Reflections on Sobriety

Today I celebrate 8 years of recovery.

Some people are surprised when I tell them I’m sober. That I’m in recovery. They can’t imagine I was “like that” and wonder if I’m exaggerating or being dramatic. Their minds picture an obnoxious, tearful girl at the bar, that embarrassing scene at a cousin’s wedding, or their sister that can’t seem to get her shit together.

Like Brene Brown said, “I had a pretty high bottom.”

In the end, I was smoking pot every day, sometimes several times a day, drinking every night and totally out of integrity with my values - as a therapist, a partner and a mom. Yes, I was still going to work and tending to my responsibilities, but I was completely numb. “Spiritually bankrupt” as they say.

I was living in constant shame and isolation, all too eager to blame everyone else for my problems rather than take responsibility for myself. I put up a good enough front, but behind that mask, I was crumbling.

8 years ago today I attended my first meeting. Oh my god, it was so hard. Going. Staying. Going back again. Doing what was recommended. Detoxing. Not sleeping. All of it.

Talk about the fire of transformation.

Today, I haven’t smoked pot in 8 years. I’ve had some sips of my husband’s beer on a hot summer day, but I don’t order drinks or buy alcohol and treat it like it’s mine. Because it’s not for me. I understand now that I’m prone to over using anything that numbs the bad feelings - food, work, exercise, being online. I don’t need to add pot and alcohol to that list.

For me sobriety is a choice I make everyday. It’s a practice, a mindset. And I’m far from perfect.

I still entertain fantasies about being able to smoke a joint around the campfire with friends, or get cozy with a Spanish coffee in the corner booth of a bar until I remember those are just fantasies. It was never like that for me. It was that and then two more drinks in secret and getting high again before getting into bed. I could never get altered enough and that’s what started to ruin me.

I work on my recovery everyday. I’ve learned tools that help me stay awake and accountable. I practice yoga. I have my spiritual life. I’ve established accountability with family and friends. I have meaningful work and a community of people who get me.

It’s not always easy - staying sober (marijuana and alcohol are EVERYWHERE), but I’ve come to understand that life isn’t easy in general. We all have our challenges and our demons. There’s so much pain and loss. For everyone.

But you can’t numb the pain without also numbing the joy.

That’s what I was missing toward the end. The joy of being alive. What started out fun turned into a mess. Sobriety helps me be more present - not only for the tough stuff, but for the magic and miracles as well. And that makes being sober today worth it.

In gratitude for all those who have gone before me, those who have supported me along the way, and those who help me be the person I am meant to be today.

And in service to those who will come behind, those who feel the longing to be truly alive and are ready to say, “Enough is enough. I choose joy.”

When Fear Gets in the Way

I hope this newsletter finds you well and enjoying all the springtime things!

Many of you have watched my work evolve over the past 18 months. I stopped doing traditional talk therapy and moved my practice online. I started leading an online community of women dedicated to improving their health and mental wellness with yoga and Ayurveda. And now, I’m doing coaching exclusively with people who are tired of talking about their problems and are ready to make changes in their lives.

Click here to read the May 2019 newsletter.

Who’s tired of “self-care?”

Hello Friends,

Have you noticed everyone talking about self care these days? I see it on social media, I see it in ads at Target, I see “self care” everywhere—what does that actually mean?

As a coach and a therapist, I’m concerned about people taking care of themselves. But I also know that one person’s idea of self care is not the same as someone else’s. That’s why this month I have several opportunities for you to think about what nourishes you and really DO self care.

At-Home Retreat Guide starts March 11. 

Click here for the March 2019 newsletter.

Cold, Rain, Fog, Repeat

Hello Friends,

I want to check in with you—how are you? Sometimes I feel that this time of year gets a little blurry. January slips into February and into March… cold, rain, fog, repeat. Schedules and weekends begin filling up, and it can be so easy to lose track of those good intentions I set in January. That’s why this year I’ve chosen a theme for each month—something to focus on and ground my work.

In February, we take a look at self-love.

Click here for the February 2019 newsletter.

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I Love a Clean Slate

Hello Friends,

It’s here. The new year. Are you relieved? Honestly, I am. Don’t get me wrong, December will always hold a certain magic. Especially in these years of my children being young and starry eyed, I’ve learned to let my inner child out, and what better time than during the holidays. But, I have to admit that I also love a clean slate. So, “Hello 2019, let’s make some magic of our own!”

