Conversations

Love/war

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It’s quiet in my corner of Salt Lake City today. A soft blanket of snow from the first real storm of the winter paints my whole neighborhood in the perfect picture of the season. I’ve missed it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of fresh snow up in the mountains, but to have it weighing down the prayer flags and tree branches in my backyard is a special kind of gift. My bedroom is cool and bright, and I’m watching incense smoke curl gently around the feathers of the dreamcatcher hanging on my window.

Today, I feel the love.

Last night, we filled my house with people that we like and blanketed them in pink and blue light and groovy sounds from our friend’s first live set as a DJ. As the night wound down, and the stragglers lay lazy, sleepy, laughing, and eating homemade cookies, I leaned on a strong leg and felt warmth like I haven’t felt in a long time.

I feel the love. Soft, quiet, gentle, and bright.

There is a lesson in this.

Since moving to Utah, I’ve reflected many times over what enough looks like for me. Over the last few weeks especially, I’ve felt myself raising my sword and screaming battle cries at the open sky - but the slow breeze just raises its eyebrows at me, because there’s no war to wage. Living isn’t a fight. Loving isn’t a fight.

Loving isn’t a fight.

I’ve claimed for some years now to be a warrior of love. I have known myself to be a revolutionary, but of what? For what am I fighting?

Today, in the calm of the blizzard and the watercolor stains on my hands, my higher self smiles patiently at me as I pause wide-eyed in understanding.

Loving isn’t a fight.

Love is not a battlefield. Love is not like a war. I am not a soldier.

I don’t have to paint my face and arm myself for love. I don’t have to give or receive orders for love. I’ve imagined myself becoming a general, leading an army of warriors of love like myself, pictured myself standing before them with a fist in the air and howling at the sky as they join me in my fight - but the metaphor doesn’t actually make any sense.

Loving isn’t a fight.

Relax back into the arms of the present moment, and find that love is there. Gently step deeper into the darkest corners of your Self, and use love as the candle to illuminate all of your truths. Rub your eyes and blink at the light of love that is blindingly brilliant and radiating from every atom of your being. Imagine what could be possible if you allow for the possibility that love is who you are at your core?

I offer this to you because in this moment, I am realizing that I’ve had it all wrong. I have a fire spirit, and so I imagined that there must be ferocity in all that I do and in all that I am. I think now that this has been a belief that’s been holding me back. I am always geared up and ready for a fight. I always have a flash in my eyes, and my tongue is sharp, and I’ve prided myself on that. But I’ve been playing tug of war with the universe. The universe doesn’t care, of course. It just keeps dragging me along as I dig my heels in deeper and snarl, thinking I’m so powerful for resisting the pull. The universe says to me, “come this way, there’s love here,” and I cackle and stubbornly resist, thinking that I know better. I’m a fighter, after all, and I won’t be dragged anywhere against my will.

But loving isn’t a fight.

Dear one, you are worthy of love - of every kind. It is already everywhere in your life. You need not fight it, nor fight for it. Relax into it. Open your eyes and your heart to it. Fear not.

I’m rooting for you.

Lovingly yours,
Spencer

P.S. If you're wondering what kind of love I'm talking about, it's the limitless kind. Don't box it. Let it be broad, all-encompassing. You'll thank me later.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Athletes on the Brighton Ski Team. Photo by Chris Monte (Instagram, website)

I talk a lot, especially on my Instagram, about how much I like to coach ski racing.

When I was teaching in a high school setting, and when I was teaching more yoga, I often noticed that I would offer one piece of advice, one lesson, that seemed relevant to everyone for days (or weeks) at a time before realizing that the person who really needed that advice was me all along.

Tonight I remembered that sneaky little habit, and I wondered what I’ve been saying lately to my athletes that might actually be about me. It didn't take me long to translate my coaching into subtext that's really actually directed at myself as I navigate my own path.

1) Keep your upper body facing down the hill, like you had a headlight shining out of your chest lighting the way down the fall line. Let your skis move underneath you, but keep a level head and shoulders.

