Steak in the Ground

Where will you put your steak in the ground in 2021? Most years at this time I reflect back on events that have happened since the previous Christmas. This year, my memories have wandered much further back. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be having an effect both on how I view 2020 and on how I plan for the year to come.

I remember the smell of the fire burning before my mom switched the fireplace from wood to gas logs. Christmas never felt the same after that. I remember putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it alone while my parents were at work, then wrapping all the Christmas gifts for the entire family without ever peeking in the boxes for me. Perhaps it’s the similarities between Christmas 2020 and many from my childhood that have taken me back.

For whatever reason, everything seems to remind me of something from the way way back. A food poll published by FiveThirtyEight triggered the memory of an oft told family story reflecting upon an incident in which a relative’s girlfriend was dumped for nothing more than ordering steak well-done (with steak sauce, gasp). I don’t know if that story is true or just a way to elevate the teller’s and listeners’ reputations as a discerning diners.

What does feel familiar is a comparison between the percent of poll respondents who said they prefer their steak medium-rare (38%) to the number of people who, according to Longhorn Steakhouse, ordered it that way from May 30, 2016 – May 21, 2017 (22%). One could argue that this is because Longhorn Steakhouse orders do not accurately reflect the orders of those polled. That is certainly possible but saying one thing and doing another also rings true.

If 2020 has made anything clear, it is that as a culture we’re more than comfortable seeing evidence of something and behaving as if it were something else than dealing with difficult truths. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just keep us from getting the steak we prefer, it can lead to victim blaming, risky health choices, escalating violence, political chaos, and continued social injustice. Because we must first see a problem before we can solve it, denial will forever keep us from making forward progress – personally, professionally, and as a community.

Denial is a powerful tool for maintaining the status quo. But as 2020 has also shown us, change is inevitable. When we face change by holding onto the past with white knuckles, we miss the opportunity to make the future better.

We already know that much of 2021 will be similar to 2020. Given that, it seems foolish to develop a long list of intentions for the New Year. Instead, I intend to let myself see what is and face difficult truths. That is enough. From that pivot point, I can address any problems that arise in informed, prudent, and productive ways. If we use this approach collectively, we can improve all our lives. This is where I intend to put a steak in the ground (and yes, I know it’s stake).

Wishing all of us the strength, clarity, and the insight to improve individually and as a whole in 2021.

Good, Better, Best or Quit?

On any given day, should you strive for good, better, best, or just quit? In the past week, I’ve read three quotes that stuck with me:

The first was from Arkansas Razorback Men’s Basketball Coach Eric Musselman:

“If you strive for good, you will get average. If you strive for great, you will get good. Strive for perfect so you can achieve great.”

Eric Musselman

It’s the kind of aspirational statement you’d expect from a coach. It immediately made me think of Michael Jordan. (I just finished watching “The Last Dance.”) Jordan was a great player! He was a great player because he was always motivated to win.

miss target
I can improve but still miss the target.

I can be motivated to win, but I’ll never be a great basketball player. In fact, I can do everything Eric Musselman says and I’ll never be a great basketball player. I could play a lot of basketball and I’m sure I’d improve, but would I be wasting time that could be better spent in some other endeavor?

That question brings me to quote #2 and perhaps an even better question. Is striving for perfection good?

Let me start with a quote from newsman Josh Belzman replying to @EricPMusselman

“Strive for perfect and you’ll give yourself an ulcer and then a heart attack. No thanks.”

Josh Belzman

Obviously, Mr. Belzman believes striving for perfection is detrimental to one’s health. But even if it doesn’t lead to a heart attack, the idea that we must reach an ideal that cannot realistically be attained or sustained prevents some of us from ever getting started. And there’s some wisdom to that. Why put time and energy toward a goal you know can’t be achieved?

So, what’s the best way to be outstanding in your life?

I’m going to go with the idea that it’s more important to be a great human being than to achieve any certain anything. And that brings me to the third quote, one by Marianne Williamson:

“As big as the problems are on the outside, that’s how big on the inside we have to be in order to handle it. Every unhealed place in our lives is coming up for review now, because the more healed we are within ourselves the more healing we can bring to the world.”

Marianne Williamson

Real strength always shows itself in the midst of difficulty. It looks attentive, kind, caring, vulnerable, empathetic, and loving. It feels solid. It does not need to manipulate or mislead. This kind of strength lies within all of us.

The way to be outstanding in your life is to honor, support, reinforce, and display your best self often. If that is your intention, you will succeed no matter what you achieve because you will bring peace to your life and healing to the world.