Click here for the January 2019 newsletter.

Progress - 1% at a time

Humans rely on automatic behaviors or habits to make our daily lives more doable. Imagine if you had no habits and every part of your day involved countless tiny decisions —it would be exhausting! Habits let us save our energy and decision-making skills for more demanding moments.

But what if you don’t you don’t love all of your habits? Or many of the habits you have don’t serve you that well. Maybe you’re ready for a change? I have a strategy that works for me and my coaching clients: Kaizen or 1% improvement.

“Kaizen” is a Japanese term that refers to small, continuous improvement. Though this term has its roots in industrialization, it is a principle that we apply to personal productivity and lifestyle change.

Kaizen is about making 1% improvements every day. So, let’s say you’re someone who stays up until past midnight every night. You want to go to bed earlier. Instead of forcing yourself to go to bed at 10pm tonight, you go to bed five minutes earlier. Five minutes is your 1%. If you go to bed five minutes earlier everyday, it will take you at least 24 days to be in bed by 10pm. This is kaizen.

At first, it feels like there is no improvement. (You might think: 11:55pm is barely earlier than midnight!) It takes some time for each day of 1% change to accumulate. Once these small improvements do build up though, you’ll begin to see and feel the effects of your gradual shift.

We believe in making small, continuous improvement because humans are creatures of habits. Our nervous systems tend to freak out when they are shocked by too much change. Imagine touching something hot, you immediately pull your hand away without even thinking. Our nervous system does the same thing when we throw too much at it at once—it reacts by contracting, pulling in. And a contracted nervous system cannot learn or grow; it is too busy trying to protect itself. With gradual change and continuous improvements, our nervous systems slowly adjust to new ways of being allowing for new habits to stick.

We can use kaizen in two main ways. We can use it in the moment to make a 1% improvement on the spot, and we can use it as we plan ahead to change our habits.

1) Kaizen in the moment might look something like this.
Your Craving Brain: I feel like an iced coffee.
Your Inner Conscience: I told myself no more coffee!
The Kaizen Response: Today, I will get iced coffee, but I will get it without any sweetener.

The next day, when you crave iced coffee, you get it without sweetener OR cream. In this way, each time you experience that craving, you can make a choice that is 1% better than your last decision.

2) You can also use kaizen as you plan ahead of time to change your habits. As you map out your habit change for the week, you set your 1% improvement goals. Again with the example of getting to bed earlier, you can improve each day by going to bed 5 minutes earlier than the night before.

Keep in mind that this incremental change should sound underwhelming to you. If you’re working toward a goal that you really, really want to see come to fruition (you’re anxious for change, you’re excited for results, et cetera) then the 1% change is going to sound too easy. Lame. Go-nowhere.

But before you ditch kaizen altogether, remember all the times when you’ve tried to overhaul your life at a moment’s notice—has it ever worked? Have those changes been lasting? Did you quit eating sweets for two days and then go back to your old habits? Did you just decide that you were going to go to the gym every single day and then you just did it, day after day, no problem? No! Not likely! (I mean, if any of that worked for you, congratulations! You are a fantastic, magical creature!) Most of us cannot make lasting change on a dime. That’s why the 1% improvement should feel underwhelming. Because making your habits change for good is a huge undertaking, you want to do it little by little, inch by inch.

Cate Stillman writes this in her book Body Thrive: “The problem with kaizen, for most of us, is that it seems too easy. When you get inspired to change or upgrade a habit, you want big returns. You bite off more than you can chew, which guarantees you’ll fail. The kaizen approach makes the bite small enough that you hardly notice as it nudges you in the direction you want to go.”

Plus, a huge bonus of setting a 1% improvement goals is that you get to celebrate success, like, all the time! When you meet your goal, you get to say “There! I did it!” You’ll feel powerful (because you are), and encouraged to meet the next improvement goal. We are all WAY more likely to succeed when we are rewarded (a feeling that comes with celebration) than when we experience the guilt and shame that so often come with the feeling of missing your goals.

One caution: KAIZEN WILL WORK, SO YOU NEED TO IDENTIFY WHAT IT IS YOU TRULY DESIRE. You WILL reach your goals with small, continuous improvements. So, let your desire be there, and let kaizen be your friend.

