Keep calm and kayak.

I never envisioned myself kayaking. Granted, I did grow up in a desert. The notion of participating in any water sport felt foreign, outside of the occasional boogie boarding in the Pacific Ocean during an annual San Diego summer vacation.

In July 2015, Aaron and I broke our kayaking-seals in Traverse City, Michigan.

 

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The first taste of kayaking – oh so swet

The 3+ hour journey took us through the calm, meandering Boardman River up the gut of the city, spilling us out into Lake Michigan. Our sense of peace shattered as we battled the wake from dozens of high-speed boats and wave runners. Our tired arms somehow found the last ounces of strength to paddle us in, leaving us exhausted and exhilarated (and gosh, did that ice cream afterward taste even better!)

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Vegan ice cream ftw!

Even after only one kayaking adventure, we both casually expressed the idea of investing in our own. One year and two more rental kayak trips later, we took that step. Aaron spent several weeks researching the various options: price points, length, sit-in or sit-on, etc. He read reviews, reviews, reviews, and drew up a list of about five potential candidates.

I lack the drive to research like Aaron does. I glanced at his list, looked at a few pictures online, and made my decision based on sitting in several at the Dick’s Sporting Goods on a Saturday morning. The moment I sat into the Perception Swifty Deluxe, I knew it was the one. The price was right (reduced to around $350), and the color options were on point.

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You won’t be able to miss us out on the water in these.

Aaron took his maiden voyage while I was out in Portland, Oregon, for a conference. But, the next two Saturdays, we tossed up our ‘yaks on our folding J-hooks (purchasing the equipment to go along with owning kayaks = both expensive and important lessons to be learned, including make sure you can drive your car out of the garage with said J-hooks own).

We started close to home, venturing over to Falls Lake both times. I learned several lessons from the first trip out, namely that kayak grips are critical to stop the blistering bonanza.

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Aaron played master photog on our first Falls Lake outing

This past Saturday, two friends joined us as we explored a quieter part of the lake (no boats allowed!), sharing the morning with many birds and plenty of jumping fish.

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Serenity now

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Exploring every cove 

 

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An ideal August morning to be out on the water

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Playing around with filters

I derive so much pleasure from the act of kayaking. The transition between movement and stillness; the sound of the oar dipping into the water, gliding me forward as I try to take in all of the sounds and sights.

Our kayaks open up so many more possibilities on how we can interact with our surroundings. While I’m tired after wrapping up our time on the water, I’m also eagerly anxious for our next trip.

Oh, what adventures await for the rest of 2016 and beyond…

It’s not all about me, as much I as try to think otherwise

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As much as I’d like to believe – and make you believe – that I live for others, if I really sit back and put myself under a microscope, I spend a lot of time worrying about me. I fret over my workout plans; having a quiet space to read; accomplishing the lists of self-generated tasks. I want people and things to fit into my boxes of time and space.

Originally, I drafted a line in this post that I was selfish. Perhaps that statement was the most accurate, and erasing it was my feeble attempt of reframing my own narrative.

I think there’s another quality at play: inflexibility.

I live for structure, order, and efficiency. Some of my fellow YNPN Triangle NC board members have teased me for using such nonprofit colloquialisms as “respect the agenda’ (and rightfully so at times). There comes a point where the desire to have boundaries butts up against…well, you know..other peoples’ feelings, lives, cultures, norms, etc. It becomes an agent of paralysis. It becomes a tool of power that I wield, losing the opportunity to stretch and grow because of my own: “my way or the highway” approach.

During my mindfulness journey, I am actively reflecting on what drives this need. Both of my parents adhere to similar structures in their lives. I recognize, too, that inflexibility is a value of white supremacy tool. It’s much easier to maintain control and privilege when you get to call the shots based on your life, rather than taking into account the experiences and values of others.

This isn’t a complete cast-off of structure. Instead, it’s my hope to de-emphasize how much I allow my inflexibility to impact my decisions, my relationships, and my happiness. Because that’s a huge part of it. As I force myself to adhere to my deeply-entrenched systems, I slowly erode my ability to take risks, be adaptable, and, most importantly to me, be open for something new and awesome and wonderful to enter my life – WITHOUT ME HAVING ANY CONTROL.

Terrifying and exhilarating.