Translation: the Path is winding, but the point on the horizon remains steady. Don’t lose track of the goal as your rock-hop your way towards it. Hold your heart steady and trust your footfalls, even when they aren’t pointing exactly straight.

2) Hands up, arms extended, driving forward but not stiff. Don’t drop your hands and lose your drive, keep ‘em up.

Translation: Reach for it. The thing that you want is there. It feels far away when you’re in the start, but it’s there. Don’t relax into the backseat. Don’t get complacent. Keep reaching.

3) Get your weight forward. Throw your body down the fall line and trust that your outside ski will hold. Strong legs, fully commit.

Translation: If you want it, lean towards it. Put your foot on the gas and believe that you are capable of handling the speed - because you are. You've been training for this.

4) Stop overthinking. Get out of your head and into your body. Don’t think - ski.

Translation: Release the need to think yourself into immobility. Paralysis by over-analysis will bring your dreaming and scheming to a screeching halt of, “shit, now what?” You don’t always need to know intellectually what you’re doing and how to do it. Trust your intuition, trust your practice, and keep moving. You can do this. You know how to do this.

5) Arc ‘em or park ‘em.

Translation: You’re not out here to float along aimlessly, listlessly, along for the ride. If you aren’t going to dive in and fully engage with your life, you might as well quit. You’re not a quitter. So don’t.

6) If you ain’t fallin’, you ain’t haulin’.

Translation: Don’t be afraid to go so fast that you fall on your face. Your failure is an indicator that you’re trying your damnedest to get out there, get fast, and get good at whatever it is that you’re doing. Take risks. Your face-plants are signs that you’re giving it your absolute best - and that’s fucking awesome. Get up and go again.

7) Pressure your boots, not yourself.

Translation: Push yourself in your efforts, but don’t beat yourself up so bad that you’re grinding yourself into the dirt (or ice). Stay vigilant in your pursuit of whatever it is you’re pursuing, but be mindful of how you talk to yourself throughout the process. Work hard, play hard, but show yourself compassion. You won’t get anywhere if you beat yourself into a rag doll of “not good enough.”

I'm coaching grit. Perseverance. Ways to keep going in the face of resistance. Self-confidence. Trust in the process.

I hear all the time, “as in ______, so in life.” For me, the blank is filled with coaching and teaching. I’ve heard it said about skiing, about dance, about surfing, about hiking, about the creative process… it’s a long list. The way you go about your passion is directly translatable to the way you live your life.

How you do anything is how you do everything, right?

So, how are you doing it?

Cheers,
Spencer

New Year, New What?

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Just over a year ago, I wrote Don't wait until January to set your resolutions. That's bullshit.

This may or may not come as a shock, but my opinion of that hasn’t really changed.

I’m not someone that gets super stoked on the holidays. I often feel that holiday celebrations are forced. They can feel superficial - sometimes more like marketing campaigns than honest appreciation for something. For many (myself included), they come with guilt for not doing enough or not spending enough.

New Years in particular can have a shadow side. There is so much comparison this time of year. I see so many transformation stories that, while beautiful and exciting for those who have made progress in a way that serves them, can bring feelings of inadequacy for those who haven’t made transformations that are so obviously dramatic. The end of the year brings with it the common question - what did you do this year? What did you create? How did you grow? And if the answers aren’t immediately obvious, the self-doubt can be debilitating. Did I do enough? Am I better than I was?

Upon reflecting on that, we set resolutions for the coming year to improve in myriad ways. This idea is well-intentioned, but that shift in focus towards the ways in which we need to be better can take away from the recognition of all of the good things that we already are and have done. I also find the idea of New Year’s resolutions to be extremely limiting. Every single moment brings with it the opportunity to begin again, and when we confine our idea of starting anew to the beginning of the calendar year, we lose 11 months’ worth of chances.

I write to you now to call you forth to do two things: expand your perspective of what it means to begin again (and when that’s possible - hint: always) and celebrate what you have achieved.

