fitness · mindfulness · motivation

What happens when you meditate for 60 days straight and then miss day 61?

SPOILER: the answer is, “nothing much”. If you have more time to read, check out the details below.

I’ve been using the Ten Percent Happier app and loving it. I’ve also gotten hooked on the milestones feature.

Listing of daily, weekly and session milestones. I’m at 450 sessions, 50 weeks, and 60 days. Until Monday…

I went to Cape Elizabeth Maine for the weekend with friends to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a friend’s 50th birthday (for which we had planned a trip in 2020 which– obvs– didn’t happen). I used the app each morning for wake-up mediation.

In the waking up section, there are loads of meditations to do either while still in bed (my choice) or upon first getting out of bed.

When I went home, the next morning I slept late, and didn’t do the wake-up app. I lazed around, watching tv and playing on my computer. Didn’t get around to proper sitting meditation. By the time I was thinking of turning in (and picking a sleep-easier meditation), it was past midnight.

OH NO!

Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing-- Sunday! Argh!
Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing– Sunday! Argh!

I had just reached the 60-day milestone, too, and was looking forward to chugging along to 70. Now I had to start all over again. Grrr. Argh.

It felt…. uh, how did it feel?

After the fussing and fretting passed, it didn’t feel like much of anything. I wasn’t numb or paralyzed, or deflated, just… there.

Wow.

Today, I woke up and decided to do a sitting meditation. It would’ve been day 62 in a row, but instead was day 1 in a row. How did it feel to start over? Honestly, it didn’t feel any different– just like, well, meditation.

Wow again.

Why wow? Because unlike most things I do, where I don’t like tracking numbers (we wrote about fitness tracking recently here), I really got into tracking my meditation practice. Why? Because developing a practice means doing something habitually– often, regularly, consistently. Consistency is not my strong suit, but I’m drawn to the idea of creating the conditions for stillness and quiet in my body and mind each day. So I’ve been meditating regularly, several days a week, for the past year, using my mediation app to keep track.

The thing is, once I noticed I was racking up the weeks and days in a row, I started getting attached to those numbers. Each day or so I’d check my milestones menu, looking ahead to the next goal. Is this a bad thing? No. But attachment comes with disappointment when goals aren’t met. And I didn’t meet a goal.

But the funny thing is– my body and mind were like, oh yeah, I guess we forgot that one. Hmmm, do we want a banana? And then the next day, I just sat down and meditated. Again. As one does when one is developing a meditation practice.

There’s a huuuuge literature on mediation and attachment, about which I know very little. But a quick takeway is that when we get attached to things or people or outcomes, we can become less happy, more anxious, and (importantly) lose the connection to ourselves in this moment.

Whether it’s meditation, cycling, yoga, swimming, writing, or whatever activity you want to make a regular and solid part of your life, having goals and plans and schedules are important. So is realizing that goals aren’t always met, plans sometimes go awry (love that word!), and schedules occasionally get broken. Whatcha gonna do then?

Get up the next day, get back to the practice, and do the thing.

Although I’m still a little bummed about not being on a 62-day streak, today is really about my one-day streak. As it is every day.

Hey readers– how do you deal with interrupted streaks of whatever? Does it throw you off your game? Do you just keep on truckin’? I’d really like to hear what your experience is here. If you’d like to share…

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.

mindfulness · motivation

Exercise & Creativity

Tomorrow, April 21, is the UN’s World Creativity and Innovation Day – a celebration of the role that creativity plays in problem solving.

Creativity is beneficial for its own sake, of course. Not only is creativity enjoyable, but the mindfulness and presence required helps us to relax and to focus. It feels good to get in a creative ‘zone.’

And since the abilities that we hone in creative practice are helpful for solving problems, our creativity is also good for the world.

A photo of a tree and a path in the foreground and a vista of water, hills and trees in the background. Overlaid text reads 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.  - Albert Einstein'
I quote this at least once a week to someone. It’s an excellent argument practicing creative thinking. Image description: A photo of a tree and a path in the foreground and a panoramic of water, hills and trees in the background. Overlaid text reads ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein’

Since exercise can improve our concentration immediately after a workout and it increase our capacity for creative thinking, exercising can directly contribute to your ability to think creatively and solve problems.