I feel like Aaron faces the brunt of my inflexibility the most, and it saddens me as I reflect on how my hardheadedness to prioritize me may have closed the door on our chance to share a special moment in our relationship. Responses like “not now” and “in a few minutes” shut doors of opportunity that I can’t get back. I’m not saying that anytime Aaron or anyone else says jump, my immediate response will be “how high?” Instead, I will continue to improve on strengthening my own internal check of asking “why?”and more importantly:

Why not?

Routines will still be a part of who I am. Yes, I like to work out in the morning because this is when I’m most awake and eager.

I will still strive to respect the agenda and ensure that there is adequate space given to foster collaboration and curiosity.

I need quiet spaces to get lost in a book and I won’t use this as an excuse to justify not spending time sharing stories with my partner.

I will remain excited about the countless options to fill my weekends and I will allow the weekend to approach before filling my calendar to the brim.

I like to be a part of meetings that have a clear, defined purpose and I will laugh along with my colleagues even if it means a slight derailment.

I’m naming this challenge that is woven into me. I’m calling it out on the Internet (and, as you all know, everything is true on the Internet).

After spending the past few days in Portland for our national Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference, I have been off-schedule with my mindfulness practice. But, I know that’s ok. It can start anew tomorrow, without guilt.

At 5:05am of course (I’m kidding…I hope).

Cheers.

Breaking through the binary

In our world of limitless possibilities, why do we default to the “either/or” mentality? I recall hearing a TED talk that addressed our need to put what we know about life into specific buckets. You are a cat person or you are a dog person. You are an introvert or you are an extrovert.

I’m not going to get into the science of whether our brains are hardwired to process all inputs in this manner(because 1) I’m not a scientist; and 2) that’s not the path I want to take today. What I want to ask each of us to do is to challenge the notion of “or” and “but” as we go about our daily lives.

Inside ourselves, we carry multiple truths and identities about who we are and how we interact with our surroundings. Yet, we can be pigeonholed – whether implicitly or explicitly – to feel that we bring only one view with us to the table. The perspective of the person of color. The communications expert. The parent. And when this happens to us, we experience a sense of loss because all of the intricate pieces that make up who we are become overshadowed by the one earmarked identity.

The whirlwind around House Bill 2 here in North Carolina inspired part of this internal dissection of my own desire to categorize people, places, things, etc. Gender identity serves as a primary example of how mired our society remains in the choice of two: boy or girl. Male or female. Man or woman. There is no room for argument or counterpoint. But, in a recent letter in Indy Week, Peter Klopfer, professor emeritus of biology at Duke, and Dr. Gerard Honor flag that our reliance on physical indicates to determine sex are imperfect at best, detrimental at worst:

“We now recognize that the physical differences are not dichotomous—a small penis may be indistinguishable from a large clitoris; a not-fully-fused scrotum can resemble partially fused labia. Even the chromosomes of an individual may not be solely XX or XY, but part of a mosaic, with some cells XX and others XY. More importantly, all of these markers that appear to define one’s sex are not concordant: one can rank as a male according to some, or as female according to others. For example, an individual with organs that appeared at birth to be male (penis and scrotum) might later be found to possess ovaries and breasts. Birth certificates, which are based on genital structure alone, are inevitably flawed.”

For folks who have never had first-hand experience with questioning their gender identity or known someone who has, this can be scary. Because it contradicts our world view that no – you must be either this or this because of x, y, and z. We need such aspects of our life to make sense. Right? This is law and order! We need structure! (I’m both flagging this as a real reaction for many people and also my own attempt at sarcasm at 8am on a Monday.)

Until we actively practice allowing our minds to wrap around the “and” rather than the “but” and “or” language, I truly believe that we will feel more complete as people. This type of thinking enables us to be recognized for who we are – entirely – rather than what conforms to a checkbox. And when people are able to live fully and whole, this translates into a broader, deeper understanding of each other on levels we have yet to see.

I recognize this post may feel as if I’m rambling or not painting an entirely clear picture. As someone who is actively working each day to think beyond the binary, I am a work in progress. I’m not speaking specifically around gender identity either. I want to ensure that my mind remains flexible when interacting with people and situations – that I don’t insert assumptions or erase details because my mind marks them as “unnecessary” for understanding.

