Remembering Ed Jacobson

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On September 19, 2019, we lost a really great person. Edward A. Jacobson, Ph.D., was a psychologist, author, instructor, and coach. I met him through my role at the Kinder Institute of Life Planning where he was one of our lead trainers. He was brilliant and brought his wit and wisdom into every situation. His book Appreciative Moments: Stories and Practices for Living and Working Appreciatively captures his teachings and his way of being. Ed had an enormous impact on the lives of many individuals, including me, and I had the privilege of hearing 20 or so of those stories during a virtual celebration of life gathering held for members of the financial life planning community on October 8, 2019. Here’s what I shared:

Ed Jacobson was my mentor. It’s heartening to hear so many people share the same sentiment. He had a knack for making a deep connection with each person he trained at the Kinder Institute. And while I only knew him for the past year and a half, I had many opportunities to work with him, including two 5-Day programs, three mentorships, Virtual Life Planning Masteries, and countless email correspondences. In every instance he entered with appreciation whether it was on a Zoom call or in an email or in the training room. It all began with appreciation and he trained us to go into every client meeting thinking about what it is that we like most about the other person. To envision a successful meeting. To be completely present. I’ve incorporated this practice into my life and it’s one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Ed’s bestowed many gifts on me and none of them were material. He was the perfect kind of mentor someone who took me under his wing, encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, and to step into the bigger shoes that he already could see me wearing. He helped me see my own value as a coach and Life Planner, helped me brainstorm a business model that incorporated EVOKE and my coaching tools, introduced me to mind-mapping, encouraged me to build a support network of small business owners, and encouraged my development as both a Life Planner and a Kinder Institute Trainer. I really felt like I was one of his family when he introduced me to [his wife] Jody for a coaching session on marketing strategy. Ed Jacobson wanted me to succeed. To be successful. In many ways Ed was my Life Planner, he understood my desires and the life I wanted to craft for myself and he gave me the confidence to get there. More than being a mentor Ed demonstrated that he was a friend. I remember the last mentorship call he and I were on together. [It was September 3.] He wished me a Happy [Wedding] Anniversary. He was one of a handful of people to do so. That meant everything to me. Thank you, Ed. 

Reflecting on the role that Ed played in my life over the last year and a half, I am struck by its depth. Ed knew me better than most. I suspect that many people that knew Ed felt this way. What a privilege to create such strong bonds with so many people in one’s life. When I told my mom of the tribute we held for Ed, she said “some people are special to many.” That was Ed—special to many.

If you’d like a glimpse into Ed’s world, please take a look at what his wife Jody shared on their blog, including a chapter from his book on “envisioning your life fully lived.” https://jacobsoncoachingandconsulting.com/in-memoriam-how-do-you-want-to-be-remembered/

Deeper into the gray

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My paddle slipped into the glossy water. Right, left, right, left. Torso turning with each stroke and feet pushing against the kayak’s pedals. I was getting into a groove headed for a gray outline of trees and rocks across the channel. The fog was thick limiting my view to a bubble of 200 feet. It was easier to notice changes to my little world without the sun’s glare and without a breeze stirring the water from its glass state. Ripples meant a predator, seal or bluegill, had driven a school of fish to the surface where there was no more up for them to go. Lobster bouys came in and out of view as I kept the kayak’s nose steady on the point of land ahead. My attention focused on my breath. Rising. Falling. Rising, right stroke. Falling, left stroke. The kayak became an extension of my body as we slid through the gray, and there were moments where I disconnected completely from the chatter of 12 sea kayakers in the group. There was just me gliding through the fog. Deeper into my breath. Deeper into the gray. Deeper into each moment.

Following Footsteps, Blazing Trails

Vermont’s Long Trail above Mad River Glen Ski Resort. Photo by Lora Woodward

Vermont’s Long Trail above Mad River Glen Ski Resort. Photo by Lora Woodward

Today, a good friend came to visit that last year invited me to stay at her family's cabin in Vermont. I recall spending a day snowshoeing way up in the mountains around Mad River Glen. I wouldn't have pushed myself to go as far as I did that day had I not been following someone else's tracks. It was a powerful experience that showcased the value in finding trailblazers in life (for work and for play), even if only footprints. This has been a year of immense change and personal growth. I am so thankful to the trailblazers that have come before me, who have shown me what is possible. When we follow the footsteps of others, we find that we are creating a path all our own.

On February 18, 2018, I wrote, “Had a great solo snowshoe adventure today in the woods near Mad River Glen, VT. Set out from my friend's place along an old logging road, and then followed an earlier hiker's tracks up the ravine to the AT/Long Trail. Climbed to 2855.5 feet from 1983.5 feet. There was a point where I was going to turn around and got out my phone to leave a drop pin and looking at the map realized that the tracks I was following were heading straight up to the ridge. A surge of motivation kept me going until I made it to the top of the closest peak. The best part was heading down the mountain which was a combination of floating through the snow and sliding down on my butt! I laughed the whole way! What joy! Thanks to the snowshoer out on on their own adventure this morning I was able to accomplish something greater than I would have thought to do on my own and now have more confidence for my next experience.”

Feeling Stuck

This isn’t Scout. It is an adorable puppy in a cup that is sure to make you click on this post. Thanks Pixabay.com for the photo!

