Birth of a Mother

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I can’t pin point the moment when I became a mother. Was it on that snowy night one year ago, as my baby emerged from the depths of my body? So soft and warm. His smallness. His immensity. My gasping joy over flowing.

Partly yes, of course this was a huge turning point. A portal into a whole new world. Yet, I’m more a mother now than I was a year ago. If I arrived on the shores of motherhood that night, I’ve since walked off into the woods.

But how did my ship come to brush upon her dark beaches in the first place? When did my journey begin? What about my long voyage across open waters?

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Motherhood is not static. Her energy is alive. She will never stop evolving and changing, as I’m continually shaped by the growth of my child. But when did the flame of motherhood ignite? One year after the birth of my baby, I look back and wonder when was my birth. When did I become a mother?

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I remember lying in bed early on the morning of 2/12/15. It was blue dawn and the dog hadn’t started pacing around and wining for her food yet. It was quiet. Ben was sleeping like a hot lead brick beside me. I was drifting in and out of the fragmented world of my dreams, lying comfortably on my side, my full belly draped out in front of me. Baby was sleeping too. I put a hand on my belly, keeping my eyes closed, and said a little gratitude prayer for the new day. At the end, I squeezed in a quick and humble request for Baby to come soon! Please Great Spirit, I’m ready.

I was forty-one weeks and three days. Apparently this is the average length of gestation for new moms. Mother Nature’s way of preparing me for labor. I was ready to just get on with it. Let’s do this! I wasn’t afraid of the looming PAIN people speak of as a badge of honor, like a battle fought and won.

I did have my fear places I could fall into, but by then I’d mostly moved into a practice of surrendering to my instincts. I felt connected to my body and to Baby. We are in this together. I trusted Baby knew what to do. I trusted my body knew what to do. My job was to listen and follow along. Somewhere in the depths of my psyche I had signed a contract with my primal nature. My modern thinking and doing self had agreed to turn over control to my ancient knowing and being self. I kept saying: if I were a horse I wouldn’t be stressing….I would just listen to my body and have my baby.

I was prepared. I had been waiting, walking, bouncing, and doing everything to get Baby to come. Every day for two weeks I listened to guided imagery and gave myself acupuncture. My bag was packed and my birth plan typed up. I had started taking herbs to ripen my cervix. I had my membranes swiped by the midwife a couple days prior. I was ready.

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Smaller contractions had been coming for about a month as my body geared up. I don’t like the term “false labor.” It felt more like “warm up” contractions to me. They were very mild, period-like cramps, which ran down the bones of my legs.

The day before the birth, I awoke with strong cramping. I was almost excited, until it died down when I took a shower. So when the cramps came back again in the early morning, I was suspicious. I didn’t fully believe this would be the day.

But these cramps were different. They were much more intense, like my low back and pelvic girdle were going into a gripping charley horse. I rolled over on all fours and tried to sink into a modified child’s pose, pushing my face into the pillows and breathing out through my mouth. Little did I know this was to become my go-to position for the first half of my labor.

I got up and took a shower and decided to proceed with my day. About half way through a very delicious breakfast sandwich, the first “you’ll definitely know” contraction hit. Oh boy. I bent over the counter and moaned. Ben pounded on my low back and sacrum like we had planned. I remember thinking something along the lines of: Damn…. Ok. I can do this. And… horary! Baby is coming!! After the contraction passed, I gave Ben a high five and we hugged. We both felt a rush of excitement.

I remember the day I told him I was pregnant. The way the words came out of my mouth in slow motion. The look of bewilderment on his face. His choked up silence. The long walk we took in the park. Lying in the grass and feeling the whole world spinning around. Having the sense that nothing would be the same again.

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I remember the night I sat in my car on the phone as we teased out all the mixed emotions. How I was certain I wanted to keep the baby. A fierce, protective wild animal churning inside of me. I wasn’t going to lose another chance. Not again. Not this time.

