a damn fine feeling

To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.
–Cheryl Strayed

Over the past four years my life has changed in ways that simply telling the story cannot explain.  I’ll try to do so by giving a few examples.  I take fewer pictures now because I’ve learned that taking the picture often requires my focus to be on the angle, on the shot, and not on the moment.  I’ve come to care less about how I look and more about how I feel; how can I enjoy the moment if I’m focused on looking good at the expense of feeling free?  I’m more likely to dance in public when I get the urge to dance, or to break out some yoga when I’m feeling stiff, even if it means that–gasp–people might see me.  In doing that, I find that I am content in the moment, that I “find” happiness without looking for it.

Cheryl Strayed’s quote from Wild jumped at me, tugging at my recent experiences and understanding.  To say that life is enough, that it is enough to simply live and not have to grab at life, it reflects where I am right now.  I think it’s a pretty great place.  The thing is, I know I’m still spending a lot of time hung up on things that don’t matter, and that means, if I can continue living with intention, life will only get better.  That’s a damn fine feeling.

I’m a newbie to the idea of living life with intention.  I want my life to reflect my values, and in order to do that, I have to remind myself that I need to live those values.  I sometimes forget that, in order to do this, I have to refill my own cup, give myself time. The big intention I’m working on right now is to be accepting.  I need to accept others for who they are, and I need to accept myself as I am with the understanding that accepting myself does not mean that I am perfect.  It also does not mean that I cannot improve.

This time last year, I would have said I was accepting of myself approximately 10% of the time.  It’s now reversed, for the most part.  I have moments of self-hatred, if I’m to be honest.  I get sucked into fraud syndrome, just like many women.  But they are moments and not days, and that’s progress.  I am working on building my confidence, because I deserve it.  I am not a fraud.  I am intelligent, and, more importantly, I am kind and caring.  Those aren’t traits of a fraud, but instead they are traits of a person who is worthy of accepting herself.  That’s a damn fine feeling.

on letting go

My significant other (hereafter SO) has not been feeling well for months.  The feeling of unwell has increased to the point where he sought help, a major feat for him.  High blood pressure and low blood sugar were wreaking havoc on him.  Before taking on a medication routine, he decided to cut out his favorite daily habit: coffee.  The change has been drastic for him.  His blood sugar occasionally becomes too low, but not to the point where he can’t control it.

At the same time he’s quitting coffee, we’re attempting to get back to our values: eating local, unpackaged, whole foods and consuming less waste (plastic, etc.).  It’s not that we ever abandoned those values, but life sometimes gets in the way of remembering what you (want to) stand for.  I learned of my new, upcoming job in late March, and since then we’ve been decluttering: we had a large yard sale, sold off large things on Craigslist, listed books to Amazon, and are currently selling off various odds and ends on eBay.  I’ve been guerrilla giving: placing things I value but can’t take with me in people’s mailboxes, on their desks, and in public spaces.  When I leave here, the SO and I plan to have only the van and a small trailer.  It’s simultaneously scary and exciting.

This past week brought with it the end of my last semester as a full time college student.  I’m not done entirely–I have a dissertation to write–but I’m done with the sitting-in-class-and-turning-in-homework part.  I’m definitely ready to let go of that part of my life.  With that said, there are so many things I want to do when I finish my dissertation, and one of those things is to take more science classes, perhaps even completing the biology degree I originally began.

While letting go, I’m also trying to hop on: I’ve dusted off this blog, deleting old things that revealed my attempts at trying too hard, reading books I’ve meant to read for years, and promising myself 500 words a day on here as a means of practice and accountability.  I’m attempting to mix up my fitness routine to create something more holistic and tailored to who I am.  I’ve spent more time on yoga in the past month than I have in my entire life combined, and I’m feeling it pay off in ways that are indescribable to others.  I feel that there’s more of me to put forward in the word.  And it’s the good parts of me.  My family is noticing the changes and will do small amounts of yoga in hopes of gaining some of the benefits.

There’s a lot to be said about all that is gained from letting go.

learning to act with intention

I’ve spent the past couple years with my email provider as the “home” page for my browser.  I’d turn on the computer, pull up the internet and bam! There’s my email, staring me in the face and asking me to react to anything I’d been sent.  As I worked on other sites, read the news, etc., I would leave my email open in a tab.  When I would see a new message come in, I would immediately read it, attempting to respond as quickly as possible.  The smartphone hasn’t helped.

