FREE Fall Forward to JOY

Leaving what is familiar and stepping into the unknown can be uncomfortable and unsettling, and at times, it can feel like I am free falling, which can be terrifying. But if I can remember to breathe through the experience with my eyes wide open, follow my inner voice, and allow faith to guide me, my free fall becomes less terrifying and more exhilarating. My free fall into the unknown may also include unexpected moments of pure joy if I focus more on the FREEdom, rather than on the falling. When my free fall ends, I might land softly, or I might not. My landing might take me to a final destination, or it might be just a place to rest temporarily before I continue onward. Either way, I will not regret my decision to jump into the unknown, because sometimes making the decision to jump is the only choice we can make if we want our soul to expand.

Last week I experienced several moments of pure joy that were only possible because I allowed myself to step into the unknown a few months ago. Measured by time, these moments were insignificant, just a few clicks of the second-hand, but the joyful emotions I experienced felt like several lifetimes of happiness, all captured in one single exchange of glances. These moments took place on a studio dance floor in Tucson, Arizona. I traveled to Tucson last week with my husband who was attending his yearly professional conference. My husband is a member of the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association and he has been attending this Arizona conference for a few decades now. I have only been two times. The first time was last year in Scottsdale on award night only, to support my husband, who received the outstanding professional award, and the second time was last week, where I was able to stay for the entire conference, not as a conference attendee, but as a supportive partner, and as someone who was thrilled to visit Tucson, and hopefully connect with a few people and places from my past, having moved from there seven years ago.

Five days in Tucson, and my only scheduled commitments were to attend a Nia dance class with a group I once danced with regularly, and to accompany my husband to an award dinner, three days into the conference. Our first morning in Tucson was spent rushing to his golf fundraiser, where he would spend his day, and then off to my dance class, where I would dance for an hour, and then hopefully catch up with a few people over coffee or tea. The studio was a new location, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived early, went back to my car and waited. Eventually, one car turned into the studio lot, then another and another, until the seemingly abandoned location with overgrown vegetation was buzzing with energy. The dance studio, inside the Tucson Creative Dance Center, has a unique circular design with steps around the perimeter of the dance space. The Tucson sun was blocked by several long curtains that hang along the walls, just beyond the steps, and the geometric patterns displayed in the high round ceiling made me feel like I was stepping into a spaceship. Sometimes experiencing the music and movement of Nia can feel transcendent, so this felt perfectly appropriate. The room was also charged with a historical energy that reflects over fifty-years of use. Although I was dancing with a few familiar faces, my scheduled event was not going to feel like any other Nia class I had previously attended.

The music began and so did our memories. As we followed the inspiring instructor – twirling, stepping, floating, shimmying, stretching, reaching, trusting, and allowing – I was quickly overcome with the euphoria of movement. Nonstop bliss for one hour, with one moment that stood out to me, and one I hope to never forget. During a five-minute free dance, I caught the eye of one of the dancers, who is over twenty years my senior, and in that quick glance our eyes exchanged the amount of joy contained in a lifetime of blissful experiences. Her smile echoed that emotion. She exuded pure joy. In that moment she was my playful grandmother, my laughing childhood playground friend, my guardian angel, and everything and everyone else that has ever and will ever represent pure unconditional love-a knowing, that in “this moment” all is perfect.

Everything was perfect, or exactly as it should be, and it continued to be for the remainder of my time in Tucson. I was able to spend time after class visiting over tea and I connected later that evening with another lady I had met at Nia, while living in Tucson. We chatted and laughed for three hours over dinner. We were so immersed in conversation and talked so long we did not realize that the restaurant had roped off the area where we were sitting so that they could begin cleaning. They didn’t seem to mind us as they began their closing duties, so we kept talking until it was time to say goodbye. My trip to Tucson last week was not the first time in seven years that I had been back to join my beloved dance group (I have been a few times), but it was the first time in seven years that I was able to do so with the gift of extra time. No rushing, just allowing.

