Being me – my greatest accomplishment

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Did you ever feel as if you were about to explode with an extreme amount of energy held inside? Are you waiting to burst forth to begin the day or to start a new project? Maybe you feel you are going to break apart at the seams wanting to do something or be something that you feel strongly about yet… you hold back.  Do you feel tied to what you are currently doing or the identity you currently project? Well in the past few years this has been my M.O.  It seems a slow progression but I am and have been moving with consistent change and great fortitude – away from a former definition of who I was and toward a new rendition of me or as I call it an upgrade.

In 2011 I left my home of Baltimore City. With that move, I left behind a community I was deeply engaged with, a series of jobs and many relationships that I had been identifying myself with. All of which was wonderful at the time but became more a box to live within rather than a space to grow from. Since then, I’ve spent much time untangling from this former life, deciphering what is important to hold on to and what to let go of. Free from any fixed community, job, or home I’ve moved fluidly and freely, stripping away pieces of the past life I created. Much like participating in a detox, focusing on taking in the healthiest aspects only I have systematically worked to release patterns and ideas that were no longer serving me. Could I recognize details and facets of my inner self while balancing external obligations and expectations? This essentially was and still is the core goal of the Living Chapters experiment that I am still exploring and attempting to understand.

What I do understand though, is that it seems each year we try to out do ourselves. We compare our conquests and achievements as if they are the measurement of life’s success. “Did we make enough money? Did we make the right friends? Go to new places? Have enough fun?” What did we accomplish? And is there a way to prove it or show it off?

There are many things that we can all be proud of in our lives. We can all point to things we have done, have said or relationships that we maintain and develop. We can own many things and go to many places. Some people call this a list of goals or a bucket list. Others claim that these things are what make them unique individuals. Like the rest of us, I have done this too, comparing one year to the last looking back and keeping track. Not a bad thing to do really. We should recognize and share our core talents and skills. It’s called a resume! Heck I made a whole website that acted as my master accomplishment list. Yet I realize now, only two years after creating it, that this list no longer defines me as a person. It is simply a list of my external accomplishments and I need to stop identifying myself by pointing to it alone.

In this past year, I stepped away from building on this list and started developing lines on my internal resume. I am looking beyond my work, belongings or relationships as an indicator of my self-worth. I am looking outside of the accomplished tasks or my productivity of what “got done” as a way to measure my success. The first year of Living Chapters focused my ‘to do’ list internally but still operated on the “checking off the list” mentality. It did however provide a great tool to monitor external actions while developing internal ideas. My question and desired exploration now is how to learn to accomplish external ideas through internal change and action.  How can one balance and value both internal and external accomplishments?

7/23/15

 

Still Navigating

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“You can not change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight” Jim Rohn

It has been a full year since I lived my every day by the words of a chapter writer. I put my trust and faith in the ones I loved most, I asked my friends and family to offer support and suggestions on how I could become a better person. Living Chapters in its first year was an experiment testing out living in a fluid and flexible way. It challenged me to let go of controlling each step of the journey and asked me to risk stepping outside of my known comfort zone.

In the early days of the experiment, the idea of letting someone else choose my path or make decisions for me seemed foreign or unheard of. The self-created structure of the project was a chosen as a way to pry myself out of my box and try something new. Now, free of the experiment’s rules, I look back and know that following instructions or chapters was not foreign at all. I have followed instructions and guidelines from the time I was born. I’ve been taught to follow rules, stick to the guidebooks and make specific efforts to not push my boundaries too much. This is what we are trained to do our entire lives. “Color inside the lines please and get your gold star!” Without the structure I find myself cravign and creating it in new ways. At first, I almost felt lost without it. What do we do without the recipe, road map or reference manual? We are told that if we follow closely and precisely, we will arrive safely and successfully. And we start to believe that arriving is the best (or only) thing we are destined to do.

