The Distinction Between Routine And Ritual

I love words. I often find myself exploring my choice of words to convey a nuanced meaning. Different words can communicate subtle distinctions and sometimes not so subtle distinctions. The terms routine and ritual recently captured my attention while reading My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. While he described “growth routines” for developing your ability to settle your body, I found myself wondering what a routine means to me versus a ritual.

Growing up I liked neither the word routine nor the word ritual for different reasons. Routine to me was just plain boring. I could feel a sense of monotony of daily, routine activities and a sense of purposelessness of life when it was routine. Partly I felt this way as I watched adults including my parents engaged in routines that seemed necessary but not always by choice. And I always craved choice and variation. For instance, when I was old enough to drive I always liked to take different routes to places. I also enjoyed variation in food, even though I had favorite dishes that I didn’t find routine or boring.

Shabat with homemade challah

Ritual was completely inaccessible to me growing up. I associated ritual exclusively with religion and there was no way that had any meaning to me having grown up in an atheist environment. The thought of ritual was almost scary to me. I remember a few times I went to church or synagogue for holiday events invited by a friend or because I was in a choir doing a performance there. Most of those experiences were fairly secular and party-like. However one time I was in a church with a catholic friend and I watched with an uneasy and confused feeling as people took communion. The foreignness of that ritual didn’t make me curious just left me weary of ritual. Curiosity about ritual was buried until much later in my life.

In my 20s and 30s I liked the concept of routine to make sure that I got things done. By creating a routine I was more assured of completing all the tasks I needed to complete in my busy work days. Routines were also a way to create helpful habits. That perspective led me to consider the word routine more favorably though it was a fairly rigid definition. The sense was more like a regiment than anything else. I didn’t think much about the word ritual through these years.

Wedding show

Ritual took on a different meaning when I became a life coach in my late 30s and even further when I became a wedding celebrant in my late 40s. As I received my training in both of these disciplines I was exposed to rituals, both religious and non-religious. Through this education I began my journey into understanding and exploring how to be more present in each moment and how ritual is helpful in that path. I created rituals for myself and also for others for their wedding ceremonies that I officiated.

Working as a coach and celebrant also opened up my ability to see the word spirituality in a different light. As a kid, spirituality meant religion and therefore something I shouldn’t touch. I will never forget when the word spiritual first took on some personal meaning. I was on a call with one of my life coaches when he reflected on what I had just told him. He took a deep breath and stated, “You are very spiritual.” I was stopped in my tracks and became silent. I had never thought of myself as spiritual before. That single moment of someone seeing me as spiritual had a profound impact on me and prompted my further explore of spirituality. Ritual was part of the route in

Nature in winter

Through my coaching and celebrant work I experienced how ritual helps to grow and sustain self-awareness and presence. And my view of both ritual and spirituality deepened. Ritual became one avenue from which to celebrate and understand the beauty and wonder of life. And I began to recognize that my exploration of the inner landscape of human experience and inexplicable connection to all the world is spiritual. Life coaching and celebrant work gave me a way to connect with the meaning of ritual and spiritual that makes more sense to me. I believe I have always been very spiritual though I would never have used that term. The deep connection with and awe I feel for animals and nature is so profound and was present even as a child.

Buddha in Sarasota Florida

I no longer see the word routine as boring. I have found how to make routines more meaningful. Unlike ritual which conveys to me that I am present, conscious and with great purpose, routine feels unconscious and less embodied—though it gets the job done. But I’d rather not just get the job done. I could be doing the routine activity mindlessly and disconnected from my body. Or I could bring greater awareness to the routine activity as I do with ritual so that I feel more grounded. Through my meditation work in recent years I am practicing doing routine activities like washing the dishes being more present to the task. It’s still a routine and not a ritual to me, but being aware of my body and mind shifts the experience and makes it more connected to life. And I feel more freedom of choice. I like flexibility in my routines. I meditate daily but not at the same time each day. I move my body most mornings but don’t have a specified activity that I must do at a certain time. I have created routines that jibe with my need for variety.

The more I ponder these two words the more the distinction between ritual and routine becomes less meaningful and very nuanced. And I realize that this distinction isn’t true for everyone. Perhaps you experience routine just as alive and awake as you experience ritual. Maybe you use the words interchangeably. Food for thought—hopefully with plenty of variety.

xoxo Rachel

My Life Journey Is To Question Everything

Rachel in Hawaii 1981We are all on a journey through our own experience of life. Lately I have been experiencing a great sense that an important part of my developmental path is to reveal how much I connect with questions of mind, body and soul. Call it spiritual, call it whatever you like, I am outing myself as someone who is woo-woo (if you haven’t already figured that out from my other blogs ☺).

Growing up I never felt comfortable with religious inquiries because I was never educated in it so it felt foreign and made up to me. From my limited exposure I though religion only meant that you believed in some humanoid male figure in the sky called god. As I understood, it was not grounded in human experience. That made no sense to me and so I never explored religion in any shape or form. However, as an adult I drifted towards awe and wonder of the natural world. And my academic interest included intuition and heart-focused thought. There is no doubt I was drawn to my career as a psychologist because of my interest in how and why we perceive and interact with the world the way we do. I always questioned. I have always been spiritual even if I didn’t identify it as such. It’s not religion. It’s my huge need to keep learning and exploring what it means to be human, what it means to think, feel and experience our conscious life.

