In this ninth episode of The Mindful Writer, author, Sherri Leimkuhler tells me how training for the Ironman and yoga have taught her valuable life lessons.
Before I introduce you to Sherri, let me update you on my writing journey as it has been particularly exciting this past week. I have had an adventure! Earlier this year I decided to write about a sunken village that I had seen in an image on the internet many years ago. It was a photo of a church spire just visible in the midst of a newly created reservoir. I did some research and found out that this reservoir was in the wilds of North Yorkshire. I was travelling by public transport and had no idea where I might stay or how I would reach the reservoir. By a stroke of luck or serendipity I found a lovely woman, Sheila, who no longer provided B&B but was willing to provide accommodation in her home. She lived just three miles from the reservoir. We started chatting by email. Sheila was incredibly helpful. Not only did she offer me comfortable accommodation – she hosted an afternoon tea so that I could chat to her friend who had grown up in the now submerged village, she drove me around the area so that I could explore, and put me in touch with a local historian among other locals who each spent considerable time sharing their knowledge and memories with me.
I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of this community. I am excited to write this story and hope that it will now more accurately reflect real life experience of the flooding. I love writing about communities. Meeting people and hearing about their experience is one of the things I love about being a writer.
None of that has much to do with the topic of today – but I had to share my excitement with you.
Now to the interview.
Sherri Leimkuhler is an author, athlete, and yoga instructor. In this episode she shares some valuable life lessons on how to survive the writing journey by developing stamina, resilience, and a quiet mind.
You can listen to the podcast here: Episode Nine How to build stamina, resilience, and peace of mind with author Sherri Leimkuhler
Or read the transcript below:
Deborah: I’m delighted to welcome Sherri Leimkuhler to the podcast today. Sherri is the best-selling author of What’s Left Untold. She has also been writing a health and fitness column, For the Fun Of IT, for Carroll County Times, for nearly a decade. As well as being a writer, Sherri is a former pilot, a competitive triathlete, a two-time Ironman finisher, and is also a yoga instructor. So, hi Sherri.
Sherri: Hi, Deborah,
Deborah: I should say, Sherri’s joining us from Maryland.
Sherri: Thank you so much for having me.
Deborah: So, you’ve achieved a great deal, Sherri. And you’re evidently highly motivated and determined. Yoga and meditation are part of my daily routine. And I get loads of inspiration out of my weekly run. Both of those things have become so important to me – meditation, and yoga. Then, once a week when I’m running, that’s where I get all the ideas for my blog, because your mind is resting and it all comes as inspiration. So, what I wanted to ask you – because, you teach yoga, what has yoga taught you about yourself? And how have you applied that to your life?
Sherri: Yoga has taught me that I need to slow down. And I need to appreciate a slower pace. I know that you were talking on your blog about focusing on the spaces between the breath, and that’s something that I have been working to be better at. I do spend a lot of time focusing on the breath. But it’s those pauses in-between that I need to be better at letting them rest and not always trying to fill them with something. As you read in my bio, I’m a very active person, not an idle person. And so, I’m often running with all cylinders firing and wishing for that moment to just slow down and breathe. I have a terrible habit of every time I do get that moment, I fill it with something else immediately. It’s just – I’ve always been that way. And so, yoga has really allowed me to silence the noise a little bit. Taught me how to draw my awareness inward and listen to what I really need – what my body’s telling me. And to try to appreciate those quiet moments when they when they make themselves available.
Deborah: I think that’s hard to do. Because the on the other side of the coin from being determined – having all that energy – what’s the name of the yellow chakra around the navel area? What’s it called? Has it got a proper name?
Sherri: The solar plexus chakra?
Deborah: That’s the one. When it is really strong, and you’ve got lots of energy and motivation, which you have, it’s great. But then there’s also the downside of it, that it’s fire could kind of get a bit out of control. And that’s when we wear ourselves into the ground and we get burned out.
Sherri: Absolutely, yes. That fire quickly does get out of control. And so, just learning to give myself permission and help my students recognise that and give themselves permission to let go of guilt. I think there’s a lot of us carry around a sense that we always need to be doing something there’s a lot of, should. The word should I’m trying to get that word out of my vocabulary, because a lot of times it can be associated with positive things. But it’s also associated with things that just bring us guilt – like, I should be doing this, or I shouldn’t be doing that, or I should have done that. And so, I think it’s important to just enjoy the moment and give ourselves permission to do that without always feeling so obligated to do other things.
Deborah: And to be in that moment and not be thinking about what you ought to be doing instead of.
Sherri: That’s right. That’s right. And that’s why savasana is so difficult. It is often considered the most difficult or most challenging part of the yoga practice to stay in that moment. Breathe in that moment – exist in that moment, instead of trying to stop our minds already racing to what’s next. What’s happening. What am I doing after my practice? What am I doing next, instead of staying in the now? It’s a challenge.