I had asked for this blessing five months prior, during an ayahuasca ceremony on the winter solstice of 2014. Mother Ayahuasca heard the longing of my heart song. Baby’s spirit had been hanging close watching and waiting for everything to fall into position.

I remember the peace that washed over me when I first saw the positive pregnancy test. And the tickle of inspiration and pride. My little secret. The affirmation my intuition had been right. The pinch I’d felt deep inside and the implantation spotting that came about a week after that really great date. And my boobs had been acting particularly pmsy. Something had been going on, and now I knew. I had confirmation.

And for a few days I wore the soft cloth of motherhood close to my skin, like a beautiful under garment. No one could see it but me. And I started talking to Baby. All the time, under my breath.

Hello my love. Thank you for coming. Thank you for choosing me. Thank you for choosing Ben and bringing us together. I love you so much. And I’m so scared to lose you. Please, please stay. I promise I will take care of you and never stop loving you. 

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And one year later, on a bright frozen morning, I talked to Baby again. Here we go! You and me Baby! I can’t wait to meet you and kiss you and hold your tiny body in my arms. You are coming! The world is waiting for you!

The anticipation swelled in waves as my contractions started to synch up. For the rest of the morning they came every five to ten minutes. We got in a groove. Our system dialed in. I sat on the birth ball, gently swirling my hips and bouncing as my mom told me stories and tried to distract me. When another contraction came, I would “assume the position” and Ben and my mom would take turns drumming on my sacrum, giggling that Baby down. Come on baby! I would moan and shake my head back and forth like a wild beast in trance, keeping my lips and jaw loose. I didn’t question this urge or try to resist it. It was what my body wanted to do. And it helped! After all, I was supposed to be acting like a horse right?

My sense of time was starting to slow down and warp. As the minutes clicked by, I found myself being drawn into an altered state. Some of the day has disappeared from my memory. And other moments are as clear as crystal.

At some point we called our doula, Angie, and all ended up sitting in the bedroom, staring at each other, smiling and trying to make small talk. Angie did a marvelous job of helping us to slow down. The waiting around was just part of it, she reassured us. Baby wouldn’t be rushed. She suggested we try to take a nap and rest.

Ben and I lied down, spooning, as she guided me through another contraction. I felt my body shift away from the previous pattern of shaking and pounding. I started to imagine myself melting into the contractions, letting my body become heavy and loose. Eventually we both fell asleep, Ben’s arm draped over my waist, holding Baby gently. I remember the warmth of his body along my back. His presence.

Not knowing how much I would need him in the coming days and weeks. Not knowing how real things would get between us. How having a baby together would launch us into a whole new level of partnership. How that would be hard. How we would struggle to adjust. Question our identities. Question our ability to be parents. To be lovers. Fight with each other over stupid shit. Resent each other for wanting to sleep more. Resent each other for going out with friends or work or anywhere. Feeling like it was breaking us down and changing us.

Not knowing there would be a day when I would call him to come home early because I couldn’t deal with the crying. I was huddled in a corner on the kitchen floor, hating myself for being the worse mother ever. Not knowing the hug he would give me, and the way I would hold onto him, feeling his unwavering love, would be all that I needed. We are in this together.

And as we lied in bed, the contractions rolling through me, he held me close. When we woke up, I remember standing in the doorway to the bathroom hugging and swaying. Tears in his eyes. We’re going to be parents! He wore a huge smile and raised his eyebrows to add a holy shit expression. Holy shit was right.

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After our nap, I wanted to get back into labor because my contractions had slowed down. I turned on some music and started dancing, moving my hips in circles, pretending to hula hoop. It felt really good to move my body. When the contractions came on, I sat on the birth ball and tried to breath and sink into the ground. The dancing worked like a charm and it wasn’t long before I was sitting on the ball full time, the contractions coming faster.

I started diving inward, sinking towards some deep dark hidden place far beneath the surface. My eyes were closed. I needed to focus. I began to visualize myself pulling a rope to open a large red stage curtain. As I breathed out long exhales the curtain opened. I could feel the weight of it in my body. Inch by inch it parted. I could hear Angie’s voice in the background, somehow far away, telling me I was doing great. Time seemed to stretch out.

