B is for Beliefs

Jul 7
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice

B is for Belief

I used to be a person of faith. There was a time when I knew what I believed: The Four Spiritual Laws, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Apostle’s Creed. My beliefs were assents to doctrines I was told would save my soul. And I believed those who told me this.

I believed because I was young when I encountered these doctrines and because my heart was broken with my parents’ divorce, my father’s easy slip into addiction, and my mother’s quick remarriage to someone who was a stranger to us. I believed because I wanted someone to be present for me and to love me and to give my life structure. God did that for me, as did His Bride, the Church. I had a family with them for many years.

And then I lost my ability to believe. What happened was that I lived with a constant pall over my head about hell. Not believing the doctrines properly would mean my soul would be in hell for eternity. And I thought this was true for all of my friends who didn’t believe them too. Every day for almost twenty years I vibrated with a quiet terror that my beliefs might not REALLY be up to par, and certainly that some people I loved were guaranteed to suffer forever in a lake of fire. The pressure to proselytize was a constant stress. I couldn’t sink into restful appreciation for my own salvation while everyone else was facing eternal execution. I couldn’t even hold a “regular” job spending 8 hours a day doing tasks unrelated to bringing my “good news” to the world with terrible guilt.

In graduate school, something changed. I encountered the term “social construction.” Stay with me here; I know this is heady. A socially constructed “truth” is an idea that a bunch of people agree on SO much and SO hard that everyone begins to believe it and accepts it as real. Money is a great example. Money runs our world, but only because we all agree that paper stamped with our government’s symbols (or numbers on a bank statement) are valuable.  It serves us to construct a reality that allows us to buy and sell using money exchange instead of making direct trades (a therapy session for a basket full of veggies from your garden, for instance).

I started really, really thinking about the things I believed and began to understand that the doctrines I held were literally decided on by groups of men sitting down to agree on what was true (hello Council of Trent and thanks).

And I lost my beliefs (not my faith, you understand, but more on that when we get to F).

Over the ensuing years (about 15) I’ve wished I could believe specific things about divinity, intelligent design, the afterlife, etc. But I’ve remained largely agnostic about these things. Why pretend to know something that isn’t knowable? (I have my suspicions, you understand, but they don’t rise to the level of beliefs.)

I’m ready now, however, to reclaim a creed. And the last three years of loss and death and grieving have given me some experiences to base my beliefs on. So here’s my new doctrine. I call it the Five Points of Cami:

  • Real friends who know you well can and often will make space for you to be messy, crabby, and confused. Don’t take advantage of this, but be grateful when you f*ck up and they let it go.
  • Dogs are the only real source of unconditional love but some cats and some people can provide supplemental connection, support, wisdom, and cuddles.
  • The practical stuff you need for living can always be replaced if you need to start over, but self-respect is something a person must never walk out on.
  • “Salvation,” if there is such a thing, ONLY exists in this present moment. Being alive to what is true RIGHT NOW inside your body is the only eternal aliveness there is.
  • Kindness, compassion, and curiosity about the experiences of others are sacraments. Even practiced imperfectly and infrequently, they will expand a person’s capacity for connection with others and for joy.

So that’s it. My new set of beliefs. And when I re-read them, I don’t feel a vibration of anxiety that other people might not agree with them. I only feel relief. Like, “Yeah, these beliefs can guide my life and inform decisions I may need to make. Good enough.”

Do you have a creed? Would love to hear it.

 

 

A is for Adventure

Jul 5
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice

For the past several years in April, my friend Pam has blogged through the alphabet. I’ve usually followed along with admiration that she’s been able to crank out a coherent piece of writing for 26 consecutive days. Even in my most prolific blogging days while I was running all over the world, I only averaged one or two blogs per week. But I was out for a run yesterday and had a train of thought that has made me decide to blog through the alphabet. Let’s say it’s certainly my intent to finish A through Z, and I’ll do my best to crank these out before the end of July.

Here’s what I thought about on my run that led me to this commitment:

The past three years have been hard years for me. I mean f*cking super hard, like the kind of hard you hope doesn’t happen more than once in your life. I left a relationship that meant a lot to me but was not working for me; I moved away from my home and my community; my grandmother who helped raise me passed away; grandpa died of a brain tumor shortly after she passed; my cat of 16 years, Bronte, died a few months after that; I started two meaningful but time-consuming and expensive businesses to get myself back up to my earning potential and to support my life in Seattle; I got shingles; my little pug Jane was sick for a year and then died; my remaining pet, Fuji, has had a series of expensive and painful illnesses that has left her bladder leaking everywhere, plus she’s a basket case after everything we’ve been through and she has panic attacks when I leave her alone.