Structure Precedes Evolution

We’ve all been there—it’s the beginning of the year (or the month) and the possibilities feel endless. “This year I’m going to run a marathon!” “This year I’m going to lose 10 pounds!” “This year I’m changing careers!” “This month I’m going to eat out less!” “This month I’m going to stick to my budget!” These urges are natural. We want to move into the next phase of our lives. We are wired to evolve!

Goals come from our desire to improve our quality of life.

Dreams help us imagine our best future selves.

Goals and dreams are wonderful! But so often our goals are lofty and never achieved. We say we’ll “get ‘em next year.” And why is that? Often, we don’t realize our dreams because we never make a plan to achieve them. Plans lay out a course for progress based on where we are when we begin. Plans should:

  • acknowledge the reality of our current situation

  • include gradual steps that lead to our goal

  • include opportunities for reflection and celebration of progress

When we have a plan, we are structuring our time and energy so that it is possible to reach our goals.

Otherwise, our hopes and dreams go nowhere. Imagine a grapevine. At first it sprouts and looks like other plants, but as it grows it becomes long and thin and reaches out for something to climb. Once it senses a structure, it winds itself up higher and higher. When it’s fully grown, it bears its fruit.

Ideas are like this grapevine. Ideas need a trellis to grow on, otherwise the vines crawl around on the ground; they can’t go anywhere. They never bear fruit and they just wither and die.

Not all of us love planning, I know. I never used to be a planner; I’d just fly by the seat of my pants, hope for the best, keep my expectations low. But that yielded exactly what you’d expect, mediocre results, ongoing dissatisfaction with myself. Over time, I realized that investing time and resources upfront created outcomes I could be proud of.

Now, I begin with my values and I let them infuse my dreams. Then out comes the calendar, the colored pens, the strategizing. Before long, I have built a trellis for my dreams to grow on, and the year ahead of me—the goals I want to achieve—it all feels manageable… and, dare I say FUN! It’s like I’m looking at my path and it leads to my evolution.

Coaching Vs Therapy

What’s the difference between therapy and coaching? Which do I need? If you’re asking these questions, you’re not alone. Therapy has been around for a while, and coaching is a somewhat newer phenomenon. Both can be hugely beneficial—let’s take a look at how they differ.

In general, therapy focuses on the past. In therapy, you look at your history and seek answers about the present. In therapy, we ask: How did I get here? Why did this happen? Therapy is designed to relieve pain, unpleasant symptoms and restore functioning. Therapy is often used to treat depression, anxiety, and recovery from a traumatic life event.

Coaching, on the other hand, focuses on the present and the future. In coaching we acknowledge where we are now, and then ask: Where do I want to go? How do I get there? Coaching helps people identify what their vision is and helps people identify their next steps forward. Ultimately, coaching empowers you to create your own personal fulfillment.

Therapy assumes there is something wrong with your life, your mental health, your relationships or your current way of being.

Coaching assumes you are relatively healthy and adjusted but want help navigating a life transition, visualizing your future and attaining personal or career goals.

Process

Therapy positions the therapist as the expert and the client as the patient. Coaching is a co-creative process, a partnership of equals.

In therapy, the therapist is often seen as responsible for the process, direction and outcome of the treatment. In the coaching relationship, the coach is responsible for the process; the client, for results.

Relationship

Therapists are bound to federal and state laws and standards of practice regarding diagnosing, confidentiality and therapist-client relationship. These laws are all designed to be protective of clients, but can often be limiting.

Coaching is not bound to the same laws and allows room for a more natural, maybe even informal style of relationship that many people desire. A coach will feel more like a friend, but one who is really professional and focused on your growth—someone who asks the tough questions, but also laughs with you at minor setbacks.

Which is right for me?

Asking yourself what you’re trying to achieve, what kind of process sounds right, and what style of relationship you prefer can help you decide between therapy and coaching. Therapy is, without a doubt, an effective treatment for mental health issues. I believe 100% in its value and benefit for those working through trauma and mental health issues. I have spent the last 18 years providing therapy for many people who needed it.

I also met with a lot of people who didn’t really need mental health treatment, but needed a mentor, a coach—someone to guide them through a challenge and hold them accountable to their life goals. In either case, the important thing is realizing that you’re not happy with your current state, or maybe that you’re not fulfilling your own potential.