Then suddenly I felt a deep release of tension followed by a drop of fullness into my pelvic floor. Oh! That was something! I asked Angie for a contraction timer update. She said I had been at every three minutes for over an hour, and we could go to the birth center any time. My intuition was telling me it was show time Baby!

It was dark and crispy outside. I remember how the snowflakes sparkled under the street lamp as they fell. I can still hear my footsteps crunching as I walked to the car, step by step.

The ride to the birth center was all a blur. My eyes were closed the whole time and Angie’s voice was gently guiding me to breathe. I’m pretty sure I was in transition and tripping out pretty heavy on hormones.

We got there in five minutes. It was warm and dimly lit inside of the birthing room. We listened to baby’s heart rate and I got into the birth tub. OH YA. That’s nice. I loved being in the tub. We tried to use nitrous oxide, but I was just too far along for it to make much of a difference. I had two contractions in the tub and then went straight into pushing.

And side note, “pushing” isn’t really the word I would use to describe the sensation. It’s more like my whole body could do nothing else but force Baby out. There was no resisting. That only made it worse and slowed things down. There were a few times I tried to brace against the pushing contractions, my breath getting caught in my chest, my fingers digging into Ben’s arms, the pressure building in my temples and eyes. At one point I yelled FUCK three times in a row, which felt productive.

The midwives kept telling me how awesome I was doing and reminded me to breathe and drop into the sensations. I purposefully relaxed all my facial muscles and started to moan with an open throat like a Tibetan throat singer. As low as I could go.

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The midwives invited me to check and see if I could feel Baby’s head. I reached down and sure enough, there he was. Right there! So close! Only a couple more pushes.  

I could feel the burning when he crowned. Instinctively I reached my hand down to put pressure against him, and as soon as I did he came sliding out into the warm water of the tub, several gentle hands guiding him up to my chest for his first breath.

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My baby! My baby! So soft and warm. With a fat little smushy face. I felt my heart expanding in all directions. Welcome to the world! My love!

My baby. He, who began as a longing plea on the darkest winter night of the year. I remembered the rush of tingling that washed up the insides of my legs as I laid in the pitch black room as the medicine did it’s work. The shaman stood over me singing a song to the stars, the moon, the sun, and the earth. We are all family.

I had just made my wish, my prayer to Mother Ayahausca, when the wave began. I felt a powerful moving sensation rising up my whole body, up the bones of my legs, and settling deep in my core. My womb. I’ve come to understand this experience as the energetic conception. It was only a matter of time before the material world would catch up. And that it did. Here he was to hold in my arms.

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My real living and breathing baby. Rohan Jai Miles. My little man who would give me so many smiles and make me laugh with delight, as if I were a child again. My buddy who would fall asleep in my arms as I sang old lullabies my mom sang to me, so floppy and innocent. My sweet boy who would be my dancing partner in the evenings before dinner. And my peek-a-boo companion in the mornings over breakfast. I was so curious to learn about him. Instantaneously love-struck like never before.

And as I watched him make his first crawl to my breast and latch on like a little pink monkey, my heart was humbled by the paradox of life. The openness I felt in those first few moments was nothing short of Divine. It was as if the bandwidth of my consciousness expanded to include frequencies that could only be felt on this side of the portal. I felt the golden thread of my being that is tided to all mothers throughout time. We, the keepers of life.

And as Ben and I sat together in a soothing herbal bath, washing Rohan for the first time, I wondered if the spark of motherhood was lit when I made my humble plea on the darkest of nights two years ago. Lying beneath the buffalo skull, gazing into the blackness, yearning, making a promise, signing my soul’s signature on the dotted line in the reddest blood. And so it is.

Perhaps it was the ache in my heart that longed to be filled with love. Maybe this was when I was born into motherhood. Or maybe it was even before that…

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I can’t pin point the exact moment, because I don’t feel there was a single moment. Mother Nature is always in the flux of birthing and dying. As the old places inside of me died away, new spaces opened up. New life could begin growing down deep.

