habits · meditation · mindfulness

Day 999 of My Meditation Streak: When the Mind Chatter Surrenders to What Is

Tiny seated Buddha on a green leaf
Samuel Austin on Unsplash

I sit down on my meditation cushion for day 999 of my current meditation streak. This particular cushion is a stack of two stained decorative pillows on a day bed in an Airbnb in Montreal, where I’m staying with my mother, the first time I’ve seen her since the beginning of the pandemic. The mind chatter starts right in:

Why do I never get any credit for my accomplishments? I’m so tired of these people who tell me that their daily activities are “meditations”—running, gardening, whatever. Last night it was counting stitches in knitting and something about watching sports and managing frustration. Meanwhile, here I am putting in the work of sitting down every single solitary day. Oh right, you call that work? Okay, yeah, it’s most often only for 10 minutes. Exactly, I don’t know what you are even pleased with yourself about? Can everyone just stop taking my meditation away from me with all their fake-itations?! Whoa. Hold on a minute. Who’s the fraud in this scenario? That’s a lot of me-me-me-notice-me about a meditation. Holy antithesis. Is that why you meditate, for the credit? Also, when did you become the Académie Française of meditation, the anointed-one-from-on-high who gets to define what counts as a meditation? Also, also, who the fuck cares what other people are doing? What does that have to do with your meditation? When did meditation become a competitive sport? Also, also, also, juvenile!

Time out. Can everyone take a breath? I hear all of you. But if we pause, can you feel how it doesn’t matter? Can you see how people might be talking about their meditative practices to connect with you, not to diminish you? And, news flash, you do a good enough job diminishing your own self. You don’t need anyone else’s help with that. Plus, a reminder, tuning into this chatter and letting it flow through and away is your practice. Good job. I mean it. Well done.

Just there, did you feel that moment of peace? The way it arrived like a comforting weighted blanket? Aah. That feels good. Let all people call whatever they want their meditation.

Fine.

Wait. Wake up. Enough with the I’m-so-zen, have you forgotten what’s happening today? Oh man, what the hell am I doing with my life, starting a new 10-month training course in Non-Violent Communication? It’s too late. I’m too old. I’ll never finish. When will I be a grown up? I’m in way over my head. How about the monthly travel to Canada from the US? All the documentation. Every time. For what? No one is ever going to hire me. Why are you even doing this? And don’t even give me that over-earnest answer, to make a contribution. Cue the violins. It’s the same as with your meditation. Do you really want to contribute or do you want to be seen to be contributing? Grandiosity.

Okay, I’m calling a time out again. This is not advice, just a suggestion. Surrender. Seriously, I mean it. You know (know-know, in that cellular way) that this course is the right thing for you, for how you want to be in the world. That’s enough. You don’t have to waste time doubting yourself. I know you feel like you need to fight this with doubt. But you really don’t have to. You can just be with what is.

 …

Did you hear that?

I felt it—silence resonating in my mind-body. It was only a few seconds. That’s enough, isn’t it? Yes.

 …

The gong sounds, bringing my meditation to a close. I open my eyes and look out at the green hill of Mont Royal, visible from my aerie. I was running up there not more than an hour ago, enlivened with the joy of movement. Spaciousness fills me again. I am light, yet grounded, centered, fluid and strong. I am ready for breakfast with my mother and then back-to-school. How fitting. 

Also, I did make it to Day 1000 of my meditation streak the next day–this is the log on my Insight Timer app
fitness · habits · motivation

Go Team: Find A Win And Celebrate It

So, Team, we’re almost at the end of August and I think it’s time to remind ourselves of some wins from the year so far.

Whether your fitness/wellness plans have been going exactly as you thought they would or whether you are now following a whole different path than you anticipated, you have done a lot of things right.

I’d like you to make a list of those things, big or small, and find a way to acknowledge and celebrate them.

Perhaps you’ve accomplished a specific goal or met a certain fitness target.

Maybe you have found more ways to fit rest into your day.

Or you’ve talked yourself into going for a walk more often.

Perhaps you’ve meditated or done yoga or done some canoeing.