You see what I mean? It’s been a hard three years. Some of this I’ve had control over, obviously. Some of the choices I’ve made have felt like the best choices I knew how to make in difficult circumstances, but they were my choices. Other items on this list are things that just happened. Old people and animals get sick and die. The fact of this doesn’t make the loss hurt less, but it does mean I had a reasonable expectation that those deaths were likely to happen sometime soon. Maybe that helped alleviate even MORE pain than I might have experienced. I’m not sure.

But anyway, lately I’ve been telling my therapist (um, yeah, for SURE I’ve been seeing my therapist through all of this) that I think I’ve forgotten how to be happy. Even the travel I’ve done during this time (England once, France twice), the support I’ve had from good friends (a ton), the marathons I’ve run in the past three years (2), and the fact that my businesses have been successful have not led to much relief from my grief and acute anxiety. And I’ve been grieving for so long now, that I’ve started to get worried I forgot how to feel anything nice. Worry, rumination over my choices, sadness, and strategizing to get back on my feet have taken a toll on my energy (and my weight—I gained 15 pounds, which I’ve never done in my adult life before).

Two weeks ago S__ (my therapist) and I made a list of the feeling states I can’t seem to muster. Things like joy, calm, optimism, playfulness. And we started to hatch a plan for me to generate these states of being in my mind/body experience through meditation, thought-stopping negative trains of thought, self-soothing, and visualization. Unfortunately, the “vitality” emotions go underground when you experience a lot of trauma. There seems to be some evidence that the part of the brain that generates joy, for example, takes a backseat when fight/flight/freeze is repeatedly stimulated by sustained adrenaline.

Yesterday while I was running, something that used to give me enormous joy, I thought, “How could I get this to make me happy again? Maybe I could focus on one vitality state a day for the rest of the month—really drum it up in my memory, thoughts and in my somatic experience.” And then I thought of Pam’s blogging through the alphabet, and I realized I could share my process with you, dear readers (are you still out there?).

I don’t mind being vulnerable with you because I know you’ve had sh!t times in your life too. I know you’re on this metaphorical marathon with me. That you’ve lost a lot, failed at love, wished you could feel happy, and wondered how to get yourself back from tough circumstances.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, so let’s call this 26.2 States of Vitality. Are you with me?

I’m reading through a book right now with my therapist that I’ll share from as I go (Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past by Sharon Stanley). I’m sure I’ll add ideas from other books I’ve read, too, since I’m a bit of a self-help junkie. And maybe you’ll share what you know with me and together we can generate widespread somatic experiences of vitality—otherwise known as happiness.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (From the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3.)

I’ve had enough of the die, kill, weep, mourn, lose, rend, keep silent, hate, war business, haven’t you?

Let’s start with A.

A is for Adventure. Throughout my entire adult life, adventure has been crucial to my sense of well-being in the world. Next to “being of service,” something that I’ve been committed to since I was small, seeking adventurous experiences through travel and risk have given me immense joy and have made me feel expansive.

I remember the trip I took with my dear grandmother to Norway in 2002. We planned it during my divorce.  She wanted to get my mind off my sadness, and I wanted her to see Norway. Her father came over to the new country as a young man, and she had done a bunch of genealogy to find family she hoped to connect with. I was 35. She was 75, and I knew we ought to get this trip done before her mobility failed her. I also knew I was the most likely person in the family to take her since I was the person who had done the most international travel, and it was already like second nature to me.

When we got to Norway, we settled in with a cousin of hers who graciously agreed to host us. Each morning I took a long walk through the countryside in an area outside of Oslo while Gram talked with her cousin and recaptured her ear for the Norwegian she’d heard spoken as a child.

Maybe the elders were worried I would be bored, because our host arranged for me to take a motorcycle ride with a friend of his.

Ingar showed up dressed in leather and riding a sleek crotch rocket. I was VERY reluctant to don the red leather suit he handed to me and to climb on the back of his motorcycle for a zip through the Norwegian mountains. But I’d recently promised myself that I would embrace new opportunities put before me as much as possible, so I tried on the suit. It fit perfectly.

I’m not going to lie to you. That day on the back of Ingar’s motorcycle was an uncomfortable day for me. I didn’t want to wrap my arms around a stranger’s waist, so I held onto the little bar behind my seat all day and made the muscles in my arms ache with gripping as we swerved left and right through the countryside.

Finally, near the end of the day, Ingar said to me, “Do you want to see how fast my bike can go?”