And still more space will be needed as time passes. Motherhood requires me to keep pruning back the old, dead parts of my spirit, to keep making room for love to flood in. It feels open and vulnerable. Naked and awkward. Sometimes terrifying. It requires me to look in the mirror, and look back into my past. I’ve never felt so responsible and aware of my baggage as I do now.

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But one year out, I am starting to find my stride. The early days were sacred and tender…and bumpy. Full with awe… and doubt… and low-grade, non-stop chaos. I had my moments when I wanted to run away and be young and free again. When I wanted to party like I didn’t have someone waiting for me at home. When I wanted adult-only time. I still have these moments.

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Lately however, there have been more moments when I feel rooted in something bigger than myself. I feel the string of life that runs through the generations. I feel my smallness, and my immensity. My mortality. I feel how fragile and delicate we are…. but also how resilient and tenacious life is. I am aware of a very ancient energy unfolding from the depths of my bones. It’s powerful, carnal, mysterious, regenerative, very silly and playful, and capable of the purest, fiercest kind of love.

I feel sensual, connected to all of life, and utterly of the earth. I walk with a rooted sense of purpose and soak in gratitude like fresh rain. And with my baby wrapped next to my heart, I wade through my murky fears, feeling his warmth lighting the way, holding onto hope for the future…his future. And nothing can stop me now. I am a mother.

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Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.

~Native American Proverb

 

 

 

Back in the saddle again

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I’ll start by saying that I’m no expert in making New Years resolutions. Or rather, I can make them just fine, but at some point I always fall off and lose momentum. Sometimes the fall is hard. It’s painful. My inner critic throws a party and invites all the Negative Nellys: Judgment, Guilt, Shame, Blame, Anger, Grief, Fear. And they can be very chatty.

I assume you can relate. This is part of the human condition. No one is able to keep it up 100% of the time. No matter how flawless their Internet persona is…or how upbeat they appear in person. We all crash. And we all burn.

This blog is not intended to read: I did it, so you can too! I am not your cheerleader, watching from the finish line. I’m on the path with you. This is my attempt at telling you what I’m telling myself, which is: get back in saddle again….and again….and again…ANNND again.

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The saddle is always ready for another ride. So, what follows are some ideas that help me get back up.

THE CYCLE OF CHANGE

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Change is one of the most simultaneously terrifying and hopeful concepts. It’s a paradox. It encompasses death and rebirth. It’s constant. It’s unavoidable. It can be a long game or turn on a dime. I can run and hide and try to resist its force, or take a big breath and dive straight in, or just let it come like a tornado and suck me up into the chaos.

We all deal with change differently. But when we look at the cycle of change, a pattern is illuminated. Intentional change (such as a New Years resolution) has clear stages of development. Knowing what stage I am in becomes helpful because it gives perspective. And perspective leads to self-compassion. And self-compassion enhances motivation. Bingo!

Here are the stages of change. This is based on the work of James O. Prochaska. If you want more information I suggest you read his book “Changing for Good.”

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Change is, like all things, a cyclical dance.

The first stage of PRECONTEMPLATION happens on the subconscious level. For example, before I consciously know a change is coming, I feel what I call “jammed up inside.” My qi stagnates and the pressure builds. I get irritable and restless. I have weird dreams at night. My upper back and shoulders ache. Sometimes my gut gets out of synch. My sleep is funky. If enough time passes I tend to feel depressed and foggy. But then eventually, clarity erupts into my conscious mind. Ah ha! The light bulb goes on.

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This is the CONTEMPLATION stage. It is here where my wheels start turning. My dreams come in the daytime and take on a theme. My mind holds the question: what if….? I like to call this stage the Magic Wand stage. If I had a magic wand, what would I do? What would I create?

I brainstorm. I bounce ideas around until something sticks. I talk to people I trust and get feedback. I do my research.

