books + reading · meditation · mindfulness

#mind #soul

I’ve been reading How To Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh – a tiny, beautiful book of meditations on mindfulness.  (One of my Powell’s purchases!)41IZUZgUAmL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

There have been a lot of amazing passages so far.  Like this one: We human beings have lost confidence in the body just knowing what to do. If we have time alone with ourselves, we panic and try to do many different things. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving parent cradling a baby, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you; just rest.’

My favorite takeaway so far from How To Relax is this – my daily life, conducted with mindfulness, is a gift I give myself.  I can’t remember if this is a passage I read in the book or a realization I had while reading it; probably the former.

I haven’t been giving myself a daily gift of life conducted in mindfulness lately.  My mind has been crowded and scattered – all over the place.

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I am hoping to go to a training on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction sometime in the near future.  I want to learn more about mindfulness as a psychological strategy and an academic concept.

But with the day-to-day of mindfulness – I know exactly what I need to do.  I need to focus on the present moment.  The challenge is actually doing it!

I can get very caught up in my head; it’s a big struggle for me to keep myself in the present moment.  I get stuck in the past or in the future rather than staying in the peacefulness of the now.

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Be more present – this was one of my resolutions for 2016.  And I think I’m doing okay with it – good, but not great.  One of my defaults when I’m stressed or overwhelmed is to rely on background noise – usually TV or a podcast – and I have been doing somewhat better with this habit o’ mine.

I find that when I’m doing something that forces me into the present moment – my evening walks with Tee, most of my work day, a doctor’s appointment – I can stay there and exist there happily.  However, when I have the option to multi-task, I usually take it.  (Right now, the fifth season of The Office is playing in the background as I type.)

My quest for mindfulness is ever-present.  Someday (hopefully!) I will be, too.

books + reading

With A Rebel Yell #BetterThanBefore #mind

I like fresh starts and I like making resolutions about ways I want to live my life better.

I’ve been working on a post outlining my New Year’s Resolutions-slash-Annual Birthday Intentions ever since my birthday, which was almost a month ago.

However – as much as I love resolutions – I find them overwhelming.  I have a tendency to make the same resolutions over and over again, with little progress toward my goals.  In my classic overthinker manner, I can spend just as much time angsting over HOW I am going to keep my resolutions as I do thinking of the resolutions themselves.

While pondering my resolutions and my intentions for 2016 and my 34th year, I kept going back to one of the books from 2015 that I can’t stop talking about: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.

4tendencies-blue2-957x1024In Better Than Before, Rubin identifies four different tendencies that people can have when it comes to responding to expectations.  Rubin distinguishes between outer expectations (like work deadlines) and inner expectations (such as sticking to a self-imposed diet).  There are Upholders – they meet both outer and inner expectations; there are Questioners – they meet their inner expectations but question all outer expectations; there are Obligers – they meet all outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations; and there are Rebels, who struggle to meet outer or inner expectations.

After careful consideration, I have determined that I am a Rebel.  I can meet expectations when there’s a good reason, or when I’m extremely motivated, or when I just feel like doing it – but there’s no real rhyme or reason behind when I meet an expectation and when I don’t.  I can’t make myself do anything, whether it’s stick to a candy-free diet (damn you, Skittles!) or observe a limit set by an authority figure.  Impending consequences don’t work – shame doesn’t work – guilt doesn’t work.

BUT – I don’t think this means I can never ever ever keep a resolution.  I think it just means I have to be creative about how I make resolutions and how I honor them.

In Better Than Before, Rubin recommends the Strategy of Identity as one of the few strategies that is helpful for Rebels like me.  She describes the Strategy of Identity in a video on her website:

Basically, for Rebels like me, it can be really helpful to think about how the habits I want to adopt can be in harmony with my personal sense of identity.  I have a handful of resolutions I’d like to make this year, and I am going to do my best to encapsulate each of them in a simple statement that aligns with my identity.

Along with the Strategy of Identity, there are a few other ideas I came up with to keep my intentions.  (These ideas were developed during an hours-long birthday coffee date with Tee, who is very good at patiently listening to me agonize over how I am going to keep my resolutions.  EVERY SINGLE YEAR.)

  1. Use visual reminders.  Sometimes having my resolutions posted around the house or in my office helps me to remember my intentions.
  2. Have family meetings.  I love scheduling impromptu family meetings.  Tee agreed that we could use our meetings to check in on how well we’re doing with our resolutions.
  3. Track progress on heartsoulmindbody.  Serious hand up, this blog has definitely helped me to be true to my quest for better balance.  Why not use it to track my progress toward this year’s resolutions?

