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The Value of Getting Lost

I wake in the middle of the night, feeling lost and anxious, and ask Kurt, “Do we know the election results?”

“No, not yet.”

I can’t sleep anymore. I get up and put on the kettle for tea. Our teenage daughter, Hazel, can’t sleep either. At dawn, she wraps herself in a blanket and comes to the kitchen. She pours a bowl of cereal and makes me one too. I sit next to her and hand her a cup of tea. The two of us eat our Cheerios and drink our tea in silence. 

“What do we do now?” She asks.

“We feel all the feels.”

“I read that we only have seven years before climate change is irreversible.”

“In my experience, change rarely comes from the top office.”

“Then where does it come from?”

“From the ground up. They say that women are going to decide this election. I think women are going to lead us through the challenges ahead. The old ways aren’t working anymore. Women will create a new way.” 

“With a really old, white guy as President.”

“This time.”

I sound strong, but my heart is beating fast. My breath is shallow, and my chest is tight. I can’t get enough air. I know this feeling. It is grief. 

Fear wins. 

Science and truth and dignity lose. 

It isn’t for sure. Nothing is. 

I need to get away from the red and blue map. I can see it inside my closed eyelids. 

Luckily, my friend Tania knows a place in the forest where we can surround ourselves in geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change.

I leave Hazel and Kurt watching Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” and take the dog out to meet Tania at a trailhead.

We scramble up a scree field to the western side of one of the Flatirons, the slab-like peaks rising above Boulder. We lean our backs against nothing but sky and a 290-million-year-old sloping mountain. We stay there for a long time in silence.

The rocks and their lichen necklaces say to me, “All will be well. All will be well.” 

When it’s time to go, we aren’t ready to return home. 

“What if we bushwack up to that ridge?” Tania suggests.

It’s exactly what I feel like doing. 

We bushwhack through dense pine forests and up steep, slippery rock faces. At one point, I have only one good hand hold on the rock. I’m perched precariously. It’s unclear where to put my foot next, or where the next hand hold might be.

“How are you?” Tania calls up to me from the ground. 

“I’m okay right now. Just not sure what’s next.”

Then we laugh at the obvious analogy to the whole nation waiting in the unknown about the election. Maybe that’s how we get through this uncertainty: one hand-hold at a time. And when someone asks, How are you? We can take it moment by moment and answer, We’re okay right now

We climb like this for several hours. When the rock is too steep for Leo the dog, Tania goes first, and I pass Leo to her. We scale the rock this way, passing Leo between us, making slow but steady progress. Leo clings to me with a look that says, You have gone totally insane.  Then a raven flies over us, his wingtips only an arm’s length away.

The jagged ridge is in sight. I wonder, Will there be another ridge to climb or have we made it to the top? We crest the ridge and look. It’s a jaw-dropping view. Snow-capped peaks touching bluebird skies for miles. The Continental Divide runs north to south before us. 

The only problem is we don’t know how to get down. Then I hear Tania shout with joy. She has found a trail. We can’t believe our luck. Hidden behind a boulder is a well-worn path. There’s even a sign tacked to a tree pointing us home. 

We intentionally got lost and found our way home. 

On the first switchback down, there’s a Limber Pine.

A rare species whose scientific name is Pinus flexilis. Limber Pines can live up to 3000 years because their branches are remarkably flexible, even in the driest of climates. Their branches twist, bend, and bounce back from the heaviest snowstorms and the strongest gales. 

I hug the tree, hoping some of its wisdom sticks to my clothes.

Tania laughs, “That’s right. We all need to be more flexilis to get through this year.” 

Soon, we are back at the trailhead. I feel stronger, lighter from our adventure. I was unsteady before and now I feel brave again. 

One way through all this painful waiting is to physically feel our way through the unknown, in order not to fear it. Courage loves action.

How are you? 

I’m okay right now.