Um. No, I thought.

I should mention that Ingar was not a young man. He was twenty years my senior and someone I couldn’t peg down with a clear judgment. Was he an older man who wished he was still young or a kindred spirit who enjoyed taking calculated risks? The answer to that question would help me decide whether or not to see how fast his bike could go. Was he foolish? Or fun? I took the chance he was the latter.

“Sure,” I said.

“Well, you’ll have to put your arms around me so the center of gravity is right. Then we’ll go as fast as we can on this straightaway.”

I did. And we did.

Ingar took us from zero to one hundred on a mountain road while I hung on for dear life.

And I felt my heart open.

At the end of the day, I knew I’d let life happen. I’d started out controlling it. Deciding I could keep myself back from full engagement, that I might give myself away too much (which I certainly have a habit of doing). But by the end I’d felt something new. Adventure had crept inside me.

So what’s this feeling in my body I want to experience now, informed by that memory?

Open.

Deep breaths.

Awe of beauty. A sense of bigness in my heart cavity.

A letting go into the possibility of death. An absence of a pressure in my forehead that I usually carry around when I’m trying to protect myself from bad things happening.

Heart flutters.

No thoughts of the future for one beautiful moment of time.

Can you feel it my friends? I can. I can feel the openness. For one day, let’s live here. I will if you will.

 

Ragnar and Second Wind Seminar

Aug 2
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Conversations, Race Reports, Read This, Reflections, SHINE

How Do You Know When It Is Time to Make a Change?

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” –Abraham Maslow

The weekend before last I participated in the Northwest Passage Ragnar Relay. This is a 192-mile relay run that snakes its way mostly on back roads from the Canadian border down to Whidbey Island, where teams are rewarded with pizza and beer for being crazy enough to stay awake and on the move for nearly two full days. I was runner number twelve on our team of twelve—the last runner, a position I’m used to and comfortable with.

On one of my legs (the second one of three), the one that started at 5:30 on Saturday morning, I ran for nine miles alone over rolling hills on streets surrounded by evergreen trees. I watched the morning gently emerge and appreciated the coolness in the air even as I was beginning to feel the heat the day promised to burn down on the runner who would take the baton from me.

22389948_race_0.9799319939245625.displayBecause I hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours and was addled with fatigue, my attention was hazy. There wasn’t much traffic, so I didn’t fear a run-in with a car, but I did worry about getting lost. Runners were spread out so far that there were several points on the course when I couldn’t see anyone in front of or behind me. I was grateful that Ragnar had placed signs at every turn. This meant I could do the work of running—placing one tired footfall after the next in a rhythm that echoed the beat of the music playing in my ear—without pulling up the map of the route on my phone. I could focus on the task at hand until a three-foot high blue sign with a red flashing light and an arrow appeared on a street corner.

I never lost my way.

Only later, after a couple nights of good sleep, when I was reflecting on the race during one of my morning meditations, did I realize that those big blue Ragnar signs were a terrific metaphor for something I’ve heard many of my clients talking about in therapy sessions lately. At least five different people have recently said something like this to me: “All of a sudden, when my child left for college (or when my spouse died/when I received this diagnosis/when I got divorced), I realized something had to change. I can’t keep on in this meaningless job (or this cement jungle/this lifeless relationship/this breakneck schedule).”

Follow meMy clients are naming something really important: Life sends us signs when we need to make a change. Events, be they crises or normal life-cycle transitions, are very often signals meant to tell us that it is time to up-level our commitment to life, that it’s time to turn a corner and change directions. Our circumstances call us to re-evaluate our approach to our activities and to our relationships (with self, significant others, work, the body, etc.).

Though change can be anxiety provoking, it’s also an opportunity to upgrade your self-image and renew your vision for your future. It is a chance to catch a second wind for the miles ahead.

I’d love to share with you what my clients are discovering in our work together about how to follow the signs to change direction.

Join me for a FREE tele-conference called:
How to Catch Your Second Wind:
Transforming into the Next and Best Version of Yourself

I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve been guiding my clients through:
The three key tasks that you need to complete in order to catch a second wind.
The number one habit you need to incorporate in your life in order to upgrade your Self-confidence.
How to master jumping over the biggest hurdle that keeps people stuck when they hit a crisis or major life change.

When: Wednesday, August 12 at 5:30pm Pacific Time
Where: On the phone. In the comfort of your own home.
How to sign up: Send me an email (clostman@live.com) with “Second Wind Workshop” in the subject line. I’ll send you the conference number and a reminder email.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver

(Note: If you don’t want to be added to my emailing list when you sign up for the tele-workshop, let me know.)