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blogging · books + reading

150 Posts, 53 Books, 2016 Blessings #heart #soul #mind #nonstop

This is my 150th blog post!  Yay!

This blog continues to be helpful for me – it’s a therapeutic outlet and a confidence booster.  And it’s really  satisfying when I reach milestone numbers.

Like this milestone number – 53 books read this year. In January, I set a Goodreads goal of reading 52 books during the year 2015.  As of today, I’ve read 53 books- go KEM! (You can link to the list of books I read here.)  I’m not that big on setting goals like that, but I did find it really satisfying to track my progress toward the 52 books on Goodreads.  I’m not usually one who looks for compliments or gold stars, but I do like checking things off of lists and clicking the “I’ve finished this book!” button on the Goodreads app.

So, I’ve counted to 150 blog posts, and I’ve counted to 53 books.  But what I really want to count today are my blessings.  And I can’t count high enough.

-Being with Tee, at Christmas and every day of my life.

-Having the best sister in the universe.

-Loving and being loved by family, who’ve dropped everything to help Tee and me this last week.

-My oldest friend, who texted me random FRIENDS quotes periodically on a stressful day.

-Our moving helpers, including our two-year-old niece, who picked up tiny pieces of bark one at a time over and over for at least thirty minutes, tossing them into the pile of firewood in the back of Tee’s truck.

-Offers and favors from friends and family – to help us move, to bring us food, checking in on us every day of the past week.counting

-An exciting new job opportunity.

-Our upcoming move.  Stressful as it is, I’m so excited to get set up in our new farmhouse and start Marie Kondo-ing the heck out of my life.  (I’d explain, but I have a feeling this blog is going to be insufferable with references to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in January.)

-A new year – 2016.  I’m not a huge celebrator of New Year’s Eve, but I have always loved New Year’s Day – the first day of a brand-new year.  A fresh start.  A chance to take stock and to look ahead.

I’ve had the Bing Crosby song “Count Your Blessings” from the movie White Christmas in my head ever since last Friday.  I can’t stop counting my blessings, and it’s making me really happy.

books + reading

What I Learned From Big Magic #mind #soul #BigMagic #takeaways

The streak of all my famous authors coming out with new books continues!  I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert from the library on the Tuesday it came out.  (All of these books have been coming out on Tuesdays; I did some googling and it seems like this is a thing, new releases coming out on Tuesdays, though I couldn’t identify the reason why.)24453082

I finished Big Magic on October 5.  I really enjoyed the format; Liz Gilbert divided the book into six sections, and each section is divided into several short pieces.  It reminds me of the format of Eat Pray Love: 108 stories, divided into three sections.  Some of the stories were longer; some were shorter.  And they were all inextricably connected.  I thought Eat Pray Love had a really good flow to it, and I think Big Magic does, too.  Here are my takeaways!

  • What happens to our work after we create is not our responsibility and is not within our power.  If you want to create, you create.  That doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve creative success.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living as an artist.  As Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The patron goddess of creative success sometimes rewards charlatans and ignores the gifted.”  Understanding that the reaction to your work is not under your control and is, frankly, none of your business is, Gilbert says, the only sane way to create.  For me, I get caught up in what other people will say about what I’ve written.  Gilbert has some wonderful words of wisdom for dealing with haters.  (See below.) Quotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic 7
  • Sneak off and have an affair with your creative self.  Gilbert playfully writes about dressing up in your best clothes and sneaking off to have an affair, pointing out that when someone’s having an affair, they never give the excuses like “I don’t have time” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  They find stolen moments to devote to their affair against all reason and rhyme.

I try to remember that my writing wants the best of me.  My writing wants me to bring my best self to the page.  My writing wants me when I’m feeling witty and graceful and powerful.  It also wants me when I’m feeling vulnerable and sensitive and weak, of course, but I like the idea of getting ready for writing as if I’m going on a hot date.  Get excited!  Put on your best sweatpants.  Because this writing thing is going to be so much fun.

  • If you can’t quit, you’ll have to keep going.  Gilbert tells a story, relayed from a relative, about the writer Richard Ford.

Ford was conversing at a speaking engagement with an aspiring writer who        was  struggling to make his living with his craft.  The writer asked Ford for advice, explaining that all anyone ever tells him is to do is persevere.  Ford tells him to quit – because writing is killing him and is making him miserable.  Ford then cheekily tells him that if he spends a few years away from writing and finds nothing else that inspires him the same way that writing does – well, then, he’ll have no choice but to persevere.

I sometimes fight off the negative self-talk themes of not good enough and it’s too late.  If I was meant to find creative success via writing, shouldn’t I have found it already?  I’m 32 years old.