You are already brilliant. You really are. I’m not necessarily someone that gushes about us all being sparkly perfect unicorns bursting with love and rainbows, but I do believe that at our core, there is nothing wrong with us. So long as you are deliberate in your thoughts, words, and actions, so long as you are staying true to who you are and who you aim to become, so long as you are letting kindness and compassion inform the way you move through life, then you are enough. If you must reflect on the last calendar year, then do so in celebration of who you are, not in criticism of who are in comparison to what you wish you were. Honor yourself in your countless merits. Even if you are struggling, even if you spent every moment of 2017 struggling, you have done something well - and if you can’t think of anything, please please reach out to me and I will help you find that something. I promise you, it’s there.

If setting resolutions is something that appeals to you, wonderful, go for it. But for each one that you set, ask yourself why that’s something that you want to do - and once you have your answer, ask yourself what is truer than that? Let’s pick a common example. Resolution: exercise regularly. Why? Because you want to be fit. Fine, not bad in and of itself, but what is truer than that desire for fitness? Do you want to look better? What’s that about? Do you want to feel healthier? What’s that about? Dig a little deeper. The better than you can understand your own desires to change, the more likely you are to be able to stick to whatever that resolution is, and the more likely you are to go about it in a life-affirming way, rather than a harmful way. If you stop at “I want to look better,” you risk a year of “I don’t look good enough yet.” That discouragement can throw you off-track to the point where you give up entirely - which brings me to my next recommendation on approaching resolutions: begin again.

Every time you set out to do something meaningful, there is an extreme likelihood that, at some point, you will lose track. You will fall off the wagon. You will doubt what you’re doing. If you don’t, then maybe you aren't reaching far enough. But when you do almost give up, when you do fall off the wagon - pause. Take a breath. Begin again.

I expect that you will experience failure, but I also expect that you will try again. It does not matter how many times you fall down, so long as you get back up one more time. Sometimes this will mean reevaluating and being realistic about your goals, maybe with a shift in method or perspective, but always always begin again. You don’t have to wait until Dec. 31, 2018 to give it another shot.

Going into this new year, have courage. Be strong in your convictions and flexible in your approach. Be proud of who you are and of who you are becoming.

We are in this together.

Yours with love and wishes for an exhilarating 2018,
Spencer

Reoriented

Sunset over the Canyonlands, somewhere in the desert west of Moab, UT

Sunset over the Canyonlands, somewhere in the desert west of Moab, UT

Since last we spoke, three months ago, I have been reorienting. Shortly after my first reflections on freedom, my little snowglobe (life) was all shaken up, and for a while, I couldn’t see for the glitter in my eyes. I flew on blind faith and now, all of a sudden, I’ve been living in Utah for two months. Utah. That’s a 2,300 mile plot twist. The how’s and why’s that led to this moment in this place, while a fun tale to tell, aren’t important right now. If you live in Salt Lake City (or if you want to Skype/FaceTime), I’d be more than happy to sit down over coffee and share all. Send me an email and we’ll set up a date. Otherwise, I’m going to skip the nuts and bolts recap and instead give you the quick version of the soulwork that’s been happening since July.

At the end of July, I got curious about a few things. We’ve already talked about my inquiries into freedom, and that was the catalyst. Shortly thereafter came a cascade of inward-facing exploration centered around overcoming resistance, creating and sharing experience, tapping into my own wildness and intuition, and devoting energy to (finding/building) my tribe. I found way more questions than answers (as offers the path of yoga), and I’m grateful for that, because the trail of breadcrumbs led me here. In this moment, I feel more grounded and more confident in my path than ever before. In this moment, I know that I’m not only where I’m supposed to be, I’m where I want to be. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to begin to share more with you about what it’s like to exist in this body at this time. While a more regular spot for insight into my articulation of my own experience is probably my Instagram, I have known for some time that words hold great weight to me and I want to open that faucet wider on this platform. I’ve flirted with sharing my words in other places, but here I’m going to get into the thick of it. I’ve gotten more and more feedback lately that the way I describe my life holds meaning not only to me but to the people who come across my writing - and so I’m open to the inquiry of sharing in this way.

I didn’t know that my eyes were closed until I started to open them. Thank you for joining me on this Path.

XO, Spencer

Soul Sessions: What if you DID know?