Or maybe you’ve tried stretching your neck while waiting for webpages to load.

The size of the win doesn’t matter. The fact that you have deliberately worked to improve your own well-being does, and it is worthy of celebration.

Please tell me about your wins in the comments and I will celebrate with you.

Here’s a gold star for your efforts!

A gold-coloured star-shaped metal decoration hangs on a light green painted wall.​
This is the gold star that hangs above my computer monitor to remind me to celebrate my efforts. Image Description: A gold-coloured star-shaped metal decoration hangs on a light green painted wall.
ADHD · fitness · habits · mindfulness · self care

Don’t Hold Your Breath, Christine

No, I’m not being snarky with myself here. I’m not stuck waiting for something that will never happen. I’m literally reminding myself not to hold my breath when I’m trying to focus.

Do you do that too? Or is it an ADHD thing?

Either way, it’s no fun. I’ll be trying to work on something and I won’t realize that I have been holding my breath until I catch myself sighing as I exhale. It’s not a good feeling and it involves a lot of unnecessary tension and I really want to stop doing it.

And in the course of figuring out how to break the habit, I’ve started by just being more conscious of when I might hold my breath and trying to stop myself earlier. But I have also been doing some research into different breathing videos and techniques. I figure that if I can practice breathing in more beneficial ways then I can not only stop holding my breath but I can replace my ineffective technique (holding my breath) with one that serves me better.

I mean, even if it doesn’t work, I get to spend some time breathing slowly and chilling out. There’s no downside to that.

So far, I have discovered that I really like having a visual element instead of just audio because it engages more of my brain so I can focus with more ease. (You know, so I don’t end up holding my breath while I practice breathing.)

Here are a few of the useful things I’ve found:

I’m not particularly anxious at the moment but I’ve still found these breathing GIFs for anxiety pretty good.

And I’m a fan of this video:

A video called ‘Deep Breathing Exercise = 2x The Anxiety Relief.’

And I find box breathing very relaxing:

A video called ‘Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety’

And if you are into breathing in shapes, this is adorable!

A video called ‘Deep Breathing with Shapes- Coping Skills for Kids’

In addition to playing around with all of these videos and GIFs, I have been reading James Nestor’s book Breath and I plan to talk about it on an upcoming post. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen yet, though, so don’t hold your breath on that one. (Ha!)

Do you have any breathing videos or techniques to recommend? What do you use them for? What do you like about them?

fitness · habits · rest · season transitions · self care

Working Outside: An Internal Debate

I’m writing this while sitting on my patio and wondering if I want to take my laptop outside for the rest of the afternoon.

I mean, if you were sitting here, would you want to make yourself go work inside?

A view of a backyard patio, plants, lawn and trees
The view from my seat under my patio umbrella. Image description: a photo of one side of a backyard deck with a view of a red shed with white trim, a patio chair with a red cushion, a variety of potted plants, some grass and trees, and my dog, Khalee.

Yet, as someone with ADHD who does freelance work from home, I already have to put a lot of effort into reminding myself that there is a time for work and a time to relax/be at home. I generally try to limit where I work so I have environmental reminders to keep me on track.

So, if I start working in my relaxation space, am I going to blur that line I have worked hard to draw?

On the other hand, I have done lots of work outside in the past. I don’t really remember if it made it more challenging to keep that boundary or not.

And while I have enjoyed my deck in previous years, I hadn’t put as much effort into creating a restful backyard before. My new deck and an increase in my planning capacity (thanks to an increased dose of ADHD meds last fall) has helped me plan and create a much more enjoyable space this summer.

I don’t know if I should draw stronger boundaries around this restful space or if my environment would help me work with more ease. If I could work with more ease, maybe it would be easier to draw a line under my tasks for the day and move on to my hobbies and relaxation.

In the past, while writing or doing other office work outdoors, I have managed to create a good rhythm for my day – working in short sessions and then breaking for yoga, other exercises, drawing or reading. That’s probably a healthier way to work than trying to force myself to focus for long periods. There would be less sitting and more movement, which is always good for me.