My memorable week away could have ended that night and I would have gone home happy, but I was gifted with two more experiences that reminded me of how monumental my “first conference” was. I attended the award dinner with my husband and was able to fully relax and enjoy the company and conversation of several of his colleagues, and I was able to attend one more Nia class before the week ended. Upon leaving my first dance class, I learned of a new instructor who would be teaching at the same studio in two days. Of course, I made the drive over, enjoyed another hour of dancing-in-the-round with inspiring women, and then stopped by one of my favorite Tucson bookstores before driving back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, I decided to continue my attention to body, mind, and soul and attend a hotel yoga class. To my delight, the yoga instructor was also the Nia instructor from earlier that day. A splendid serendipitous moment.  

I have spent many years following a rigid schedule, tackling to-do lists and rarely relaxing. Schedules are necessary and we must take care of the to-dos, but we should also find balance and, most importantly, we should allow moments of pure joy to find us. I am learning to invite and allow goodness, FREEdom, and expression into my life. Sometimes I crawl. Sometimes I dance. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I stop to rest. Wherever and however I find myself each day, I must remember, that in “this moment” all is perfect.

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Taking Steps to Declutter My Unlimited Storage Space

Barefoot and quiet. Inspired way to begin the day.

I know how to declutter my physical space, but how do I declutter my mind?

That is the question on my mind this morning. Clutter in my physical space distracts me, and because of that I am constantly getting rid of things and limiting what I bring into my space. That is easy – for me. I learned at a young age about the fleeting attachment to “things” when all our possessions were stolen out of a storage unit when my mom was in the process of moving from Denver, Colorado, back to Mesa, Arizona. I was just out of high school, already living in Mesa, Arizona, where I had been since the beginning of my senior year. I left Colorado and moved back to finish my senior year in an area where I had grown up. My mom stayed in Colorado with my stepfather. When their relationship ended, my mom packed up all her belongings, which included most of mine and my brother’s childhood belongings and loaded them into a storage unit. The items disappeared between the time they were loaded, and the time she went to retrieve everything for her return trip home. She called me and told me she had “bad news.” I remember standing in the living room of my apartment, learning that the “bad news” was that everything was stolen out of her storage unit. Understandably, she was upset. As for me, not so much. My reaction was, “It is OK. I am doing fine without all of those things.”

It was true, I was. But as the years have ticked by, I will occasionally think of a childhood item, like a picture, or one of my scrapbooks, an article of clothing, or the dozens of diaries I had filled, that I long to hold again. As quickly as my mind revisits that object, I am reminded that it is gone. The image of an old object is replaced with a feeling of loss, a flood of sadness, for a moment, then I think of the countless people who have lost things, whether it be to a fire, a flood, or where people have been displaced for a variety of reasons, usually traumatic, and my sadness dissipates. It doesn’t disappear completely, but it is broken into fragments. It is just stuff, I tell myself. The memories are what matter most, and those are what I cling to, and have endless room to store.

Maybe that is why it is more difficult to declutter my mind. The attachment to memories that cannot be rationalized away, can remain in storage, forever. But, are some memories, habits of the mind, distracting me? Are they keeping me from moving forward on this journey of change? That has been the question on my mind this week. I have found myself thinking about my “old life” a lot this week. When I say “old life” I am referring to the rigid work schedule I have followed for many years, as a high school teacher. I can’t stop my mind from contemplating what I might be doing at any given moment of the day. When the clock reads 6:30 in the morning, I am reminded that that is the time I would be leaving for work. When the clock reads 8:50 in the morning, that is the time that my first hour would be wrapping up. When the clock reads 2:20, that is the time the last bell will ring. And on, and on, the clock speaks to me. It is a dependable loyal friend, but it is also distracting. I would like to sever that time bound attachment to the clock of my past. I trust it will just take time, because when we have been conditioned to follow a certain schedule for many years, it takes time and intentional effort to decondition our time-driven selves and move past what was to what will be. Hopefully, over time, my reminders of the ticking school bell will be less noticeable. Maybe a flicker of a memory, here and there, like the transient memories of my childhood items. Maybe that rigid schedule will float through my mind and then quickly flutter away, replaced with new habits and schedules.

