what else is there?

Rich & Yvonne Dutra-St.John of Challenge Day

I had the honor and privilege of interviewing these two wonderful souls for The Courageous Living Program, Rich & Yvonne of Challenge Day. The Challenge Day organization primarily works with youth in schools–and their work, which I’ve witnessed live with young people–is just so fantastically amazing–but the primary way that I’ve worked with them is in their adult Next Step workshops.

Rich and Yvonne spend a lot of time asking people about their dreams, challenging the notion that this is a flimsy place to start. They stand for living big because there are so many opportunities to play a small game, to tell oneself that living the life of your dreams is really an impossibility, and they aren’t people who will validate that kind of thinking. So I was excited to get this opportunity to turn things around and ask: “What are YOUR dreams?”

There is this moment that was so beautifully captured on camera during our interview. Yvonne was sharing that she wanted to sink more and more into being present–to herself, her feelings, the world, the people, all of it. She looked right at me, down into me it seemed, with tears running down her cheeks.

“To just BE,” she said. And then she whispered: “What else is there?”

I felt tears coming to my own eyes, in the midst of this interview. It was this incredibly intimate moment that, when I watch the interview again, I feel as if it was its own small gift. Rich looking at Yvonne, Yvonne looking at me, then Yvonne and I looking over at Rich, acknowledging the BIGness of just BEing, not running the Stories about not enough money or time or not enough good within or not enough good in others or life is hard. Just BEing right in that moment and sinking down into it.

So often we think that to “be in the moment” we need to meditate for a long time, or have this really esoteric practice. I realized during this interview that to “simply BE” in a moment could also happen through the channel of really honest connection with another human being. I felt completely “inside” that moment.

We are so much more alike than any of us can imagine. All of us want simply to be heard, to feel safe, to feel loved, to be accepted and celebrated as we are, to be gently guided.

Experiencing moments like this makes me feel such an immense gratitude swelling through my body, simply for this gift of being alive.

commitment & accountability

So you want to know: How can I do something, say I’m going to do it, and then see it through?

Well, for one thing, it can be good to know whether or not to say something. When something is fertile and just being birthed, sometimes we need to hold it close to ourselves, so that it can’t be tainted by other people’s judgments or opinions.

It can be the hallmark of self-sabotage to tell someone what we’re doing–especially if you notice that you always seem to tell the person who is most likely to criticize or downplay what we do.

The flip-side, however, is that at some point, we need to tell people about our goals, our dreams, our lifestyle changes, because again and again it seems that when we tell people what we do, we automatically become more accountable and more likely to commit to and then finish what we start.

So if you’re thinking about taking on any new endeavor or making a shift in your life, and you’ve noticed in the past that telling people has not brought you the support that you had hoped for, I encourage you to:

1.) Tell only the people who you trust will support you, and even among supportive people, tell few. Sometimes people think they are being supportive when they offer caution. Since I believe that my experience will be my experience, I prefer not to hear cautionary tales.

2.) At some point, do start being public. Declare what you are doing. And then be prepared to let other people’s opinions about it roll right off your back. Or–even better?–declare it while sharing that “at this time, I’m not feeling open to feedback.” True, people might not respect that, and yet there is such value in declaring for yourself what you need.


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And with that, I now bring you: The Bikram Update. Warning. I am going to share some stuff below that’s a little raunch. Click away if it’s not your thing.

I’m on Day 10 of the 30-day challenge. Waking up in the morning is getting easier and easier over time. The biggest challenge is one that expresses itself outwardly, but it is all about within: CONTROL.

There is one thing, and only one thing, that currently makes this practice difficult: my desire to control that room. It drives me nuts when people don’t set up their mats in such a way as to allow room for others, even when there is plenty of space. It drives me nuts when the same people come in late, every day, and then want me to move my mat–me, who got there early to get the spot I wanted–to accommodate space for them. The woman who did this today is someone who comes in late every day. Normally, I could care less whether she comes in on time, but when she comes in late and then wants me to move, and crowds the space around me, I get ridiculously distracted fantasizing about ways that I could extend my leg and kick her and make it look like an accident.

Then I breathe, and chill out. But still.

Lately, the biggest challenge in that regard has been Ball Boy. –You probably already guessed that I’m not calling him Ball Boy because he brings basketballs to yoga class.–

Nope, Ball Boy likes to come in, set up his mat directly in front of someone else (not always me, but a few times now it has been). Usually I set up my mat in the room and then leave and sit outside until class officially begins, and then he comes in and sets up his mat while I’m not looking. Hip to his game now, I have realized that if he does this again, I am going to physically move his yoga mat, the ultimate yoga faux-pas.