Deborah: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s another thing I think about with the pause between breaths. It is the pause between events in our life. When you’re driving yourself to achieve something, or perhaps you’ve come to the end of a project and you don’t know what’s coming next. Trusting that space, allowing the space so that the right thing comes to fill it and you’re tuned in to receiving that right thing. Because when we are constantly filling every gap of our time – project to project, we don’t leave any gap for anything new to come into our life.
Sherri: That’s so true. And it’s so important to allow that space.
Deborah: I had a friend recently who was reducing her hours to semi retire. And she’s a very busy woman all the time, and she was cutting down her days. She’d barely done it for a week, when she said, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I’ve got to fill my days.’ And I said, ‘Things will come to you, those days will be filled. But you’ve got to leave them free long enough for the right thing to come into your life. Don’t keep filling them out of fear. And maybe it is just fear that makes us want to fill every moment of every day, and not allow space.
Sherri: Yes, that’s an important word, the fear – maybe what we’re trying to ignore, maybe what we don’t want to see or find when we stop and have that quiet time to reflect – sometimes those are the difficult things that we’ve been putting out of our mind. So, we don’t have to deal with it. And as long as we stay busy and keep moving, you know, maybe that what we fear – that’s resting within – we might not want to acknowledge and we can ignore it that way.
Deborah: That’s really important. You’ve brought back a memory for me. It was several years ago. I had booked myself the whole month of August off work, because I worked for myself. And I thought I’m going to really relax for August and just do all the wonderful things I planned. Just restful things, you know, picking fruit, cycling, days at the beach. And as soon as I stopped working for that month, my world fell apart. Absolutely fell apart. Because I found myself having to face up to things in my life that I hadn’t addressed in probably a year since my mum had died. It had an effect on my relationships. Just everything came in at once. And I spent the whole of that month in absolute emotional turmoil. But then, when I think now back to that now – that’s probably exactly what I needed, because I resolved things and moved on. But we push things away, don’t we? We don’t deal with things. We don’t listen to our emotions. And sometimes you do have to stop still, and not be afraid to face up to some feelings that you are repressing.
Sherri: That’s right. And I think it’s important to also note that there’s a lot of freedom on the other side of that, you know that all that you were holding inside was probably maybe weighing you down or affecting how you felt, and then trying to avoid addressing that uncomfortable feeling or the sad feelings. It’s always still within you, weighing on you and keeping you from really being free of that and feeling that sense of peace.
Deborah: Do you ever go on writing retreats?
Sherri: I have that as a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. I have been on retreats that are very interactive, in that they were less introspective and more about learning the craft, and networking, and connecting with fellow writers. So, I have always wanted to go on a retreat that was a little more. I love that women’s fiction writers experience. But I think it would be a fully different experience to have the retreat that’s really just time set aside, to be quiet and to write. There’s actually a group here in Pennsylvania, it’s actually called the Mindful Writer’s Retreat. And that is on my list of things to hopefully do. The group comes together for meals. But other than coming together for a common meal that shared, it’s quiet. It’s a quiet experience. There are hiking trails or walking in nature. I think they do have a morning meditation, that’s optional, but the goal is just to be in that shared space and that shared silence with other people and allow that creative muse to just come out and be free. And try to be in that moment instead of you know, focusing on conversation, or connecting, or learning craft and really just see how that creativity will speak to you in that type of environment.
Deborah: Sounds blissful. It sounds like sinking yourself in a warm bath.
Sherri: Yes. So, if I ever get there, I will let you know. They do four a year, one each season. And so, the timing hasn’t been right. I’ve still got children at home. So, the timing hasn’t been right for me yet. But when my oldest heads off to university, I’m hoping that might be something I can put into the schedule.
Debotrah: I was just thinking there’ll be listeners here, authors who perhaps have young children – they might be working full Time and caring for young children. They’re probably thinking, If I just had 15- 20 minutes to myself it would be blissful.
Sherri: Exactly. Time is … the most elusive element of time – that we’re always trying to work everything else around. And it’s always shifting. It’s always different.
Deborah: You do lots of physical training, which compliments the yoga, doesn’t it?
You know the Ironman and the triathlon. Remind me what the Ironman is? Is it? No, tell me what tell me what the Ironman is. I think I know but please tell me.
Sherri: Ironman technically is the brand name for an ultra-distance triathlon. So, there are ultra-different distance triathlons that are the same in physical aspect that aren’t necessarily called the Ironman, but that’s sort of the gold standard for what is a two-and-a-half-mile swim 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, and then a full marathon at the end.