The passing of time will inevitably take care of this attachment to old internal clocks, but maybe there is something I can do to speed up the process. Maybe it is not necessary to do so, but I do feel as though my attachment to certain things slows my growth, my movement forward into a less rigid and more creative and open space. I do experience these timeless moments when I write, especially when I work on one of my 50 Life Stories. In these moments, even if I am writing about an event from the past, I am caught up in creation and not focused on the clock and what I should be doing, or what I was doing a few months ago. These moments can be described as flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Finding Flow-The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. He describes flow as being in a state of complete absorption in an activity and this is when we experience true happiness. As the distance between my “old life” and current reality expands I hope to experience more “flow” moments. Letting life evolve organically is a wonderful and desirable space to be, but I am also interested in stepping into my new reality sooner than later. Running rather than stepping is the action I would rather take at this time in my life. Breaking free from the constraints of my prior schedule has unleashed inner desires that are pushing for release and expression. There are times in life where caution should be the course, but I am in a space where I do not want to step cautiously – I want to run, evolve, and expand – fast, like a growing sunflower, quickly expanding every time the sun changes position in the sky.

Every time my mind revisits my old schedule, or when someone asks me, “What does it feel like to be out of the classroom?” I am jolted back to that space, and then I am left to linger somewhere in between. A gray space. A space of either endless possibilities or an endless void, depending on the day. I am ready to leave that space and fully embrace a new and ever-expanding space of creation. So, what should I do to move that transition along, quicker? How can I accomplish this without adding more mind clutter in the process?

One step at a time …

I will take the following five steps to fast-track my sun-infused sunflower growth. Are there five manageable steps you can take for your growth? If so, I would love to love to learn about your steps and your progress.

First step:  Continue writing, daily. I am writing more, but not daily. I need to have notebook with me at all times, when a laptop is not practical. Every moment I spend writing ideas down, is a moment I am not allowing my mind to wonder down warn out paths and overdeveloped neural pathways.

Second step:  Continue meditating, daily. I do meditate, but not daily and when I do it feels like a chore. I need to reframe my thinking and embrace that quiet prayer time as a gift. I am going to step outside each morning, rest on my yoga mat, close my eyes and begin my day with the rising sun and the many birds that visit our yard. I will resist the temptation to pour my morning coffee and pour into my soul first. I will begin my day with quiet prayer.  

Third step:  Schedule my “Artist Dates,” weekly (these “dates” are explained in the first paragraph of “Rediscovering my Tumbleweed Spirit“). I have earned an “F” on this assignment. I know I can do better and I have no excuses. Experiencing creative play, that removes me from the ticking clock and from familiar environments, will help to move me beyond my former gray shell and into a vibrant being of color.

Fourth step:  Continue moving my body and whenever possible it needs to be high-energy movement. Dancing is a movement I gravitate toward and another activity that allows me to experience flow. I am dancing one night a week but adding one more weekly dance date with myself will help propel me into a free-flowing, flexible spirit. I have also been thinking a lot about running again. Sometimes I wonder if I am feeling this way because I want to run away from memories that keep grabbing my ankles and pulling me back. Perhaps, but maybe that is OK. Maybe the physical act of running again is needed to move fast enough to outrun certain thoughts. The wise Bob Marley told us, “ya can’t run away from yourself,” in his song, Running Away, but I believe my desire to run again is an attempt to run back to myself.

Fifth and Final step:  Find a volunteer opportunity before the end of the month and commit to monthly participation. As a high school teacher, I did not have or make the time to volunteer consistently. My volunteer time, even during weekends, was spent grading papers and prepping for the next day, or so I would rationalize. This excuse is no longer OK. It is important to give and do, just for the sake of helping others who need help, and for no other reason or personal gain. I am truly inspired by organizations that embed volunteering into their culture and even grant time off for employees to do so. I feel drawn to working with and assisting elderly people, so I am going to investigate a few organizations I have come across recently and reach out to them next week.

Glancing over these steps makes me realize that in many ways I am not trying to recreate a “new life” – I am trying to return to a life lived long ago, as a child. In elementary and middle school, I was always writing, noodling stories and poems, and writing in my diaries and journals. I prayed regularly, without the nagging pull of my to-do list interrupting my quiet thoughts. As I wrote about in Rediscovering My Tumbleweed Spirit, I did not need to schedule playtime – I just played. As a child, I loved to dance and would spend hours dancing each week, either on my own, or with others, in classes or just because. I logged more volunteer hours as an elementary and middle-school student, then I do now. I remember regularly visiting a nursing home, not far from our house and visiting the patients, and assisting at Special Olympics as a “hugger.” Those experiences sometimes made me uncomfortable, because my role was not clearly defined, but they also brought me pure joy.