I must admit that by the end of my first year of living through intentionally planned chapters, I certainly did not feel as though I arrived anywhere in particular… yet nor did I feel lost or disatisfied. After the experiment, I found myself wandering wide-eyed somewhere in the state of witnessing who I am and recognizing who I was about to become. After spending a year pinpointing my own patterns and following other people’s guidelines, I found where I was aligned and also out of alignment. I kept some of the guidelines that had been given to me and threw away many of the external suggestions. I created my own navigation system not out of any manual but from my own experience. This is what the first year of experimentation gave to me.

During the last twelve months, the real letting go has actually begun. Without the chapters to follow and without my old plan to abide by, I have started living my days allowing the current of life itself to push me along. It’s been a perfect opportunity to test out the navigation tools I acquired. Living independently, I have released my old controlling habits as well as any chapter guidelines.  It’s been a year in which I could have never predicted planned or dreamed up. Most people would call it a transition – the time between stories, the time between chapters – when I was doing this and before I started doing that. I see it not aa a sabbatical but a departure from (what I am calling) my ‘former life’. I am not sure what else you could call it, but for me I am beginning to look at it as less of a transition and more of an adaption to a different way of existing.

It has been a time of many emotions: complete freedom, utter fear, confusion, gratitude and great pleasure. Shifting 180 degrees from living in one kind of pattern – the one of controlling, expecting and planning to a new pattern the one of free fall has been a valuable experience. I don’t find either pattern to be quite balanced but have learned important lessons from both.   I am returning here to the blog to share with you some of the journey from the past year and some ideas of where I might go next.

7/13/15

 

 

the end of the beginning

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Look here. It’s starts this way daily. You see the open space and hold the chalk in hand. How will you make your mark? This is the question I asked myself when starting Living Chapters back in June of 2013. And is still the question I ask myself each day only a couple of months after its completion. July and August 1st came around with no new extra-added chapter challenges to take on. (thank fully!)

In this post LC existence, I am finding myself busy catching my breath – balancing a new romantic relationship, searching for new housing, struggling to keep a job in a state I am not living in and economically scrambling to keep both myself and my mother out of overdraft status.  While also testing out daily the lessons learned from the 12 month process.  Can I be accountable to myself while wrestling with life’s own chapter challenges?  I guess that depends on how I fill the slate these days rather than what is on the slate itself.

Putting my island living dreams on hold for the moment, I contemplate the choices at hand – regaining my wander-lust water side mobile Maryland existence or building a rooted life in rural Pennsylvania while I await support and stability for my mother’s life.

Transition often leaves me feeling unsteady, off-balance with one foot on the floor and one out on the ledge. One toe digging in the dirt and another dipping in the water, I hold tightly onto what I fear to lose and long for what has yet to come. Living Chapters taught me that letting go and following the flow is the best solution.  Trusting in the daily ritual and setting honest intentions will reward. Enjoy the space in between. Cherish the grey moments. Transition is a time that is rarely savored for what it is. The time between seasons, a homecoming and goodbye party all in one. It’s a celebration of what has been accomplished and a rally for future revelations. Erase the slate, sit back take a breath and start again.

I may feel chaotic at this moment but also very capable nearing the end of this unique time in my life. Reaching this large fork in the road, I find truth – knowing that everything I have done and everything I have been up until now has brought me here and yet is now also choosing to leave me behind. A time of molting and shedding of my former skin, I walk forward and leave the delicate relic on my prior path.

Right before we become what we are meant to be, I believe, we go through an initiation, a right of passage. I think it’s that time for me – nearing the end of my beginning. Wrapping up my months of practice introductions, I am ready to unfold.  This is the final introduction, not to any new chapter but to the next story in which I am the one writing the book. A beautiful blank slate, primed and ready.