My beloved tarot cardsAs part of my reflection and exploration of my spiritual life journey, I am seeking clues in my past. And there are many connections throughout the years. Early ones are fainter in my memory but it should not be a surprise that I wanted Tarot cards which my mom gave when I was about eight. I adored those cards and kept them safe all these years. I wish I still had my Ouija board. In terms of practices and beliefs it is clear that peace and equality were important to me from an early age. Children’s liberation, recycling, woman’s equality and peace marches are anchors in my childhood memories.

Marrying Susan and KevinMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was an important book to me when I started college. And though I probably could articulate in my twenties that my personal search for meaning was through my academic and scientific psychology work, at its core, my search has always been deeply philosophical and spiritual. In my thirties I was so focused on my career that I have few memories of seeking spiritual knowledge. I did, however, have numerous moments of questioning the purpose of it all. I felt great dissatisfaction with work even though there was much to enjoy. I had existential crises often. That led me to life coaching—a way to connect my longing for personal life meaning with work to help others. As part of my training as a life coach I was exposed to Native American and Buddhist philosophies. My training as a celebrant more recently brought ceremony and ritual into focus for me and stretched me in new directions. All wonderful additions to my quest for more discoveries about my humanity.

Anubis and HorusThis past year my journey into veganism has reconnected me to my great love of animals. And I feel closer to all of nature through nourishing my body with plant foods of the earth. It is all connected and feels so grounded and on target for what I am looking for. Woo-woo implies a more frivolous and airy image and that is not it at all for me. Yes, I do love to go up into the clouds to get the big-picture view of things. I love to ponder and hypothesize and wander and explore in my head and my heart. And yet it is very grounded in the earth and in the natural world. I certainly did not choose Love Beauty Peace as my mantra without reason. Those three images are very clear aspects of how my spiritual view of the world manifests. Love connects me with everything including other beings and myself. Beauty is my awe as I energetically connect, often through gaze, at the wonders of the world. And peace is both my immense desire to see peace among all people as well as that inner calm that I feel when I experience gratitude for my life. Those concepts have not just been with me as an adult. They guided me every step of my life through my formal and personal education.

Rachel Peace GirlAs I see it now, I have always had a deep need to find personal meaning and that is in itself so very fulfilling to me. Even as I grasp that I may never fully understand and will always be looking, it is in that practice of my own growth that I am so deeply rewarded. There is absolutely no end goal in my mind. I don’t really care as much about the absolute truth as I do about the relative truth for me. The truth as I can make sense of it. The truth as it reveals itself to me. Even if I try to articulate what I believe, it doesn’t really matter whether others understand my perspective. Even if I could articulate it well enough for others to understand, it is my view alone, just as your view is yours alone. Sure it is possible that you were taught a particular worldview. We all were. But even if you followed a strict canon, it still is your interpretation and that brings in your own personal slant. I am getting greater comfort with the concept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that I believe specifically, but rather how I comport myself in this world, how I am, how I treat others, including animals and the natural world. Love, beauty, peace fits me well and I am realizing that I came out of my mom’s womb with those words scribed into my body, heart and soul.

xoxo Rachel

Dancing Among Angels On Earth

Sparkly RachelThis past week I attended Fabienne Fredrickson’s Mindset Retreat in Ft Lauderdale, FL. The event was part of her yearlong Boldheart Academy program that is designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The Mindset Retreat was focused not just on work but on all facets of life and how to conquer limiting beliefs that hold us back from taking actions and getting what we want. The content of the program was very helpful and very empowering. And the people in attendance—well, they are some of the most magnificent people I’ve met! Together we danced an awful lot and found ways to get into our personal place of power as we tackled some really difficult personal development stuff (check out my post on finding your own personal power). It is so easy to get stuck in the muck that holds us back from doing things in life to reach our big goals. In our working sessions we thoroughly articulated what we want from life and then committed to taking action. Much of moving through limiting beliefs requires taking leaps of faith as we go for what we truly want to accomplish. So it is not surprising that the type of people who are attracted to the mindset program are very spiritual and very loving, kind and open. So every day of the retreat I felt like I was dancing among angels on earth!

Angels on earthMany of the people I met are involved in light work such as life coaches, spiritual coaches, health coaches, angel practitioners, massage therapists, psychologists, professional organizers, musicians and artists. And there were also doctors, nurses, construction contractors, authors, and many other areas that aren’t typically associated with the spiritually inclined. But I can tell you that they were all very angelic beings! They opened their hearts and shared their passions for creating their own awesome lives while being of service to others so that their clients can create their own awesome lives. What a very motivating and positive energy group of people to be around! I learned so much from each person I talked to because we didn’t stop with simple pleasantries of introductions. In our conversations we went deep into why we do what we do and what we are striving to accomplish in our lives.

Marrying Susan and KevinOne of the best parts of my getting involved in the coaching movement way back in 2001 has been the amazing people I have been honored to get to know. Over the years I have met so many talented coaches and people in other professions who are very warm and kind and also extremely dedicated to making changes in the world. They are not afraid to speak frankly about what they are passionate about and in general tend to be passionate about a number of different things. They are multi-passionate like me. And they are highly spiritual—not necessarily religious. I suppose that it isn’t surprising that I was drawn to also become a celebrant a few years ago because that training and the practice of marrying couples allowed me to make ceremony and honoring of passages in life a big part of my why. And I met other celebrants who also tend to be very giving and generous souls in the world. I am sure that if I called any of them angels to their faces they would smile from ear to ear and exude their natural sparkly brilliance.