I’ve tried therapy before…

Many people seek therapy when they are in distress and then continue on because they need ongoing support for life stuff. Some people return to therapy (sometimes with ambivalence) when what they actually need is someone to help them identify and reach their next stage/goal/dream. Either or both of these options might be right for you. The important thing to come back to is your desired outcome for seeking support. And if you’re not sure, reach out. I’d be happy to talk it through with you.

I hope this helps you understand the difference between therapy and coaching so you can determine whether it’s therapy or coaching that is best for you at this time.

I'm Skipping Black Friday

You know what today is, right? BLACK FRIDAY! It’s practically an official holiday in the US. For many people, the day after Thanksgiving plunges us into a fever pitch of gift-buying and budget-breaking. And whether you love or hate gift buying and giving, I’m willing to bet it’s a source of stress either way.

A couple of years ago, I decided this kind of pressure wasn’t serving me or my family. This year I’m taking advantage of the holiday weekend to spend quality time with my husband instead of worrying about a holiday that is over a month away. So, in the spirit of trying something new, here are a few quick ideas for how to avoid the online shopping cart or the shopping mall parking ramp today.

  1. Homemade Spice Mixes: What do taco seasoning, italian seasoning and pumpkin pie spice all have in common? Well, not much, but they’re all blends of different spices. When you gather the ingredients of these blends, combine them, throw them in a jar, label and gift them, then you’re a hero! Google “homemade spice blends” or try this list of recipes.

  2. Homemade Mustard: Who doesn’t love mustard?! Okay, well, kids perhaps. But I would love to receive a gift like this. Here is a recipe I’ve been meaning to try out for sometime.

  3. Custom Herbal Tea Blends: If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients of your favorite herbal tea, you’ve probably noticed several recognizable (and some unrecognizable) herbs. If you have access to a grocery store or a coop with a good bulk section, you’re likely to find many of these herbs or teas in loose leaf form. Alternatively, it’s easier than ever to order them online. (One responsible source is Mountain Rose Herbs.) Just be sure to label the blend in case the recipient needs to avoid certain herbs due to pregnancy or other health constraints.

  4. For Kids: Never underestimate the power of re-gifting. If your child is old enough, consider some items you’re not using anymore in the garage—an old hammer, a wheelbarrow you wanted to replace anyway, a tire they can use to build a garden or home for their lego creations. Maybe you have a few wild sweaters and old ties that could be gifted for the dress-up bin. And never, ever forget about the magic of a big, empty box. Or a lot of boxes. You could even make a day of decorating the boxes with your children, then use them to build a fort.

  5. For your pets: it’s adorable to watch pets open gifts, it really is. But if you’re trying to save money, just skip it this year. If you love it when your dog rips open a package, then smear some peanut butter in the bottom of a paper bag, roll up the top, and invite your pup to go to town. And gather around (giving Fido plenty of room to work out the puzzle), because I guarantee this will be 10 minutes of hilarity.


This is meant to be a fun, perhaps useful, list, but I definitely acknowledge that making your own gifts can be stressful too! And while it’s fun to think about how to avoid overspending, it’s also important to acknowledge that we live in a culture that encourages consumerism and materialism. Maybe you’re so over mindless spending that you’re ready to make a larger investment in something that lasts, like your health, daily habits, and sense of ease. If so, I’m here for you.

Investing V. Spending: What's the Difference?

I have made some very poor decisions in my life. Particularly in terms of money. In my past, I smoked, drank too much, took trips I couldn’t afford. More recently, I’d spend money on trendy workout clothes, self-help books, massages, visits to the chiropractor. (Self-care is one thing, and very important, but I’d get massages to “relax” while continuing to live my life on overdrive. This did not pan out.) Just yesterday, I purchased a fancy decaf latte because I felt stressed.

Spending

This kind of emotional spending isn’t just my problem. It’s a cultural issue. We’ve learned that buying something will make us feel better, and it does… momentarily. Our brains release dopamine when we’re rewarded, even if we reward ourselves. Pretty soon, we’re caught in a feedback loop with no end. Feel Bad > Buy Something > Feel Excitement > Feel Nothing > Feel Bad > … and so on.