This is a conversation for when you find yourself in the midst of indecision. It doesn't have to be like that. Use yoga and mindfulness as tools to learn how to listen to your inner knowing that will allow you to continue to walk the path of your highest self.

This conversation began in earnest for me when my good friend and teacher, Cheryl Larson, asked, "what if you DID know? Then what would you do?"

The question gave me the space that I needed to listen and take a guess. It takes some of the responsibility off of the one who needs to decide. If I can first make the disclaimer, "okay, well, I don't know, but if I did..." then making a guess isn't as scary. Perhaps a subtle difference, but for me, a total game-changer.

XO, Spencer

Don't wait until January to set your resolutions. That's bullshit.

A few days into 2016, I pulled out my journal, sat down at my desk and, almost from instinct, wrote my New Year’s resolutions. When I set my pen down and pushed my chair back a half an hour or so later, I was somewhat surprised at what I had written. For the first time, I hadn’t said things like “eat healthier, stick to a workout plan, try to be nicer, manage my time better.” In retrospect, the experience of writing my 2016 New Year’s resolutions was my first real brush with setting life-affirming intentions. I didn’t just think about what I wanted to do, but how I wanted to be.

This list of ten goals, of ten affirmations, has become somewhat of a framework by which I try to live. Call it a secondary mission statement, maybe. (You can check out my primary mission statement here. It all fits together.) When January of 2017 rolled around, I thought about sitting down to write a new set. I did sit down, in fact, but nothing more came. I couldn’t outdo what I had written last year. Inadvertently, 16 months ago, I defined a set of my values that, today, require no revision. The things I was trying to do and be 16 months ago are still relevant to my life today. I guess this isn't all that surprising. Making a paradigm shift takes time, so if I’m being honest, they will probably still be relevant in 16 months. Or 16 years. Maybe. Who knows? What I do know is that - right now - they feel pretty damn good. I often refer to them when I’m trying to make a decision or if I'm experiencing some doubt. I ask myself: does [this thing I’m thinking about] fit my ten resolutions in some way? Does this thing line up with these other key things I’m trying to invite into my life?

These ten resolutions have become a crucial piece of my experience and pursuit of intentionality. Whenever I’m faced with something that feels like a dilemma, I worry less about the individual decision itself, and more about the implications of what the decision says about who I am as a person. I have wasted a lot less time hovering in procrastination and indecisiveness since taking this approach.  Focusing less on what you want to do and more on who you want to be makes the action that much easier. It is the perspective shift from outcome to process. I’ll write more about that another day, but in short, if I view myself as the kind of person who gets things done, then I get things done. If I want to be the kind of person who gets up with the sun and drinks warm lemon water, does some gentle stretching, and meditates to prepare my mind and body for the day, then I’d better get my ass out of bed and do it. I can’t be the kind of person I claim to be, or want to claim to be, unless I do the things that that kind of person would do. It’s a subtle shift, but for me, it’s been very effective.

I believe that the first step on that resolution/affirmation/intention path was, for me, this list. Since writing it, I have come to believe that saving resolutions for the new year is absolute bullshit. It’s that “ehhh I’ll start on Monday” mentality. Let me give you a little spoiler alert: tomorrow never comes. It’s an idea. That one junk drawer in the kitchen where you put things you feel like you should keep but don’t really want to deal with. So pardon my tough-love approach to this (or don’t, I don’t care), but enough with your tomorrow’s and your next year’s. Don’t wait until January of 2018 to set your intentions. Do it now. Write a manifesto. Write one down every night before bed. Write down what kind of person you want to be and what that would look like and then every day, strive to live in accordance with what you’ve written. If you forget? Begin again. It doesn’t matter if today you were rude and impatient and ate too much pizza. Right now you can drink a glass of water and stretch and go to bed on time.

Tomorrow never comes. Practice being the person you daydream about being right now.

You already have everything you have ever needed to be the person you’ve always wanted to become.

With that in mind, here are my 2016 New Year (Life) Resolutions:

1. MARRY MYSELF: I might even throw a party to celebrate the commitment. I will love myself and support myself and take care of myself. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. Richer or poorer. I will congratulate myself on good days and lift myself up after bad ones. I will be proud of myself. Honor myself and keep the promises that I make. I will be honest and open, patient, kind, caring, generous, supportive, respectful, true. I WILL LOVE MYSELF.