Love,

Susie

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

My clients tell me they are exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed. One powerful woman said, “Remember last year when I was handling three crises and some uncertainty and I thought it was a lot? Those days seem dreamy now.” She was talking about managing big helpless feelings about the election, but also about climate change, four nearby fires, systemic racism, her kids growing up, early menopause, work stress, loss of income, and loss of loved ones. We’re not hardwired to handle so many stressful challenges at once. We need to make a 3-2-1 self-care plan.

My plan is the same one I’ve used while waiting for scan results (that announce whether the cancer has returned). The purpose is to remind me to Connect. Move. Breathe. I think of it as a 3-2-1 plan: 3 people-2 places-1 thing that nourish me, center me, and restore me.

What’s your 3-2-1 self-care plan?

3 people (who lift you up):_______  ________ ________ (I’m available if you need a 3rd!)

2 places (that inspire and center you) : ______ _______ (Mt. Sanitas, Boulder Creek)

1 thing (that calms you and makes space for joy): ________ (Dalai Lama playlist)

How do you choose your 3-2-1?

3 people. Pick three people you adore, but you don’t call because they are far away. Who haven’t you spoken to in awhile? We can get stuck only talking to the people we have been isolating with since March. What helps is to connect with others, those people who lift us up and just listen, without trying to fix us. If you struggle to name three, you can add me to your list.

2 places. Where do you go to support your mind and mood? Do you feel better when you walk outside? Nature grounds us. Especially if you need to move your body to get there. I chose a nearby hill and creek because they remind me of geologic time, the resiliency of lichen, and the natural cycles of change. But you can pick a place in your home: your bathtub, a square of floor to dance, or a chair by a window. 

1 thing. What brings you quickly back to your best self? Do you have a breathing practice? (If not, try a triangle breath: inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 4, exhale through the nose for 4.) I also learned that the quickest way to move out of the “fight & flight” nervous system and into the “rest and digest” nervous system is to hum. Humming activates the Vagus nerve which tells the body it’s okay, the lion is gone. You don’t have to limit it to one thing. But you need at least one. What is one thing that restores you? Music? Belly dancing? Baking? Yoga? Meditation? Writing?

Write down your 3, 2, 1 and stick it to your fridge or your forehead.

Mine lives next to our list of numbers for the nearest hospital and fire station. You think you don’t need to display it because you know the responses by heart. But in the midst of a crisis, it’s easy to forget. Your 3-2-1 tells you to Connect. Move. Breathe. Then you can handle whatever comes your way.

This is election week. Get your 3-2-1 ready and make a plan. 

You made a voting plan. Now what’s your Voting Day plan? Don’t sit in front of the TV and listen to moment-by-moment, breathless updating of trivial changes when what matters is what happens when the night is done. Many are saying that it could take a lot longer than a day to know the outcome. Use your 3-2-1 to brainstorm what you are going to do Tuesday night and Wednesday to handle the waiting and the results.

I am an impatient person. If I don’t have something to do while I wait, I become a terrible, mean, nasty person. So I made a plan. 

On election day, we’ll invite our pod of friends for an outdoor dinner and leave our phones inside. We want to be around people and in fresh air. On Wednesday, we’ve blocked out two hours of work to hike in the mountains. 

If the outcome doesn’t go the way I want, I choose to feel the despair fully without trying to numb or distract my way out of it. Then I’ll need my 3-2-1 to stand back up. What’s your 3-2-1? And what’s your plan for Voting Day? 

Love,

Susie

***

Invest in Joy. The 33-Day Challenge.

Yesterday I was so tired I fell asleep on the cement walkway to our house. I woke up to the postal carrier tiptoeing around me to the mailslot. She did not freak out about me lying there on the ground. She said, “Oh hon. I know. Can I curl up and rest with you in the sunshine?” 

That was my Delight #57. I have been tracking delights, inspired by the poet, Ross Gay. I am home now after you helped me get through another surgery and radiation. I feel great physically and the kids and Kurt are doing well. I am genuinely thrilled to be alive; I am just worn down by fires and homeschooling and COVID and presidential debates. But this moment with my postal carrier reminded me of the goodness of people. It also made me wonder, Are we letting people know how tired/sad/scared we are? Are we showing up for one another–(even willing to curl up on the cold cement (6 feet apart) with one another) through hard times?