8/6/14

 

protagonist(s) parting words

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Throughout the duration Living Chapters, I’ve had countless conversations with my extremely patient and nurturing network of friends. Ironically, without this external support, I don’t believe I could have accomplished the amount of inner reflection and personal internal work achieved during this year. Oddly enough out of all the living chapters players and participating friends, it was actually someone I did not know who was able to fully understand and support me through this grueling year of digging in the dirt.  That someone is Shannon Twenter, the only other protagonist that I know living out chapters.

Shannon lives in Boise Idaho and contacted me the second month into Living Chapters requesting to start her own blog based on the “Living Chapters” model. This woman wanted to be a protagonist in her own story of self-development. I could not have been more excited to share the life experiment and compare notes. Read here for Shannon’s description of her Open Book Project . And read below for Shannon’s opinion on what the Living Chapters experience has done for me and for her.

Final Thoughts of Living Chapters AND Open Book Project’s Protagonists: 

Evidence, Beth: I see it in our phone conversations. As we compared our goals of journey at the beginning, we found synchronicity in letting go of control. But there was near scoffing at my larger goals of faith and love being your major outcome goals. It wasn’t in your trajectory at that time. Walking this journey with you, I am not at all surprised to see you explore love and faith as tools of trust. A perceivable change.
Deliberate. That is the power of Living Chapters. And for me, the power of Open Book Project.
In the deliberate focus on logic, environment, personal relationships, existentialism, purpose, and the body/kinesthetic, Beth made change. Change that was already within her and true to her core, but change that asked her to shift largely to explore the unexpected. And though her conclusion is fluid, I observe a result that is palpable and real. A re-alignment and steadfast reminder of her core while a movement, adoption, and commitment to further explanation of the sought shifts.
All in her amazing way of an artist. Who she is.
I, too, have been deliberate in being present with faith, love, purpose, creativity, all thrive not survive themes. And I felt the needed BEAUTIFUL shifts. So grateful for it, it urges me to keep at it in a consistent, lifelong way. As even I feel the value of the shifts and prioritizing my core, my tendency can be to revisit old habits, particularly in times of challenge. I want to instead choose my core and Open Book Project’s beautiful shifts.
Open Book Project’s goal was trust. And it was right. Trust is the key. Open Book Project, and it seems Living Chapters, has urged me to terrifyingly continue to choose and live through trust.
Evidence, Shannon: I love people. I love to understand them. My actions can veer to the opposite. I fear opening to others. The vulnerabilities of rejection or hurt have seemed larger than the benefit. I’ve opened enough to learn that the benefit is vastly worth more than the pain. A simple said or signed ‘I love you’ with sincerity makes the heart float.

– Shannon Twenter

Thank you Shannon! ‘I love you’ for sticking through this with me!

7/24/14
Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Pages to learn about the Living Chapter monthly challenges.
 

one LOVE

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“Who is the true, deep down you? The you who you can feel when you are centered and grounded?” This may be a question that you answer through a feeling rather than through words.”

Chapter 11 wild card, Myra Margolin, poses this question in response to the Living Chapters experiment. I agree with Myra, this question may only be answered through feelings rather than words. Could it be possible to describe the deep down essence of who I am without leaning on the surface statements of what I do, what I own, who I am with, or what I consume? Try it. I have been working on this for the past 12 months and have failed to find  words or reason that surpass feeling.

During this year, I have noticed consistent occurrences in which I am completely centered and grounded. In these moments I lose track of time, I’m called to create, engaged in conversation, engulfed by nature, dizzy by dance, and am fully being myself without filter. I lock in – connect and WHOOSH everything else disappears. All worry, fretting, questioning and doubting fall aside. I feel aligned, focused, validated and supported in this place. Here I know that every choice and action I’ve taken allowed this to happen and every effort to stay open and giving has allowed me to recognize it. What is this “it” I am talking about? LOVE of course.

I reflected upon the topic  in Chapter 6 “Interpersonal Relationships”. Reading the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, I got lost in her abstract metaphors and lengthy emotional prose. Maybe I wasn’t fully understanding because I was not yet ready or open to?  Somehow though, by the end of this 12 month story, I have not only come to clear understanding and definition of what Love means for me, but I have also met someone who I believe has helped me redefine my whole concept of Love. Its true, just weeks before reaching my final chapter, I encountered love!