These five steps are not revolutionary and they are not requiring me to make radical changes to my day, or my thinking; they are manageable. They will require me to let go of some habits and attachments, to make room for new experiences and perspectives. They are also potentially life-changing and will propel me forward on my path of personal discovery and transformation. Or, as I have just realized, they may propel me back to a time that was youthful, innocent, and free.  

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Rediscovering My Tumbleweed Spirit

Tumbleweed walls are still out there – it just took some searching eight miles north of our home.

One of the life changes I am working on is allowing more play in my life, something that I fail miserably at. I was reminded of how important play is to our creative self and overall well-being while recently reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her book is a popular classic that has inspired countless “shadow artist,” she calls them, to discover and embrace their creative selves. Although the book is well-known, I just stumbled on it before my birthday, two months ago. The timing was perfect. After reading the free preview pages, I was hooked. I am now on week seven of a twelve-week creative journey. I read a new chapter each Sunday, and sometimes I reread sections of the chapter throughout the week. Cameron’s words are encouraging and honest, and speak directly to those, like me, who have buried their creative dreams for a host of reasons, mainly, a lack of belief in ability. Each chapter has a specific focus, such as, “Recovering a Sense of Possibility,” and at the end of each chapter there is a list of weekly tasks, followed by a check-in list. The writing tasks are manageable – I usually finish those just after reading the chapter, or the following day, but other tasks that involve a commitment, beyond the notebook, are more challenging for me. An ongoing weekly activity recommended by Julia Cameron is to schedule an “Artist Date” with yourself. The purpose of the date is to do something fun, creative, and maybe even silly. I love the idea-I am not opposed to being silly-I am just having a hard time making this happen, and I know it is to my detriment.

Finding the time to play like a child doesn’t come naturally to me, at least not anymore. I suspect this is true of most adults who are consumed with job and family commitments. I remember the joy of playing as a kid, but all of us kids in the neighborhood didn’t need to schedule play time, or read a book to remind us to play, we were instinctively drawn to play. I remember leaving the house early in the day, to return only for bathroom breaks and food, maybe. Sometimes we figured out how to address those basic human needs while away from home. Our days were filled with skating, bike riding, and games like basketball, softball, football in the mud, or hide-in-seek, in areas that extended beyond one yard and into multiple yards and into the nearby schoolyard, which, by the way, was not fenced. I also remember the communal tree house in a field that is now covered with houses. The tree house did not belong to any one person, it belonged to all of us, and we would each build and add as we were inspired to do, “borrowing” items from home to embellish this magical sanctuary. I remember taking my tape player with me and listening to The Jackson Five and Donny and Marie Osmond tapes while sitting on a tree branch, listening and watching our world below – a world with endless possibilities for dreaming and imagining. Imagining who we were going to be that day.

Sometimes our creations extended to the adjacent field, that was covered with a layer of dirt and tumbleweeds. I often wondered where the tumbleweeds came from, and how they ended up in that spot. Whatever their origin and path that led to us, we delighted in their existence in our world and would use the round weeds to create walls that connected to other tumbleweed walls, until eventually we were protected by our own tumbleweed castle. We would get lost and lose each other in the mazes that led from one spikey, thorny room to the next. We played until the setting sun told us to return home, and if we didn’t see that cue, someone’s mom would either yell loud enough or send out an older sibling to scream at us that, “It is time to come home!” We made our way home, covered in sweat, dust, thorns, and bloody scratches. Our tumbleweed fortress never lasted; the wind carried it away or reorganized it in a manner that was unrecognizable from our most recent design. We didn’t mind. The purpose wasn’t to create and live happily-ever-after in our tumbleweed castle, the purpose was to just play, and not worry about our lasting legacy.

I now live forty miles from that field of creation, which was long ago turned into another subdivision. Although I still live in the desert, I cannot remember the last time I saw a tumbleweed. They are probably scooped up by landscapers long before they have a chance to escape and meet up with other dried bushes in some magical dirt field where they can be turned into something greater than what they currently are – a lonely nuisance, blowing down the street. Maybe childhood play is like that fortress. Forgotten, unnecessary, and dirty. I hope not.