We are all tired. Disheartened. Scared. I keep hearing, “I don’t know what I’ll do if this election doesn’t go (the way I want).” We can say yes to challenges and this crazy life, even when we feel cranky, triggered, angry, and sad. We need to choose love and choose trust that we are bigger and mightier than COVID or the presidential office. When we get attached to a certain outcome, we deny our power to make bigger changes on the ground and within ourselves. 

Fear is our kryptonite. Trust and action are our antidotes. The brave we need now is to raise the vibration in our communities from fear to joy. 

Invest in Joy. Do a 33-day-mind-body-spirit challenge with me. 33 days until November 4th, the day after the election. (Ok-maybe Nov. 5th or 6th by the time I get this blog out…) The goal? To remember that we are not victims, we are creators. We are far more powerful than we think. We can choose to do everything we can to heal our country (see below) AND heal ourselves by  building our inner resiliency. Unless yours is already humming…When I asked Kurt what his challenge was going to be, he answered, “Get through October.” “And, how are you going to do that?” I asked. He flexed his muscles for humor and said, “Like a BOSS!” His confidence is ridiculous and…contagious.

The 33-Day-Mind-Body-Spirit Challenge Starts When You Read This.

  1. Do something for your spirit. Do one small thing that brings you joy each day. Joy is a possibility-expander. You are not just doing this for you, but for us. When you tap into your joy, you get out of your rut, and you inspire me to get out of mine. You raise the vibration around you. Joy puts us in touch with who we are and what we are capable of each day. And when we are connected to self, we can easily tap into inner wisdom, guidance, and strength. For me, joy includes napping in the sunshine, foraging for wild mushrooms, walking Leo the wonderdog, making a new painting for the outside of our house, and learning to tap dance. For Cole, it means putting his full weight on his not-broken-anymore foot to press in the clutch and drive. For Hazel, it means learning to breakdance. For Kurt, it’s mountains, elk, and deer. What is joy for you today?
  2. Do something for your mind. Choose Books over News. Your nervous system is not designed for our addictive-headline-consumption habit. There is nothing in the news that will truly help you to learn more about something. Read a book. Might I suggest (again) The Book of Delights by poet Ross Gay?
  3. Do something for your body. Will you do 11 minutes of arm weights and squats with me? (I just found out that muscle mass makes the body inhospitable to cancer!) And how about a warrior pose while we wait for the coffee to brew? I don’t know where to put walking…under spirit, mind, or body? It feels like all three. Get out and walk.
  4. Do something for your country. Adopt a voter. More than 40% of the country does not vote. Write a letter to an unlikely voter and let them know why you vote, not who you vote for. Infrequent voters who received letters voted 3.4% more than a control group. Doesn’t sound like much? Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by less than 1%. With Vote Forward, I was able to adopt 5 under-represented voters and 20 infrequent voters. 
  5. DROP something that you resent. Drop one thing that you do out of duty, but that drives you nuts. Drop emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen, that zoom meeting that doesn’t really impact your work. Involve your kids, your sweetheart, your boss. You’ll need to have a couple of hard conversations in order to win a month of relief. Do it.

A foolproof way to stick to the challenge:

Put two jars out on your kitchen counter. Label one with a charity that you love. Put $30 in that jar. Label the other with the name of the candidate you do NOT want to win in November. Leave that jar empty. 

Every time you skip one of the days of your challenge, take $5 out of your-favorite-charity jar and put it in the other candidate’s jar. You MUST donate all of the money at the end of the 33 days. This works because we are disproportionately motivated by negative consequences. 

If you’re cozy in bed and don’t feel like doing the arm-weights that you promised to do, just think of this scary fact: When you donate to the other candidate’s campaign, you’ll receive that political party’s emails for life.

Ha! But what will truly motivate me to do this challenge is knowing that you might be doing it, too. It feels like you are saying “Can I curl up with you on the cold cement in the warm sunshine?”