The “I” in SHINE

Feb 4
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Reflections, SHINE

The “I” in SHINE

Invest in your relationships wisely.

Investment

Because I grew up in a home with dysfunction and chaos (who didn’t?), I learned early in life that I had to cast a wide net for healthy relationships. My four grandparents were the loves of my life, and I had many teachers and neighbors who took me under their wings and taught me what it meant to feel loved and cherished. Over the years, I’ve intentionally cultivated friendships with people who could show up for me during both good and hard times, people who would let me cry on their shoulders as well as call me to the carpet if I was out of line.

A few years ago, I developed for my clients a four-quadrant model (which I will go over in my 7-week SHINE program) of different kinds of relationships that they were likely to recognize when they were working toward their goals. I’ve taught this model at workshops and in private sessions over the years.

All this is to say that I’m not new to thinking about how to invest wisely in relationships.

But while I was away from my home and all of my day-in/day-out relationships, I had the chance to do something I’d never done before. I started from scratch. Because I didn’t know a soul when I arrived in Concepcion, I had to build friendships from ground zero. And this gave me a chance to observe how I did it—and how others do it, too. Below is just a summary of what I observed and an outline of what we will talk about in depth in the SHINE program:

  1. To build a friendship with someone, you have to BE the kind of friend you would want to have. The number one thing you need to have in place in order to have good relationships with other people is solid self-esteem. You have to know you are someone you yourself can trust. Sounds simple, right? But this is easier said than done. Most of us struggle to believe we are worth the effort we want others to put out toward us.
  2. To cultivate and deepen a relationship, you must choose to commit to time with people before you know if they are likely to turn into life-long friends. In other words, you have to take a leap of faith and be willing to adjust your commitment level as you get to know someone and what they are bringing to the table.
  3. You have to find a balance between being vulnerable and over-sharing. Every level of friendship requires both letting go of defenses in order to build connection and holding back so you don’t give away too much too soon. Figuring out what this right balance is with each person you know is an art.
  4. You have to be willing to fall in love even though you know your heart might get broken. I knew right from the first day in Chile that if I really put my heart and soul into building friendships, I would be crushed when I had to say goodbye. But, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson said. Satisfying relationships require that we put ourselves in the way of heartbreak. This means we’ve got to be brave.Now, to be fair, I didn’t learn all of this in Chile. In addition to my own life-long quest to build healthy relationships, I’ve also been working as a therapist for fifteen years with people who often bring their loneliness into the consulting room. What I did learn in my travels is that when you know how to do relationship, you take that skill with you everywhere you go.In the 7-week SHINE program, we’ll be talking about my four-quadrant categories of relationships as well as discussing how to cultivate the four friendship stances listed above (to review: be the kind of friend you want to have, take calculated leaps of faith, find balance in your “friendship offerings,” and open your heart to others). Here are details about how to join in.

    SHINE program details:
    When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
    Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
    What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
    Cost: $99

How to Travel Economically inside the United States

Aug 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Chile 2014, Travel log

In Bill’s presentation at the University of Concepcion on US history and culture, one of his audience members asked him about some economical ways to travel in the United States. He puzzled over the answer because the US is such a big, spread-out, car-dependent country. Most students who travel abroad won’t have access to a car. But when Bill got home, we started brainstorming answers to this question. Bill and I have traveled all over the world and through much of our own country after all and, aside from airfare, we’ve often managed to travel “on a shoestring.” I told him, I’d write a blog post to more fully answer the question of how to travel cheaply through the States.

I know some of you who wander over to my blog sometimes (particularly those of you who are Marathon Maniacs on a budget) may be able to add even more insight. Do comment below to add websites, ideas, and suggestions!

 

So… here are our thoughts.

 

Travel with Others

The very best way to cut costs when traveling is to go with other people. A hotel room or a rental car will cost the same in most cases no matter how many people sleep or ride in it. Traveling with friends also creates a buffer for safety. To travel cheaply, you’ll have to depend at times on strangers for tips or help getting around. There is always safety in numbers, especially in unfamiliar places!

 

imageChoose One Region to Visit

Since the United States is so very vast, most of its own citizens never see the whole thing. When Bill and I travel, we do it region by region. For example, last year we did a “Southwest” trip to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It’s true that we had a car to travel between the national parks we wanted to see, but we were able to see some of America’s most beautiful Southwest sites in about three weeks. We visited Disneyland, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and still had time to attend a few of Major League Baseball’s spring training games in Peoria.