The one thing you need to quit doing is punishing yourself. Whatever you’ve done is done. Apologize, make amends, learn something, let it go. You cannot be your best until you do.

I’m all for reaching for the stars and pushing yourself and achieving great things. I’m for showing up with energy, focus, and effort. I’m for doing the very best job I can in any job I take on. I just don’t think achievement, as we currently think of it, is the best measure of a life well lived.

Mindfulness Intentions for the New Year

The frenzy of the holiday season is the perfect time to set some mindfulness intentions for the new year. Sometimes the simple act of giving ourselves permission to be mindful has a calming effect. That provides an immediate benefit. Planning now for mindfulness in the new year ensures the possibility of enjoying positive long-term health effects as well.

While the idea of mindfulness may be calming for some, it can be scary for others. What is it exactly? Is it difficult? How much time does it take? Is it religious? Do I have to chant? Do I need crystals or essential oils or a stay in a yurt? These questions may send you into a tailspin before you even get started.
waterfall
For years, I was intrigued by yoga but afraid to participate. I wasn’t afraid of the postures per se. I just had a subconscious aversion to moving my body in a way that might release the feelings I tightly held in my solar plexus and gut. I knew I had this without knowing it. The ambivalent need to hold myself physically frozen in certain ways is the legacy of trauma and difficult to give words.

It took years of learning to sit still and practicing somatic experiencing therapy before I rolled out a mat. It was another two years before I tried a guided meditation. I’m not sure it could have happened any other way for me, but these practices have so improved my inner life that I wish I had known the benefits much sooner.

What is Mindfulness?

Before I talk about the researched health benefits of mindfulness, let me tell you a little more about the practice itself. First, foremost, and most importantly your practice is YOURS. It can look like whatever you want it to look like.

You do not have to wear a certain type of clothes. You do not have to chant. You do not have to pray. You do not have to attend a class. You can practice a few minutes per week or a few hours. You can choose your instructor and change instructors at will. You can practice in a class or at home alone. You can follow along with the instructor or modify your practice and meet the instructor back at a pose that feels like the right next move. Mindfulness is about being kind to yourself, being aware of your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judging them, and breathing.

Yes, there are instructors who approach yoga like a typical gym workout. I do not choose those. That’s not the type of session from which I receive the most benefit. There are yin yoga sessions that are all about letting go of tension and softening into a pose. There are instructors who specialize in yoga for trauma. Video streaming makes finding the perfect fit easier than ever.
yoga
Health Benefits of Mindfulness

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) along with celiac disease, mindfulness can decrease the severity of symptoms according to recent research. That sounds like some welcome relief. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve both physical and psychological quality of life for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Research also shows that mindfulness is helpful for depression and can actually change the brains of trauma victims. It is increasingly incorporated into the treatment of symptoms resulting from PTSD and childhood trauma.

Practical Tools

A couple of weeks ago I re-injured an old knee injury. Not only was my knee hurting, but my hip and back were very tense and I was coughing like crazy due to a cold. Although I was exhausted, I could not relax. After about 30 minutes of feeling miserable, I put myself in a comfortable recliner and turned on a guided meditation. In less than 15 minutes, I felt relaxed, calm, and ready to crawl in bed and get some sleep. My knee was still sore, but the surrounding tension was gone and I no longer felt restless.

Having that sort of tool available feels like magic! As you know, tension can build upon tension until you feel like you’re spinning and everything hurts. Just knowing there’s a simple way to feel better can prevent ever getting to that point. That’s a powerful benefit!

Perhaps because I only started meditating after years of practicing yoga, I feel confused when I hear people talking about how difficult it is. All you have to do is to breathe and be present. (Okay, admittedly that can bring up unfinished emotional business and maybe that’s why people think meditation is hard. Thing is, that has nothing to do with meditation and everything to do with the emotional business they are trying to avoid.) Like all mindfulness practices, meditation can look like anything that works for you. There’s no pressure to do it “right”. Anything you read or hear that indicates otherwise is misinformation.

While research into the psychological benefits of mindfulness tends to focus on lessening depression or calming the amygdala, it can also change self-talk. I became aware of this when I participated in a Daring Way class earlier this year. As we assessed our self-talk for shame and guilt messages, I realized that I feel no need to shame or guilt myself on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I never feel shame or guilt, they just aren’t default states for me. I can tell you without hesitation that mindfulness has significantly influenced my self-talk in a positive way.

Intentions for the New Year

My 7-month-old granddaughter has spent four months in the hospital this year. All of those were in CVICU and her condition was critical for over a month. She has had two open chest heart surgeries and several other surgical procedures. She continues to be medically fragile. Three weeks ago, the cardiologist carried her from admitting to CVICU himself because he was concerned that she would code on the elevator.