But, maybe I could make my workday shorter if I told myself to stay inside for X amount of time and then go outside to exercise and/or relax?

Am I overthinking this? Almost definitely.

Does it have to be all one or all the other? Probably not.

I still think it is worth asking myself all of these questions though.

I am trying to be more conscious of the choices I am making and of the patterns I am following. I want those choices and patterns to contribute to my overall fitness, my health, my happiness, and my peace of mind.

I’ll probably try working outside in small amounts and see how it affects my sense of relaxation the rest of the time.

In the worst case scenario, it won’t work out and I’ll have to redraw my boundaries. I can always use more practice at that.

Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.
Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.

PS – Yes, I am aware of the irony of being outside while composing a post wondering about whether I should work outside but writing for this blog is in a grey area between work-work and recreation so really it’s kind of fitting that I am writing it on my phone while outside.

cycling · fitness · habits · hiking · holiday fitness · swimming

Getting on board with the slowness plan

You would think that, now more vaccination is happening in the US and Canada, that we would all be waiting at the thresholds of our homes, raring to go, just waiting for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s starter pistol (which, in a way, has already gone off). Time to get out there, do the things, see the people, go to the places!

Track lanes, or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Track lanes 1–7, , or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

I’ve gotten the message, and am venturing forth. I’ve driven through 9 states and back to see family and friends, had a bona fide dinner party, and eaten in a few restaurants inside, with no masks. I’ve been to the beach and the pool, the grocery store and parks. It’s so nice to see other people I know and don’t know, out enjoying everyday life. Yay! Whew. Thanks, science!

Probably not a scientists pouring COVID-vaccine into a flask. But the color is pretty. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

But, life doesn’t feel back to normal. Not yet. Not even close. Just thinking about adding new things to my to-do list, filling my social calendar, resuming all the activities I used to do, makes me anxious and fearful. I’m not ready. Or at least not ready to do it all right away and fast, like the pandemic never happened. No sir.

But, but: life is returning, coming at us, speeding up, expanding to fill all available space and time. What are my options?

I can go slow.

What?

You know– slow.

Turns out I already have the start of a library of how-to-do-stuff-slowly books. Here are two of them.

I’m taking a memoir writing course online with an old friend and former colleague, Edi Giunta. One of the things she assigned for us is being part of a 100-word writing group. It works like this: people are assigned different days of the week. One starts, writing 100 words exactly. Then the next person writes exactly 100 words, taking inspiration from whatever strikes them in the previous writing piece. And so on.

I love this! It’s breaking down writing into sentences, words, punctuation. I admit I don’t write my pieces very slowly; but, given that it’s just 100 words, I feel like I have all the time in the world to complete it. What luxury– the feeling of rafts of time to do something, and then doing it within that time. WOW.

So I’ve been thinking: if slow writing feels this good, what else will be very satisfying doing slowly? Here’s one: swimming. After reading the Why We Swim book (which we reviewed extensively, you can start here if you want to take a look), I felt the urge to be in water, but not to swim fast or hard or long. I like just being in the water, moving around at my own paddly pace, stopping and treading water or floating to look around. There are slow swimming groups (here’s one on FB; I’m guessing Diane knows about them), but I am happy (for now) being a group of one or two or so.

There’s also slow hiking. Admittedly, I don’t have much choice on this one: I am a very slow hiker, no matter what my age, fitness level, geopolitical situation, etc. If and when it’s okay to hike slowly, I almost sort of like it a little bit. I mean, the outdoors, and woodsy hilly outdoors, are lovely. Being able to appreciate however much or little I want of it seems like an good approach for me. And yes, there is internet information on it, but I warn you: several pages I went to (like this one) featured a picture of a snail. Sigh… Still, it seems promising. And when I’ve done this with fully-on-board-with-the-plan friends, it’s been marvelous.

And then there’s slow cycling. That one’s hard, because I remember being not-as-slow and am not as satisfied with slow-as-I-am-now. But maybe this is the most important one. Why? Because 1) I love cycling; 2) I’ve missed cycling; and 3) I simply am a slow cyclist. At least right now. Given the choice between slow cycling and no cycling, I pick slow cycling.

