Friday, September 15, 2017

Calm

Positive Feedback works

A couple of years ago in an effort to manage the stress of my newish job and caught up in the annual ritual of bettering oneself, I attempted to learn how to meditate.

First I signed up for a free, introductory program promoted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. I settled into a a relaxed but upright position in an easy chair and tried to follow along. To say it was a struggle is too mild. To sit in silence was hard. To try to be still? Harder. To reject the pleas from my over-brimming brain to get up and do something, do anything? Impossible.

I think I managed three of the seven days provided by the free program. Maybe.

Next I found an app for my phone called Calm. I used it a few times, but again found the act of sitting still for 10 minutes at a time and concentrating on the very calming voice of Tamara Leavitt to be too much. Too much sitting still, too much thinking, too much attempted calm. I don't think anyone who spent much time around me in the past would have hung the word calm on me.

Looking back, the changes in my life may have been too fresh to allow me to set aside the guilt and fear and well-worn self-loathing to be able to focus within. I did not like sitting with myself. I could not stop my mind from constantly wandering back to my lifetime of mistakes, my trunk load of regrets, my unresolved anger. Staying active was my coping method. 

I kept myself mentally distracted like my brain was a toddler in church. Some kind of audio stimulation accompanied my every waking hour and even some of my sleeping hours. The background noise of the TV while I worked from home, satellite radio in the car, an audio book playing from my back pocket as I did housework, prepared meals, walked the dog, and gardened. I went to bed with one earbud in so that I could continue to pump sound into my head. Anything to keep thought and self-examination at bay. The more occupied my mind was, the better I felt.

Fast forward to the end of July. I was at a work conference and learned from colleagues that I wasn't using one of the most important features on my new, ridiculously gigantic iPhone 7. I wasn't using the Health app. 

Someone showed me where it tracked my steps and other features. While I was horrified at the idea of actually putting my weight and other body measurements into the app, I was intrigued by the mindfulness section.

I reloaded the Calm app onto my phone and started again. It might take me a long time to fully grasp the understanding and benefits of the practice of meditation, but now I am ready to commit. I added a second mediation app called Simple Habit.

I've spent most of my adult life in motion. Not healthy motion, necessarily, but the motion of doing. Doing dishes, doing laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, wiping up, wiping down. Being a parent, being a wife. My house was clean. My car was clean. Not just clean, but Paul Hewitt clean. Sometimes even the garage had been vacuumed. Those were bad days. No clutter gathered dust. The dishwasher was either fully loaded or completely empty. Children were ferried to various activities, cats were fed, litter boxes were clean, blog posts were written, commutes were made, jobs were done, the career ladder climbed. Every day was a race to get it all done, prepare for the next day, and fall into bed exhausted.

My measure of success had to do with how clean my house was and had I checked everything off my list that day.

I'd be healthier today if I had tried to physically outrun whatever demons seemed to pursue me, but no. I do, however, have an amazing set of cleaning and organizing tips on on Pinterest. Today I have become a reformed productivity junkie, you could write you life story in the dust in this house and I can't remember the last time I washed my car. 

I am pleased to report that I am now better suited to the practice of meditation.

I look forward to sitting quietly, the solitude, the breathing. I am not trying to do anything. The only thing I am trying to accomplish is to be calm.  And while I am struggling, as always, to tame my mind, I do find that meditation is helping.

I can focus for longer periods of time on the breath. I can focus on the guide's voice. I can still myself and my magpie brain for five minutes at a time and, generally speaking, rest with myself.

This is a very big deal.

Of course, I'm also having to learn to not make meditation a competitive sport with myself. My need for perfection is still a driving force and I have a long way to go. 

Case in point; I composed much of this blog post as I attempted to meditate this morning. The idea came to me and while I tried to focus on the breath, I couldn't stop the phrases from coming at me. I was able to corral them until I finished, but I'm here to tell you that it was not easy.

I thought about how to phrase things for this post. I thought about how meditation has actually helped me to come back to writing. I thought about my somewhat addictive personality, if somewhat is even a plausible qualifier for the word addictive. Can addiction be qualified? Is there a sliding scale?