What I have been finding to be true for me more and more each day is that I cannot hold back from publicly sharing—through my blogs—how I look at the world. Whether in this Love Beauty Peace blog, my Wondrance Coaching blog, my past Magical Moment Mondays (that I will be bringing back soon in a new form), or my Wedding Wednesdays and Flower Fridays blog, I am constantly outing myself in terms of how I view life. Although I am not religious and rarely directly discuss my spiritual perspective of life, I identify with the angelic realm because it speaks to seeing the natural and brilliant beauty in everything surrounding me: flora, fauna, trees, clouds and people. Every moment is magical when you allow yourself to feel the wonder and joy of existence. I believe that owning and taking responsibly for creating your own magical life is critical to change the world. And I believe that it is happening for so many people already and will keep spreading. As we all become angels on earth, dancing and creating joy and sharing our unique and brilliant talents, we will experience personal abundance and proliferate peace.

xoxo Rachel

Small Town Living: Idyllic Or Just A Fantasy?

Family in RooseveltI have been reading a ton of books this past month. Small books, big books, light fare and heavy stuff. Much of the lighter books are romance novels and I seem to be drawn to ones that take place in idyllic small towns. I don’t always like the tone of many of these books that rely on getting married and having lots of kids and always a dog (not that that is a bad thing, but to presume that marriage and kids and dogs is required for happiness is a bit narrow for me. Cats get no respect ☺). However, I love that they are set in fantasy small towns where even if everyone gets in each other’s business, they do it out of caring and love for each other and the community. They all have picture-perfect downtowns with a coffee shop and bookstore and cute shops and hold plenty of small-town events.Roosevelt Childhood Home

I grew up in a small town, the wonderful town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. I do feel like my childhood was idyllic, even if we didn’t have a bookstore and coffee shop. In the 60s and 70s, the town was a generous community to grow up in with deep and important connections fostered between the kids and the families. Of course I can wax nostalgic about my childhood because it is easy to gloss over any of the bad stuff when reminiscing. Nonetheless, I loved my childhood, family, friends and community. And I know that there is a lot to be said for small towns and the community and connection that they provide.

Our House And Garden In Cold SpringOnce again I live in a small town: Cold Spring, NY on the Hudson River. My experience now is quite different from my childhood for a number of reasons. Being an adult certainly changes the perspective. Yet there is most definitely a community aspect here that feels good and comforting and welcoming just like my childhood life in Roosevelt. The big difference is that not having grown up here and gone to school, I don’t know all the families like I did in Roosevelt. I just don’t have a long-term history here even though we have had this house for twenty-one years—much of that only for weekends. When you move to a town and don’t have roots there, it can take time to get to know folks. Because we don’t have any kids, we were not introduced to all the families like we would have had we had kids at the public schools. Community is essential and automatic through your kids (that is true in any size community).

So although I don’t have connections through kids, I am building my community in different ways. I am so grateful that I have a group of people who meditate and discuss readings about mindfulness and living fully present lives every week. I am fortunate that there is a lovely small library in my town and also the town next door with darling librarians who bring us together for various events. I love that I know everyone when I go to The Foundry on Saturday mornings for breakfast. I love sharing “oohs and aahs” with friends while watching fireworks at the town Fourth of July event (Roosevelt’s Fourth Of July celebration, however, wins the prize for best small town event ever!)  I am putting down roots both literally in our garden and figuratively through our connections.

My Family in Roosevelt in the 70sLest you think I am only a small town advocate, I should say that I absolutely loved living in New York City and I did indeed create a community there during the twenty years I lived in Manhattan. It is true that community can be built in large towns and cities. It just has a different quality. I did run into people I knew while I lived in the city yet in a small town the likelihood that you will bump into someone you know is much greater. This is in part because the choices for what to do are more limited and confined to a smaller area. And there are fewer people.

I think a big part of why I love living where I live is the outdoors. I lived just a block from the Hudson River in the city and could escape the city sounds and energy to go to the water’s edge from time to time. Now I have ongoing quiet and peace of the woods that gives me such inspiration and comfort and calm everyday. I guess it is not too surprising given that romance novels are often idealized fantasies, that when I read about those picture perfect small towns I fantasize about what it would be like if I lived in one of those towns. Then I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I do live there! Of course real life is not as idealized as in the books I read, but it is pretty darn close.

Home In Roosevelt until age 5What is very funny to me is that I could not wait to get out of Roosevelt while growing up. Of course that is in part because I needed to leap independently into a life of my own creation and staying at home was not the place to do that. But a big part was that I did not want to be in a small town. So I went to Boston and then to Berkeley for college. When I looked for jobs as a professor, most of the positions were in schools in small towns. So I ended up in a small town of Oberlin. Pretty quickly I found that work in a city was drawing me and not academia. When I think back I do remember that there were a lot of great things about the small town of Oberlin—I was creating a nice community. But it was not the right time for me. I was ambitious for fast paced and multitasking in work and life. I wanted the big city and all the energy that went along with it. So Andy and I went to New York for a large part of our adulthood, excelled in our careers and created a great life. And yet we needed a place to go to get away from the city here and there. So we got our place in Cold Spring for weekends.