Deborah: Wow, you must be incredibly fit.
Sherri: Physical Fitness is important to me, for my own wellbeing. I’ve always shaped it around how it makes me feel and never about how it makes me look. That was very important. Raising my daughters – for us in our house eating is for nourishment and exercise is for health and wellbeing and not to fit a certain image or size or anything like that.
So yes, I think it’s almost an extreme. Ironman training was a challenge.
I had three children in four years. And I was just looking to make sure that that wasn’t going to be the only thing that was defining me. And it was something my husband and I did together. I don’t know how couples do that survive that with only one. Because it’s very time consuming. It is like a part time job. And while other couples might be going out to dinner, and a movie for a date night, which is lovely. We often were having a babysitter, and going for a swim and a bike ride. And that was how we spent our time together. But I loved it. I’m so grateful for that experience.
But after 10 years, it was too much. And that was one of those moments where I was listening to myself and my body – on the other side of it was starting to break down a little bit. There was a lot of fatigue, physically, emotionally. And I knew it was time for me to take a step back and, and really make sure I was again, just focusing on it for my own enjoyment and fulfilment and not time goals, and speed goals, and distance goals. And so, that’s where I am right now. I don’t even wear a GPS watch. I don’t want to know how fast I’m going or how far. I just go out on the trails in the woods and nature and just run because it feels good.
Deborah: There’s a parallel there for people surviving the writing journey. There is what feels like a marathon, especially when people start out and haven’t even written the first draft – writing a book and getting it published. That is like surviving a marathon. And then the wanting to do better, better, better. The bit about looking at how are your sales? comparing yourself to others? I can see lots of parallels there with the writing journey. What What can you take from your experience as an athlete to help writers to sustain that journey?
Sherri: There are so many parallels there. I think probably the best way to start that conversation is that it’s never wise to just wake up one day and go out and run a marathon. You don’t go from zero to 26.2 miles. Without the training, without the patience, without putting in the time. You need to set a goal for yourself. And there’s so many steps to take before that goal.
Creating a training plan, creating a progression that makes sense. The little steps along the way to achieve that ultimate goal is to develop strength and patience and realise that there’s going to be setbacks and obstacles and that doesn’t take you off of your course to the point that you won’t be able to achieve your goal but to just recognise they will be there and kind of have a plan on how to deal with those things when you come off course. Not to look back to keep moving forward.
When I was training for Ironman, there were two golden rules. One was that you never skip rest day. There always had to be a rest day. And the other was that you didn’t try to make up workouts that you missed, you kept moving forward. So, you didn’t deviate from that plan in that way. You just kept looking to the ultimate goal.
And enjoy. Remember to enjoy the journey. The goal is just one part of the whole experience. But there’s so many moments of joy and things to appreciate along the way. It’s important to keep that in sight as well.
Deborah: Some absolute gems in there. Just thinking about the setbacks. When we get setbacks, when you are disappointed, you can experience rejection, you think you’re going down one route, and then it doesn’t happen for you the way you thought it would. That’s really hard for writers. They might then start to feel imposter syndrome, or It’s never going to happen for me and get disheartened. But you’re saying, accept those setbacks just as you do as an athlete. Are there any words of advice you can give for people going through that emotional turmoil?
Sherri: Oh, absolutely, definitely stay flexible, and open minded. But I think the important things – I wrote a blog article, and I’m able to send you the link to it about Seven Tips For Writing Success and Sanity. And a couple of those in there were, first to write the book that you want to write. There’s so many different expectations in the industry, or maybe there’s a fad genre, like when Twilight came out, there was suddenly vampire books everywhere. And that’s it’s so rapidly changing. I think it’s really important for an author to tell the story that’s within them, that wants to come out. And stay true to that, and know that there will be readers for that story, people who want to read that book, and publishers who want to publish that book. And it might take some time to find the right home for that work.
I think there’s a difference between taking craft advice and making the work the best it can be, versus completely changing the story that you want to write. So, I think it’s important to stay true with that. And if it’s helpful at all, it took 11 years for my first book that we published – 11 years from the point that I had the spark of inspiration when I knew what I wanted to write about to actually putting that book out in the world. It is a little different than traditional women’s fiction. Some of the rejections I received were because publishers weren’t necessarily comfortable with a controversial ending in my book. And it was a risk they maybe weren’t willing to take with an unknown or a new author. I might have been able to find a publisher sooner, if I had changed the way the book ended. But I really wanted to stay true to the story. Embrace what was unique about it and different about it. And I did eventually find a very supportive home for that book. And that’s What’s left Untold (link to buy).
Deborah: Yes. Excellent. I will sure that we there are links to your author page and the book in the in the show notes so people can find out more. And you’ve had great success with it.