What I do know is this - I'm all in. I want to surround myself with the equipment of meditation. I realize I am just skimming the surface and I have more varied practices and much reading and learning in my future. I don't want to be a dabbler because I have already seen results and I like them.

I relish the daily ritual of the morning meditations. Where once I could only fall asleep by distracting my brain by listening to television shows I've seen so many times I could recite the dialogue, I now look forward to the nighttime meditations with the deep breathing and body scans that help me to relax enough to just drift off and stay asleep.

I've asked for wind chimes for a birthday present. My YouTube channels are now crammed with Native American flute music and Tibetan singing bowls and black screen 11 hour sessions of calming music, birdsong and ocean sounds. These all may be trite accoutrements and embarrassing cultural appropriations for which I am sorry, but they work. They help me to set the stage to relax and sit with myself without the old dread, the fidgeting, the mental begging to please, please, please get up and do something.

The day I realized my meditation flow wasn't broken by my left arm being humped by a little white dog, I knew I was on my way. I was making progress.

But meditation, like everything worth doing, is going to take practice and perhaps that's the point. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Blended

Love multiplied.

This happened two weeks ago - a new marriage with bonus family. My one regret from the day (because let's be clear - I'm 50% regret most days) is that Chloe couldn't be there with us because of work.

I'd like to introduce you to my new blended family....


I've gained a husband, a daughter, a son-in-law and a son. The wedding was simple and casual and we had a small group of friends and family there to share in our happiness and cupcakes.

Mathman, ever the wonderful friend and man he is, sent a text of congratulations and good wishes the morning of the wedding.

My cup totally runneth over.

Wedding day selfie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cupcake Cleans Up

Once upon a time....





And now....




Junior Prom 2016

Yeah, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. It's not like I haven't already watched two children grow up and move out. It's just - - - I don't know. Even though I'm no longer there, Sophie's age seems to define the end of some era. She has one year left of high school. One year.

And in case you're wondering, she still texts me that she's dying from some thing or other and should probably leave school so as not to traumatize her peers. So much for our family has changed, so it's weirdly nice to know that some things probably never will. 

Paybacks are coming though. One day I'll be the one texting her from the home they stick me in. "Come get me. Pleeeeeeaaaaase!"


Friday, January 22, 2016

Placing a stone



Once upon a time blogging was the thing. THE THING.

We spent hours writing and reading and commenting and even having weekly gatherings online.

And in those days there were circles of bloggers that overlapped and intersected and they made up a big, scattered, interconnected, crazy quilt of an online world. Connections were made that changed lives forever. Friendships were formed. Marriages and partnerships got their start in the comment sections of blogs.

I once tried to make a Venn Diagram of the connections. I gave up because it was too much. I was too lazy. And damn it, I had a blog post to write.

Social media usurped the blog in most of those circles. Sad, but true. Many of our blog friends removed their masks, tossed aside their avatars and became Facebook friends. It wasn't the same, but we were willing to settle because the only thing that was constant online was change.

Our online world(s) were made up of all kinds of characters.

One of those characters called herself Dusty Taylor.

I learned today from one of Dusty's friends (Diane Gee) that Dusty was murdered by her son last spring. I'm saddened at the death of our outspoken and raucous friend and stunned by the tragic way she was killed.

I know that some of you were friends with Dusty. I wanted you to know so that you might honor her memory, say a little prayer or just think of her, her intelligence, her passion for liberal causes and her unforgettable foul mouth.

RIP, Diane Hugo aka Dusty Taylor who blogged at Left Wing Nutjob and It's My Right to be Left of Center.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On appropriate attire

What is it about this month?

Death.

A childhood friend's mother. David Bowie. Alan Rickman. And now Glenn Frey.

Recently my parents and I had a conversation about death and how people my age are handling the deaths of their parents and how social media seems to be creating a place for grief that didn't exist before.

That conversation was in the abstract. I've watched my friends and cousins losing their parents from the safe distance of knowing that I can scoot down the road and visit my parents who are comfortably and relatively healthily watching TV at home or out on the town.

But I also know my time is coming. Their time is coming. They're pretty clear about expectations.

We're old.
We're going to die.
We're not happy about it, but there it is.
You're going to have to deal with our deaths.