If the change I’m dreaming up feels scary, I may stay in this stage a long time, spinning my wheels. It can be easy to feel stuck in this stage. I try to remind myself there is no such thing as stuck, because change is unstoppable. I am always moving in one direction or another. Something inside me keeps pushing up and out against the status quo.

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Oftentimes the hardest thing to do is get out of my own way. It takes a lot of courage to forge a new path. So having a plan of action helps me get started. It’s nice to have a map to guide me when I become disoriented as the change starts to work its magic. It’s comforting to feel prepared before heading out into uncharted territory.

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The secret I’ve learned about the PREPARATION stage is the importance of leaving a little wiggle room in the plan. I try not to get too attached to the outcome. The path of change is never linear. And in practice it’s more of a “choose your own adventure” that morphs to accommodate new information as it arises in my conscious mind.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to pack a bag of essentials before walking off into the terrain of all future potentials. My essentials are usually questions:

What do I want? What do I need? Where is my support? Who can help me? Where am I going? How will I get there? How do I want to feel once I’m there? How will I know I’ve arrived?

The more clarity I have in the preparation stage, the more I trust my ability to take the first step into the action stage.

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Ready, set, ACTION! The action stage feels really awesome. I’m off to the races, sitting high in my saddle. The wind in my hair. Some epic rock balled playing in my mind.

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The Negative Nellys are looking confused and stunned as they eat my dust. I feel accomplished. Smug even. I totally got this. Why did I ever doubt myself? This is easier than I thought it would be…for a brief time….

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…before I notice that I’m headed in a slightly different direction than planned…and the saddle starts to slip…. and my grip weakens…and then BOOM.

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Welcome to the RELAPSING stage. It is here where I feel like a total shit. I’m bruised and embarrassed by my fall. The Negative Nellys are laughing and giving each other high fives as I feel myself shrinking into a tiny shell of my former glory.

But in my experience it’s the most powerful stage for gaining momentum. It has the most potential for strengthening the connections to others and myself. It is the most transformative point in the cycle.

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Relapsing is a land of torment and redemption. My discomfort affirms my growth. If I didn’t feel icky, I would either be in denial or back at the starting line. The pain I feel becomes proof of my progress.

When I’m able to reframe relapsing as an opportunity to reevaluate my goals and fine-tune my relationship with my inner critic, over time I build resiliency. I learn to trust the cycle and myself. I learn to let go of the reins and allow myself to be lost. I learn to be gentler with myself when I fall. And I develop compassion for others who struggle to hold on.

This is the beauty of relapsing. It builds character and humility. It teaches me how to surrender my personal will to divine will. It teaches me how to ask for help. And how to receive.

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And I should note here that relapsing doesn’t always have to mean I stop doing an action physically. Relapsing can be as subtle as revisiting old mental patterns. For example, I might still be going to the gym twice a week, but I relapse into shaming my body image. This is a chance for me to get back in the saddles of self-acceptance and self-love. Relapsing creates tension against which I am able to flex the deepest muscles of my spirit.

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You may have noticed I’ve skipped over the MAINTENANCE stage. To me, maintaining change is found when I zoom the camera lens way out to see the whole cycle repeated again and again….AND again. To me maintenance includes all the stages.

So I don’t concern myself with how to maintain a change as much as I do with how to move through a relapse and get back in the saddle again. When I know how to do that, maintenance becomes inevitable.

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Ok, that’s the cycle of change. Now lets make some resolutions!

INGETRAL LIFE PRACTICES

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Some years I don’t make any resolutions. I say screw it. Some years I make only one. Keep it simple. This year I’m making a bunch. I want to invite change across the board. All systems go! My big resolution this year is to integrate all aspects of myself into something bigger than the sum of my various parts.

Integral Life Practices comes from the work of Ken Wilber. You can find more info here.

The basic idea is that wellbeing involves engagement of all areas of our being. It is not enough to eat organic food and exercise if I ignore troublesome thoughts in my head and vice versa. It is not enough to deal with my body and mind, if I’m lonely and super stressed at work. To be healthy, I must consider all areas of my life. When I am mindful of my health on all fronts, I am able to feel the parts weaving back together. I am aware of my whole self and my oneness with all of life. And that’s the ultimate big picture goal right?