Well, maybe I should have.  Maybe I will someday.  Or maybe I never will.  But if I can’t find any other creative outlet that brings me the same joy and fulfillment that writing does – well, I’ll just have to keep on writing.

  • Only when we are at our most playful can divinity get serious with us.  I do a lot of play therapy at my job, so I have a bulletin board full of quotations about the importance of play in my office.  “Play is serious work.”  “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.”  “Play turns out to be so stunningly essential to childhood that it’s like love, sunshine, and broccoli, all juiced together.”  Gilbert argues that our creative energy and ideas come from divine sources, and that we can only open the channel tQuotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic4o our divinity when we are being playful and not taking ourselves so damn seriously.  
  • Value authenticity over originality.  I often have this argument with myself – why are you writing?  All the most wonderful, unique, and original stories and books have already been written.  But anyone who is writing straight from the heart and being truly authentic is adding something original to the world.  (So, don’t try to be original.  Just try to be you.  You are original.)
  • Write for you.  You need to write for YOU – not for money or for popularity or for other people.  Gilbert talks about writing Eat Pray Love for herself – it was a book she felt she needed to write.  And it ended up helping a lot of people in the world who related to her personal and spiritual struggles.  But – I really believe this is true – if you write something TRYING TO HELP OTHERS, it probably won’t help.  It will probably come across as condescending or distant or preachy or inauthentic.  However, if you write from the heart anfullsizerenderd honestly with honesty and you write what you need to write, you may find that your words accidentally end up helping others in strange and mysterious ways.
  • Creativity doesn’t have to be sacred.  If we try to make everything perfect, we end up never creating anything.  Gilbert argues that our creative expression must be of the utmost importance (if we are to live artistically) and it must be completely unimportant (if we are to live sanely).  “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Voltaire said.  Just keep on going and get things done.
books + reading

The Baby-Sitters Club #heart

Today I walked into my office in the middle of a hectic morning and I found a copy of Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin on my desk – the very first book in the young adult series The Baby-Sitters Club.12079633_10103432914398830_7749523086888029431_n

I didn’t know who’d left the book there, so I immediately posted a photo of the book on Facebook, figuring that the gift-giving co-worker would see it and reveal herself.  That’s the easiest way to solve a mystery like this, right?

No – it’s not.  I knocked on my next-door neighbor’s door five minutes later and she told me that she’d found the book while cleaning out her mother’s basement and had left it on my desk.  (I guess we don’t need to use social media for all communication?  It’s unclear.)

A few hours later, my Facebook post had some likes and some comments, and my sister and I were DEEP into a texting argument over which baby-sitter we’d be if we were the members of The Baby-Sitters Club.  (I so want to be Dawn Schafer, but I am constantly assigned the role of either Kristy Thomas or Mary Anne Spier.)

My wife Tee and I recently had a similar discussion with our friend The Naturalist; one Saturday during harvest, we decided that Tee is Stacey McGill, The Naturalist was Kristy Thomas, and I was (sigh) Mary Anne.  (My sister thinks Tee is more Logan than Stacey, which is actually pretty insightful – a Southerner who is kind, laidback, and level-headed.)

The point of all this chitchat is that I was pleasantly surprised by how much dialogue was instigated at the mere mention of The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC).  Today’s conversations got me thinking about the feelings BSC talk inspires in girls of a certain age.  Whenever The Baby-Sitters Club comes up in conversation, it cues two things – nostalgia and questions of identity.  I don’t think I’ve ever in my life spoken about BSC without engaging in a lengthy debate about who would be who, and why, and then subsequent arguing when opinions differed.  And I’ve never thought about BSC without being instantly transported back to my childhood home, with me sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal, the latest BSC book folded around the cereal bowl so I could read while I ate, my older sister waiting impatiently for me to finish so she could read it, too.

I don’t think I’m alone in the sentimental identity crisis I experience every time I think about these beloved books.  Every once in a while, an expression of BSC love will pop up on my Facebook feed – a list of the best-dressed BSC members, a blog that summarizes all the BSC books, a look at the worst covers in BSC history.  AND, thanks to my reflections today, I had the good fortune of discovering that a BSC prequel was released several years ago, as well as graphic novel versions of the first four BSC books!  (Don’t you worry; they’ve already been requested from the Baltimore County Public Library.)

In order to win my argument with my sister, I took Buzz Feed’s Which Baby-Sitter Are You? quiz, and was VERY happy to get Dawn as my result!  You can take the quiz here if you want to find out who you are.  (You know you want to.)

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