My sister and I have done a bunch of slow cycling on beach bikes. It’s so much fun. She likes riding around beach neighborhoods, looking at the houses, and wondering aloud how much they cost. I like riding with her. This situation suits us both. In lieu of my sister (who lives, alas, far away from me), I’ll have to slow-cycle on my own or with friends who I’m comfortable slow-cycling with.

Dear readers, what do you like to do slowly? Anything? Have you considered taking up an activity or returning to it, but in the slow lane? I’d love to hear about it.

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Go Team – June 15: Re-evaluate, Revise, Reframe

That’s a lot of ‘Re’ for one title, but let’s forge ahead.

Here we are in June, well into year two of ‘Everything is just a bit strange, isn’t it?’ and I’m hoping you’ll pause, take a breath, and reconsider your fitness/wellness plans and goals for the year. (There was another ‘re’ in that sentence, there is no escape from them!)

Maybe everything is going exactly as you planned, things are humming along, and you are wondering why I am even suggesting this.

If that’s the case for you, keep rocking it and here are some gold stars for your hard work: ⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️

But, if you are like me and this year has been all fits and starts with your fitness/wellness goals, let’s get into all of those ‘Re’ words above.

Re-evaluate

When you started the year you imagined things were going to go a certain way. You combined that imagined future with the facts you had and made plans based on that.

Now that we are part way through June, you have more information about your schedule, your preferences, and your capacity.

Use that information to reevaluate the goals and plans you made in January.

Consciously decide whether you are going to continue or if you are going to choose a different path. (Sometimes, I will hold on to an old plan for ages, even though I am doing nothing with it, because I keep thinking I will get back to it. Consciously choosing NOT to do it is always a relief.)

Revise

Your plans for fitness and wellness are for YOU, not for anyone else. And only you can decide if something is working for you.

You don’t have to follow the plan exactly as you set it out at the first part of the year. You can choose to revise it at any time to meet your current needs.

If the big ideas you had in January, whatever they were, still suit you but the details didn’t work out, change the details.

If the big ideas no longer suit you, ditch them and try something else.

Reframe

One of the tricky things about making goals and plans is that we can be very hard on ourselves if they don’t work out the way that we hoped they would.

That brings us to our third Re: reframe.

Please, please, please, do not frame your efforts over the past months in terms of failure.

For most of us, that will not be a valuable approach.

I’m not suggesting that you pretend everything is perfect nor am I suggesting a falsely positive approach.

Instead, I invite you to acknowledge that your initial plan wasn’t possible and then reframe your results in terms of effort or knowledge instead of failure to meet a plan.

So, instead of some self-defeating statement about failing to do daily yoga, say something like: “I couldn’t do yoga daily the way I planned instead I got on the mat once a week and really enjoyed it.”

Or, instead of being harsh about your running progress, try something like: “I’m not ready to run in a race and that’s ok, I have learned a lot about how to pace myself with my training and I can run with more ease than I could in January.”

Looking at your efforts in this way will keep you from feeling defeated and help you take a realistic view of where you are with your fitness plans.

Go Team

So, as we move into the second half of the year, I hope you are being kind to yourself about your efforts, your capacity, and your plans.

You can take the goals you set in January and re-evaluate, revise, and reframe them until your plan for the rest of the year serves you best.

Fitness isn’t all or nothing, it’s a process. We need to acknowledge and celebrate our efforts and be kind to ourselves in the process.

PS – Here’s your gold star for your hard work, no matter what form that work is taking for you right now.

GIF of a gold star agains a black background, the animation adds white lines to make it seem shinier.
So shiny! image description: a GIF of a gold star against a black background. The animation adds a white lines to the star to make it seem shinier.

habits · rest · running · self care · training

Navigating the Tricky Balance Between Effort and Ease

I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work.  That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.

Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.  

The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.

Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.   

After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”

Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”

Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.

But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?

I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.

A small bird balanced between two flower stalks, holding on with its toes. I love that one of the flowers is blown out and missing its petals and the other still has its petals–that felt right for illustrating the balance between effort and ease. KT on Unsplash

The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.

In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.

Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.