Mandevilla Flower In My Cold Spring GardenMy friend Nathalie reminded me a few weeks ago when she was visiting from the city that I had told her some years back that I could never imagine leaving the city for Cold Spring full-time. And I do remember feeling that way. We came up to Cold Spring only for weekends and holidays for about fifteen years. And then something shifted. Part of the shift was due to a conscious choice of changing our work lifestyle. Much of it was that the small town life is more appealing now that I am in my fifties and frankly less ambitious. And I think most of all the shift was towards greater inner peace and calm, greater introspection and stillness that I can find more easily in a small town. I am now happily settled in a small town and loving the peaceful energy of this life.

Main Street Cold SpringWe do have a main street dotted with quaint shops. We used to have a bookstore but unfortunately that closed several years ago (it is hard for small bookstores to compete with the chains). There are a few nice coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stands and of course those wonderful libraries. I have that idyllic small town life now even if I don’t have kids or know all the families yet and I have a cat not a dog. I continue to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city every now and again. In a little over an hour train ride into Grand Central, I can re-engage with the energy of the city that I still respect and love. But for now at least, small town living is idyllic to me and not a fantasy.

XOXO Rachel

Discovering My Passion For Writing

Some of my writing journals from over the yearsIt might seem obvious to anyone who reads any or all of my blogs that I love to write. But actually, I have been a bit slow to realize just how much writing means to me. A few weeks ago I went to a two-day meeting of my entrepreneur school. One of my favorite parts of the event is when we do a masterminding session where we break up into groups of eight to facilitate an exchange of ideas. Each person gets 20 minutes to discuss what their goals are for the next 120 days and where they could use some help. This masterminding is both a brainstorming session and a coaching session on steroids because you have the perspective and intuition of seven other people to help guide you.

It was my turn and we were discussing my new coaching book and how some others in our group who had also written a book were going on promotional book tours, when I suddenly burst into tears. I could hardly articulate what was going on. But the more I vocalized what was happening internally the more it was clear to me and to every other person at the table just how passionate I am about writing. But to be more precise, the tears revealed just how passionate I feel to be a writer.

A few days after the event, one of my mastermind team sent me an electronic invitation that she had received from her alma mater Manhattanville College. In just a few weeks they were having a Saturday MFA Writing Day event. I signed up even though I had butterflies that stayed with me all the way up to the day of the event this past weekend. And yet pushing myself into it and allowing the fear was, of course, worth it. My passion knew better than me that I would find something important that day. And I did indeed. Sitting with a group of about twenty-five—all but one were women—I found camaraderie and learning. We wrote given cues, like a single sentence to spark a short story, we shared and discussed our work and we talked about what it means to be a writer. The love and support was reassuring and empowering. We were encouraged to all embrace the label of writer, published or not.

The term writer holds a lot of weight in our society. And describing something as a passion is equally weighty. One of my current mentors, Fabienne Fredrickson uses the term unique brilliance to describe something that you do well and would do all day long for free. It is a passion. I have been writing blogs for years now even though I haven’t been paid for writing them. And writing has been in my life for years though I have used the term dabbling in the past to describe my involvement. There was the memoir-writing course at The Learning Annex, and there was the improv class at The Upright Citizens Brigade where I enjoyed creating monologues off the cuff. In my corporate roles I was always giving presentations that I wrote. And before that I published research articles in psychology journals when I was in academia. Most recently I was writing love-story weddings.

But somehow I discounted any of this as writing and somehow I never allowed myself to identify as a writer. In part because there was such a clear format and structure as defined by the APA (American Psychological Association), my journal articles didn’t feel like writing. Although I was a published author, I didn’t consider myself to be a writer. A psychologist yes, but not a writer. The purpose (presenting research results) outweighed the form (writing). But as I gaze back at what I did for so many years, I realize that I was writing, was a writer, and will always be a writer. Regardless of the structure, style, form or purpose, whether fiction or non-fiction, I write.

It occurs to me that my passion for writing was both something that grew over time and something that has always been a part of me. However, I felt great fear and vulnerability sharing my writing so I stayed clear of it for many years. As a girl I felt very inadequate as a reader and a writer. I am not sure where my uncertainty came from, but I presumed that I was good at math and science but no good at English, even if my grades were fine in both. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered my love of literature and then in college that I learned I loved writing essays. I still have some of my Berkeley cognitive psychology reports that in hindsight feel so similar to what I enjoy doing to this day: riffing on some topic.

I am to thank one of my coaches, Melanie Dewberry Jones, for pushing me out of my writing comfort zone after I brought up wanting to write when we spoke a few years ago. It felt more like a push off of the cliff when she challenged me to start a blog and publish my thoughts in two weeks’ time. I probably got silent in response but I took the challenge and created my first blog. I remember with great clarity how scared I was the very first time I hit the ”publish” button and it was for real. I physically felt the vulnerability of exposing myself, my thoughts and of course my writing. I felt like I was coming out of the writer’s closet.