Today, challenge yourself. There may be an opportunity for you to say “and” instead of returning to the “or/but” reflex. See what can emerge as we add, not subtract. The infinite potential awaits us.

What would a world without racism look like?

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Breathing is a radical act.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of an anti-racist yoga convergence, led by two social justice advocates, yogis, and powerful women:  Michelle Johnson and Patty Adams. The two hours began by each instructor sharing their Dharma talk with us – an emotional and moving grounding on why this work matters and how yoga provides a place to practice skills critical to movement building in the efforts to eradicate white supremacy.

Sharing from her experience as a person of color, Michelle’s words stirred within me feelings of shame, guilt, and fierce determination. She encouraged the white people in the room to be mindful on how we are waking up to being a part of the racial justice movement. She noted the tension between the budding excitement of white allies and agitators to the sheer exhaustion experienced by people of color as they have been waiting for us. It’s not as if this entrenched system of racism popped up overnight. Decades upon decades of systematic oppression, from the very founding of our nation, have fueled a society built on the backs of black and brown people. And as more folks, particularly white people, join this effort, it is imperative we recognize that while it’s great we’re here now, we cannot allow that to overshadow the everyday trauma experienced by people of color in our lives and in our communities.

The idea that ‘breathing is a radical act’ was new to me. Oppression succeeds only if people never reach their full potential – their space becomes smaller and smaller, essentially cutting off their ability to breathe and exist. Yoga is all about the breath. It allows us to practice discernment. It allows us to move closer towards full integration of our entire selves. We move in ways that re-negotiate our own boundaries, climbing towards that state of calm yet expanded and energized.

As Patty noted, yoga provides an opportunity to bring all of us in a place together. And we have to recognize the risk it takes for many people to be in that space. As a white person, I have to seek to understand what privilege to not have to think twice about participating in such a practice.

After the Dharma talks, we spent the next 45 minutes on our mats, moving from the floor to standing and then returning to our backs, maintaining the breath through each sequences. We sought balance and strength; quieted our minds; secured our intentions; and rooted ourselves in the power of healing and compassion. If we stopped showing up during that time together, we would let the rest of the people in the room down.

Finally, we ended by reflecting with a partner near us about what our next step would be to crate a world where racism didn’t exist. I talked about my need to let go of any inner fears of “rocking boats” when it comes to exchanging dialogue with people in my life, particularly white people, about racism in our culture, institutions, and within ourselves. I talked about the importance of asking my friends of color: “what do you need from me?” And I need to continue to grow and learn more about systemic racism and oppression; I need to listen – really listen – to what is being said and unsaid about injustices taking place in our world. And I need to always reflect on what impact my words and actions are having on dismantling racism. I cannot be a leader in this work if I am contributing to maintaining white supremacy.

I’m so grateful to Michelle and Patty for bringing us together in this anti-racist work. If you live in the Triangle area, there will be two additional opportunities in August and September to connect yoga with racial justice.

So, what would a world without racism look like? I’m continue to mull on this question. Some of my initial reactions include:

  • A place where no one fears being killed simply by existing;
  • A place where everyone receives the education to be successful, thriving contributors;
  • A world built on sharing and abundance, not on selfishness and scarcity;
  • Communities who care for each other, no matter what;
  • People, not systems or institutions, hold the most political power;
  • The idea of ‘silenced voices’ is inconceivable
  • Safety is a norm, not an exception.

I invite you, if you have not already, to envision what a wold without oppression, racism, and white supremacy would look like, sound like, feel like. If you are willing, I also invite you to share. Perhaps journal about it. Create a vision board. Our humanity is depending on us, and I refuse to let us down.

 

free flow Friday

Discourse morphed into diatribes.

Arguments rooted in articles.

Actually read? Argubale.

Easier to spot what’s trending then what’s happening outside the window.

Positions held firm with glue made from politics, power, and privilege.

Spin from machines muddle words and true meanings.

Can’t help but think of Aaron Burr:

What do you stand for?

Posturing is one thing but to truly stand up takes courage.

No longer a qualification for leadership but

Replaced by contempt, cowardice –

the creation of fear in the free world.

What is free about fear?

Why do so many people allow themselves to be shackled?

Look up. Listen. Love.

Alliteration breeds more than literary bliss. It builds actions that lead to real change that we all can take.