family · mindfulness

Octobers

I love fall. I love sweatshirt and denim jacket weather. I love pumpkin spice lattes so much that I don’t care how cliche it is to love pumpkin spice lattes.

However, I tend to have bittersweet feelings at this time of year. I love fall, and I love the holidays. I tend the enjoy the briskness of November and the festivity of December. But I feel a wistful feeling as we approach the time of the year when the days are shorter. The biggest downer for me is the decrease in daylight hours; I dislike when the sun sets at 5 or 6 in the evening.  I also struggle with the bitterly cold times of the year, when I have to put on five layers of clothing just to walk to the mailbox.

This struggle I have with fall is indicative of one of my biggest overall struggles – keeping myself in the present moment. Enjoying October for October’s sake, without worrying about what January and February will be like.

This feeling – loving the present while dreading the future – also lines up with how I’m feeling as my waywayway too short maternity leave comes to an end. My six weeks of leave will end on October 17th. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much; I worry that if I think about it, I’ll become too overwhelmed to function and to enjoy the present. How do people do this? Just enjoy the now without anticipating the later with anxiety?

One of my wise and gentle friends often reminds me to come back to where my feet are, and that helps. Not talking about the length of my maternity leave helps, too – in a way, not talking about it is a coping skill I’m using, reminding myself to stay in the now and not to dwell on what I don’t have but to enjoy what I do have.

Today is a brisk and beautiful October day. My infant son is big enough to go in my Ergo 360 carrier and I’m celebrating that with a walk around the farm and down the trail. Life is sweet.

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meditation · mindfulness

Zen Kerriann

A few days ago, I finished reading one of my Slow Jams – Buddhism Is Not What You Think, by Steve Hagen. It was great, although I preferred the first book I read by Hagen, which was called Buddhism Plain And Simple.  

Now, I only had a few takeaways from this book, and this was in part because the book emphasized several simple and key points repeatedly. My biggest takeaway was this: you can’t sit down to meditate because you’re trying to achieve something. If you’re trying to achieve something – peace, health, enlightenment – then you’re missing the point.

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Huh.

Yeah. I don’t know about that.

It certainly doesn’t resonate with my current feelings about meditation. For the past few months, I’ve continually come back to this thought: I really need to meditate. 

I have meditated, on and off, for years, but I’ve never maintained a regular meditation practice. Meditation is recommended to me often – as a source of strength and connection in my recovery, as a way to clear my monkey mind. The biggest reason I’ve been wanting to meditate recently is that I’m facing up to the fact that I am a pretty anxious person, and that my anxiety and my fears often affect my mental and physical well-being.

I listened to an audio program that outlined 12 steps toward practicing mindfulness meditation well, and I learned a lot. But putting it all into practice is a challenge, especially in the midst of caring for an infant, getting little sleep, and eating mostly candy with the occasional home-cooked organic vegetable squeezed in here and there.

The program highlighted the simple things you need to engage in mindfulness meditation and to see the benefits of this practice, such as consistency and quieting your judging mind. It also talked about doing EVERYTHING mindfully – eating, walking, breathing, etc. That seems like a lofty goal when right now I’m doing almost nothing mindfully.

Whew. Well, this has been a long few weeks, and I’m tired. I’m looking forward to taking the next few days to reset, and meditation is on the agenda. Maybe I am missing the point of meditation – but I don’t think so. I think it’s okay to seek the benefits – mentally, emotionally, physically – of meditation. Along the way, I will likely come to realize that acceptance of the present is the only real thing we can “achieve” when we meditate – and maybe I’ll have decreased my anxiety and increased my capacity for stress enough to enjoy that realization more fully when it comes.

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mindfulness

Staying Present

I have a long-sleeved maroon hoodie that I got at Target. It’s lightweight and it says STAY PRESENT across the chest.

I love this shirt. It’s comfortable and cozy, and I love anything that helps me remember to stay present in my everyday life, rather than getting caught up in yesterday and tomorrow.

