Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Visualizing *My New DC Life*

Transition is a creative process.  Not too different from what a writer or artist goes though, it begins with creating a Vision for what you want your Transition to be.

For me, preparing to close my service in Peace Corps Mexico, my first step was to visualize:  What did I want for my New DC Life?

Note that I’d toyed with staying on in Mexico, getting a university teaching job and forging ahead with my sustainability projects.  But I got clear pretty quick that it wasn’t time for that.  Life north of the border was calling me.  I was cautiously optimistic:  How could I create the life I loved there – while preserving, even leveraging, all that I learned in Mexico?

This questioning and musing is EXACTLY what Step One of the Visioning Process is all about. 

There are many creative techniques.  Those more left-brained might prefer brainstorming with words and tables, right brained more drawing or collaging.  I could devote a blog post to this, and I might.  But for now suffice it to say, the most important aspects of Visualization include:

  • The Inquiry – asking poignant questions
  • The Space – allocating time and energy to muse and paying attention
  • Refraining from Judgment – allowing the ideas to flow without criticism (there will be plenty of time for that down the transition road) 
Questions that prompt creativity are open-ended and big:
  • What’s important to me?
  • What is my heart’s desire? 
  • What’s calling my attention?
  • What gets me up in the morning?
  • Where do I see myself thriving?
The answer may be a concrete action – like I want to write the great American novel.  It may have a more amorphous quality – I want peace in my life. Or it may be a patchwork quilt of various elements. The answer may come immediately – or it may take some time. 

For me, journaling is the key.  I’ve kept a diary since I was in Junior High – a way of capturing raw thoughts and making sense of myself and the world.  With journaling you save a lot of time that you might otherwise waste talking with friends who really cannot help at this stage.  This is your process.  It’s important, not self-indulgent. It’s the way to find your path so you can be at your best in this world.  It’s a wise investment in your future.

Put a question at the top of the page and fill in the blank with words, without criticism, editing or second-guessing – make it a timed-writing and don’t pick-up the pen.  Go for 15 minutes.  Look at it the next day – circle what resonates with a highlighter. Keep Post-it notes around and notate ideas that arise in the moment – then add them to the visualization pile. 

Here’s a sample journal entry from September 2012. Still in the Peace Corps in Mexico, anticipating my close of service, I was getting a jump on the Visioning process:

So wistful for a change of scenery – this feeling of the open road – the open ocean.  Funny, with such big wide open spaces in this part of central Mexico, stretches of arid land, desert expanses to the horizon…I feel trapped.
I went to the front of the bus yesterday to ask the driver to turn down the horrible video about fighting robots – and I was astonished at the scene out the front windshield – endless, open sky and our tiny human path cut through the wall of foothills. 
I’m not paying attention.  I’m as isolated as a Mexican behind my cinderblock walls – where it’s safe, quiet, clean and orderly.  And I can play Sunday jazz on my itunes.
Interesting.  Adapting, surviving, becoming/going native, by pushing the rest of the world away? Sometimes this is necessary – it has been, for my sustainability, for completion of my Peace Corps commitments and work with the Zama Mamas.  It with writing at time too.
But right now I’m dying for the open road, the open sea.  I keep coming back to this images of me as the fish, getting into the flow of the writing, the openness of the sea, the wind, the water – finding a quiet rhythm, cleansing me – getting on the path with a good plan and draft underway – not wavering about what am I writing:  but committing and going forward, writing chapters, maintaining the clear intention toward overall completion.
Not getting distracted by all that I’m NOT doing – all the conferences or job opportunities or consulting gigs I may be missing out on.  Letting go of all that – knowing it will be there when I am done.  I have the power to choose. 
I have a longer-range ‘heart’s desire’ too – that is evolving – and will go on my poster – but the shorter term transitional desire is for sea, sun, reflection, cleansing, writing, Oaxanan mole y mescal….and getting sweet closure in Mexico.