This isn’t Scout. It is an adorable puppy in a cup that is sure to make you click on this post. Thanks Pixabay.com for the photo!

I peer out of the kitchen window and scan the patio for my dog. I spot her standing in the middle of the pea gravel about 10 feet from the door making impatient little front-footed jumps to let me know she’s ready to come inside. Oh no, she’s stuck! Normally, she lets me know she’s ready to come in by standing on the doorstep pressing her ear to the patio door listening for movement. It’s 20 degrees outside and I’m still in my pajamas, dressed for the 65 degrees inside the house. Thankfully I have on my slippers. I approach the patio door and examine the scene. She sees me and makes another small, frustrated leap. I look at her rope. She doesn’t seem stuck. The rope is loosely looped on the corner of the step from the patio to the yard, but she’s convinced that she’s hopelessly snagged and unwilling to pull harder at the rope. I open the door and call her in, clapping my hands.

“Come on Scout! Come on in!”

She jumps again more fervently, but doesn’t make any effort to tug her rope or get any closer. We have performed this ritual many times. She’s actually quite good at freeing herself; but sometimes it requires some direction--“ Back” or “Go around”--and other times it requires more aggressive encouragement.

“Come on Scout! You can do it!”

Other times she’s unable to free herself on her own, and I’ll go out and solve the puzzle. Regardless of how she becomes unstuck, there is always a prancey celebration dance of relief when she can make it to the door to come inside. It occurs to me that in either scenario, whether there is no way that she can untangle herself or if she just needs to tug a bit harder--as far as she is concerned, she’s truly stuck. That’s how people are too. It’s hard to know when you are feeling stuck whether you just need some direction to free yourself, or instead need some real help to get untangled. Our friends and family might look at our situation and say:

“Oh, you’re not really stuck. Just go this way and that way and you’ll be fine.”

Or, they might come over and help you untangle from whatever you feel tethered by and hold your hand as you feel a little less stuck. Whatever the case may be, the best thing you can do as a friend or family member of someone who is feeling stuck is to acknowledge and validate what they are experiencing.

“It’s completely understandable that you feel stuck, Scout, because it looks like your rope got caught.”

I step onto the patio and approached Scout. She wags her tail sheepishly. I walk past her and follow the rope. I lift it off the step--yay!--she does her dance and runs to the door. As we walk into the house, we both feel the wash of relief and cozy warmth.

New Year's Intentions!

Photo by mohamed_hassan from Pixabay.com

Photo by mohamed_hassan from Pixabay.com

Happy New Year and what a year it will be! I'm excited to continue to build the business of Coach Outdoors with a goal of working with an average of three coaching clients each week, reaching the ICF's ACC level of 100 hours by the end of June, hosting free workshops at local libraries and community centers, and developing a line of outdoor coaching programs (we'll start in the warmer months)!

I'm 6 weeks away from earning the Registered Life Planner designation (Kinder Institute of Life Planning). Combined with the Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Index-Master Practitioner certificates I gained from iPEC Coaching last year, it is helping to shape a powerful coaching package for clients that combines all three elements to deliver clients clarity around their life's focus and energy to act now. Stay tuned!

What's Life Planning? Becky says it best, “I had the pleasure of completing a Life Planning series with Lora. What an eye-opening experience this was for me! The tools utilized combined with Lora’s coaching experience helped me see and understand the things in my life that were important, and it was as if I was seeing them through a new lens. With this new clarity, I was able to create possibilities that I had only ever ‘wished for’ or ‘talked about’. Lora has a great coaching presence that guided me through the process, she is super supportive and yet challenged me at the same time. I felt she had a sincere interest in helping me live my life in a positive and productive way. Overall, a very positive experience and I would highly recommend for others.”

What are your intentions for 2019?

Leave a comment with what you plan to do in this New Year. Writing down what you are planning to do is a HUGE step toward actually doing it. It’s like you’ve released your desire into the universe and opened your heart to making it happen.

If you are interested in learning more about Life Planning, Energy Leadership, or coaching in general, please email me, and we can set up a 45-minute Exploration meeting. I cover the cost and there’s no obligation or pressure to move forward with a package. Just two people having a conversation about what you want in life and ways to help you get there!

It's Official!

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Earlier this week I received notice that I passed my final coaching exam and am now a Certified Professional Coach through iPEC, and I’ve been reflecting on my reaction to spreading and sharing my good news. I forwarded the email to my wife, dad, mom, and brother. I posted to my coaching cohort’s Facebook group. I told my three co-workers. And... then I stopped.

I started thinking about what it would mean to make a public announcement to tell all 792 of my Facebook friends, 1,602 LinkedIn connections, and 260 Instagram followers. My website isn’t up to date--they might click on the link and be disappointed. I better update my website. Uh oh, my website directs to my LinkedIn profile--it’s also out of date. I better update my profile. Hmm, I haven’t written in my blog for a bit--they’re going to think I’m not consistent. I better update my blog.

The workload needed to address these implications mounted, all from the pressure of an audience I made up in my head. The disappointment. The scrutiny. My inner critic was rearing its ugly head. All of my doubts were masking the achievement of dedicating a dozen hours weekly for the past 10 months - coaching my peers, being coached, reading about coaching, writing about coaching, thinking about who I am and who I am becoming. Instead of “way to go, Lora!” or “You did it!” I was hearing “You’re not good enough,” “They’ll see through you,” and “You’re not worth it.”