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Our family spent a few days at the beach this summer, and I was wearing this shirt while doing a crossword and chit-chatting with a group of people. My father-in-law asked me what my shirt said and what it meant. I explained, and then meekly put down my crossword. Because, while I strive to be present always, I am often not present. I am often multi-tasking, worrying, regretting, and doing a crossword or crocheting a blanket while also talking to a room full of people.

When you have a fresh start, it’s a good chance to set a reset button and start anew. And I have several major fresh starts happening in my life at the moment. I thought about that today; I was expecting a visitor, and I started to fret a bit, about how to entertain, what we’d eat. what we’d talk about. And then my visitor came – and I was completely in the moment, totally present. We talked and we laughed and we cried. I didn’t say everything “right” because there is not a right and wrong way to say things most of the time. I was just – present. 

When I really stop to think about it, I realize that it is rare for me to be fully present in my life. I worry about the future and I fret about the past. I do two things at once, doing neither of them in a really mindful way.

And now, after spending an afternoon with a friend and my family, just being in the moment and accepting every moment without judgment, I wonder – can I do this? Can I try to live totally in the moment? Can I worry less? Can I try to not have such high expectations of myself and everyone else? Can I try to just BE? Scratch out the TRY – can I just be?

One of my favorite quotes is from a song called “Another Day” in the musical Rent. 

There’s only us

There’s only this

Forget regret

Or life is yours to miss

No other road

No other way

No day but today

There are so many moments that I miss because I’m worried about being perfect, about doing everything the right way. I desperately want to be present. I want to be fully present in each and every moment of my crazy beautiful life. I know I can’t achieve presence and mindfulness the way you can get an A on a test. But – I can pray. I can hope. I can just BE and forget the rest.

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books + reading · mindfulness

Happiness Is An Inside Job

This summer, I crossed a few books off of my Slow Jams Syllabus. This was a list of books that were in my To Be Read pile for a long while. They survived many episodes of thinning out my book pile, and I can be pretty ruthless about getting rid of books that I know I’m not going to read. The thing was that I knew I wanted to read these books someday.

I set an intention of making these Slow Jams a priority during my Summer Sabbatical. I mostly accomplished this by downloading the books via Audible and listening to them during my many road trips. I often listen to podcasts (or, let’s be honest, toddler jams) on road trips, but I realized that one of the books – Happiness Is An Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein – was only six hours long, audiobook-style. That’s one round trip to my mom’s house in New York. I’ve crossed only two books off of the list so far, but I’m planning to use my commute to work on many of the others.

Here are my takeaways from Happiness Is An Inside Job:

-This book is based largely on the Buddhist concepts of Wise Mind, Wise Effort, and Wise Concentration. I’ve really enjoyed reading more about Buddhism; one of my favorite books of all time is Buddhism Plain And Simple, by Steve Hagen. I’m going to read another book by Hagen to follow this one up since I am back in this groove.

-Radical acceptance. The idea of saying, “This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I got.”

-Boorstein writes about signs that people have attained some enlightenment. One of the things she talks about is the difference between people who say, “A terrible thing happened. Why me?”, and the people who say, “A terrible thing happened.Why not me? These things happen.”

-That lofty word, equanimity. The definition, according to my internet search, is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” There’s not supposed to be a goal when it comes to Buddhism and meditation, I don’t think – I think you’re just supposed to be, and accept your circumstances. But if the stillness, the meditation, and the acceptance bring equanimity – well, that sounds pretty great.

This wasn’t my favorite book – I enjoyed one of Boorstein’s other books, It’s Easier Than You Think, much more. But it was a good read for me in this moment, when I am setting the intention of being more present. (More on that to come.)

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mindfulness · self-care

Math Woes

When I’m not happy with my life, I start doing math.

This is not a coping skill; it’s a sign that things are not going well.

For example – years ago, I lived in Staten Island, NY, and I commuted to the Lower East Side in Manhattan every day for work. It was the longest commute I’ve ever had. First I walked to the Staten Island Railroad. Then I rode the train to the ferry. I rode the ferry to Manhattan, got off, and then hopped on a bus, which took me to the Lowest East Side. I then walked 15 minutes to get to my office.