To this day, I still get a tummy tumble when I am about to post a blog, and even as I just sit here and think about sharing this piece. And yet, the passion to express through writing overrules any fears. After the masterminding session I left processing everything but not really thinking about next steps for writing. Then ideas began to flow. I want to create more books and I want to attempt some poetry and fiction—not just the coaching/advice and memoir non-fiction that I tend towards. I realized this morning that my love for psychology and philosophy is intimately tied to my love of writing. I am curious about the world and people and the mind and my way to explore that fascination is through writing. Making sense out of life drives my writing. Reading and devouring ideas gives me ammunition for my own ideas and perspective. I can’t not write just like I can’t not think.

Deep in my heart I still feel like a fraud at times. How can I say I am a writer when I wasn’t born writing stories like so many writers? Does starting later in life invalidate it somehow, even though there are many authors who started writing later? Who do I need to prove to that I’ve been writing for years? And yet all that doubt won’t keep me from writing. It won’t prevent me from working harder, learning through writing and though courses and through reading and testing the process and pushing to write fiction and poetry and whatever pours out of me. I am a writer. It is a passion.

XOXO Rachel

A Feminist Since Birth

WageThis past Sunday I attended a meeting of WAGE International (Women and Girls’ Education International) and I was so very inspired by the experience. I was invited to the meeting after I had been asked by their president Heather Mistretta and agreed to become a board member. I didn’t hesitate an instant to say, “Yes!” even though I didn’t really know that much about their group.

WAGE is committed to empowering women and girls and educating everyone to stop the cycle of violence against women and girls. Stepping into the home of WAGE’s founder Rekha Datta on Sunday afternoon was a leap of faith, given how little I knew about WAGE. But as we gathered and introduced ourselves to each other, I knew that I was in the right place. Sitting around the living room of our host’s house, I was struck by all the amazing people who were drawn together for a mutual cause. Rekha’s husband introduced himself by saying that he was “a feminist since birth.” That is such a wonderful way to put it, I thought. I, too, am indeed a feminist since birth, fortunate to have been raised by my thoughtful and loving parents in such an unusual and peace-loving town of Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Attending the WAGE meeting was coming home. Coming home to feminism, coming home to peace, coming home to activism and finally coming home to New Jersey. WAGE is headquartered in Monmouth County, NJ, about 2 hours away from my current home in New York. My hometown of Roosevelt where I grew up is also in Monmouth County. And Roosevelt was a town filled with activists in the 60s and 70s. I am grateful that I grew up there and was exposed to so many forward thinking and creative individuals.

Throughout my life, I have been committed to empowerment of women and girls though I hadn’t fully strung together all the links of my passion and experience until yesterday morning. While I was in meditation with my Wednesday morning group at The Garrison Institute, immense emotion arose in me as memories of the feminist and activist work I have done over the years came flooding over me.

My peace jewelryAs a child, I attended peace marches in DC along with my family, traveling by chartered buses filled with all ages of Rooseveltians. My brother and I were little-kid activists: children’s equality, and recycling (see Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey) where our main areas of focus. And of course, feminism was ingrained in me. My mom was a beautiful feminist role model, striving for equal rights. She also subscribed to Ms. Magazine from its inception and I remember fondly how much I loved reading each issue when it arrived in the mail.

Equality and peace are closely connected so I suppose it isn’t surprising that working with WAGE to educate and empower and promote peace is a good match for my passions. I have had opportunities throughout my life to contribute to causes that help women and girls. My entire business career I was always very focused on helping to support and promote women in my company and mentored women as well as men to be empowered to be themselves and strive for greatness in their work. Along the way I also took time away from the corporate world and did some powerful work with girls and boys.

Although I have been living in New York for most of my adult life, I have been drawn to groups that are all over the country. As part of a yearlong leadership program that met in Sebastopol, California, I developed and held a workshop for boys and girls at a summer camp in Yosemite, CA. I remember that day so well. I flew from New York into Oakland, CA and drove for over an hour to the camp to hold the workshop with my co-leader Angela.

Angela and I were deliberately paired because our leadership styles were very different and one goal of the amazing leadership training was learning how to dance with and co-lead when your partner has a different natural style. This is such a gift of learning for life because we encounter so many people who have different backgrounds, talents and experiences from our own. We need to realize that other perspectives and approaches are neither the right nor wrong way. Learning how to lean into a different way of working with someone is a peaceful act. It is accepting colleagues for all that they are and working towards navigating differences with ease. It is about learning to trust each other no matter that we have different ways. What a great learning for me and also what a great experience leading a group of boys and girls from that peaceful stance.

Rach and MomPart of the tenets of my co-leading training was learning how to use improvisational techniques to build off of another person. I loved doing the improvisational games over the year training and became so enamored with improv that I took a summer course at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC. One of the main reasons I love to write and speak is that I enjoy creating with language. Improv training gave me an invaluable tool to create off the cuff, something I draw upon all the time for writing and giving presentations.

Improv also allows for playfulness and creating from nothing. The flow and spontaneity I feel when using language to convey my thoughts and feelings fills me with such joy. And it makes me feel so empowered. So I had a thought. What if I can connect my love of improv and my sense that it is such an empowering skill with my passion of empowering girls? I decided to seek out organizations that did just that and discovered a wonderful group, called ACTNOW in Northampton, Massachusetts near Smith, Amherst and Mt Holyoke Colleges. I met with their organizer, Nancy Fletcher and volunteered to do some work with them. They use movie making and improvisation to empower girls. The girls take on any one of the many roles needed to create a film including writing, directing, camera work, acting and editing. Although ACTNOW was closer than my groups in California, it was a three-hour drive from my home in New York. I only worked with them for a short time, yet I have fond memories of the amazing girls and that organization.

