying anything new. Taking a leap requires finding ways to identify those dreads or blocks but also to dissolve them. And we dissolve them by creating experiences that teach us we just did. The first day at the gym. The first lesson on the piano. The first session with a resume coach. We try; we see that we did; we find our courage for the next leap.

Poetry and Quotes to Inspire

The cure for exhaustion isn’t rest; it’s whole-heartedness.
– Brother David Stenld-Rast

* * * * *

Kit and Caboodle

Take the whole kit
With the caboodle
Experience life
Don’t deplore it
Shake hands with time
Don’t kill it
Open a lookout
Dance on a brink
Run with your wildfire
You are closer to glory
Leaping an abyss
Than upholstering a rut.
 – James Broughton

* * * * *

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
– John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space Between Us

Stories to Learn From

We hear so many stories of leap-taking via the internet these days. I won’t spoil the story if I say this much: Arthur, a disabled combat vet injured as a paratrooper in the Gulf War, learned to walk – even run – again through yoga. I highly encourage you to watch his 5-minute video Never Give Up. It’s truly inspiring and a reminder that many leaps unfold one baby step at a time.

* * * * *

CNN announced its Top Ten Heroes for 2012 last week. People from around the world who took a leap, creating organizations to foster compassionate change and justice in the world.

Pushpa Basnet started a residential children’s center in Kathmandu for 40 Nepalese children whose parents were in prison. Without her Early Development Children’s Center, if the children had no local guardians, they would still be living in jail with their parents or on the streets. Some of Basnet’s children had never been outside of jail until they came to the center where they now receive loving attention, food and shelter, medical care, education, and a chance for a normal life. Basnet’s non-profit center has served more than 100 children since 2007; most of them are re-united with their parents when their parents are released from prison.

Click here to watch a two- minute video of Basnet’s story, and links to other CNN Heroes of 2012, like Wanda Butts who lost her son in a drowning accident six years ago and started the non-profit “Josh Project” in his memory; she has taught nearly 1200 children how to swim. Or Razie Jar, who started the Zabuli Education Center to provide free education for 350 girls in rural Afghanistan where most adults are illiterate, where even walking to school can be life threatening. (The United Nations documented 185 attacks on schools and hospitals in Afghanistan last year, most attributed to armed groups opposed to educating young girls.)

Or any of the seven other heroes, “ordinary” people who have taken extraordinary leaps to change the world they live in.

Exercises to Practice Taking the Leap

1. Closing a chapter

a. Take a few quiet moments to notice what interests or roles in your life might be coming to a natural close: a way of working in the world that’s been satisfying for a decade but no longer fuels the sense of growth or fulfillment that it once did; a friendship that once was vibrant but now feels like a tedious obligation; a role as a soccer coach or arts and crafts teacher that once gave such meaning and purpose to life and now feels too small in scope for what you hope to contribute to the world.

b. Take a few more moments to honor the lessons you’ve learned from this role or activity over the years, and to identify what core values you want to continue living by in any new endeavor.

2. Finding new maps and compasses

a. Find a way to peruse possibilities that might “surprise your unconscious” and bring to awareness an interest that’s been lying dormant:
– course catalogs from a local community college
– travel brochures
– surfing the net for good causes and organizations to become involved in.

b. You don’t have to pursue anything you discover, at least not right away. Simply let the exercise prime your brain to consider new possibilities.

3. De-Cluttering

Take a moment, even brainstorming with friends, to identify your Top Five inner gremlins, old mindsets or inner beliefs that are no longer true (maybe never were) and that you don’t have to carry around in your psyche any longer. Some folks like to write out these old ANTs (automatic negative beliefs), one per piece of paper, and burn them in a ceremonial way to mark their release.

4. Setting Intentions

You can likewise write out five intentions for the coming year; one per piece of paper. You can fold and keep these intentions in your wallet, tuck them in a special book or box, tape them to the dashboard of your car. Focusing your attention on these intentions every day helps prime your brain to perceive opportunities where you may manifest them.

5. Taking Action

a. Identify one area of your life you would like to find more “ease in risk.”

b. Identify three things you could do, that you actually could do, that would give you the experience of crossing the threshold into something new.

c. Notice that you’ve done it once you’ve done it. Take in the sense of ease and satisfaction compared to the doubt or dread you felt before.

Resources for Taking the Leap

Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chodron. Boston: Shambala, 2010.

CNN Heroes Each year CNN honors ten “everyday people changing their world.”

Never Give Up

Chasing Ice

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