2. NEW THINGS: I will reject the nature to be a “creature of habit”. I will distinguish between ritual and practice and complacent habits. I will embrace newness on all levels and at every opportunity. From things as simple as trying something new on a menu or turning down a new street, to more daring things like attempting new ways of thinking or shooting for new levels of emotional growth or travel to new lands. I will embrace a true spirit of adventure. “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” (Chris McCandless)

3. WISE AND BOLD: I will act with wisdom and fierce conviction. I will be daring without being rash. Adventurous without naivety. I will call on both my ferocity and intellect to make decisions.

4. MAKE NOISE: I have words of value. I will see them heard. I will not swallow the important things I have to say. Sometimes spoken, sometimes sung. I am a being of music, and this year, I will make it.

5. RELEASE: There are things in my life that no longer serve me. I will let them go. I will also release some control. While I am a co-creator of my reality, I am not the sole creator. Some things are beyond my power. I will let them go. I will release negative emotions. I will no longer harbor ill-will. I release some people, some memories, some feelings. There is freedom in letting go. Like a leaf in autumn, I will have no fear as I release my hold on the the things that hold me back. I will never know that I can fly if I’m too afraid to fall.

6. EDUCATE: It is my responsibility to educate myself. It is my calling to educate the people who cross my path. I will vigorously pursue new knowledge. I will take online classes, read books, talk to strangers. I will take in new perspectives and broaden my horizons. I will sort through the infinite amount of information available to me and seek truth. I will use it to filter and explain my experience, and so help shape the experiences of other people. I cannot contribute to the world if I know nothing about it.

7. HONOR: I will honor myself. I will honor the earth. I will honor every being that I encounter. With great humility, I will respect the interdependence of everything. I will revel in the glory of all things.

8. RADIATE: I cultivate my energy so that I may share it. I will fill myself so that I may help to fill others. “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.” The greatest good that will come out of the soul work that I do will be to bring that same work to other people. Pay it forward. It is my goal to uplift the people I encounter simply in encountering them. I will radiate compassion and lovingkindness. If I am to put anything out into the universe, let it be positivity and light.

9. WALK THE TALK: I’ve been on about these life-affirming practices, this conversation about mindful living, for ages. I’ve been slowly incorporating these things into my life, but this year I’m going to ramp it the fuck up. I’m going to escalate. I will practice what I preach. I will live in a way that I can be proud of. I will accept the consequences of being myself. I will live deliberately. I will engage. I will un-clutter my space and my mind. I will treat my body well. I will treat my heart well. I will develop practices that suit me and my goals, and I will stick with them.

10. BE: Sometimes, I will give myself permission to just be. To just be alive. To step back from the self-analysis and just immerse myself in my existence.

Propel yourself in the direction of your dreams. I'm rooting for you!

XX
Spencer
 

#nofilter: unapologetic authenticity and the creative process

Earlier today, this picture popped up on my Instagram feed:

Image from  Elephant Journal  Instagram account - click image for original post.

Image from Elephant Journal Instagram account - click image for original post.

It served as a powerful reminder. As I’ve been getting started on this journey of owning and running a website and blog, I keep catching myself getting caught up on putting exactly the right thing out there. Choosing the exact words, making sure there are no errors and no spaces for misinterpretation. I’ve been worrying about cultivating a specific image, a brand, an ideal. The result has been that I actually haven’t been posting much at all - and that bugs me.

I speak often about the power of vulnerability. I believe strongly that when we show up as our unapologetically authentic selves, we give others permission to do the same. I dream of a world where we all feel free and empowered to be exactly who we are without reservation or shame - a world where self-love, self-respect, and self-care are encouraged. Confidence doesn’t inspire shame. It inspires confidence. When I see someone who feels good about who they are and what they’re doing, it reminds me that it’s okay to feel good about who I am and what I’m doing too.