And this is where coaching comes in.

Successful coaching is all in the reframe. The elegant unwinding of yarn to examine the fibers that occurs when partnering with someone trained in deep listening.

The strands of thoughts untwisted in my fingers and I studied each and questioned whether it was helping me achieve my goal. I laughed out loud at the things I was telling myself. The proverbial advice of RuPaul came to mind: What other people think of me is none of my damn business!

The panic started to subside as I saw a way forward. I could work on my website without delaying my news. I’ve added to my blog and updated my LinkedIn page. I’m still working through the details of my program offerings, which will be reflected on my website in the New Year. And that’s ok - it doesn’t need to be done immediately for me to be proud of my achievements.

Here I am.

So - tell me, what would you like to work during our session today?

Closer to Well

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The text was simple: I’m not feeling well. I’m going to stay home today.

With a press of the “send” button, a world of freedom unfolded. This was the freedom to spend time, my time, exactly the way I wanted.

Not quite akin to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, I spent the day catching up on emails to friends and clients. I got a coffee and an egg sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts and enjoyed them while I sat in the parking lot with a perfect view down Main Street. I watched a woman walk to her mailbox, a man crossed the street by the grocery store, and a couple dozen cars passed by. My dog Scout and I hiked through a nearby orchard. Along our route, I snapped photographs, admired formations of fungi on trees, and took long pauses to breathe in the fresh December air. Scout and I went to the vet for her annual check up, where she tried to kill the office cat a dozen times. (It was one wily cat!) She was fed lots of treats for getting blood drawn, a vaccination, and her toenails clipped. We returned home and I made dinner for when my wife got home from work.

It was a great day! It was a full day. It was exactly what I needed to feel more like me. And here’s the thing I noticed the most: everything slowed down. I was experiencing moments more. The thoughts that often occupy my headspace didn’t maintain their stronghold. I let them go. I was enjoying life, experiencing freedom, and living in the present.

What does it mean to feel “well”? Do I even know what is possible? What’s my peak “well” on the wellness spectrum? There’s more to explore. Having experienced a day that could have otherwise been spent at the office, I know I felt closer to “well” by the end of the day than I did when it started.

The Edges of Extremes

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After creating two sets of wings, Daedalus taught his son Icarus to fly. Icarus was warned not to fly too high, for the sun would melt the wax that attached the feathers; but not too low, for the sea spray would wet the feathers and weigh down his wings. These extremes, the edges of what is acceptable, define the path of comfort we each follow. It’s a wider path for some and narrower for others, but the edges are perilously fine.

I sat in my Crazy Creek chair staring into the embers of a wood stove. Scout lay on the reclaimed minivan seat tucked into her sleeping bag. We were both trying to stay warm. The stove’s orange belly glowed like a jack o’lantern in the night, flickering taunts of heat. I scooted closer to the opening. So much of life finds us probing the edges of extremes. Here I was as close as I could be to a fire, but I wasn’t getting burned. If I moved away 20 feet and stayed as I was dressed the entire night, I was sure to get hypothermia from the below freezing temperatures and 30-mph wind gusts. And, as Icarus learned, at some point the limits are no longer relative, but represent extremes of tolerance that go beyond simple comfort.

The three-sided shelter I found myself in was much too large for the wood stove to offer anything more than distraction from the elements. Scout and I arrived at the shelter in the early afternoon after hiking a little over a mile from the designated overnight parking area. A constant wind whistling through leafless branches beckoned us across the landscape of the seasonal cross country ski area aptly titled “Windblown.” The shelter was positioned near the top of a ridge and faced east over the bumpy terrain of Southern New Hampshire.

I checked my watch—only 7:06pm. It was dark, and I had already eaten a bowl of Knorr Butter and Herb noodles—a camping favorite. Scout enjoyed a little broth poured over her puppy chow. Look how gourmet we were being!

“It’s time for bed, Scout,” I said, squinting into the darkness towards her.

I doubled up the two 30-degree bags I brought and we both got inside. Scout burrowed to the base and lay next to my legs. In hindsight, I should have brought our 0-degree bags and could have avoided the lesson that followed. But that’s what happens when living near the edge of an extreme—lessons are inevitable.

An hour passed. We were both shivering. I dug deep for some knowledge that might help improve our situation. I then recalled my True North Wilderness Survival School’s Basic Wilderness Survival course from a year earlier and decided to make some changes to our sleeping arrangements. We got out of the sleeping bags, and I removed them from the cot along with the sleeping pad. From my backpack, I retrieved the plastic drop cloth that our instructor, Erik Kulick, recommended packing for any outdoor activity (just in case). Having been through a more than a half dozen wilderness medicine courses ranging from two to nine days in length, I knew what I needed to create: a hypo-wrap.

First layer: Plastic drop cloth opened up and spread out over the cot with about four feet on either side.

Second layers: Crazy Creek chair unfolded and placed under my torso and bottom, topped with a Therm-a-rest sleeping pad.

Third layers: Two sleeping bags, one inside the other and zipped up.

I wrapped the drop cloth sides over the bundle like a swaddle and then slid my way in. It took a bit to coax Scout to get into the sleeping bag again, and then it took longer to get her to lay next to my chest where we both had access to fresh air. While rutching around, we were generating heat and the bags were toasty warm in no time!