 I pay attention to dreams too – the subconscious speaks freely. In one poignant dream, during the last few months of my Peace Corps service, I was on a speaking tour of the USA. I awoke and took note:

This morning I awoke with an image in my head:  on a road trip, pulling into a gas station, refilling the tank, getting a to-go cup of coffee, the circle of steam it creates on the windshield as we pull-out onto the open road again into the future. Where to – the beach?  The West? Yes, it feels wistful, open, West.  I’m taking a cross-country tour in the Ruby Sub, stopping in towns in America Norte to present my story about sustainability!

Let this process go on for a few weeks.  Your regular life will not stop – and need not.  You have completion to do before you can dive into the next new thing.  But it’s important to devote a few hours each week to the muse.

This process of dreaming, journaling and notating led me to a rather messy draft list ideas with some envisioned shifts indicated with arrows:

·        Reconnection – with friends and professional colleagues and interest groups
·        Socializing, music, dance, romance, fun!
·        Sense of --> Abundance
·        Mi Hovel --> Mi Casa MtP – a sustainable house renovation – sustainability continues with ME!
·        Journal Writing --> Book writing, completion of a work
·        Mi Isolacion --> My voice in the world, my experience in Peace Corps, Goal 3!
·        Learning/struggling with Spanish --> speaking/using my the language/cultural understanding and sharing it
·        Tolerance --> Respect, Recognition, Advocacy!
·        Solo yoga y Meditation --> Sangha/community
·        Spinning in Claudia’s gym --> cycling in Rock Creek Park again
·       Corona --> Champagne

Beneath this raw Spanglish list there was a lot of wisdom – I had to trust that – and my coach Leslie would be a big help.

Vamos adalante, forward we go…

Monday, July 15, 2013

Making Mindful Transitions ~ Lessons in Progress

Transitions don’t start at the moment of re-entry.

My process began back in August, at Peace Corps Close of Service (COS), a three-day intensive program during which our volunteer class had a chance to conclude the official side of our service with workshops, flipcharts, ceremonies, mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, even a Skype chat with Washington’s Transition Services Unit for guidance on preparing succinct elevator pitches that wouldn’t bore or alienate our friends and family back home. 

How were we supposed to boil-down two years of cross-cultural challenges and eye-opening experiences in under two minutes?! This role-play exercise did little more than remind us how hard the impending transition was really going to be.

COS opened the door to the Ending and my overall Transition process. (Read more about it here --> http://annes-eye.blogspot.com/2012/08/sustainability-starts-ends-with-me.html)

But I had a LOT to do in Rioverde with my counterparts, friends and community partners in order to get real closure by the November deadline and move-on. As SeeChange prez and chief change agent, I knew I was going to need a plan if I was going to get through it with any grace at all. 

The pressure to close a tree sale with the Zama Mamas and leave them whole and sustainable was almost unbearable, and the maƱana attitude of my counterparts wasn’t helping. On top of that, the State Department’s recurring threat to pull us San Luis Potosi volunteers was bearing down again. The danger of drug cartel violence, and the uncertainty of our service, had weighed on us till the end.

William Bridges, Transitions
Beyond just getting through it, I knew this transition could and would be fertile ground for learning and growth – if only I could manage it mindfully.
So I reached-out to my good old friend and coach, Leslie, for some help.  As OD colleagues and fellow AU/NTL grads, we both applied the Bridges three-stage model – starting with graceful Endings, progressing through the fertile middle-ground of Transitions, then culminating with bright new Beginnings.

Moreover, with our mindfulness underpinnings, we both believed in attending not only to task, but getting below the surface to the feelings, in order to get to real closure and insight. When I got on that bus out of Rioverde for the last time, and looked back over my shoulder, I knew it would be the relationships that mattered most.

Leslie and I set out over a series of Skype sessions, from my Rioverde office connection to hers in the WVA panhandle, to create a Vision for my Transition and *New DC Life.*  Over the next few posts, I’ll share that vision with you, along with some digressions back to Mexico where I'm still picking-up lessons. And I'll discuss the challenges and ah-has over the course of what will soon be a year-long transition process.

Stay tuned…