In my neighborhood, I am fortunate enough to witness kids at play during the cooler months. I have observed them at play for a few years, as they have grown from babies into the young children they are now. I see them as I am coming and going and it wasn’t until recently, did it occur to me that I have a lot to learn from these kids, as I work on rediscovering my tumbleweed spirit from so long ago. The neighborhood kids ride bikes, have pretend sword fights, play hide and seek, wrestle, and roll in the grass. I am not sure if this is a common scene in neighborhoods across Arizona, America, and beyond. I hope it is.  

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Lasting Change Requires some Sweat

“Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!” ~Zora Neale Hurston

For those of us who live in Arizona during the summer months, sweat is inevitable. Just walking to our car will cause our freshly pressed clothes and styled hair to look like we dressed in the shower. We endure because we know it is temporary. Soon the cooler temperatures will be upon us and we will, once again, be able to walk to our cars, take our dogs for walks, or plan outdoor events without the risk of succumbing to a heat stroke. For those Arizona natives, like me, who have survived many hot summers in the Sonoran desert, it never gets easier, but we know we will make it through the brutal months and enjoy our autumn rewards. Having survived July, we pray for monsoon storms in August, but even they can deliver false promises. What appears to be a cool scene of refreshing rain behind windows that seal in the cool A/C, is an illusion. With one cautious step outside-BOOM-we are blasted in the face with a hot, humid blanket of air that shocks and suffocates us. So, we hustle back in and watch the warm rain fall while our electric bill surges. Then, eventually, the triple digits begin to drop, a few degrees at a time, until finally we can walk barefoot across our concrete porch without having to tend to burnt and blistered feet.

As I was reminded yesterday during a high-intensity workout class, where my sweat was ignited by a hot walk across a parking lot and then intensified by my own choice to follow a fit Zumba instructor, to what felt like my death, actions required to create lasting change are not temporary. For lasting change to shape me I need to not only expect sweat, but I need to make peace with perspiration, and know that it is the outward sign of inner discomfort, and in that discomfort transformation begins. Unfortunately, I can not sweat for a few months and then relax while I enjoy a change in temperature, in this case lasting effects to my fitness level.

I have been writing about sweat, literally. The uncomfortable sweat I experience living in Arizona during the summer months, and the sweat that covered my body after an hour workout class, but what I did not include was the 20 minute sweatfest I experienced while sitting in a dry sauna earlier in the day. Sitting in a dry sauna in the middle of an Arizona summer may be viewed as an absurd, risky choice, but here is what else I believe about sweating profusely – it reveals a body functioning properly and it can also serve as a detoxification, a cleansing. While I cannot recite the physiological stages of this detox process, I am certain about one thing: every time I push myself beyond what is comfortable and produce some “sweat” in the process, I am releasing limiting self-views and growing in the process.

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.

Join Me on the Journey

Patagonia Lake State Park, Nogales, Arizona

Hi, my name is Michele and I have created this blog as a forum for those who have embarked on a life change, like I recently have, and need added inspiration to motivate them through the journey. I have experienced several major life changes over the last seven years, and through each of them, I have kept pushing through and moving forward, taking care of what and who I need to take care of, which usually hasn’t included taking care of my own creative pursuits.

After pouring all my passion and purpose into teaching high school students for several years, I made the difficult decision last spring to step away from the experience and give myself more time to cultivate other passions – passions that have been whispering to me for many years, but I haven’t had the time or courage to act upon. My decision to leave the high school classroom was not easy; I feel called to teach and on purpose when I can help other people, but the sixty+ hour work weeks left little time or energy for much else. So, I have taken steps to begin creating a “new” life for myself. I am working on rediscovering facets of my life and interests that have been buried, while also exploring meaningful paths that still allow me to teach, contribute, grow and ultimately flourish.

I am finding that the journey to discover a new path, a new way of moving in the world, is much harder than I ever could have imagined, because I am not looking for a quick fix, or a diversion, I am working on real change, at the core of who I am, and what I believe I am capable of accomplishing, and that is where the real work begins. I will share my weekly challenges and triumphs through this journey and share original photography, inspiring quotes, stories, videos, and interviews centered around people who are striving for positive change, both in their own lives and in their communities.

Copyright © 2019 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.