To me love is not a mere romantic attraction or the feeling of being complimented or acknowledged. It is about living honestly, fully being yourself – and sharing it openly. Not only giving, but also receiving what is given. Love lives in the moment of the exchange, letting go of all but trust and faith. It is the dissolving of separation, struggle, fears and doubts. Love is the place I am, when I realize I am one with my environment, I am the melody of the music I dance to, and I am the self created pieces of the puzzle I put together. The feeling of love is the friction and the energy created when reaching the mutual understanding of this exchange. Simultaneously giving while receiving unconditionally and involuntarily.

So how did I come to my defined meaning of this fleeting feeling? It may have something to do with consciously spending the last 12 months of my time focusing and reflecting upon my inner self this year. Who am I? What do I believe? What makes me happy? Through the Living Chapters structure, I gave myself the time, trust and faith that I could only lead to positive change. I gave myself the love and care needed that leads to growth.

My past patterns of giving to and for others before myself are changing. Living Chapters was an effort to become accountable to my friends in preparation of becoming accountable to myself. I created the rules and guidelines in the hopes of forming better habits and having new experiences. I never knew it could also lead to stronger intuition, confidence in my decisions, clarity in my mind, and allowing both open love and romantic love into my life.

And even now, as I find myself in uncertain times, about to make new choices that will re-direct the course of my life. I am feeling centered and grounded. By placing deep trust in myself and all writers participating in the process, I have been led to this place that Myra speaks of. I am ready for anything that will come and will welcome it when it arrives.

7/17/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Pages to learn about the Living Chapter monthly challenges.

journey into summer

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Walking through Walden’s web…

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In response to my request for feedback on the Living Chapters year long project, chapter one writer Joe Gallo forwarded this quote to me from Thoreau’s “Walden”. Joe said, “I do think that this is the essence of your adventure – To live deliberately.” He also noted, that the last sentence of this quote is normally cut off when the quote shared. Joe included the last sentence commenting, “I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant except that one has a responsibility to resist resignation as much as possible. But if circumstances make resignation a necessity, let it be a conscious choice – an act –  rather a shoulder-drooping reaction to a sucky situation.”

Joe’s reflection and Thoreau’s quote struck a chord in me. Both describe what I believe to be the two of most profound gifts I received through living out the experiences of the past year. The first, being the strong desire to live a more mindful, intentional and deliberate life. The other gift being my new awareness and ability to meet, address, and accept resistance as an opportunity when necessary.

The Living Chapters structure planned the focus of my path monthly. It relieved me of the question of “what” I was going to do and presented me with the question of “how” was I was going to do it. Taking this time to specifically explore “how to live” has placed me not following Thoreau’s path of desired deliberate living but creating my own path.

Letting go of what I could not control this year, I followed guidelines and accepted suggestions while at the same time conjured my own personal energy and beliefs to breathe life into the written chapters given. This process revealed an alternate and interesting way to live. Day by day, I brought my focus back to the present challenge at hand and felt a shift occur.

Slowly over the months, I noticed the change from directing my life previously through vague instinct, external expectation and available opportunities to directing my choices through a set structure, stronger instinct, internal trust, external loyalty and the exchange of love. It has been a delicate balance between “letting go” of my old patterns while at the same time developing new intentional ones that work for my present life.

“I did not wish to live what was not life,” says Thoreau. It seems a simple desire, but in fact is not an easy thing to do. To live life deliberately cannot be accomplished in 12 months time; it must be put into a daily practice and nourished over a lifetime.

In the defined space and time Living Chapters allowed, I merely began the exploration of self and the understanding of others and our environment. As if I were left out in the woods, I slowly discovered what worked or didn’t work for me in every chapter. With each challenge I took a closer look at what I believed, how I felt and what I was capable of. Setting the themes for chapters, before starting set the intentions for my year. Showing me where and how I wanted to grow and develop.