It wasn’t a great sleep—definitely quantity over quality—and after 12 hours we were greeted by the rising sun. I thought of Icarus flying so high that the wax on his wings melted and he plummeted to his death in the sea. It may sound over-the-top, but without preparation, heeding the advice of others, and following my intuition, I too could have plummeted.

This overnight trip offered me an opportunity to test my preparedness, including my pre-trip planning, my in the moment decision-making and resourcefulness, and my ability to maintain a positive mental attitude. I’m grateful that much of my life falls well within the comfort zone. There are times though where I feel called to get closer to the edges to know the limits—my limits.

A Year's Perspective

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It was the first Saturday in November 2017. Rain had been in the forecast and many of the streams around Ohiopyle were blown. I met good friends and fly fishing guides Dale and Cyndi Kotowski at the Meadow Run Trail parking lot. We chose to go out more as a goodbye than anything. Later that month, I was moving away from Pittsburgh, my residence of the past 16 years, for a new beginning in Massachusetts. It was a special occasion to spend some quality time with the trip leading couple that I’d gotten to know over the past 10 years coordinating outdoor outings at Venture Outdoors.

Temps were in the mid-40s and the sky was misting as we put on our waders and boots. I moved to the center of the lot and took some practice casts. The wind rustled the fishing license pinned to my fleece cap while I concentrated on the precise instructions Dale gave for arm movement and posture: part robot and part feeling for the moment. The fly doesn’t lie. If your cast is weak, you know it. After a few consistent lands, we took off into the woods in search of a good fishing hole.

Something happens between the parking lot and the invisible archway of a trailhead. A transformation occurs. The inner child emerges and each member of your party begins to feel free. Curiosity awakens, wonder takes hold, and there is a sense that you are tapping into something much greater than what you were previously experiencing.

Following the rhododendron lined path, it didn’t take long for us to come to a fishing spot. Guiding was in Dale and Cyndi’s blood and it was evident that they took as much joy from watching their students learn to fish as they did from doing it themselves. I stepped into the 45 degree water. The stream pushed the air from my waders and embraced my legs with a cold touch that made me thankful for the long underwear and fleece I was wearing.

“Aim just above the rock and let the fly drift down into the current.”

I did as Dale instructed, or at least I tried. As a newbie to fly fishing, my mind kept circling back to his dryland casting directions. Start with the rod down. Pinch the line with your index finger. Don’t bend your wrist! Bring the rod up quickly. Up, up, up. Pause! (Pausing allows the fly line to unfurl.) Now, forward stroke out and follow through down.

“There’s a fish in that hole,” Dale said with conviction.

What? How does he know that? I took a deep breath. The instructions left my mind. I casted just above the rock. The purple passion fly drifted toward the bank and then…

“You got it!”

I do? I felt the tug on the line. I started reeling in.

“Let out the line. It’s a big one!”

Okay, okay, okay! I let out the line and then started bringing it back in on Dale’s command. The fish came close to where we were standing and flashed its greenish body covered in black spots with a clear streak of pink along its side. Cyndi tried to nab it with a fishing net. It dove down and headed upstream. I let out more line and then started bringing it in again. We all got into better positions and when it broached the surface again, Cyndi got it. She quickly took out the fly and handed me the fish. Dale had the camera ready for a quick shot while giving directions on holding it properly. It started wiggling in my hands and I knelt to let it back in the water. It slipped in and disappeared.

“That was a 20-inch rainbow!” exclaimed Dale.

“Lora, that was amazing! That was the biggest fish we’ve had anyone catch on our trips,” shared Cyndi.

“What? That’s crazy. I’ve read all your trip evaluations and your participants are always catching fish.”

“Not that big!” said Cyndi.

“No, not that big,” said Dale with a grin.

“Do you make all your clients feel this special?” I asked, and we all laughed.

“I think that was the highlight of this trip. I don’t think we’ll catch anything like that again today,” said Cyndi. “It was meant to be.”

We walked toward another section of Meadow Run and I pointed out some amber jelly roll fungi (Exidia recisa) on a branch that had fallen. I began sharing what an impact attending the Western PA Mushroom Club’s Gary Lincoff Foray a month earlier had on the way I was spending time in nature. I had been given permission to go off trail, to explore, to follow my curiosity, and it was opening up a new way of seeing the world, of living in it.

The conversation was deep. Outdoors deep. The kind of conversation that happens when you’re gathered around a campfire, exhausted from the day’s hike or hunt or fishing expedition. You’re connected to a higher consciousness perhaps and ideas flow.

We arrived at the next section of stream. There was a family by the water with their dog. We fished the area for a while and Cyndi caught one. A burst of rain came through and we were happy to head back to the cars and then on to the Falls City Pub to meet with friends.

“Maybe this could be what I do next,” I said while reflecting on the day. “I could take people into the outdoors and have conversations with them that open them up to new ways of thinking about their situation.”

“You’d be good at that, Lora,” said Cyndi.

“I think you’re onto something,” said Dale.

A year later, I am living into the vision that I set for myself on that magical day at Ohiopyle State Park. I’ve nearly finished my coaching certificate program, started a business where I help people discover and live their best life, and continued to follow my curiosity.

It was meant to be.