And so it turns out that it isn’t uncommon for me to travel far in order to participate in activities designed to empower girls. I will travel over the country in search of groups of people who share my passion for women, girls, empowerment and peace. And though I have dabbled here and there, I wonder where my need to help empower women will take me next. I am excited about what lies ahead with WAGE International, and I know that this organization is a catalyst for me to further experience how I can promote feminism, love and peace in the world. I am grateful that they have found me and I them.

XOXO Rachel

Nostalgia For Being A Researcher Of The Mind

Rachel & Andy Near Santa Cruz 1986I have been reading the memoir called On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks for the past few days and it is bringing up lots of tears for me. I usually read just before bed so after I have read a few chapters, I find myself lying there in bed wondering what is going on for me. So today I decided to write free form and see what comes up. This is my stream of consciousness rambling to try to make sense of why my emotions are being rocked by this wonderful book.

I was first introduced to Oliver Sacks work when I was in college and working on my psychology degree at UC Berkeley. I had just discovered the field of cognitive psychology and I loved everything that I studied about mind and cognition and perception. Basically, I couldn’t get enough of anything having to do with how we perceive and understand the world. I was intrigued by case studies of people with different neurological issues and brain disorders because their behavior shed so much light on how the brain processes information and creates the reality we know as consciousness.  I cherished my audiotape of a patient with Korsokoff’s Syndrome that I got from a post-doctorate candidate while I was at Berkeley. I carried that tape with me through seven years of grad school at UC Santa Cruz then on to Oberlin College where I played it to students as part of my course on memory and cognition.

I hadn’t really thought about cognition in great depth much in the past few decades. I’ve been in such applied fields of market and media research for so long that intellectual conversations and thought experiments and simply reading research about the cognitive field hasn’t been my focus. Although I began in cognitive psychology, I became very specialized very quickly and went on for my PhD in the subfield of cognitive psychology called psycholinguistics.  And though I loved studying how we process and understand language and to this day I am still so enamored by language and words and meaning, as I am reading Oliver Sacks book, I am reminded that I am very drawn to deep intellectual and philosophical questions of how we process information and create our conscious experience of the world. Sure, language is part of that process so I am pretty sure that is what led me down the path of psycholinguistics. But now so many years later, I guess I miss the pondering and theorizing and discussion of mind, brain and consciousness more than I had realized.  Apparently I still love that stuff!

One of the interesting aspects of reading Mr. Sacks’ memoir is his description of meeting and or corresponding with others neurologists and psychologists and others related field specialists. So many of the names he mentions were so important to me in my earlier days. Francis Crick was one such name. At a young age, I was fascinated by human biology and Watson and Crick’s work unraveling the DNA strands. I still have my slim paperback The Double Helix by James Watson that my mom gave me in 1976. Dr. Sacks describes visiting Francis Crick while he was at the Salk Institute in San Diego. I cried buckets. I remember when I visited UC San Diego and The Salk Institute quite a few years after I had gone to grad school at UC Santa Cruz. I was in such awe of that location because I had read so many papers by people who had or were currently associated with those wonderful institutes. Had I gotten into UC San Diego, I am sure I would have gone there for grad school. But I didn’t and I did get into UC Santa Cruz and went down a different path. Don’t get me wrong—I have no regrets. I loved my psycholinguistics research and training and I am happy with all that I have done since then.

Nonetheless, there is still a yearning in me to—I am not certain what for—perhaps to have a long conversation with someone about the field, perhaps just read some more, perhaps walk the hallowed halls of the great institutions where this research has and is being conducted. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I am sure that a big part of this is simply nostalgia. Nostalgia for being a young researcher. Nostalgia for being at a university. A craving for thinking about and philosophizing about mind and consciousness. Whatever it is, I am profoundly impacted by it and can’t figure out how to discharge my deep need. My plan at this point is to just keep reading. Read whatever is calling to me and see where it goes. Frankly it needn’t go anywhere other than to fulfill whatever craving I have to ponder and wonder and be amazed by the complicated thing called brain and the strange and perplexing phenomenon called consciousness.

XOXO Rachel

Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey

Andy's RecyclingA few weeks ago I was talking with my family at my Mom’s 80th birthday party (which was wonderful) and I mentioned that my memory of when I was young is very dim. There are, however, memories that vividly and suddenly come back to me. They are usually prompted by something happening to me in that moment. This morning I had such an experience. My husband Andy was getting the recycling together and the sight of him tying twine around newspapers propelled me to my childhood in the late 60s when, with my brother Erik, we started Gnilcycer in our hometown of Roosevelt, NJ.

Gnilcycer is recycling spelled backwards and was the title we used for our collection of paper, bottles and cans—well before towns and cities had set up recycling programs. My brother was always creative with names so I am pretty sure he made that one up. (He also made up my company name Wondrance).

These days Andy keeps a big ball of twine and a pretty bright red scissors with our recycling basket and periodically wraps up the paper when it has grown into a high heap. He has been doing this for years but for some reason, this morning as I gazed at Andy’s beautifully twined- tied packages of newspaper, flashbacks of organizing stacks of paper, bins of bottles and cans as a girl came rushing into my focus.