Each player in Living Chapters pushed and supported me by dictating tasks that illuminated my strengths and addressed my weaknesses. They stretched boundaries and sparked fears challenging me to make and break new habits and banish old patterns. The chapters that fueled my resistance were most beneficial. Through the resistance I began to understand and accept that discomfort and confusion can be the first step to clarity and contentment. Understanding what was holding me back was, for me, the key that is allowing me to move forward.

I will leave you with a couple more quotes from Walden that resonated with me.  Thanks to Joe for bringing me back into the woods this summer.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

7/11/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to learn more about what happens when you live your life through chapters.

epilogue: independence day

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“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
      –  William Faulkner

Ask and you shall receive…

I asked for self development, growth and transformation. I requested change and challenge in the form of written chapters that could help guide my story forward. The Living Chapters structure and its players generously provided, giving all that and more. Trusting my initial intuition, I let go and put faith and trust in the ones I loved to guide my path.  Now it is “Independence day”.

Just a few days into freedom from the structured chapters and how do I feel? It’s as if I just finished a 12-month marathon, or a 12-step program? Either way – an intensive mind-body and soul makeover.  I’m a bit sore, in shock, and invigorated at the same time.

Now that the year has addicted me to the process of reflecting through writing, I feel the need to take at least the month of July to wean myself off the program by responding (in writing) to the feedback, questions, critique and comments I have been given from the Living Chapters participants and readers.

This “Independence day” post is directed in response to question #1 from radio producer/interviewer extraordinaire, Aaron Henkin.  Aaron played the wild card for chapter six and also invited the Living Chapters players and I on his popular Baltimore radio show The Signal. Today Aaron asks me, what many have been asking all along, what will I now do with my new-found freedom? Freedom! A scary thing to many – a blank slate and abyss of choices!  Just what will I do?

IMG_5219    “What’s it like for you now that LC is over and done?  Do you know what to do with yourself when you wake up in the morning?”

Well Aaron… yes, I actually do know what to do each morning! Even without a monthly chapter prescription!  It seems these days, there is rarely a moment when I don’t know how to utilize my time.  And as far as mornings, I am very specific about it!  After waking, I have, for once in my life, become remarkably consistent. Chapter 4 brought a new meditation practice into my life: 15 min in the morning and 15 min in the evening each day.  I have kept with this practice and am now averaging 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.  Meditation isn’t the only thing that has stuck with me through the roller coaster existence moving through one month to the next.  But it’s one of the most helpful and useful tools I’ve picked up.

I was inundated with a plethora of requests filling each month. I thought it virtually impossible to accomplish them all in four week’s time.  I tried though and merely scratched the surface of many tasks attempted. I am now eager to dive in and try some out again. Returning to the past chapter tasks will not only help me understand how the LC process has changed me, but will be a good way to test and try on the lessons learned.

In addition to meditation, the major transformation occurring, now that the project is over is my love of writing.  Writing for me was the main physical goal of this project – an act that I had been avoiding both personally and professionally for years. This task, before June of last year, seemed incomprehensible and made me anxious. Instead of writing, I would grab my camera, or my audio recorder as a means to reflect, express or document my world.  Through Living Chapters this has now changed.

So what will I do now that it’s over?  All I can say is that I will continue to write.  In what form, I don’t know yet. Living my 12 chapters and writing about them this year helped me find my voice and use it in a new way.  I had always felt my strong sense of intuition and inner guidance but now, after living out my chapters, I can honestly say that I hear my voice more clearly and trust it more fully.  As I continue to live on my story, the logical next steps are, of course, to hone my skills in using my voice more frequently. Time to put more trust in myself and start learning how to write and sing my own soundtrack.

7/4/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to learn more about what happens when you live your life through chapters.