And why?

Because I do not want to spend another 90 minutes watching that guy grab his balls. Stop reading now if a discussion of someone grabbing their balls is not humorous to you. I find it both irritating as well as–I confess to being a bit declasse in this regard–funny, kind of like a well-timed fart joke. –But not everyone is me.

Seriously. It’s unbelievable. It goes like this: The instructor says, “Hands up, arms over your head for half-moon pose.” [grabs his balls before going into the posture, adjusts, arms go up]

“Stretch to the right and left a few times. Each time you come to the middle, stretch up towards the ceiling.” [intermittent ball grabbing/adjusting with one arm as he stretches].

“Alright, take a deep inhaled breath, arms straight, and stretch your body to the right…inhale and come back to center.” [he stays in the posture but then when we get back to center, down goes one arm to--you guessed it--grab his balls ]

“Deep inhaled breath, lock those arms, stretch to the left…back to center.” [balls, balls, balls ]

“Inhale and drop your head back and just breathe for a moment; this is the first back bend of the series; your back may hurt a bit.” [I have no idea if he grabs himself here, because my head looks back for the backward bend, but I imagine he does]

“Inhale and come back up to center. Keep your arms straight and bend forward.” [a quick, covert ball grab and adjustment of his shorts before leaning forward]

You get the picture.

This reminds me of the Sex and the City episode where Charlotte dates, briefly, a ball grabber and says: “Why do men DO that?

I don’t think Ball Boy does it for attention or because I or any other woman happens to be behind him. I get the sense that he just does it like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to get comfortable, that’s it, perfect. Now I’m comfortable.”

Now, back to the control thing. Kate likes to control things. I mean, most of us do, and certainly this tendency in me has dialed down in the past few years, but still. Yoga brings up everything. When I’m not in class and when Ball Boy is not right in front of me, I can see the humor in how I’m supposed to be in that room, focusing on my health, on postures, concentrating, not passing out from heat, and instead, what am I getting upset about? Some dude grabbing his package.

Anyone care to join me in laughing at the ridiculousness of that? It’s quite funny.

And I think that if I weren’t picking on that detail, instead I’d find something else to pick on, because there are so many yoga = life and life = yoga connections to be made out there. Whatever we are working on in our daily lives shows up in the yoga room. I believe this. The people who come in late to class are working on lateness. The people who give up easily and fall out of postures after a few seconds are working on giving up easily. The people who are too intense with it and push themselves too far in the room are working on being too intense. The people who are inclined to blame an instructor for the way they feel in class are probably working on blaming external things in their daily lives. And here’s little old Kate Swoboda, working on control in her daily life and having success in so many ways, but boy howdy–put her in a hot room early in the morning and watch how the control comes out!

don’t dull your flame

Here’s the thing: don’t dull your flame.

I would love to tell you that if you just “be yourself,” others will come around. I would love to tell you that the choices will always be easy.

They’re not, and that’s okay. Easy is often less interesting.

But along the way, I encourage you not to dull your flame, not to downplay life so that someone else won’t be threatened, won’t have to confront their feelings about your success or joy or good fortune. I encourage you to burn bright, to live your life in a completely 100% fully alive kind of way, with the courage to trust that you could help shine some light for someone else.

Truly, just by being yourself, you may be someone else’s gift.

Maybe others need to see you in all of your brilliant, lit up and glowing glory, rocking out your life, and maybe it needs to trigger the shit out of them, and maybe they then need that shift from resenting you to the process of looking at why they devalue themselves, put their projects on hold, prioritize their lives differently.

That’s their shit. I’d call it something else, something more lady-like, but I’ve been there–yup, I have!–resenting the success of someone else, and it feels like shit so that’s what I’m going to call it.

Good things do not happen because we are simply lucky, though I acknowledge the magical component. And even though I acknowledge the forces of sexism, racism, and classism that are so pervasive in our world, I refuse to take the powerless position that they cannot ever be overcome. (The day we take that hopeless position, our society is really in trouble).

The good that comes your way is meant to be celebrated, not downplayed.

The good in your life offers up an example of what’s possible for others.

The good that you cultivate is well-deserved.

I won’t dull my flame.

Please–don’t dull yours.