Author Archives: sherry.helmke

Goodbye, Known . . .

In 2006, after conversations with our college-aged daughters, we distributed or sold most of our belongings and I headed off to the Pacific Northwest with my car, clothes, computer, a gnome and a lamp. In the interest of full disclosure, I was accompanied on the journey west by a friend who was also a therapist.

I packed three principles, which I still hold dear, for the adventure.

Principle One: “The plan is no plan.”

Principle Two: “I do everything by feel.”

Principle Three: “I let things come to me.”

The first and third I learned in Tai Chi class and the second – well, it just “came to me.”

Principle One turned out to be a godsend when the person I had arranged to rent a room from listed the property for sale nine days after my arrival. 

When it was suggested that I look for a place in Olympia, Principle Two came into play.  Olympia didn’t feel right.  Whidbey Island did.  So, I headed north in search of a place to stay. 

Special thanks to Carrie Flanders Taylor for this delightful photo of my favorite Whidbey Island ferry landing. . .

As luck would have it, I found a rather hidden place on the island where I had stayed previously.  The owner was in a hurry to catch a ferry and handed me the keys on her way out.  Principle Three:  The keys had come to me.

Having lived a life of plans from the moment a future partner drew a timeline of our lives on a cocktail napkin to the development and execution of one strategic plan after another, I was planned out.  Living with no plan was as invigorating as the maritime air drifting in the open Whidbey Island library windows because it allowed me to be present and flow. 

When I let go of what I thought should happen or wanted to make happen, there was space for magic and because I was not attached to a particular outcome, I had time to discern whether or not a situation or choice felt right.  

Having no plan and letting things come to me didn’t mean I sat on the sofa all day eating bonbons.  It meant there was space for things to unfold.

In time, it came to me that as wonderful as Whidbey Island is, I am not an island dweller.  (Ferry schedules require too much planning.)  Around that time, someone I had met with six months earlier, contacted me with a consulting opportunity.  The position came to me and I moved to the city I would call home for the next seven glorious years until it came to me that it was time to move back to the Midwest to be closer to family.

Once again, I distributed most of the belongings I had accumulated, packed up my car, clothes, computer, gnome and lamp and drove back in the company of a dear friend who understood just how difficult it was going to be for me to leave.

Freeing as these principles sound, following them isn’t necessarily easy.  It requires courage, patience (which has never really been a virtue) and trust.  Lots and lots of trust.  As we navigate the first, and I hope, only global pandemic in our lifetimes and face dizzying climate and geo-political changes, these principles – as unconventional as they may seem – allow me to remain grounded, open, and curious – most of the time.  States of being I’ve found not just helpful, but energizing and alive.

Whatever principles guide you; I hope they bring you comfort, joy and well-being. And, if you haven’t dusted yours off in a while, perhaps now is the time.  

From the Handlebars

Hey, CELEBRATE!  You’re making FANTASTIC progress!  Remember that first day on the road bike when you took a spill in the middle of Chicago Avenue and all those drivers stopped to see if you were okay?  Or how about the time you put your helmet on backwards?  Even we hadn’t seen that before!

You made it up — still smiling — BRAVO!!!

We’re impressed you stuck with us given that uneven start and how much you disliked riding up – and especially DOWN – McClure Pass.  That takes some chutzpah.  How about the time it took you so long to descend Maroon Bells that Edward fell asleep in the car?

Clearly, you’re a slow-twitch, scenery rider.  Racer – not so much.  Congrats on finally getting the hang of shifting! Gone are the days when you were so shift averse you rode in the same gear for fear the chain would fall off.

Thumbs up on pumping up your tires before every ride.  Even if you can change a flat – albeit very slowly and with the help of YouTube – why ruin a perfectly good ride doing so?

We heard you chanting “Keep the bike upright” long before pro cyclist Chris Horner mentioned it on The Butterfly Effect.  Common sense and, as you know, easier said than done.

Purple shoes to match the mountain . . . Nice!

Fortunately, you’re doing much better with the apparel!  No more wearing an undershirt in lieu of a jersey.  How handy are all those pockets – especially the zippered ones for your id, credit card and patron saint cards featuring Catherine of Siena and St. Francis.  That’s new.  We’ve not seen other riders carry saints on their rides.  But, hey, if it works for you!  Weird as though the padded shorts may look off the bike, we can tell you appreciate the comfort on those long days in the saddle.

Yep, in our estimation you deserve those purple cycling shoes Edward gave you for your birthday.  You took to the clip-on pedals way more gracefully than we expected given your previous track record.  And while you were learning to wear them, you mastered an important cycling and life lesson.  “Do it your way.”  We handlebars have plenty of time to listen to you humans talk and it’s apparent to us that offering opinions is easier for most people than riding a bike.

Oh, the places we’ll go . . .

We’ve been watching you and here are a few pointers/reminders we would like to humbly offer:

  • Remember to keep riding your ride and let everyone else ride theirs.
  • Stay true to your objectives – fun, fitness, scenery.
  • When in doubt, breathe.  Holding your breath takes pedaling energy.
  • Keep ridin’ with that smile.  It reminds those drivers that this is supposed to be fun, right?
  • Stay with it.  You’ve already ridden in three states and three nations which means we still have a lot of ground to cover. 

Pedal on.

“Patience,” she laughs . . .

I used to ask nuns to pray for me to be more patient.  This is funny because I’m not Catholic.  However, one thing I’ve learned in life is that if you have a hard task ahead that most would dismiss as hopeless, the nuns have a better than average chance of getting it done.

Knowing how busy the nuns are and being an independent sort, I waited to make my request until a myriad of other attempts (meditation, relaxation, visualization, yoga, walking, dietary changes, reframing, etc., etc., etc.) produced only lackluster results.  I had an “impatience” problem and was pretty much at “my wit’s end” when I turned to an often-overlooked strategy:  prayer.  I prayed and I sought assistance from some of the foremost leaders in prayer in the world — the nuns.

My impatience tended to coalesce most quickly around gender injustice, although race and socioeconomic issues could also set me off.  In my estimation, my impatience was entirely justified.  After all, had patriarchy not been a social system in parts of the world for 5,000 + years?  Be that as it may, the rage my impatience induced was unhelpful, exhausting, and taking a toll on my well-being.  The “p-word” was winning again. 

A memorably troubling moment occurred when a wise friend who worked with gender disparities globally (not a nun) patiently explained that impatience was “a western problem.”  Gulp.  The inherent truth of her words hit me in the gut.  Who, but members of the most privileged societies, would be arrogant enough to assume that an issue that has dogged and impeded humanity for thousands of years could be resolved in a single lifetime?  (Overdue or not.) 

Healing an impatience problem can feel like walking on cactus . . .

Being a pragmatist, I realized that if patriarchy was not going to be vanquished any time soon, I had best turn my impatience problem over to higher powers AND look more deeply at the privilege inherent in its roots.  This journey began 18 years ago.  I’ll always be recovering from my impatience problem and there have been more relapses along the way than I can count or care to admit.  Happily the two-pronged approach of letting go and asking for help while compassionately exploring my accountability seems to have strengthened my patience muscles and freed me to engage in steadier, more productive courses of action.

Hopefully, you don’t have an impatience problem. Since you’re human, there may be something that’s causing you and the people around you to suffer more than necessary. If you’re lucky perhaps you know some nuns who can help.