And now that you know that Wednesday is World Creativity and Innovation Day, you can also think of your workout tomorrow as a warm-up for any creativity activity or problem solving you have to do. (And, as Sam reminds us, warm-ups are very important.)

Lots of people swear that going for a walk helps them to be more creative and think of new solutions to the challenges that they face.

But, if walking isn’t your thing, any sort of moderate exercise seems to help so choosing your favourite exercise can help you prepare to be part of creative problem solving tomorrow.

Adriene even has a practice that may help you:

Have you found a connection between your exercise plan and your creativity and problem solving abilities?

Tell us about it in the comments!

PS – If you ALREADY have a creative practice in place, here are a few stretching programs I found that can help keep you feeling good physically while you think creatively.

Here’s a Dr. Jo video showing some hand, wrist, neck & shoulder exercises for artists.
And here’s a video showing some specific hand exercises for artists and animators.
And this is one of my favourite Yoga with Adriene videos – Yoga for Writers
mindfulness

The Marvelous Ms. Mina Show

There’s a voice in my head that encourages me to get out for my run, or ride or, in this season, a cross-country ski. You’ll have fun, she says. And even if it’s not fun today, she assures me that I’ll feel better for having done it. She’s pretty much always right. There’s another voice in my head, which tells me that I’m out of shape and slow and why bother. Sigh. I hear her, all too well, even though she’s mostly wrong.

Yet another voice tells me that I’d feel better if I just had that cute long sleeve base layer in black and mint green that I saw in the ski shop.

These voices are cast members in the long running television series going on inside my head.

Vintage television against checkered wallpaper
Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

I’ve made a cast list:

(note: each distinct character—such as BFC- and BFC+—has a dual, yet integrated and whole, nature and should be played by a single performer, with distinguishing costume elements. Triple asterisks separate each double-faceted character)

Bad Fairy Critic (BFC-)—a generalist, who will criticize anything and everything from my body to my intelligence, to my fundamental worth … AND

Bountiful Fairy Creator (BFC+)—who supports me with empathy and gentle guidance.

***

Fat Face—my inner judge, who is named after the judge in Toad of Toad Hall, a character I played in a grade school production, and who judges me and others, and then judges me for judging others … AND

Agnes—a source of wisdom and discernment, a woman we might have called a witch in times past. She is also organized and practical. She gets shit done. Her name comes from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, an epic, feminist art installation with names of 1038 women of herstory and myth.  The name Agnes showed up multiple times and grabbed my attention.

***

Doña Q—she specializes in delusions of grandeur, followed by vicious re-education sessions to set me straight about my puny capabilities and potential … AND 

Geneviève—my inner voice of compassion and the divine, my superheroine. 

***

Kaitie—she wonders, why bother with anything? You’re just going to end up with wormy chocolate and unwilling visitors who think you are a batty cat lady … AND

Gigi—the Good Girl who does her homework (and workouts) and even the supplementary readings and post workout stretches. She keeps on keeping on.

***

You-Are-Not-Enough—she is the messenger with a trumpet. Hear ye, hear ye, all ye who enter abandon hope of ever being whole, you will never be up to it, no matter what it is… AND

I Am Enough—she isn’t complacent, just assured and at ease, humble, yet also respects her own gifts.

***

Tiffany—she is constantly yearning for that one more perfect piece of clothing that will make her feel whole and cure all the past hurts caused by not fitting in … AND

Audrey—she feels satiated and plentiful, not to mention kickass, when she’s wearing a favourite pair of boots (green velvet!) or piece of clothing (midnight blue silk shirt!).

***

As you’ve no doubt noticed, every character had two sides to her personality—a destructive, bull-in-a-china shop aspect and a creative, you-go-girl aspect. Depending on the day, one or the other will have all the lines and the other one won’t be in the episode at all.

I wondered if I was getting carried away with this naming business and anthropomorphizing the voices in my head. Then I signed up for a workshop in Internal Family Systems. Turns out I was onto something. IFS calls this cast of characters our parts. And it’s not just me, we all have our own personal television series. But it takes time and intention to tune into the right channel. And not just get to know them, but befriend them. Because all of them have our best interests at heart, even if they seem to be toxic.