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So it’s helpful to break it down. Wilber uses the following categories, or modules. You may think of others that are useful to you, but this is a starting place.

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I am going to make a resolution for each section. Maybe more than one! Here it goes:

Body: 1. Exercise more (duh). Go to the gym two time per week. Hoop more. Yoga more. Focus on feeling strong, flexible, and balanced. 2. Eat more. I generally eat healthy food, but I can be a busy bee and struggle with making time to eat, and eat mindfully. Burritos here I come! 3. Hone my practice of feeling my emotions physically. Increase my sense where my qi is stagnant and feel it move. The more I’m able to do this for myself, the easier it becomes for me to feel your qi as we work together.

Mind: 1. Meditate more (duh). As in daily. It’s gym for the mind! 2. Make a serious dent in my book pile. 3.Affirmations. Because I’m awesome.

Spirit: 1. Spend more time outside connecting to the earth. It heals the soul. 2. Dive off the deep end into my true mystical nature. I’m not going to hold back this year. Fair warning. 3. Deepen my gratitude practice. Gratitude brings my attention to the present moment and softens my fears. 4. Slow down enough to feel my true self unfolding.

Shadow: 1. Continue playing and writing music as a cathartic process. 2. Make time for drawing, painting, and doing creative things that get me out of my left-brain. More mandalas. 3.Continue moving old energy with somatic therapy, energy healing, shamanic healing, acupuncture.

Ethics: 1. Practice the golden rule. 2. Practice nonviolence towards others, the earth, and myself.

Sex: 1. Have more sex (duh – says the new mom, wink). 2. Dive off the deep end into my true freaky nature. Why not? 3. Connect with my sexy sensual self. 4. Deepen my capacity for real intimacy and vulnerability.

Work: 1. Stay open to what comes. 2.Trust the process. 3. Continue writing blogs. Heyo! 4. Keep dreaming. 5. Be intentional.

Emotions: 1. Practice compassion for others and myself. 2. Have courage. 3. Be aware of how my emotions feel physically and mentally. 4.Connect to others, the earth, and myself.

Relationships: 1. More party time. More time with my friends. More date nights with my partner. 2. Be present with my love ones, especially my son. 3.Deepen by ability to stay open.

Annnnd end scene.

WOW. Now there are a lot of resolutions! And a lot of saddles.

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But while this list may seem long and potentially overwhelming, it actually pumps me up to write it and read it back. I feel energized.

This holistic approach to resolutions allows me to see a larger vision taking form. These small intentions all feed the big picture of who I am becoming. The path looks more like a web of tributaries flowing into the great river of Me.

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This web acts like a net to catch me when I fall. The momentum of my progress in other areas pulls me along, and a positive feedback cycle is created in which I’m able to get back in the saddle quicker and with more ease. I may be in different stages of change in different areas, but the effect on me is global. As I evolve I am integrating my experiences back into the whole.

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And this brings me to my last invitation for you when you are considering your New Years resolutions. I got this idea from a beloved client. It is simple and sweet, but can pack a punch.

WORD OF THE YEAR.

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In her brilliance, my client gave me the idea to have a word of the year. Love it! It is a way to keep focused on the big picture.

What is the thread that will tie everything together? What is the cherry on top? What will I gain by taking an integral approach to my health and wellbeing? What am I seeking to find within myself? What is at the core of my longing? How can I distill my goals down to one word?

This year my word is Integration.

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I seek to integrate the wisdom of relapsing back into the cycle of change. I seek to integrate all areas of my life into one broad colorful brush stroke of wellbeing.

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When I’m lost I can fall back onto this word as a reminder. It will be the ground on which I travel, whether I’m the saddle or not.

So what’s your word of the year? What would your resolutions look like through an integral lens? Where are you in the cycle of change? How do you get back in the saddle?

I’m wishing us both the very best of luck on this year’s ride. Happy trails and Happy New Year!

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“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” 

~Carl Jung