OH. MY. GOSH.

It was terrible.

It honestly didn’t feel weird at the time. Many people who live in New York are used to that kind of commute. But I absolutely hated it, and I think that had more to do with my overall state of mind at the time than the commute itself.

That was a really rough year for me. My dad had died about a year earlier, and I had come home from living abroad to live with my mother and work in New York. I quickly got depressed in the cold New York winter. I started daydreaming about finding a job as a college professor so that I could teach in Hawaii during the school year and spend my summers with family in New York. My job was okay, but it was indoors and not exciting. I missed AmeriCorps, doing projects outside surrounded by other young people. I was stressed and struggling.

And I did math obsessively, every single day. I would count up all the hours I spent commuting, and I’d make myself sick thinking about what else I could be doing with that time. I’d add the commuting hours together with the actual work day hours, and the math would get even more depressing. I believe it added up to about 80 hours of work/commute in a 168-hour week -practically half my time. Then 56 hours for sleep, leaving about 32 hours for actual Kerriann time.

SO TERRIBLE.

But, the thing is – the math was terrible because I was unhappy about my life. If I had loved my job and felt great about my life status, then that commute would have been a dream – time to read books, time to talk on the phone with friends, time to write in my journal. I think about that ferry boat ride, and it sounds delightful – I was out on the New York Harbor, sailing by the Statue of Liberty, twice a day, five days a week. That’s amazing! A lot of people would love that.

But, I was unhappy. So I didn’t practice gratitude. I didn’t look for the good. Instead, I did math, and then got depressed when the numbers added up all wrong.

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Ever since my son was born, I have noticed this tendency of mine – doing life-related math when I am stressed and unhappy – more clearly. It was difficult returning to work after maternity leave, and I found myself adding up the hours I was spending away from Edgar – the hours that belonged to my job, not to me. While looking for a new job, I found myself calculating commute and daily work hours and feeling physically weighted down as I considered different opportunities. “If I take this job, I will get two hours per week day to be with Edgar while he is awake.” (The math of a working parent can be really tough!)

The opposite of this stress-induced Life Math is what I think of as Vacation Time Zone – that feeling when you’re on  vacation like time matters SO LITTLE. We spent a few days at the beach this summer, and I got to experience that special vacation feeling – a) you have no idea what time it is, b) you’ve been having so much fun on the beach that you don’t know whether you’ve been there for one hour or three, and c) time DOES NOT MATTER because you’re on vacation and have little to no responsibilities in the moment. I love Vacation Time Zone. I wish I could live in it always.

Now that I am enjoying my Summer Sabbatical, I am enjoying an in-between state. There’s a lot on my to-do list, but my life has a very open-ended vacation-y feel to it.

HOWEVER.

I can tell I am feeling some stress when the Life Math starts to creep back in.  When I start counting the weeks before my new job starts, for example – that’s a really good sign that I’m feeling some kind of distress, and that I am not embracing the present moment.

One of my wise and gentle friends advises me that when I feel like time is running away from me, I can come back to where my feet are and just be in THIS moment. That’s my goal. It eludes me, often – but that’s my goal.

mindfulness · parenting

Surprises

So many things have surprised me about becoming a parent.

I was genuinely surprised by how much it affected my life at work. I’ve felt very discontent with jobs since Teddy came home, and I know becoming a parent has to do with that. Suddenly, my time at work was also time away from my kid. The stakes got a lot higher, and it became harder to find the kind of work that is engaging and satisfying to me.

I was surprised by how much it energized me in my quest to become a writer. I’ve decided that the reason for this is pretty simple: I want to show my kids what it looks like to believe in yourself and work hard to make your dreams come true.

I’ve been surprised at how hard it is for me to be away from Teddy. It’s getting a little easier as he gets older, but I really feel the happiest and the calmest when I’m with him.

And, finally (for now) – I’ve been surprised at the ways it’s helped me with mindfulness.

I love mindfulness. I recommend mindfulness to others. I utilize mindfulness in my psychotherapy work.