Now the trick is to apply that to my whole life.

fitness · habits

New beginnings: many benefits, but some burdens too

I turned in my spring semester grades on Friday.

“And there was much rejoicing.” Those Python boys never fail to crack me up.

For me (and academic friends and many others), the end of the school year, whenever it comes, means an end to one routine and the beginning of a new one. I’ve been dreaming of a new routine that includes:

  • open windows, blue skies, warm temps, gentle breezes
  • no more Zoom class meetings (at least for a while)
  • gathering with friends and family, in actual person, face-to-actual-face
  • venturing outside more to walk, bike, swim, paddle, do yoga, etc.

Oh, how lucky to have a life with discrete periods of prescribed activity, along with shifts to and from less structured, flexible time! The way I figure it, I get 4 new beginnings each year as I shift from fall term to winter break to spring term to summer. Whoopee!

Whoopee! letters in yellow and red gaphic text against a blue background.
Whoopee!

Full disclosure: I’d also like a break from some of the patterns I’ve been living with in the past 14 months. Those changes include:

  • feeling less anxious, isolated, depressed, inert, stuck, indecisive
  • sleeping better and longer and on a more consistent schedule
  • cooking and eating in ways that feel like I’m taking good care of myself
  • resuming outside activity in ways that feel doable, joyful, safe, and sustainable

New beginnings are touted as prime opportunities to reset, start afresh, and take on new habits for a better you. In this week’s New York Times promo article for the latest “10 Day Fresh Start Challenge” (if you’re interested, text hi to (917) 809-4995 to sign up), the experts are lined up to cheer us on.

“I think this fresh start is really a big opportunity,” said Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School… “I don’t know when we’ll have another one like it. We have this blank slate to work on. Everything is on the table to start fresh.”

“Covid-19 was an awful time for many of us,” said Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale… “There’s lots of evidence for what’s called post-traumatic growth — that we can come out stronger and with a bit more meaning in our lives after going through negative events. I think we can all harness this awful pandemic time as a time to get some post-traumatic growth in our own lives.”

The notion of the reset, the fresh start, seems almost magical. Turn the calendar, click your heels three times, and before you know, you’re transformed into a more ideal form of yourself. But, like all magic tricks, it’s an illusion.

An illusion of a person (in gold lame outfit and hood) levitating over the floor, holding a metal pole.

Yes, there are studies (cited in that NYT article) showing how the use of fresh start language or milestones or turning points (e.g. beginning of the year, month, summer, etc.) increase motivations and initial actions for behavior change. But it’s also true that these efforts peter out fairly quickly (again, there are lots of studies, but also witness any gym in mid-February).

Behavior change is hard and it doesn’t come quickly. And, it’s a long process to set up, reinforce and ground any new behavior. I want to be different, to live differently, to eat and move differently than I have in the past 14 months. And it feels like there’s an opening:

  • my semester is over and summer is coming;
  • I’m fully vaccinated, as are my family and most of my friends (some are still in the process);
  • We’re getting messages from the CDC (in the US) about easing up of mask wearing (teaser: more about this on Wednesday’s blog post);
  • I really really want that opening to be there, with me walking through it.

The benefits of new beginnings are that they’re new, and they’re beginnings. This means they’re bright and shiny and promising.

The burdens of new beginnings are our susceptibility to believe that Shazam!– we can transform ourselves just by signing up for motivational texts; and our disappointment and self-recrimination when that change it doesn’t happen or look like we thought it would.

So what’s a naive, ever-optimistic lover of new beginning to do? Turn into a crabby cynic?

No to cynicism! the word cynicism inside a red circle with a line through it.
No to cynicism!

Nope. I went ahead and signed up for the 10-Day Fresh Start Challenge. I admit it. It was free, I was curious, okay? But I’m going into this shift in routine with more modest goals, namely to notice what gives me satisfaction, and look for openings to do those things when I can. I’ll report back after the 10-day challenge.

Any of you want to try this with me? Let me know if you do. Are you making any changes as we shift into the next stage of routines? I’d love to hear from you.

habits · mindfulness · self care

The Art of Flouranguishing: How Time and Space Help Me Feel Better

Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)

Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.

Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).

The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser).. NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.

Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.

Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.

Back and forth. Again.

Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?

Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:

A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.

“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”

The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).

“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”

“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.” 

I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.    

Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.

Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.

Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.

Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.

habits

A Peek Inside the Balance 365 Facebook Group

Feature photo credit: Jiang Xulei via Unsplash

It’s been 4 months since I joined Balance 365 (B365), and I am finding the private Facebook group to be a valuable resource.  When I started, I was looking for community but skeptical that it would be much of a learning environment for me.  After all, my background is in science and I’ve nerdy about fitness and nutrition a long time, and I’m a health and science teacher by profession.  I’m also a regular at my therapist’s office, so I’m no stranger to self-reflection.  And yet, there’s something wonderful about the shared values and goals of the women in B365.  It is a rare place where women celebrate each other without judgement or implicit competition.  And I’m learning about myself and my habits, too.

The group affirms each woman finding their own path and supports body autonomy–the solutions for you may not be the solutions for me.  What feels good and healthy for one person may not for another.  These values are reinforced with little sayings and mantras–”keep you eyes on your own plate,” (focus on your own choices, not on other people’s), “take the cherry with the pit,” (find what you can learn from a bad decision and move on), and “be a Grown Ass Woman (GAW),” (mother yourself with healthy boundaries and with compassion).

Every day, one of the coaches posts a recurring post for that day of the week.  Women post in the comments and sometimes you get a little love, or women comment and commiserate, or maybe a coach asks you questions and prods you to think about something in a new way. (Getting the women to advise each other is a great teacher trick, by the way. Every teacher knows that you learn the most when you have to teach others.) In addition to these daily, official posts, members can post their own questions and experiences.  They share what’s working for them, ask for help if they’re feeling stuck, and celebrate NSV (Non-scale Victories).

I’ve posted a handful of times.  I like to share the occasional recipe.  I often participate in the daily recurring posts.  A few weeks ago I got outside my comfort zone and posted a video of myself doing squats.  I wanted to experience the discomfort of being seen and face my chronic expectation that I am being judged and found less-than-worthy.  I have a deep well of perfectionism, and I know that to really find a healthy balance in my habits, I need to reduce the power of being motivated by my fear of how others might perceive me.  It’s been really powerful to just get used to knowing folks have seen me doing those lifts, knowing that they were flawed (my right hip slides around and my form can get wobbly).  And as a result of the conversations in the thread that followed, I’ve come to be ok with the fact that I’m working on all of it.

In this environment, which habits you are working on, what goals you set, and to what degree you are focused on the work is entirely up to you.  Another B365 mantra, “good, better, best” encourages folks to find the solutions that work best for them in the moment, not to just seek out whatever seems optimal on paper.  At first, this do-it-at-your-own-pace aspect of B365 can seem daunting.  There are always some posts from newer members asking where they should start and how they should decide what to do next.  However, I think a real benefit of this structure is that it really forces participants to figure out what THEY believe they can follow through on successfully, and holds them accountable TO THEMSELVES. None of us are watching them to see if they’re keeping in step with some arbitrary timeline.  

For folks who benefit from more structure and guidance, I assume that joining group coaching helps with that.  However, even when they’re enrolled in coaching, you see women post about goal-setting questions and to what degree they want to actively participate in coaching calls.  At the end of the day, it’s their job to figure out for themselves what they need and what they are willing to commit to.

The only habit changes that will work for someone and last for the long term are the changes that are rooted in the realities of each person’s life, their values and beliefs, and that reaffirm what they want for themselves in the present and in the future.  That is the work that women are doing in the B365 Facebook group.  Figuring out what fits, why it matters to them, and what they can do consistently.  It’s pretty cool to watch and be a part of.  I’m happy that I joined.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found sharing her favorite protein-filled snack foods, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: A fisherman in Myanmar balancing on the edge of his boat with a net upraised in one hand and pole in the other. I wanted an image of “balance,” and I thought this one was cool, even if it’s a bit off topic.
Photo credit: Guille Alvarez via Unsplash