Permission Granted

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It was a set of simple instructions that really opened things up for me.

“For the next two hours, go out into the woods and collect anything that looks like fungi and bring it back for identification”

I stepped lightly in the woods, but the leaves still crunched under my weight. There was no trail to follow, at least not one made by a human. Mouse, rabbit, squirrel, deer, fox, and coyote all knew the way. The sun shone through the canopy, highlighting swaths of understory. It was a perfect day: in the mid-70s and a light breeze. I started looking for anything that caught my eye. It was like an Easter egg hunt with mushrooms--red, yellow, white, orange, and brown all placed in my basket. They came in all different shapes and sizes, from small fans to golf balls and umbrellas. Some had caps and some caps had gills. Some had trunks with collars around the neck and some didn’t have trunks at all. There were half-eaten mushrooms on the verge of collapse and ones freshly peeking out of the ground. I went slowly, changing position from standing to survey and getting flat on the ground to look inside a decomposing trunk. There was fungi everywhere! So many bright colors and funny shapes that commanded my attention in that moment, how had I not seen them before? Time to sit and ponder.

My cell phone rang. My grandpa’s name scrolled across the screen. “Lora, what are you doing?” It’s the way he always starts a call, which often causes me to give an unusual or unexpected answer.

“I’m in the woods looking for mushrooms”

“Mushrooms!” he exclaimed, and then let out a long chuckle. “What are you doing looking for mushrooms?”

“I’m on a mushroom foray and we’re collecting specimens to study.”

“Are you going to eat any of these mushrooms?”

“Maybe. There are a lot of mushroom dishes being served for lunch.”

“Well, be careful.”

I assured him I was being careful and wasn’t going to eat anything I collected. We said goodbye and I began to reflect. It’s a funny thing, this whole “be careful” sentiment he shared. I’d heard it a lot growing up and am still hearing it in my mid-30s. Perhaps it is this concept of “being careful” that has kept me from venturing off trail more. I recalled my Student Conservation Association trailwork training that taught me about “social” trails made by humans making shortcuts and causing unnecessary damage to the landscape. I recalled my Leave No Trace training to “know before you go” the rules of the location, which often includes sticking to the clearly defined and marked trails. I recalled my Venture Outdoors work training hundreds of volunteer trip leaders to take groups outside and our agreements with land managers that we’d keep to certain paths. These rules were keeping me and others careful. They were necessary.

Being encouraged to step off trail that day caused something happened inside me. I became a forager. A follower of curiosity. I became a bit more free. On September, 16, 2017, I gave myself permission to follow a new path, one of self-knowledge, of curiosity, and of wonder. I’ve had a year’s worth of experiences that highlight my new journey and I’ve discovered that there are infinite shades of color to explore between the black and white of right and wrong or good and bad. I discovered the path to accessing them is through myself.

The Benefits of Tree Shouting

Photo by Pixabay.com.

Photo by Pixabay.com.

Pull over. Get out of the car. Take a deep breath.

I’m outside now. A blue jay is shrieking in the pine tree. The air smells crisp and of autumn leaves. I feel overwhelmed.

Nature has an amazing ability to hold us exactly as we are with all the pent up anger and grief that comes from caring--caring about others, caring about ourselves. The feelings that come from wanting circumstances to be different.

Walk into the woods. Find a large tree. Yell. Shout. Scream. Do it now! Let it all go.

I feel lighter. The forest is silent. I’m listening.

I recall being introduced to the forest shouting in one of Tom Brown’s classes. He directed students to go into the woods and yell. It’s an effective release of tension and stress. Anger subsides to grief and grief turns into understanding. Among the presences of the trees that have lived long, exposed lives in harsh conditions, we are held.

Ask a question. What do you want to know?

How did I get here? What do I do next?

Being among the trees and fully surrendering to being held in nature’s arms, allows us to tap into our higher self. This is the inner wisdom we always have available but don’t always know how to access.

Listen.
















Thank you.

A Plant a Day: Overcoming Plant Blindness

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. from Pexels

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. from Pexels

I learned the term “plant blindness” from a Penn State Master Gardener webinar I watched recently. According to the Botanical Society of America, who coined the term in 1998, it means “the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment—leading to: (a) the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere, and in human affairs; (b) the inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of the life forms belonging to the Plant Kingdom; and (c) the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration (Wandersee & Schussler, 1998a).” Think of it as seeing a wall or floor of green instead of individual plant make up of any area.

There are conservation ramifications to plant blindness. From a 2016 article from the University of Washington's Conservation magazine, “plants comprise 57 percent of endangered species in the United States, yet receive less than 4 percent of endangered species funding; plant science programs dwindle. Multiple studies have found that people are automatically drawn to images of animals rather than plants, and more readily recognize and remember them.” .

I am plant blind. There’s so much that I don’t see when I’m outside. On any given walk, it’s easy to gloss over the plants that I’m unfamiliar with and instead let my eyes focus on the ones I already know. This reinforces my previous learning and my brain patterning forms ruts. It can be overwhelming to look in a garden, at a meadow, into a forest, or along a path and see individual plants when there is a multitude of flora in the vicinity. If I think this way about the plants that surround me, then I can only imagine all of the things that are beyond my awareness as I go about my day.