We do all kinds of mindless spending to prop ourselves up. Whether it’s that gingerbread latte because we deserve a treat, new clothes because we feel bad about our looks, or a case of wine because it’s a good deal—we are masters at justifying spending. But if you totaled up all the treats and deals, you’ll probably find that you have little to show for all that money spent except for momentary gratification. We call this a “victim mindset.” You feel assaulted by stress, chaos and worry, so you react to the emotions and treat yourself to feel better. And what’s left after the treat and the flash of gratification? The underlying problem, of course.

Investing

Investing is different than spending in that investing yields long-term positive returns. Typically, making an investment costs a lot up front, whether money or time or both. And that always feels terrifying. But investing is about more than feeling good in the moment. It’s a way to feel better, live more fully, and fulfill your potential in the long run. Someone who makes investments is someone with a “responsibility mindset.” This means admitting that there is a problem and a pattern, and making a proactive choice to address the issue.

How do you know what to invest in? Start with your values. Investing in what is important to you will enrich your life. But what ARE your values? If you give it a little thought, you probably already know the answer. Listen here, and I’ll guide you through an easy process to help you identify them. Once you’ve identified what’s important to you, you may realize that your spending habits have not been lining up with your values. That’s when it’s time to take responsibility. It’s time make a change.

Infinite Returns

You may be used to thinking about investing as money you put in stocks or mutual funds, or in your 401K. That’s an investment in your financial future that will pay you a return in your golden years. Now, think about the return on your investment in self-care. What if you added up all the money and time you are spending to make you feel better—lattes, clothes, girls’ night out, et cetera—and compared it to the return? Would you say that it’s really paying off? Are you getting the benefit that you truly need and desire?

If you do the accounting and find that the real outcome you want is not worth the expense, it’s time to solve the underlying problems that the consumerism and indulgences are trying to solve. When you align your time and money with your values and invest in what your body, mind, and spirit really need to feel healthy and strong, you will see returns quickly. And what’s even more amazing is that those returns continue to grow as you experience a vibrant body, a wise mind, and true joy in your life.

This is a truly counter-cultural shift. You’ll need support to make this shift from spending to investing in yourself. Find a buddy, or a whole community of others who are are also investing in themselves. You’ll go farther faster when you share the ups and downs of this journey.

Invest in yourself now and receive infinite returns both in the short- and long-term.

Political Conversations with Family and Friends

Friends, it’s November 5, 2018, and you know what that means—the midterm election cycle is almost over! As much as I value the right to vote and take part in shaping the present and future of this country, I am also acutely aware of the social and emotional tension surrounding elections. And that tense climate affects us all.

As a therapist-coach, I have often heard people’s woes and worries about not just voting, but how to talk about their political decisions and values with people who disagree with them. And how much more difficult is it when that person is someone you care about deeply? Perhaps this New York Times video When Your Loved Ones Voted the Other Way rings a bell. This conversation has been key on a national level since 2015 when the last presidential race went sour, but I find that this issue resurfaces with every holiday season. You know you’ll be seeing that uncle who sees the world differently than you do. You’re sure to run into X at the company holiday party. And what to say during your weekly phone call to [someone] who doesn’t vote at all? Maybe you didn’t vote and you’re not sure how to explain why.

Solutions

For some, the solution to the problem is simply to avoid the unease. Whether you cut the political conversation short before it gets heated, or whether you say at the beginning, “let’s just avoid the topic altogether,” you find a way to steer clear of disagreement and stick to the topics that have always brought joy: kids, school, food, vacations, the weather, and so on. And it’s okay to do that!

Some of you may be looking to build your skill set for talking politics with those who you don’t see eye to eye with. I think this TED talk is a really inspiring conversation about how two friends have chosen their friendship over their differences: How Our Friendship Survives Our Opposing Politics. With family, sometimes our familiarity is the first problem to discussing opposing viewpoints; we can forget to allow our loved ones to change their minds, or we forget to listen to their ideas. For more on this, you might read How to Talk About Politics with Your Family.

What I think is important to remember is that many of our interactions with people we love are habits. When together, it’s easy to fall back into our patterns of avoidance, disagreement or debate. To change your patterns, start with awareness. Once you are aware of your habits with different people, you can backtrack to to notice what triggered it. Sometimes the simple act of awareness allows up the space to choose a different path.