It has been a challenging year for her parents, her 2-year-old brother, her other grandparents and me. It literally takes all of us to keep the household going and some sense of normalcy for the 2-year-old. While we are hoping to avoid additional surgery next year, there’s no way to predict what will happen. We just know that the risk of hospitalization remains high.

When times are difficult, practicing mindfulness is a way to be kind to myself. With that in mind, I intend to carve out time for yoga every week. My goal is 2 1/2 hours minimum. If that means that the laundry waits unfolded on the couch for a day or two, so be it. If it means I must forego a social activity, it is worth it.

There may be weeks during which I do not make my goal. I could be sick or traveling or otherwise obligated. Don’t worry, I won’t shame or guilt myself and it won’t be hard for me to pick back up where I left off. That’s the thing about finding a practice that makes you feel good – you WANT to come back again and again.

I don’t have any specific intention for meditation other than to incorporate it as needed. That could change as the year progresses.

While it’s possible to practice gratitude through intention without yoga or meditation, it is almost impossible to practice yoga or meditation without gratitude. A feeling of appreciation for the strength, ease, energy, and resilience of your body begins to naturally flow. Observing this opens the door to other feelings of gratitude.

I may not keep a gratitude journal next year. While I like that practice, at this moment I prefer feeling and expressing gratitude in the moment. I intend to verbalize my gratitude to others at every opportunity.

The Challenge for Improvement

You may have noticed that my intentions so far are for things I like and want to do anyway. That won’t necessarily push me toward growth. With the intent of self-improvement, I plan to challenge myself to practice grace: as in a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency. You’d think this would be easy because I value grace when it’s extended to me, but the truth is, it is difficult for me to practice.

Typically, grace must be extended when someone has wronged you or fallen short of your expectations. Depending on the circumstances, repeated real aggressions or perceived injustice can be a big trigger for me. Clearly, I have not healed all of the wounds I carry from the wrongdoing of others. Practicing grace can be a bottom-up piece of the healing process.

Just thinking about this intention makes me feel angry. That’s good. It means I’m on point. I will have to sit with this for a moment because I do not yet know what I want this grace to look like. I intend to be kind to and honor myself in the process. Right now, it sounds impossible for me to be kind to myself and extend grace to anyone who habitually makes my life more difficult. Experience tells me that the point for healing lies in the middle of this dilemma.

It will take some reflection for me to become clear on how to begin practicing grace. That’s why I have to start setting intentions for the new year early. I know that having a clear picture in my mind to serve as a guide makes it possible for me to accomplish things that seem impossible today.

The specific path will unfold over time in ways I cannot anticipate. When I feel discouraged, I often rely on Rori Raye’s mantra: Trust your boundaries. Feel your feelings. Choose your words. Be surprised.

Mindfulness helps me know where my boundaries should be. It allows me to reconnect with my body so I can feel. It changes my focus so I can choose the best words. It allows me to let go of an anticipated outcome and be surprised by real experience. Since we often anticipate the worst, these surprises can be the best!

I intend to relish every good surprise in the new year! I hope you will too.

https://traumahealing.org/about-us/

https://www.yogaanytime.com/class-view/1742/video/Yoga-What-is-Trauma-by-Kyra-Haglund

https://yogawithadriene.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480312/

https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/031912

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691341

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02794376

https://www.psychotherapy.net/article/body-keeps-score-van-der-kolk

https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-trauma-mindfulness-ptsd/

https://www.va.gov/PATIENTCENTEREDCARE/Veteran-Handouts/An_Introduction_to_Yoga_for_Whole_Health.asp

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/strategic-patience/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/speed-kills/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/notice-what-feels-good-to-improve-the-feeling-in-your-gut/

https://blog.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/the-rori-raye-mantra/

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Hosting Thanksgiving is Easy

Hosting Thanksgiving is easy when you set intentions. Are the holidays really right around the corner? They must be because I’m sitting here planning my Thanksgiving menu. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an all out Thanksgiving production and I’m wondering just how big it should be?

I know the point of the holiday is not the food, but I always look forward to a table full of freshly made dishes that I prepare only once a year. There’s no crossover between my Thanksgiving and Christmas menus because we celebrate Christmas with breakfast rather than dinner. Just thinking about that makes me want a steamy hot biscuit with strawberry jelly, but that’s beside the point.
biscuits
Or maybe it’s not. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that we long for most – my Aunt Opal’s cherry pie, my grandmother’s beef and noodles, my mother’s cinnamon rolls made from canned biscuits. For you it may be the chicken soup your mom fixed when you were under the weather, or the grilled cheese sandwich she grilled with butter and served with tomato soup.