My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater
My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater

I can’t recall whether we collected the recycling ourselves or whether people dropped it off—I think it might have been both—but I do have distinct images of our collection building. It was a garage behind the Roosevelt Nursery School on Homestead Lane just down the street from our house. Erik and I spent a lot of time behind the nursery school separating paper and cans and bottles into different piles. Then we put everything into a van to take to a big recycling factory. My dad drove us in the Green Monster, a funky old van painted pastel green. I wish I had a photo of that van. It was clearly painted with glossy regular wall paint—not professional car paint. But it was perfect for tasks like hauling recycling and also apparently a family of four from New Jersey to Florida. I only vaguely remember that Florida trip but images of the Green Monster are clear.

Hauling the recycling materials to the Freehold processing plant in the Green Monster was an exciting trip. We got to see the behind the scenes of recycling and felt so wonderful playing a small role in reducing waste. And to say that recycling is important to me is an understatement. That early experience set me up for a lifetime of devotion to recycling. Recycling has grown into an expected part of life now, but I remember with fondness each stage of the recycling movement and how I personally dealt with recycling wherever I have lived.

In the late 70s, towns and cities started to gather recycling from homes, but before that, there were only drop-off locations like Gnilcycer. It wasn’t until the 80s that curbside recycling started to really grow in the US and it took a few decades before it was widespread. New Jersey, it turns out, was an early recycling focused state. Woodbury, NJ was the first city in the US to mandate recycling in 1980, setting a precedent for the rest of the country. These days there are garbage and recycling bins available everywhere in public spaces and the types of materials that are recycled has expanded. I am grateful to my child-self and my family for my recycling mindset and wonderful memories.

XOXO Rachel

The Thrill Of Doing A Back-Handspring And Other Physical Feats

Generally speaking, I am not what you would call a thrill seeker. However, there have been several times in my life when I have experienced such an adrenalin rush when I did something physically outside of my comfort zone. They stand out as moments when I felt so in my body, so filled with happy energy, and so glad to be fully awake and alive to life.

My old laundry bag from campAs a girl, I wasn’t adventurous though I liked change and was usually game to try new things. I went away for summer to YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason camp in Northern New Jersey and did two amazing activities that pushed the envelope of what I would normally do. The first was rather modest—yet important. That summer I really found my water-legs and learned how to swim like a fish. In fact, the names of our levels were names of fish. Minnows, flying fish are two levels that I recall. I had always been fairly comfortable in water, but that summer I learned the real strokes—crawl, breast, back and butterfly. When I became one with the water, I felt so thrilled and calm at the same time. The calm came from feeling comfortable and completely safe even though I was in deep water and using new strokes. And because I passed a certain level of swimming skill, I was automatically entered into a drawing for an activity that only a handful of campers would participate in towards the end of the camp session.

Wouldn’t you know it, my name got pulled out of the hat to go for a day-trip rubber rafting on rapid waters. Just thinking about it now makes the hairs on my arms stand up. It was a good thing that I didn’t have to put my name in the hat on my own or I might not have gone on that important trip.

I was really scared. I was with a group of kids I didn’t yet know—none of my friends from my cabin or other camp activities were on the trip. And I couldn’t quite imagine what rubber rafting was. And then when we arrived at the rapids at a section of the Delaware River, I couldn’t imagine getting into those waters. We learned that we were to straddle the side of the raft. “What,” I thought, “we aren’t even safe inside the boat?” The day was long and I got a little less scared as I got more acquainted with the raft and the paddle. Mostly I was feeling the adrenaline rush of fear and less of the calm exuberance of excitement, but even so I had moments of feeling happily thrilled beyond my imagination.

Dreaming of floating in the cloudsSeveral years later when in High School, I took gymnastic classes at Alts in Princeton Junction, NJ. Although I had been taking gymnastics for a number of years on and off starting at the Y with Peri during the Olga Korbut Gymnastics craze (see Streaming Memories—Flea Markets), at this point I had a young adult body and a young adult mind with a little less fear. I remember vividly the moment I finally was able to do a back-handspring without spotters. Any activity that requires you leap backwards requires a huge amount of blind belief. Your mindset must be comfortable believing that when you leap backwards your hands will land on the floor because your legs are already in the air and you really are blind to the ground. There is that moment of letting go and knowing that your body will indeed catch yourself. That is the awesome moment of calming, thrilling, amazing liveliness!

I can count on one hand the number of times since that day at the gym that I have felt that rush that is less fear and more exuberance. I hadn’t been able to express what I felt when I did that back-handspring. I was proud of myself and I showed my parents what I learned to do, but I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. I am certain that I was glowing after that class when I finally did the back-handspring and I am sure everyone around me saw my glow. A more recent adult experience helped me to clarify where the juice of these experiences comes from and why I loved the thrill.

Up on ropesAs part of a yearlong intensive personal and leadership development training, I went on retreats to Northern California that included a number of high-flying tasks. We did rope courses of all sorts that required we climb up tall redwood trees. Sometimes we walked across tight ropes and sometimes we jumped. We leaped to grasp other ropes, we jumped to get down with the help of belays, we did trust falls where you fall blind backwards and we jumped off while connected to a swing (see Free falling and improv up on high). I was very nervous at first but I learned that the fear was all about my mindset. Once I experienced being able to accomplish something, I could relax and let go into the bodily sensations on the next turn. I couldn’t get enough of the activities when I finally found my air-legs. Just as when I got my water-legs in summer camp, a certain amount of physical and mental mastery was all I needed to enjoy and even crave the adventure. I understood from that moment why skydivers and trapeze artists and other thrill seekers in the sky are junkies for their death defying highs. The instant of aliveness has never been so intense as it has been for me when I am in the air—suspended for a moment in my body and mind, present to life.