It’s no wonder I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with email.  At the end of each semester, I unintentionally for 24-48 hours without logging onto a computer or reading my email.  That day or so without checking email goes by without effort.  By that point, the freedom of not having to check seems freeing.  But there’s still an addiction component.  I recently, excitedly, told two co-workers that I was down to 9 emails in my inbox.  I’ve been reflecting on how crazy this thinking is.  On one hand, it’s nice to not let things pile up, particularly when they are small things that require quick responses.  Though this post on Zen Habits says to complete things that take less than 2 minutes, I find that I constantly used that as a reason to take away from bigger tasks because something will take less time and I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.  In other words, the Getting things Done (or Zen to Done, as Leo calls his version) was not working for me.

So what does work for me?  Well, I don’t know, really.  Right now I’m practicing not checking my email for distractions.  I’m examining all of the ways I obligate myself to various things: email, work, kids (and their commitments), volunteerism, etc., and I’m asking what I can cut out in order to give myself less to check.  I’m asking myself if it’s okay for email to go days without a response. I like the idea of processing my inboxes once a day–all of my inboxes.  What would it look like if I set a time each day to respond to emails, return phone calls, check Facebook and then… log off.  Maybe I’ll try for checking twice a day, and then I’ll back off from there.

All of this to say that I think technology creates a much more re-active person than a reflective person.  Since I am focusing on learning how to think before acting, I am recognizing all of the things that cause me to react rather than to act with intention.  I am trying to decrease multitasking and instead embrace one thing at a time so I can bring all of me to a task.  Most of the time, I’m not successful.  While lifting, practicing yoga, or going on a walk, I’ll think of something that needs accomplished.  At one time, I would have begun that task, but lately I’ve told myself that it will have to wait until my current task is complete.

(Apologies. This should have been yesterday’s–May 17–post, but I left for a bike ride before I hit publish.)

baseball: we’re in this together

note: I first wrote this over two years ago.  I saved it as a draft and recently pulled it up.  After a recent baseball game, I thought it was still quite appropriate.

A woolly cloud hangs over the field threatening to wash out the game.  Grandparents, charged with raising children long after their own have grown, make up most of the adults.  The wind carries hints of old cigarettes  from the fabric of a child’s uniform.  All different kinds congregate in a small patch of shade lying to the side of one of the eight chainlink-divided dugouts.  There are hippies, politicians, teachers, secretaries, farmers, unemployed, nurses, the silent, and the unknown.  (One woman’s bumpersticker proclaims: “Proud GOP Woman!”  Of interest: her husband, roughly 75 years old, recently was put off when I placed my chair near his in the valuable patch of shade.  He grunted and moved his chair elsewhere.  I guess he’s okay with talking to me, but he doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea…)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan of baseball–or softball, another sport that’s become part of my life since I began writing this.  But I’ve never known a place where so many people get along so well.  As a child I looked forward to evenings at my dad’s baseball games.  Folks came from all over and would sit in the damp summer air to watch the game.  I mostly caught crawdads or played on the swings, my friends and I attempting to see if we really could make the swing go higher than the top of the swingset bar.  (Occasionally we’d sneak in the building to see if someone had left a pool table unattended.  Children weren’t allowed, but the only punishment was to be sent outside.)  When we tired of running around, we’d climb into the tower of the ball field and heckle the batters for the other team, cheering on our fathers and avoiding our mothers.  Everyone got along.  I played with children I didn’t know, kids whose fathers played on the other team, and so on, and I’d generally just have a good time.

Now that I’m watching my children’s soft/baseball games, those same experiences are happening but without the crawdads.  Things are significantly more manicured than they were when I was a child–there’s actually grass at this ball field–but there’s that same spirit of community present, even amongst the families of competing teams.  Young kids run around, inadvertently placing their hand on a stranger’s leg for balance before looking up into an alien face that’s smiling at their innocence.  There are also the dogs.  (Last night there was a golden retriever puppy that was cuter than I recall my kids ever being… Is that wrong of me to admit?)  There’s sometimes that one person who yells at the ump’s every call against their child’s team (there was one of those parents at my daughter’s softball game last night; a post for another day: baseball is helping me come to terms with my kids’ and my imperfections.  I’m learning a lot about being at peace with vulnerability), but overall there’s a strong camaraderie–we’re in this together.