Obviously, it’s cliché to say that food tastes better when it’s made with love, but any dining experience is enhanced when the food is made by someone who cares how we feel; someone who shows up for Thanksgiving with a pie because they like to spend time with us; someone who hopes to bring us comfort. Offering and sharing food is one of the ways we express love beginning the first moment we hold our babies close to feed them.

There’s a scene in the movie “The Blind Side” that shows the Tuohy family focused on football and TV rather than each other on Thanksgiving Day until they realize their house guest Michael Oher is sitting at their dining table by himself. Seeing him there as alone at their table as he is in life, they are moved to gather around and share the meal with him. This sharing enriches the family and the bond they are forming with Michael. It’s a great illustration that we inherently understand breaking bread is an action affirming trust, confidence, comfort, and acceptance within a group.

For the host, a holiday meal, or any family gathering, is a delicate balancing act. If you go all out cooking for days making everything from scratch and no one seems to notice, it can be disheartening. If you go to a restaurant because you’d rather focus on the family than the food, you risk the ridicule of someone who thinks you’re being lazy or don’t care about family traditions. Which brings me back to the decision at hand. How large should I make this Thanksgiving’s production?

No matter what I’m deciding, I like to start by settling on some intentions. I’ve done this enough to recognize that my intentions will automatically reflect my priorities, so setting intentions and determining priorities are a simultaneous process (there’s a time saver right there). Setting intentions rather than goals gives me a path to feel successful even if the soufflé collapses and the pie crust is soggy.

So, what are my intentions for Thanksgiving?

I’m going to start with being kind to myself. That looks like not doing too much. It’s not unusual for me to work so hard to provide for other people that I feel worn out, so I have to be deliberate in my intent to prevent over-doing. Luckily, my sister has offered to bring dessert and rather than ask for pie, I asked for pie and cake. My daughter-in-law’s parents will also be joining us. Her mom offered to bring two vegetables. Instead of trying to make it easier for her by limiting it to one, I happily accepted the offer.

Next, I intend to make a workable timeline so I’m not rushing and flustered at the end. If I’m in a panic to get things done, I’ll be irritable and unable to enjoy my guests. Today I’ll review my menu and determine what can be done in advance and when I will do it. For the past two months, my now 4-month-old grandson has spent two to three days a week with me. When he’s here my work time is limited because he needs lots of tummy tickling. He’ll be here this week and next week, so a timeline is even more critical than in past years.

I intend to scale the menu to fit the time available. If that means there’s no pecan pie or fewer leftovers, then so be it. It won’t be the end of the world, and it won’t cause me to feel as though I’ve let anyone down.

I intend to tailor the menu to my guests’ dietary needs. There are only 8 of us this year, so I’ve had a chance to poll everyone to make sure each person will have plenty of options on the table. I have a friend who keeps a set of index cards noting the dietary restrictions and food dislikes of her close friends and family. As her guest, this makes a gathering easy to enjoy and I appreciate the thoughtfulness.

I intend to make everything from scratch. I am not suggesting that you should do this. For me, it means the food is more delicious and automatically free of preservatives, coloring, stabilizers, and artificial flavors. It also means I can control the amount of sodium and fat and be confident that everything is gluten-free.
table
I intend to make the table-setting beautiful, but simple. Using my grandmother’s tablecloth, real china, and beautiful serving pieces means candles or a simple bouquet will be all I need to add. Even though I can’t put china in the dishwasher, I like to use it for holidays plus I intend to let my kids wash the dishes. On years when I’ve had 25 guests, I’ve been known to sit the china atop folding tables covered in brown kraft paper scattered with crayons. Hey, I like weird juxtaposition and I have a lot of china.

I intend to be present in the moment once the guests arrive. Enjoying the company is more important than the food, the table, or the mess I just left in the kitchen. My dining room is separate from the kitchen so no one has to look at cluttered countertops while we’re eating.

I intend to make time for yoga and rest on Friday before driving to share leftovers with extended family.

I intend to make a list of things for which I’m grateful. It’s been a difficult and emotionally exhausting year. Remembering that even such a year has brought many things for which I’m thankful is a great way to refocus my energy on the positive.

With these intentions, I feel confident I’ll have a great Thanksgiving. My food may not be perfect. My front porch may not get swept. There may be a drop of dough on top of the stove or flour on the floor. None of that will matter. I will be able to let it go and focus on gratitude.

If you’re feeling dread or pressure about hosting Thanksgiving, consider setting intentions to make it easier. I can tell you from experience, it makes a huge difference for me.