Love,

Susie

***

 

Focus on Five; Navigating Uncertainty like an Ultramarathon

I used to run marathons and ultramarathons for kicks because I loved the feeling at the end that comes from knowing we are capable of far more than we think. But to get to the finish line in an ultramarathon, you can only run five minutes at a time. You don’t think about the next 30 or more miles because it’s too much. You go into overwhelm; your mind spins and your body rebels. To tackle uncertainty and a big challenge, you need to break it into small, manageable pieces. For me, that meant that during long, ultra-running races, I had to focus only on the next best step. I ran from river crossing to big pine tree to ridgeline to mountain peak in five minute intervals. I learned that you can go a long way five minutes at a time.

I’m going to take this next month of surgery, recovery, and radiation in the same manner. What do I need right now? Who can I ask for help with this? What is my goal for the next 5 days or 5 minutes? I want to bring the calm of a clear lake to every decision and sleepless night. I’ll need your help. You can remind me to focus on five. We can visualize all of us reunited and thriving in September. And we can all visualize this nation healing one step at a time.

Love,

Susie

Walking the Labyrinth

Out on a walk with Leo the dog, I came upon a big, beautiful labyrinth made of carefully chosen bricks and stones. It looked inviting, like something I had to do. But part way in, I’m sure the dog thought, Why do we keep going around in circles over here when the squirrels and ducks are over there? And I thought, This is taking a long time. I have a lot to do today. Can I sprint through a labyrinth? 

I stopped and took a few deep breaths, scanning for an easy-out. Leo sat down. And in that little sliver of calm, I decided to stay in the labyrinth. I thought, My to-do list can wait. Leo can wait, too. I’m here now. I started walking the labyrinth’s bent path again. But I couldn’t focus. My mind kept spinning on my latest health challenges. 

This week I found out I need brain surgery, on the fourth anniversary of those first surgeries on my skull. Then yesterday I learned that my son broke five bones in his foot. Knowing that we both might need operations during COVID and that we will be apart for another five weeks has sent me into a small tailspin with the big emotions of a mama bear who cannot care for her young. 

But as I walked the labyrinth, certain that I was doing it wrong by not being meditative, it started to work on me anyway. I walked the turns and realized, This is my life. It is not straight. It is this labyrinth: curved, cyclical, full of turns and uncertainty. The problem isn’t the shape of my life, but the size of my expectations. I expected my life to be more straight and clear by midlife. But that has not been my experience. And yet that has not changed its quality or beauty. It is still magnificent.

So I kept walking, and Leo came right along with me. Before I knew it, I was standing in the center. I was home. I felt relieved, confident, and calm. Leo naturally relaxed and lay down. I noticed that the way out was back the way I came. I thought, I know how to do this. Back through surgery and radiation and recovery. I ran back, laughing. Leo liked this part and started leaping a little. I know how to do surgery. I know how to recover from surgery. I know how to heal with radiation. I am here. I am still here. I will be here for a long time to come. You can find me riding the hairpin turns, one at a time, always bending home.

Love,

Susie

Cowboys Were My Weakness

At twelve I had a crush on the Marlboro man–

rugged, self-reliant, riding in his dusty cloak,

lone hero of the American west,

protector of our freedom.

I thought I needed a cowboy to rescue me

from bad guys and Indians.

 

I should have let it go when he died of lung cancer,

but I didn’t look deep enough,

didn’t see beyond the billboard bullshit.

 

Years later, I drive with my family on WY 296, 

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway,

over Dead Indian Pass.

I feel sick,

And I don’t think it’s the winding road.

 

I’m done with macho white myths,

let the dust cloak my need for their protection.

I’m done with freedom’s gun-toting guardians,

let them rescue the 4th amendment instead.

I’m over cowboys,

let them ride into the sunset for good.

–Susie Rinehart 06/10/20

image: Reuters/Theatlantic.com

Breathe: a poem

Breathe

All morning I’ve been thinking

about the beauty of a breath,

a child’s body breathing

as she falls asleep,

a sweetheart breathing

next to us in bed,

a tree breathing in carbon dioxide

and giving us oxygen

in an ancient, astonishing exchange,

my own lungs giving and receiving

without me having to do anything.