But in my down time? My ability to be mindful varies. I’ve always been a “do your homework while watching TV” kind of person. I listen to podcasts while doing laundry. I listen to music while I’m running. I listen to audiobooks in the car. I rarely do one thing at a time, fully, even though that is almost always my goal.

And then, there’s my 22-month-old son. We spend our weekends wandering around the farm. We visit the lawn mower, the creek, the tractor, the ‘slide’ (a bit of concrete that slants downward toward more concrete), and the chickens. He doesn’t need any distractions, anything to accompany our meandering. He’s completely present.

At least once during the walk, Teddy will stop everything he’s doing, point up at the sky, and say something that sounds like “PLUUUHN!”

Because, of course, a plane is flying overhead. He never misses it. I would never notice it – I’m usually too caught up in my own thoughts, or listening to a podcast so can’t hear it. But Teddy hears it. He’s tuned in.

When we have moments like this, it reminds me that I want to be tuned in, too.  I want to have awareness of the world around me, not just the thoughts inside my head.

I’ve found that I still do a lot of multi-tasking as a parent. I listen to podcasts while we’re meandering around the farm, or I listen to an audiobook while we’re doing dishes together. (Sorry – I meant while I do the dishes and Edgar dumps cups of water on his head.)

But there are moments when parenthood has brought me fully into the present. Like when I’m reading to Edgar, and we’re cuddled up together and I’m completely tuned in to what we’re doing. We have some great books we’ve read together that are actually meant to teach kids about mindfulness. My two current favorites are Baby Present by Rachel Neumann and I Am Peace by Susan Verde.

Those moments are magic.

I have a feeling that multi-tasking while parenting is going to get increasingly difficult as Edgar gets older, and I’m glad. I want to be as present as I can be – as a parent, and in my life overall.

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image from elephantjournal.com
mindfulness · writing

Frustrated #mind #soul

Yup.  I’ve been feeling kind of frustrated.

This month, I decided to do a check-in on my intentions for 2018, and it turns out I’m doing okay-but-far-from-great.

These were my 2018 intentions, numbered:

  1. Meditate.
  2. Write consistently.
  3. Be intentional with all my actions and my choices.
  4. Choose self-care over angst.

The intention I am MOST frustrated about is #2.  It’s been extremely difficult to maintain a consistent writing routine, mostly because of the responsibilities and stresses of everyday work and family life.  Oh, how I wish I could quit my day job and magically conjure up an employor who would pay me a decent salary + benefits to write fiction!  But, c’est la vie.

Since I don’t have magical powers (and if my son has them, they haven’t emerged yet), I decided that there were a few things I needed to figure out to make a writing routine workable and sustainable.

  • How do I keep writing even when my house is a mess?
  • How do I keep writing even when life is chaotic or (more problematic) emotionally exhausting?
  • When can I write?
  • What do I need in order to be able to write?

I’ve been meditating on these questions for a few days now.  I’ve zeroed in on my writing time – during nap on days when I’m home with Teddy, after bedtime on all other days – and I’m contemplating what I really need to be able to write.  (First of all, I need to prioritize writing time over cleaning time.  Cleaning is dumb.  It’s neve16681901_1413780878654813_3993080533770962284_nr finished. My writing is way more important for my mental health than the dishes in my sink.)

The “emotionally exhausted” question is the hardest to answer.  It’s really, really hard for me to maintain my writing routine when I am wiped and feeling terrible about myself. I’m hoping that making my writing routine regular and non-optional will help with this – especially if I decide that even just sitting at the computer for five minutes and browsing through drafted posts or inspiring articles is enough to *count* as my writing practice.  I do this with meditation; sometimes, I only sit to meditate for literally one minute.  But it’s better than zero minutes, and it helps me keep the habit.

Thinking about making writing a priority reminds me of the book that originally inspired this blog – Stan Covey’s children’s book, The Seven Habits Of Happy Kids, which includes a story about each of these habits:

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. 
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw. 

Usually the habit I focus on most is #7, which is all about balance.  But today, I’m recommitting to #3.  You can’t do EVERYTHING – you have to set priorities.  Writing is a huge priority for me.  FIRST THINGS FIRST.