I just looked up Camp Mason and it still exists. In the 70s camp was to a certain extent about personal development and conquering fears, but there is so much more available these days. The camp now has a whole category of activities under the umbrella Adventure: Teambuilding, high ropes (zipline, giant swing and more), climbing wall, survival, nature hikes, aerial silks, outdoor cooking, day trips into the surrounding area. Would I have taken up skydiving as an adult if I had the opportunity to do all those high-flying feats as a kid? Perhaps…

XOXO Rachel

At The Races

Saratoga Race CourseAt the races conjures up two very different things for me—being caught up in the rat race of work and watching horses racing at the track. The first is being stuck in it all and the latter is being away from it all. The balance between the two is even apparent in my memories of going to the horse-track. The first time I was “at the races” was when I was a young girl and my mom was working as an attorney at Legal Aid Society in Trenton, New Jersey. Periodically I went to work with her instead of school. I don’t remember the exact circumstances on that day that led to me joining her rather than going to school but I can say that my mom was very trusting that I knew which days I really had to be at school and which days were not such a big deal.

Mom and meI had a great relationship with my mom—I still do—and she understood that when I occasionally woke up and said that I really did not want to go to school that day that I truly needed the day off. I was an “A student” and I was very conscious in my decision to take—what I would now call—a mental health day now and again when I needed a break, careful to not miss an exam or something else important that day. And so my mom and I played hokey a day here or there. She didn’t entirely play hokey because my day of hokey always included some work time for her. In the earlier days it was at Legal Aid but then later when she was on her own, we would go to her private practice office to work for a few hours then head over to the newly opened Quaker Bridge Mall—one of the first malls and certainly the only mall around us in those days. So I had a day off from the rat race of school and she had a partial day off from the rat race of work. As I look back I realize that I continued to quite successfully understand when I needed a mental health day off from work. Throughout my years working in corporate America I managed to take an occasional day off for no reason and I believe I was more successful—less prone to burnout—because I did so.

The day that we went to the races was a particularly unusual day off from school for me. At my mom’s office she was one of the few women attorneys. The guys loved to go to the Garden State Park Racetrack in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ now and then as a lunch break (I think that is where we went, as the racetrack is no longer there). I was fortunate to be at the office on one of their hokey days. We slipped out of the office for a few hours and drove to the park. I remember picking horses based on their names. We found a perfect choice named after a flute or classical piece or flutist—was it Die Fledermaus or Magic Flute or Jean-Pierre Rampal… Well, I don’t remember the horse’s name exactly but I do remember that the choice paid off! What a thrill to watch the horses come around the bend towards the finish line while my mom and I cheered our horse on. We won a few bucks!

Although I have been “at the races” metaphorically in the workforce for many years after that day with my mom, I only recently was literally was “at the races” again—a first time as an adult. Now that Andy and I are working on our own, we have tremendous flexibility when it comes to taking time off from work. A couple of years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary we decided to take a mid-week getaway to nearby Saratoga Springs during the racing season. Saratoga is a lovely town with interesting little shops and gourmet restaurants lining main street and lovely inns. After breakfast, we wandered around the town a bit before going to the races.

Horses relaxing in their stallsAlthough there were some similarities to my early childhood experience, much of this horse racing track trip felt very different. We parked near where all the horses and their caretakers lived during the season. It was fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the racing horse life. It felt foreign to me and yet very comforting in a way. It was a hot day and people milled about with their horses; jockeys and horse trainers hung out and chatted with their colleagues; others sat outside around the barracks listening to music. The occasional fancy car appeared with what I assumed were the wealthy horse owners.

In the grandstandWe made our way to the gate where we picked up our tickets that we had ordered in advance then people watched while standing in line until the gate opened. The mix of people was wonderful. There were big families, fancy dressed women in hats, men in suits, young groups of friends, older wealthy couples and of course unfortunate looking people who I presumed were gambling away whatever they had. We found our section in the grandstand and then were escorted to our seat by a gentleman who whisked our seat clean before we sat down. Such a lovely tradition.

The winners walkThen the preparation for the races began! We scrutinized the racing bet sheet to see if we could make heads or tails of the horses. The only thing we could make heads or tails of was which was actually the head or tail of the horse. So instead of any fancy system we went for horses that were mentioned as promising or had a nice name—that worked when I was a girl. Even making our few-dollar bets was an experience. We went up to the window and fortunately had a teller who was patient as we tried to state our bet the way you are supposed to: Track Name, Race, Amount, Bet Type, Horse Number (not the horse’s name). So it would be something like Saratoga, race one, two dollars to win on the five (though we didn’t state Saratoga because it was obvious we were there). Unlike as a girl, we did not win a penny—but just like as a girl, watching the horses fly around the track to the home stretch was indeed trilling!

I am glad that I have been “at the races” in both senses of the expression throughout my life. Now that I am able to be “at the races” in the getting away from it all sense more often than in the being part of the rat race way, I am indeed grateful.

XOXO Rachel