 

Meanwhile, a radiologist tells me 

to take a breath in, hold it, release,

as he scans my chest for cancer.

Meanwhile, in a hospital bed alone, 

someone takes her last breath.

Meanwhile, on the cold ground alone,

but with untold others, 

George Floyd cries, “I can’t breathe!”

His words, their deaths, 

our loss, our failure.

 

The first struggle humans have 

is to breathe,

our next struggle is to breathe 

light into darkness–

Breathe,

and remember

those who can no longer breathe.

What do we need to take in?

What do we need to let go?

We fall, we rise. 

We inhale pain,

we exhale love.

 

–Susie Rinehart, 06/09/20

How Many of Us are Feeling Emotional Overwhelm?

Cancer, COVID, white privilege, uprisings, menopause, teenagers…I know a thing or two about how to cope with intense emotional overwhelm.

Symptoms: trouble focusing, difficulty finishing tasks, may feel unsettled, unclear, unsteady.

Treatment: Avoidance coping is what we do to distract, numb, or escape our way out of discomfort. We watch TV, pour another glass of wine, run errands, work without breaks, power wash our windows. Active coping is what we do when we want to make real forward progress. 

3 active coping strategies: 

  1. Write down your emotions after breakfast. Don’t judge your feelings, explore them. No need for complete sentences
  2. Call a friend and say, “I need to vent to someone who won’t judge me. Are you available?” 
  3. Do the smallest brave over perfect thing. Take one vulnerable step forward. It might be asking for help. Engage imperfectly.

Refuse to be defined by Fear. Let me help you find healthy, active coping strategies that work for you. 

Love,

Susie

Act Local; A Guide to Boulder Elected Officials + Tips for Finding YOUR Representatives

Boulder, CO Elected Officials June 11, 2020

Act local and make real change. It took me too long to find out who my elected officials were last year, my first year to vote in the USA as a brand new citizen. I made this quick reference guide for those of you living in Boulder, CO in 2020. For those of you outside Boulder, the best resource I found for searching for elected officials AT EVERY LEVEL, no matter where you live in the USA, is on the website for The League of Women Voters under the tab “Elections.”

Our Federal Representatives:

US Senator Michael Bennet (D)

Webpage: Michael Bennet 

Phone: (202) 224-5852

Russell Senate Office Building Room 261

2 Constitution Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20510-0609

 

US Senator Cory Gardner (R)

Webpage: Cory Gardner

Phone: (202) 224-5941

Russell Senate Office Building Room 354

2 Constitution Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20510-0610

 

US Congress Representative: 

Rep. Joseph D. Neguse (D)

Webpage: Joe Neguse

Phone: (202) 225-2161

Longworth House Office Building Room 1419

15 Independence Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20515-0602

 

Colorado Governor:

Gov. Jared Schultz Polis

Webpage: Jared Polis

Phone: (303) 866-2471

 

Our State Representatives: https://leg.colorado.gov/findmylegislator

House District 10

Edie Hooton

Email: [email protected]

Webpage: Edie Hooton

Phone: (303) 866-2915

Colorado State Capitol Room 307

200 East Colfax AvenueDenver, CO 80203-1784

 

Senate District 18

Stephen Fenberg

Email: [email protected]

Webpage: Stephen Fenberg

Phone: (303) 866-4872

Colorado State Capitol Room 346

200 East Colfax AvenueDenver, CO 80203-1784

 

Mayor of Boulder

Sam Weaver

email: [email protected]

City Council Office, City of Boulder, 1777 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302

 

Police Chief

Ms. Maris Herold 

Sheriff / Police Chief

Phone: (303) 441-3310

Power to the Imagination

I’m listening and learning to Black leaders. One gem I found recently is this:

Angela Davis(told a crowd at UPenn in 2010)

“Activists in America in the late 1960s were saying,

“Power to the People!”

while activists in France were saying,

“Power to the Imagination!” 

It’s so important to use our imaginations to create the future we want for our children.

Watch this 3 min video clip from Angela Davis: How Does Change Happen?