Support

Voting, politics, civic engagement and democracy are all important, but so is your sense of calm, your sense of ease. If you’re still worried about how to talk to loved ones about your political values, or if the holidays are always a strained time in your family, then I invite you to join me on Friday, November 9th, noon-1pm PDT for a free talk about Navigating Relationship Challenges. I’ll share more practical tools and insights that I’ve gathered over my 20 years in therapy and coaching.

Lael


Summer Thrive Guide

Summer is here in all it's hot, dry & busy glory. If you've been on the roads this summer, you've seen it. Everyone out and about making the most of the season, some of us more frazzled and fried than others -  all of which takes a toll on our bodies and minds.

I have some simple tips to help you keep your cool this summer. No, it's not the latest low-cal spritzer wine or a unicorn floatie, although both do look pretty refreshing. 

Summer can be described as hot, dry, humid and fast and since we aren't separate from nature, we also experience these qualities in our bodies and mind. (heartburn or road rage anyone?)

When we notice symptoms of burn out in our body and mind, it's time to incorporate some cooling, neutralizing and relaxing activities. Think: watermelon, cool showers, and hammock time.

And I recommend incorporating the first habit I teach in my Vibrant Body/Wise Mind course which is eating an Earlier, Lighter Dinner.

Why?
Your body is designed to digest it's largest meal during the day, not at night. Eat earlier and lighter and you'll digest your food before bed reducing the toxic load on your body. You’ll wake up sparky vs. with a food hangover.

How?
Aim to eat dinner before 6:30 pm then close your kitchen. No snacking. 

What?
Aim for simple, easy to digest foods: think soup or salad. Avoid meat, alcohol and heavy foods.

Try it out. I promise you will decrease the physical load on your body and therefore your mind, too. (Remember, the body and brain are connected.) You’ll feel lighter in body and mind. 

You'll avoid arriving in fall burned out and fried which results in reduced immunity leaving you susceptible to every germ bug this winter.

When you incorporate more cooling, relaxing activities and eat an earlier, lighter dinner, you’ll have more energy for all the summer fun yet to come. 

Invitation to Change

“This lunar cycle opens up with a fiery new moon on Aries which occurs on April 15...On the same day as the new moon, Mercury will station direct. Revealing what was hidden, Mercury’s change in direction sets us out on a new cycle with greater clarity.  

“This new moon is also the last in Aries to conjunct Uranus for the next 80 or so years….this new moon promises to be awakening, helping us to break new ground and make bold new beginnings.”   -Chani Nicolas.

I don’t know a lot about astrology, but I look at it like the seasonal changes around me. The planets and stars have their own patterns and relationships much like the ecosystem around us (and in us.)

My limited understanding allows me to hear what I need rather than getting caught up in what each planet's position means for my present moment.

Looking to the stars helps me gain perspective. “WOW! The Universe is so vast and amazing and here I am worried about whether my pants fit.”  Small. Problems.

It helps me see what’s possible. “Each day up there is different than the next. Relationships and positions are in constant motion. If that’s true for the stars and planets, and I am not separate from the Universe, that must be true for me, too.” Nothing is permanent or static. Not my feelings. Not my bad habits. Not my thought patterns.

It helps me trust. I think, “If things are always changing and it happens without me orchestrating it, how much more easeful could my life be I be if I aligned with the natural rhythms of the world around me?” Ahhh....I feel relaxed. I feel supported. I feel relieved that I'm not actually running the show.

I know tapping into this sense of wonder and trust and relief is difficult for some people. I see it all the time in my own self and my work with people. It takes time and patience. It helps to have practices and habits to allow it to show up more. 

Hear this... Everyone is capable of this alignment and ease. In fact, you’ve already experienced it many times in your life.
Remember that amazing sunrise?
How about that time your were fishing alone on the river?
You know that feeling your get when you walk the trail by your house?
When you hold a brand new baby? 
It’s there inside you. 

If you want more ease, trust, alignment, invite it. Cultivate it. (It is planting season after all.) 

Design your lifestyle to allow it to show up. Slow down. Schedule down time. Put down your phone. Get quiet for a minute. Look out the window. Get up and walk in nature. Do some yoga. Take a bath. Listen to music.

You can always start somewhere. Wherever you are.

YOU are not static nor permanent. You are not stuck this way forever. You, like the planets, are always in motion. Always changing. Allow it to be.