 

Travel in the Off-Season

The busy travel times in the US are between June 1 and September 1. As soon as school starts for most children (the first of September), airfares drop, hotel prices go down, and common tourist sites clear out. September and October are still warm in most places around the Continental Unites States. April and May are also good times to travel if you want to get outdoors. January, February, and March are great times to travel in the far southern regions where it stays warm year-round. Be sure to check weather reports before you make travel plans.

 

Join Couchsurfing.com

Do you know about couch surfing? Couch surfing is when you sleep in someone’s house for a few nights and then move on to sleep in another person’s house. There is a whole community of people who offer their couches or spare rooms for other people who need a place to stay. You have to be a member of the couchsurfing.com website community to participate. Sign up and check it out. The nice thing about this site is that people can post reviews of the places they have stayed so you can see if someone’s house is clean and safe. You have to be a good guest once you arrive. Couchsurfing.com is a relationship-oriented way to find lodging. But it’s usually free!

Contact Old friends

Informal couch surfing is another way to find free lodging. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Hey, when you come to my city, look me up?” Maybe it was 10 years ago. Don’t worry. Look that person up! Tell them you will be traveling to their town, and when they offer to let you stay at their house, say yes!! The best thing about travel is spending time with local people, right?!!

 

Utilize Youth Hostels

Bill and I often stay at hostels. Hostels are not hotels. They have no services; you usually share a bathroom with other people; and they are not always as new and tidy as you might wish. But, they are usually (not always) pretty cheap. When you know where you will be traveling, google “hostels in Seattle” for example, and read the reviews. We’ve stayed at some terrific hostels, but we’ve also found a few I would never recommend to others. Hosteling International will have suggestions for you, but always do your research and read reviews.

About reviews: We are not extremely picky about where we sleep. I have only two important criteria: cleanliness and safety. I don’t mind if a review says, “The staff was not responsive,” because I don’t need people to take care of me. I do mind if reviews say, “There were insects in my bed,” or “A guy with a tattoo on his face knocked on my door and asked to borrow a cigarette.” Decide what you need in a hostel or hotel and look for that in the reviews.

 

Try Camping

In most cities you can find someplace that rents out camping equipment. You can still camp in mid-September or early October. There are many kinds of campsites: KOAs have showers, flushing toilets, and even wifi sometimes. State Parks or National Parks vary in terms of what kind of amenities they offer. All camping sites will cost you something—usually between about $8 and $30USD depending on how popular they are. The local visitor center can tell you where to camp.

 

Contact the Visitor Center

Speaking of Visitor Centers, this is the first stop Bill and I make no matter where we go around the world (we’ve been to the one here in Concepcion several times already). They are sometimes called Tourist Information Centers or Welcome Centers and they usually have a big “i” on the outside of the building. In most places around the United States, these centers are staffed by local volunteers who know the area very well.

 

Create a Ridebuzz.org Account

Like with couchsurfing.com, ridebuzz.org requires that you have an account to participate. Ridebuzz is a network of people who are offering or looking for rides—across town or across the country. As a rider, you agree to help pay for gas in return for a spot in someone’s car. Common wisdom in the United States is NOT to ever ride in a stranger’s car. Ridebuzz.org is working to create a safe way to share transportation. As with everything I’ve talked about here, always look at reviews and comments of other people on the site AND travel with a friend if you share a ride in someone’s car.

 

Discount Airlines

There are a few airlines which do not list their fares on kayak.com or priceline.com (these are both travel sites that let you compare airplaneprices for airfare or hotels). Discount airlines may have cheap fares inside the US, but you have to go directly to their own sites to find them. Below is a list of some discount airlines we have used. NOTHING on these airlines is free. You will pay extra for water to drink, to check baggage, or even to reserve a seat next to your friend. In order to save money on discount airlines, you have to travel light, bring your own food on board, and be willing to sit anywhere on the airplane.

Allegiant Air

Southwest Air

West Jet

Jetblue Airways

 

Greyhound and Amtrak

In many places around the world, busses are more comfortable than trains. In the United States, Greyhound busses can be a good, inexpensive way to travel short distances (say 200 kilometers), but they are not always comfortable or safe for long distances. If you want long-distance ground travel, the Amtrak train will be more comfortable. And train travel can be quite fun. The problem is that Amtrak is not always cheaper than flying. If you want to travel across the country (from Los Angeles to New York, for example), trains and planes may be comparable in price, but the train will give you a better chance to see the countryside.

 

We hope this gets our students thinking about how they might come visit us someday. Anyone else have tips for US travel on a tight budget? Chime in!!