Sherri: Thank you. I was so excited. One of the high points of the journey, for sure was when the book hit the USA Today bestseller list. So that was a really exciting moment. It was a difficult time in the midst of the pandemic to release a book as a debut author was not able to meet in person, you know, with readers and with bookstores, the way I always imagined it would be. The moment that I learned about the USA Today list, I was out on a boat with my husband celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary and we always envisioned we would be in in Italy, cycling the Amalfi Coast. And of course, that didn’t couldn’t happen at that time. So, we were kind of just in a remote location on a boat by ourselves. And I got word, you know, I didn’t even have reception on my phone some of the time. And so, it was a really unique and exciting moment to learn that.
Deborah: Fantastic. I’m so happy for you, and 11 years. So, what advice would you give yourself when you were going through times thinking, This, is never going to happen for me? What advice would you give your younger self looking back?
Sherri: Definitely. It would be to never, never give up. Never give up on the story and never give up on the process. It should be a labour of love. I don’t know that there’s any reason an author should want to write a book that’s any greater than – it’s just because they have a story they want to tell, and they want to share it with others. I definitely didn’t set out to make any lists or win an award or, you know, even sustain myself as a full-time career. I just wanted to enjoy the creative process of writing. And so, it was frustrating, because I do think – one of Stephen King’s – he has a book called On Writing. And one of his tips is to write every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes write every day. And that was a very hard thing for me to do. But I could see the value in it, because the longer I would be away from the story, the more disconnected I felt from it, and had to go backtrack, to kind of get back into the pace, in the spirit of the story. So that’s definitely if writers can find the discipline to just do a little bit each day, and try to keep connected with the momentum of the story, just to never give up, it will happen. If it’s meant to happen, it’s going to happen. If it’s a passion of your heart, and your spirit, it’ll get there and there’s not a deadline on it.
Deborah: I believe that. I believe that if you’ve got a passion for anything, whether it’s to write a book or music, whatever it is, it’s in your heart, it’s in your heart for a reason. And when you listen, you go inward, and you listen, that’s what your soul wants you to do. And if that’s what you’ve got to do, then as you say, it’s going to happen. It may not happen the way you expect it to, or in the timescale you want it to, but it will happen. And I always say trust the journey.
Sherri: Trust the journey. And what a journey it is!
Deborah: How do you relax? Maybe you find your physical exercise a way to relax, but your life sounds very, very full. How do you self-care?
Sherri: I do get do something physical every day. That is a non-negotiable for me – every day, even if it’s just 30 minutes, I do something. And if I’m very protective of my personal time, in terms of finding a work life balance. I’ve learned to be very strong in protecting that space. And to say no, it’s okay to say no.
I try not to work in the evenings. And I try not to work on the weekends, because that’s the time with my family. And I need that downtime away from work. And that’s one of the things I remind myself all the time, kind of dovetailing back to your previous question. I take time to remind myself that I already have everything I need. I have my health, I have my family, I have love. And those are the most important things above all, above all of these other things. And those are the things I want to make sure that I continue to nourish. So, I definitely take breaks and make sure I protect that. That special time with my husband and my kids is precious.
Deborah: Thank you. That’s great.
Sherri: Before we leave any other any other words of wisdom you want to pass on to any listeners?
Sherri: Oh my goodness. I definitely think – just you know, enjoy the ride is a big thing. To let go of the guilt and the ‘shoulds.’ One thing that I always say to my kids is to sleep on it. Everything always is better in the morning, being tired and having a muddled brain that’s just exhausted after a day of stress and doing so many things and trying to be everything to so many people. It can get overwhelming and it can put things out of perspective and seem a much bigger problem than it might be.
One of the visualisations I use in my yoga class is to let my students acknowledge anything that’s worrying them any troubles or concerns, acknowledge that it’s there, and then actually visualise putting it inside a drawer and closing the drawer and putting it away. It’s not lost. It’s not forgotten. It’s not overlooked. But it doesn’t have to be dealt with right in that minute. You can come back to it when you have a better perspective, when you’ve had some rest. When you’ve had a break. And then you might find solutions that that weren’t available before in that moment of stress.
Deborah: I’m glad I asked you for the final gem of advice because that’s a wonderful one. I love that one. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Sherry.
Deborah: It’s been so wonderful to talk to you as well, Deborah. Thanks so much for having me here today.
You can connect with Sherri to find out more:
Amazon Authors: https://www.amazon.com/Sherri-Leimkuhler/e/B0882Y5KY9
I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as me. We may never achieve the Ironman but surviving this writer’s journey with a calm and quiet mind takes stamina, resilience, and patience. How do you keep your sanity? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the blog/podcast.
So, until next time … Look after your beautiful self and trust the journey.
You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com
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