 

more beautiful than silence

Open your mouth only if what you are about to say is more beautiful than silence. –Arabic Proverb

I have high standards, and I expect others to live by them.  But that’s not fair, because I can’t place my standards and values on others.  Not only that, but I’m beginning to realize that I shouldn’t hold myself to these standards either.  I need to make more time for play and silence; life doesn’t have to be all work.

As I prepare to move to a new place, with a new job, new colleagues, and all that jazz, I’m asking myself what things I can leave behind and what I should take with me.  Is it possible to leave parts of yourself behind?  I don’t know that it is, so I’m trying to make small changes now so I can take a better version of myself with me.  However, I do believe that Buddhist thinking is correct in forwarding the idea that people are always changing.  In the recent past someone commented that a former colleague had reinvented themself after leaving.  The comment was said with some suspicion, and I’ve thought about it many times since.  Is it wrong to reinvent oneself?  I don’t think so; I think people are constantly reinventing who they are, looking for a version of themselves that work better for the life they want.  After troubling over it for awhile, I think that it would be more of a concern if someone failed to change over time, or if someone didn’t recognize the ways in which they change.

Along those lines, I’m reinventing myself.  I’m paying more attention to the things I discuss with others.  Is it productive for me? For the other person?  Is what I say potentially hurtful?  I’m trying to accept moments of discomfort and vulnerability. This means I’m trying to be me even when it may lead to moments of judgment or embarrassment.  I’m trying to encourage my kids to do the same.  (Side note: There’s been a lot more laughter and fun since consciously letting go.)

Lastly, I’m trying to let go of negative body image.  I have spent two and a half years working out nearly every night in an attempt to meet unattainable goals.  I’m wickedly strong now, but I’m not any happier; if anything, I mentally beat myself up more than before.  I’ve been doing more yoga, less lifting; sitting in silence more, less distractions; walking more, high impact less.  I’m mostly at peace with this, but I still have moments when I internally fight myself on whether I’m doing my body image more harm than good.  As with the idea that I need to watch what I am saying to others, I also need to watch what I am saying to myself.

be here now

I’m asked, usually many times a day, if I am am excited about the upcoming move.  Sometimes it’s a statement: I bet you’re so excited!  It’s been clear to me that my reaction is off-putting to people.  I’ve given a variety of responses, and not  a single one appears to be socially acceptable.  This is, in part, clear because often the same person comes up to me and asks the same thing and seems quite perturbed at my lack of enthusiasm.  So more and more often I hear, “Are you excited now???”  Responses include:

“Well, I’m just waiting to get through with this semester/job/etc. before I move on to thinking about a new position.”

“I am excited, but I’m mostly focused on what I’m doing right now.”

“You know, I’m not thinking about it much because I’ve got so much to do before it happens.”

The reactions to my responses have been lapping at the edges of my consciousness, and today (after three comments on how excited I must be…) I had time to process what is happening.

Once upon a time, with such an exciting change looming in my future, I would not have been able to concentrate on the here and now.  I would have already planned out the number of boxes (and packed them…), reserved the moving van, picked up change of address cards, put a deposit down on a home, began planning for curtains, etc. and generally been focused on this event that is so far in the future I can’t possibly plan for it in any meaningful way.

I’ll admit I’ve questioned my sanity a few times when I’ve realized that the date is sneaking up and I’ve not yet got a house to stay in.  I asked if I was losing my touch or my ability to plan.  But this mornings “Aren’t you exciteds” made me realize that I’m actually doing what I’ve been practicing for months now: I’m enjoying the now.  I’m focused on what is happening in this moment and letting uncertainty just be.

Over the past few months I’ve been focused on yoga and meditation, two things I thought I would never have the patience for.  But my body is teaching me that it likes stillness and patient training more than the harsh beatings I’ve been inclined to for my entire adult life.  I’m learning to be here now.  Years and thousands of dollars in schooling, and the best things I’ve learned have been free.

Now I am excited; I know I’m fortunate to be moving to a place I want to live in a job that seems as if it were written for me.  The closer I get to the move, the more I can feel the excitement build, but I am still very much focused on what is happening here: I have a paper to submit tomorrow, another paper I’m cowriting with a friend, a short class beginning on Monday, another class I’m to teach starting in a month, my kids are in baseball and softball, chaperoning for a class trip, music recitals to attend, etc., etc.  And if I start focusing on two and three months out, I’ll miss the things that are happening in front of me.

be here now