I’ve begun a quest to expand my plant perception. Each day, I take note of one plant that catches my attention. It can been a weed in the lawn or a flower in a garden or a fern in the woods. I snap some photos for reference, and then taking my curiosity home, I get out my guidebooks and my laptop and start asking questions: What are you? Are you poisonous? Are you edible? Are you medicinal? Are you craft-able?

After figuring out how the plant relates to me and other humans, then I ask some broader questions about how it’s living in the ecosystem: Where did I find you? What type of plants were around? What was the soil like? What animals eat you? What do you look like in different seasons?

Just like conversing with someone new, I get to know the plant; the answers to my questions build a profile I can remember. The next time I’m outside and I see the plants I took the time to meet, I feel like I’m catching up with a friend. I know them. And that makes me feel more comfortable, more connected with my environment.

So much of our lives are built around what we see and there is much in front of us that we are completely unaware of. What are the aspects of your environment that are just part of the backdrop for you? Is it the buildings, the roadways, the trees, the people? Consider getting to know more about the history of your neighborhood or saying “hi” to the person at the bus stop you see everyday. What steps can you take to feel more connected to life?

A Golden Future

Photo by pixabay.com.

Photo by pixabay.com.

I was asked recently to share what I envision as a “Golden Civilization” as it might exist thousands of generations into the future. This may seem like a daunting task, but for me it was easy. I described what I experienced at the end of August at the week-long, residential Vermont Wilderness School’s Art of Mentoring program. If I could change the world today, we would all live in communities of 150-200 people, synced with the cycles of the Earth, living close with the land as stewards showing gratitude for its gifts and using our ability to tend to help her thrive. We would support one another’s development on their individual journeys of creativity and passion as they follow their curiosity, to understand personal sovereignty and self-care, taking responsibility for our preparedness, judgment, and contributions to the whole, with to respect each person as someone who has something to teach and to be taught. Basic needs of clean water, nutritious food, and appropriate shelter are met. There is no need for money. Our elders are respected as the wisdom holders, receiving priority seating, care, and support. Perhaps this is socialism at work or a hippy version of Club Med. When you take away the stress of thinking about where you’re going to find your next meal, having to make money to pay your utility bills, knowing where you might sleep tonight, and even whether people will accept you for who you are, then there is a special reveal that happens. You get to explore who you are--what are you drawn to? What do you want to learn? What gift will you be sharing with others? To be loved for who you are and where you are on life’s journey is something everyone has the right to feel and offer others. I wish everyone could feel the love that comes from living in such a caring space.

A Steady Presence

Photo by pixabay.com.

Photo by pixabay.com.

There are very real contributions that each person brought to our group from song, poetry, basket making, foraging, stew and tea making, fire starting, fire tending, and firewood collecting to their very presence as a human being. It’s amazing how much someone gives to another just by being there, holding space. Reflecting in the weeks since attending the Art of Mentoring, I have come to recognize that while I see and feel others’ presences, I often don’t think about my own and how it may be received by others.

While saying goodbye, a classmate in her 60s thanked me for my “steady” presence. I had never thought of myself as steady. As an introvert, I often take the wallflower position in new groups and experiences. I’m the observer: quiet and contemplative. After a while, I get more comfortable and share a bit more of my personality, but it takes time for me to want to come out of my shell. I can feel embarrassed for not being more open, more social, more loud--all ways I think of to make your presence known.

And here I was being appreciated just as I was, and even was gifted a name to call it. Steady.

She followed her words with a question that struck a tender chord. “Do you know you have a presence?” Tears welled in my eyes as a puzzle piece fell into place. Of course I had a presence. We all do.

What she asked me reached far deeper into an irrational place of fear: of wanting to be loved, to be noticed, and to be valued. I hugged her with tears rolling down my cheeks and her question echoing in my ears like the toll of a bell.

I turned to another woman, one of my group leaders, and thanked her for her role during the week. She thanked me for my “steadiness.” I was dumbstruck. Who is this person they are describing? I shared my previous conversation and that I don’t see myself that way. She said that so often we cannot see our gifts. Steadiness, a gift. My gift--to myself and others.

I’ve begun to own my steadiness, to view it as a strength. Even if I’m not always sure that I embody it; I am steady.

Experiencing Community and Embracing Sovereignty

Photo by pixabay.com.

Photo by pixabay.com.

“Community” is a word that makes me think of being neighborly, helping one another, and being part of a greater whole. The definition includes meanings of “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” and “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Reflecting on the week I spent at the Vermont Wilderness School’s Art of Mentoring program, I was truly living the spirit of “community” and felt completely connected to each person around me. It was incredible how being in the same place and sharing a common interest in holding space for each person’s needs for learning, love, and connection enabled us to appreciate each person’s unique humanness.

The diversity of our group could be characterized in many ways from age, gender, and sexual orientation to race, nationality, native language, and religion to annual income, whether they volunteered, attended on scholarship, or paid full price, and where they currently reside (assume this list could go on and on). I point out the differences to illuminate the running theme of the week: we are all human. As humans, we are each sovereign: to ourselves and to each other. Each person is personally responsible for their judgments, their words, expressions, actions, their contributions, and their own needs. Each person is valued for what they offer to the community and expected to care for themselves.

Embracing Rocks and Ledges

Lora paddling in Narragansett Bay, RI with the  Lehigh Valley Kayak & Canoe Club . Photo by Rick Wiebush,  Cross Currents Sea Kayaking .