Less abstract, my mother has instructed my father that if she dies in her sleep, he is to change her out of the ratty old t shirt she sleeps in and put her into something decent before calling the EMTs.

Priorities.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Daily Journal #6 - Not so daily after all



January 11, 2016

Recently I listened to the novel Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I selected it because it was on one of those lists of books you should read before you see the movie. Not that I'll actually ever see the movie unless I stumble across it on Netflix a couple of years from now, but I thought I'd give the novel a try. It's a small break from the cozy mystery vortex I've recently inhabited.

I wasn't crazy about the book at first. It wasn't awful. The dialog (usually a deal breaker for me) was fine. The characters were well-sketched. It wasn't full of action, rather a telling of a life. A part of a life. I think it's what people might call a quiet story.

Told from the perspective of Eilis, the main character, the writing was straightforward and almost mundane. Was it lacking detail? I couldn't put my finger on it. Eilis seemed a little hard to get to know. She only told you the bare minimum about herself and there seemed to be a paucity in the sharing of her emotions. Sometimes I wanted to cheer her for her ability to hold it together and other times I wanted to throttle her for her naivete. True to most of my own life, she was a little late to understand things. By the time she had a full grasp, the consequences had already engulfed her.

As you have probably figured out, Eilis maybe bothered me most because I was seeing myself. I suppose that's a common reaction to many stories, but this one, in particular, struck me as Eilis went back to Ireland after having established a life in Brooklyn. When she returned to her home, she experienced the same feelings I have every time I visited my parents' home after I left for college. That feeling of being a guest in your own home. It's also the feeling I get now when I visit the kids in Georgia and stay with MathMan and Sophie.

I starting writing this from the spare bedroom of my former home. I was there visiting. We celebrated Sophie's birthday on the 7th. It was wonderful and loud and crazy and fun and sad to spend time with Nathan, Sophie, Nathan's girlfriend Kade and Doug. I couldn't help wishing that Chloe had been there, too.

But visiting there is hard. I AM a guest in my old home.  A new dynamic fills the house as it is just Doug and Sophie's home now. Three of us - Chloe, Nathan and I can only be guests there. When I am not there, I don't have to think about that reality. I prefer not thinking about it.

It takes me a day or two to adjust to the feelings of weirdness. I have to check myself. I can no longer act like a human bulldozer, cleaning and commanding while everyone rolls their eyes behind my back. I'm the person who gets to have things done for them as if by magic. I'm not entirely comfortable in this role even if it is kind of nice to get what you wish for once in a while.

By the time I've adjusted, I'm contradicting myself by feeling an itch to head home and be in my own space. Domestic Queen of my domain. I tell myself each visit that the next time I come, I will get a hotel room or insist that Sophie visit me in Indiana instead. It's not that the visits are unpleasant. It's just - - - - it forces me to take a good look at what I left behind and how our family has changed. While necessary to own the situation since I was very much the engineer of those changes, I think it's unhealthy to revisit my old life every couple of months. I never get beyond the guilt and regret before the reset happens.

But back to the novel. The thing I am most struck by now is how Toibin unravels the story in a way that's natural. Most of us aren't information dumps of self-knowledge. Hell, most of us struggle with self-awareness. Eilis doesn't spend large amounts of time puzzling over her own behavior. She's more interested in observing the actions of others and only occasionally assigning intent. It's only in short bursts of enlightenment that Eilis identifies some profound trait or value held by herself or another character that gives her some clue as to what may be not morally right or wrong, but right for her or the other character.

After a while, Eilis began to feel at home again in Ireland and began to question her life in Brooklyn. From Ireland, the time she'd spent in Brooklyn seemed like a dream. The life she'd had - school, work in a shop, her rooming house, the man she'd fallen in love with - it didn't seem real anymore.

And I can see how this happens, too. Having straddled two lives since 2013, I recognize the opposing tugs of the familiar and the unknown, sometimes being unable to know the difference between the two.












Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Daily Journal #5 - It's all I can manage

Party girl turns 17 tomorrow. 17.


January 6, 2016

Cheeseburgers, So I Married An Axe Murderer, Pride and Prejudice, chocolate, clementines, extra busy during work hours prepping for a couple of days off and packing for a trip.

Tomorrow I drive to Georgia for Sophie's birthday celebration.

- End -