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Posts published in December 2018

The Color of Life – Meet Cara 14 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Cara:

(In her own words)

“I was twelve years old when it hit me for the first time: there was nothing more powerful than words. Perhaps in a last-ditch effort to give her students something to do at the end of the school year, my sixth grade teacher assigned my classmates and I one last creative writing story. I don’t recall it centering on a particular theme, nor do I remember what the story was actually about – but I do remember poring over the handwritten words on the page. I remember the hard won eraser marks on my college-ruled notebook paper, how I wanted and needed and demanded to tell the tale in a particular way.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

When I didn’t get my prized story back on the last day of school, I returned to Mrs. Johnson’s classroom a couple of days later and listened as she apologized for throwing my paper away in the recycle bin. I walked home, tears brimming in my eyes, devastated that my most important words lay jumbled in the bottom of a garbage receptacle. Even though the memory is fuzzy at best, it’s still something my mind chose to remember all these years later, its scene a telltale sign of my eventual future.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

Now, nearly thirty years later, when someone asks me what I do for a living, the word “writer” falls off my tongue, almost effortlessly. But this identifier didn’t happen overnight: after college, I taught high school English and leadership. A handful of years later, I remained deep in the trenches as the director of a non-profit youth organization. Even though I didn’t call myself a writer, the act of writing still gave me life. I blogged. I wrote sermons and speeches. I guided others in the art of writing. I dreamed of writing a book someday, although I wondered how it would ever happen. 

But then, becoming a writer really, actually happened. Almost six years ago, I quit the traditional work force to care for my oldest son and pursue a dormant dream of writing and speaking full-time. Although I doubted my abilities, a thousand times over, and received rejections, ten thousand times over, something deep inside kept telling me to press on, to keep putting one foot (or one tapping, typing finger) in front of the other and do the hard work.

Now, I write for various print and online publications; I guide others to stop and pause and read between the lines, quite literally; I pore over my own words, writing and rewriting because it’s what you do when you call yourself a writer. And in less than two months, my first book, The Color of Life, which is a memoir about my journey as a white woman into issues of race and justice, will publish.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

I’ve not arrived – not by any stretch of the imagination, because I doubt any of us actually arrive – but I have reclaimed old stories lodged in the recycle bin, as I’ve begged to get the story just right.”

Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her first book, The Color of Life, a memoir about her journey into issues of race and justice, releases in early February. She blogs regularly on Patheos, and you can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Om is where your heart is… Meet Alessandra 13 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Alessandra:

(In her own words)

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

People tell me at work that when they see me they remember to pause and take a breath.  They take a moment to get out of their head, their worries, their anxiety.  Others ask me how I can keep a sense of calm and focus when the pressure is on.  I tell them I practice mindful meditation.  For 15 minutes every morning I sit by the same window and practice being still, in my body, in the present moment by paying attention to my breath.  Studies indicate that mindfulness may enhance emotional and physical resilience, improve cognitive functioning, and increase our connection to others.  I am in my early 50’s and feeling the best I have ever felt in my life.  Feeling happier, healthier, physically stronger, and with energy to live with purpose and make a difference in the world.  A few years ago, that was not the case.  I felt burned out, got sick frequently, woke up on weekdays cursing at the world, feeling exhausted.  I was perceived as “doing well” at work, I served on non-profit board to make a difference, I kept an active social life because I loved arts and culture and enjoyed it with friends.  I felt life was on track, and I believed burnout was just part of the journey.  Who has time to sleep?  In October 2014, I had my wake up call. I ended up in the emergency room due to non-stop heart palpitations.  When asked: are you under a lot of stress?  I answered: “no more than usual.”  So why would my body act differently?  I learned that stress builds up.  After being monitored for a month, the cardiologist concluded that what I felt was real, and not yet life threatening. The cause of my condition was stress and sleep deprivation.  I should manage both to avoid the symptoms.  I did not know how.  He told me that if the symptoms bothered me, I could choose to take medication or try meditation.  The second option surprised me!  I had been curious about meditation, and knew of a program called  21 day meditation integration”.  I choose meditation.  I downloaded the program the very next day and got started.  The program had great tips everyday, including where to do it, when, and how, and it led us from a 5-minute meditation to 20 minutes over 21 days.  After three weeks, I finished the program and continued cycling through the guided meditations.  I stuck with a morning practice following the tip RPM (rise, pee and meditate).  I was working hard on not being so sleep deprived during the week ensuring I got at least 6 hours.  My husband could not believe it!  “What have you done with Alessandra?  You are waking up earlier to do nothing?” he asked.  After 2 months the daily heart palpitations stopped!  I had lived with them for 5 months!  After a few more months I noticed other benefits: improved focus, improved awareness of the needs of my body (made a priority to eat, to sleep, to exercise), improved response to pressures including the ability to have a few microseconds more to respond versus react.  I was no longer driving home from work completely lost in thought on rumination and to do lists, I was no longer forgetting to pick up my husband on the way home when we carpooled.  I had lived so much of my life in my head.  I have missed so much because of worrying, being unable to shut up the nasty roommate in my head, and waking up to 3 a.m. meetings with myself to review the endless list of things I had yet to do.  I am now able to let go of that and do my best work because I am present.  By connecting with my breath and my body for 15 minutes every morning, I am now able to connect much more vibrantly with myself and the world.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

I have a passion for promoting mindful self-awareness as a vital aspect of being your best.  That is the mission of 3M Inspire, a Special Interest Group I am part of which began as an employee grassroots initiative at 3M, where I work.  Founded by 3 employees in 2015, the group has grown to a membership of over 1200 employees around the world.  I have had a personal mindful meditation practice for 4 years and I am interested in the science of mindfulness and its benefits.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2018
©Amy Boyle Photography 2018

Resources: Book 10% Happier by Dan Harris Thrive by Arianna Huffington.  Other meditation apps I used: Headspace and Insight Timer. Article: 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness and Meditation

Photographed at the MCA art installation by Ernesto Neto (Brazilian, b. 1964) Water Falls from My Breast to the Sky

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