Lora paddling in Narragansett Bay, RI with the Lehigh Valley Kayak & Canoe Club. Photo by Rick Wiebush, Cross Currents Sea Kayaking.

I learned to kayak as a kid spending summer vacations on the Maine coast. My grandparents had a yellow tandem kayak we called the “sea slug” and a couple rec boats that we’d take out in the harbor on calm days. When I was 18, I started working at Maine Sport Outfitters in their boat department. I sold kayaks, canoes, paddlesport accessories, and car top carriers. It was a fun job that I kept for summers between college. I learned hull design, paddlesport nomenclature, and how to help customers find a boat to meet their needs.

That first summer of working in the boat department I attended some store-run kayak trainings, taught myself how to roll, went surf kayaking at Popham Beach, and paddled long stretches of coastline between harbors. In kayaking I found a sport that I’d continue to come back to for the next 17 years. Whether in a river, lake, or ocean, kayaking connects me with the water and water connects with everything.

This past weekend I gained a new appreciation for kayaking and the rocky New England shoreline. I spent three days paddling with a group along the Rhode Island coast and the funny thing was we didn’t really go anywhere. Instead we stayed within a couple miles of our launch site and near the rock outcroppings and ledges exposed by the tide--places I’d normally have stayed well away from out of fear that I’d get sucked in and flip my boat.

We watched waves go in and out of the rock formations creating temporary channels that our 17’ sea kayaks could slip through when timed well. Waves built up behind ledges and pushed our boats up and over the craggy surfaces with each release. I found a new application for many of the strokes I’d learned in previous kayak trainings, like the side slip, the bow draw, and cross bow rudder. It was important to turn quickly. Our guides taught us the Colorado Hook, and I used it to seamlessly turn around a large rock and into the next wave break.

The timing didn’t always work and I’d get stuck on the seaweed and barnacle covered ledges (both soft and sharp) as the water sucked away building into the next wave. The uncomfortable feeling of being trapped and not knowing how to get out became an opportunity to practice patience and trust my ability to anticipate and react to change. There’s comfort in viewing the rocks and waves and me in my boat as one. Not something to fight or fear, but to embrace. A new wave would gush in and lift me in my boat, over 200lbs of weight, up and onto the other side of the rock formation into calmer water. I’d take a moment to adjust my equipment, let out a nervous giggle, and circle back for another run.

My former thinking of paddling as a form of transportation--a way to get from point A to point B, harbor to harbor, downriver, to the island--has forever been changed. While I’ll still paddle distances, I’ll include more excursions built on exploring a specific area, experiencing it with wonder and curiosity.

Mountain of a Molehill

Image by NegativeSpace.co from Pexels.com

Image by NegativeSpace.co from Pexels.com

It’s easy to fall out of habit.

At the end of last month, I wanted to write a blog post during the week. I didn’t do it, and it got to me. Not taking the time to write made me feel guilty. I didn’t have any posts in reserve. I was letting down my supporters. I wasn’t taking the time for myself.

What a bunch of hooey!

The reality was that I did have ideas or drafts of stories queued and I just didn’t make the time, a half hour, maybe an hour, to sit and do it.

What was usually a fun exercise in creativity suddenly felt like work, like an obligation. I made the task into something more than what it could have been: a few paragraphs and a photo on anything I wanted.

What causes this to happen? This mountain of a molehill. My desire for everything I put out to the public to be perfect. Succinct. Clever.

The expectations build so much in my mind that I stop thinking it is possible. I don’t do it altogether and any other task becomes a greater priority.

Many actions are driven by fear or desire and these drivers can create a healthy amount of anxiety to get things done in the short term. But they can also create a rollercoaster of highs and lows instead of the steady, even keel of consistent steps toward a particular outcome.

That’s when drawing back and looking at the big picture helps because it allows you to connect the results you are after with what you can do to get there. When the results you want are tied to what you feel in your heart that you truly want, then little can stop you from creating reality.

At my low of feeling ashamed, I was reminded of what a writing teacher once told me: "When you can’t think of anything to write, write about having nothing to write." I recalled how effective picking up the pen and writing I have nothing to write over and over again was, and how quickly it turned into actually having something to write.  

How did I fall back into habit?

I made a plan to jot ideas down in emails to myself whenever they came to me. I set aside time in the morning and evening to be creative. I told myself, “Just do it!”

Even if the prose isn’t perfect, I write to express my perspective on life. I do this for me.

Building Brain Patterns

Chicken of the woods in the Laurel Highlands. Photo by Amy Camp.

Chicken of the woods in the Laurel Highlands. Photo by Amy Camp.

There’s been a noticeable change of color to my news feed lately. More oranges and yellows than in past months. Chicken of the woods is in season, and it’s time to put my book and online learning to practice. The forest is calling, and I must go.

It’s a weekday. I get home from work, grab a quick bite to eat, and ask my dog if she’d like to go for a hike. Her four paws do a scratchy tap dance on the kitchen floor. She's in! I grab my go-pack, and we were off to the local trailhead.

We’d explored the area over the winter and found an enormous, bleached white chicken of the woods growing out of an oak stump; it looked more alien than natural, but the local mushroom identification forum told me it was a great specimen and to go back in the summer/fall.