I consider myself creative. Maybe even an artist. As much as I love painting and drawing as a means of processing, my true medium is the word. That is what I feel called to share. I’m curious about the power of words, and I'm particular about their meaning. When it comes to my writing - be it blog posts, poetry, or music - I liken the creative process to water running from a faucet. When you turn the on the hose spigot outside the house for the first time in April, there’s sometimes some rusty water that comes - dirt and grime that have built up over the course of the winter while the pipe was dry. In order to get clean water, you have to let it run for a little while. You can even compare the creative process to physical fitness. In the fall when I transition from the cardio and flexibility training experiences of hiking, trail running, and yoga to the more strength-intensive dryland training before ski season, I usually have a week or two of jello-legs. At first, I feel weak.

When I walk away from writing for any length of time - for lack of motivation or for fear of how I’ll be received - coming back to it is a slow and somewhat painful process. My mental writing muscles are weak and the words that come are rusty, muddy, and awkward. I have to commit to trying and trying again as I get warmed back up to articulating my experience.

I share this with you to make a promise both to you and to myself. I will not hold back for fear. I will share my experience. I will show up unapologetically as my authentic self - regardless of whether or not I feel articulate. I feel no shame in my process, and neither should you. I am showing up with honesty, vulnerability, and transparency - #nofilter.

Beginner's mind: It's nice to meet you - again and again.

Beginner's mind, or Shoshin, is the Zen Buddhist practice of setting aside prior knowledge and expectation for the sake of experiencing the present moment without your preconceived notions and judgment. You can read more about it here, or here. There are myriad benefits that can come from the practice, but today, I want to focus just on what beginner's mind can do for your relationships.

Are you the same as you were yesterday? A week ago? A year ago? Five years ago?

Maybe, but probably not.

I can remember, as a kid, meeting friends of my parents who would croon, "I haven't seen you since you were this big!" while holding up their hands like they were clasping a large loaf of bread. I can remember thinking, somewhat indignantly, "okay, well obviously I don't remember you if I haven't seen you since I was an infant, and I'm obviously not an infant now, so I don't really know why we're even talking about this." Even now, as an adult, when I see people that I haven't seen since I was a kid (childhood neighbors, distant family members, etc.), I can't help but sigh inwardly a little at the exclamation that the only version of me they can call to mind is a vision of me wearing too-big high heels, my dad's sport coat, and a bright blue feather boa around my neck. It's sweet to be remembered in an endearing light, sure, but I like to think I have a little more to contribute now than the "cute" I brought to the table as a five-year-old.

Every time I think about posting content on this blog, or anywhere on this website for that matter, I always feel that it's an introduction of sorts - and in a way, it is. We actually don't know each other that well yet, you and I. If you've followed me on Instagram for any length of time, you'll know that my internet presence has grown more and more transparent over time. This is especially true of the last year or so as I have become more deliberately interested in the conversation of vulnerability and full-disclosure honesty. But even if you diligently read everything I put out in social media, I still hope that we would show up for each other without assumption, without expectation. Just because I share lots of details about what's true for me in a given moment - that's just it, it's true in that moment. Now, that isn't to say that as soon as I hit "share/publish/post" it isn't true anymore. But, like everyone, my inner world is in development and in flux just as our outer world is. Inner seasons and tides change just as outer ones do.

In the context of relationships, Shoshin means you’re present for someone without clinging on to who they were yesterday or the day before. It leaves space for someone to change without fearing judgment, or to have a conversation without assumption of how it’s going to go. How many times have you not started a conversation because you “just know what they’re going to say”? (Notice if you’re thinking, “ok but you don’t understand, you don’t know this person.”) What if you could enter a conversation without anticipating the outcome? It opens this tiny window of opportunity for the person you’re talking to to speak their truth. In the context of my moral framework, it’s important for me to allow people the space to be exactly how and who they are. I hope that in doing so, I help to create a more authentic relationship where I get to be myself as well.

Maybe I always feel like I need to introduce myself because I hope that you are willing to receive my words in fresh new light every time. Or maybe it's because I want to give you the space to meet me as whoever you are today, in this moment.

However you are right now, whoever you are right now, it's nice to meet you - again and again.