Scout and I hit the trail with the goal of finding that same stump with the hope that it would be producing young chicken of the woods. We are heading along the trail in the opposite direction of our hike months earlier, but I feel confident that we’ll find it.

We stop at a creek crossing,  and Scout gets a drink. I think about following the stream bed up the ravine, but decide it’s an adventure for another day. My eye catches a yellow mushroom on the hillside. It’s vase shaped and has shaggy flesh. I’m reminded of our mission, and we carry on down the trail.

Turning up the hillside, I let my gut be the guide. Having thought enough about finding the stump, I put it out of my mind. I make some rights and then some lefts and find myself in a pine forest. I don’t want to be in a pine forest, but my gut said to go further. I carry on.

It’s getting closer to dusk, and I start thinking of putting a time limit on my search. Five more minutes and then I’ll head back to the car.

I see a dilapidated outbuilding at 11 o’clock. It looks interesting but something tells me “Don’t go there!” I veer more to the left and decide it’s time to go back.

Straight ahead, twenty feet away a bright orange object catches my eye. It’s growing out of a cut tree stump. I look around. I’m in an oak forest. I get closer and find a perfect specimen of Laetiporus sulphureus. Circular, layered, practically glowing neon against the natural browns and greens of the forest. This is what I came for.

While this wasn’t the stump I had found in the winter, this certainly is what I set out to discover and I’m astonished at the find. It’s amazing to me that in all my years of hiking this bright orange bracket fungus hadn’t made an impression on my memory until now.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau reflects, “Objects are concealed from our view not so much because they are out of the curve of our visual ray as because there is no intention of the mind and eye toward them… We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of it, and then we can hardly see anything else.”

Similar to my experience discovering the birch polypore, I expected my brain to start noticing chicken of the woods more and more. Little did I realize how right I’d be.

A week and a half later, I’m in Western Pennsylvania backpacking the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail with a couple of friends. Within a quarter mile from the trailhead, I spot an orange highlight on the side of a tree in the distance. I shout with excitement and soon share everything I know about the species.

Finding it becomes more and more commonplace as over the course of 25 miles we see an equal number of clusters of the bright orange fungi. Witnessing its many configurations and stages of growth, from burgeoning nubs to slug-eaten mounds, I mentally compare notes with my book and online research. My brain patterns are forming, and soon I can see nothing else.

Turning Needs to Wants

Scout's latest canoe trip on Grout Pond, VT in July 2018.

Scout's latest canoe trip on Grout Pond, VT in July 2018.

I left work on Thursday, and during the 20 minute commute home, I started planning for the evening. I was getting ready for a weekend of outdoor fun with a college buddy I hadn’t seen in years.

I need to create a shopping list and go to the grocery store.

I need to find my camping gear and life jackets for me and Scout.

I need to wash the dishes and take out the trash and do the laundry.

My mind began to start to list each and every possible thing that I needed to do in order to get ready for the weekend. I wasn’t looking forward to any of it. I need to make dinner and play with Scout. The list continued to mount. For what? To have fun. To enjoy myself this weekend. It's Thursday! Was I preparing to sacrifice my evening, so I could enjoy Saturday and Sunday? What about Friday? Was that also a throw away?

Following my advice from last week, I became aware of the yarn I started to spin. I stopped and thought, what would happen if I didn’t need to do anything, but instead wanted to do it?

Huh.

I revisited each of the actions I outlined:

I want to create a shopping list and go to the grocery store because it will make me feel better prepared for when I pack on Friday.

I want to find my camping gear and life jackets for me and Scout so I can do any additional shopping on Friday.

I want to wash the dishes and take out the trash and do the laundry because I love coming home to a clean house.

As I changed the needs to wants, I felt compelled to think of the bigger picture. A great weight lifted off of my shoulders and left through the sunroof. Even the car felt lighter on the road without all the drudgery ahead.

A simple decision to change which verb I used to describe the next steps of my day opened my ability to view the situation differently. I was creating a plan not just for a great canoe camping trip, but also preparing for the type of environment I wanted to return to on Sunday and the type of evening I was going to have when I got home Thursday. Turning my needs into wants made the tasks ahead desirable because they were leading to a state of mind, a value, and a sense of satisfaction. They were leading to what I wanted!

Next time you catch yourself rattling off everything you need to do, stop and ask yourself, What do I want?

No, really it's me

Image by PencilParker from Pixabay.com

Image by PencilParker from Pixabay.com

It’s me.

I’m the block.

I’m the one telling stories. Overthinking. Making decisions based on what? My thoughts. The “well, this is the only explanation” or “it must be [insert crazy hypothetical]” and “well, actually...” Not the truth. Not what’s real.

And where does that get me?

To a limited view. To short-sighted actions. To a really bad move.

Good decisions are based on good information. Thoughts aren’t good information. They’re worth noting, sure. But after working with my coach, I came up with a new way of thinking about thoughts: let them go. Acknowledge their presence and drop them down.

We collect good information from observing, listening, and asking good questions. Open-ended, thought-provoking, empowering questions. The kind that follow our curiosity.

When I notice that I’ve begun weaving a blockbuster storyline, I stop. I stop whatever I was doing and pull myself into the present moment. I ask, “What information do I need in order to move forward?” I write it down and then I find it.

It’s me.

I’m the block and the opening.