I’m still in the very early stages of tuning in. But even the bit of bandwidth I’ve gotten access to with this cast list has been enormously helpful. When one of the destroyers starts up with a vicious monologue, I’m learning that being gentle can be an effective Jedi mind trick. If I listen to her, instead of trying to mute her, this softens her edge and can even coax her twin creator personality out of hiding. Well, that’s helpful! When Kaitie is on a trash talking spree about how lousy my cross-country skiing is in the current series episode, I thank her for caring about my skills. Saying thanks presses the pause button on Kaitie’s diatribe. Gigi then takes the moment of silence as an invitation to chime in about how great it is that I’m out on the snow.

Sometimes, I can’t immediately identify who is flaming me. But the very act of trying to discern which cast member is speaking, slows down the action enough to flip the script to the creator. Does it work every time? Nope. Still, having the cast of characters perspective, creates a lot more distance between me and the voices in my head. I get less overwhelmed and sometimes one of them even makes me laugh with a particularly preposterous, over-the-top harangue. The script writer has quite an imagination.

In today’s episode, Gigi got me out for my regular ski workout and BFC+ offered empathy when I was resisting sitting down to write this.

Who are your favourite characters in the series of your life?

fitness · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · new year's resolutions

What’s your Word of the Year? Here are ours…#WOTY

Word cloud of the bloggers’ #WOTY

We didn’t all blog about it but most of the bloggers at Fit is a Feminist Issue have chosen a word of the year.

Why do it? Sometimes people choose a word of the year to guide them instead of a new year’s resolution, and for others it’s part of the resolution. It can mean different things to different people but the basic idea is to name an area for concentration, focus, or exploration. Sometimes it’s what you want more of in your life and sometimes it’s more general, to give a flavour to the conversations you’re having about your prupose, direction, and plans.

But with no further ado, here are our words for 2021:

Mina’s is ENOUGH

Christine’s is CONSISTENT

Sam’s is FLOW

Cate’s is STEADFAST

Nat’s is REST

Tracy’s is MINDFULNESS

Martha’s is HOLD FAST

Nicole’s is STEADY

Susan’s is PERSIST

Catherine’s is AWAKE

What’s your word of the year?

Let us know in the comments if you’ve chosen a word for 2021, what it is, and what it means to you. Thanks!

fitness · mindfulness · WOTY

Tracy’s word of the year: mindfulness

Image description: Leafy country walking path with wood fencing and lush trees in Grasmere, the Lake District, England.

Like Mina (2021: “enough”), Cate (2021: “steadfast”), and others (group summary post coming this aft!), I too have adopted a “word of the year.” Anne’s guest post about it at the end of 2019 (2020: “explore”) inspired me to try it. For 2020 my word was “authenticity.”

I think it’s interesting to consider what motivates people to choose their words of the year and even whether they choose a noun (as most do) or a verb (as Anne did in 2020, and also, if you read her post, in 2018 and 2019, with “believe” and “bloom”).

My word for 2021 is “mindfulness.” Sometimes it happens that words that seem trendy or like platitudes take on new and profound meaning. Such is the case with me and the word “mindfulness” right now. I’ve seized onto it this year because I have found myself doing all sorts of distracted things since the pandemic started. Distracted eating. Distracted doom scrolling. Distracted television watching. Multi-tasking (I hate multi-tasking). It never feels good when I do things that I don’t feel present for — that’s how I think of mindlessness. And mindfulness, or being present to what’s in front of me, is the best way for me to reverse that habit of distraction.

My commitment to mindfulness grew out of the September meditation challenge using Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. Catherine gathered a bunch of us to commit to it as a blog book group. Daily meditation is a great way to be mindful, at least for 10-20 minutes or however long you’re on your meditation cushion. When I’m not doing anything else it’s easy for me to be immersed in the task at hand (even if that task is just to sit quietly).

Since I’ve adopted “mindfulness” as my word of the year (two weeks ago!) I can’t say I have been practicing it consistently. Indeed, this week has flown by in a blur so fast I can’t believe it’s already Friday. When that happens, it usually means I haven’t been paying attention.

We have just begun a new stay-at-home order here in Ontario. I do not want to come up for air at the end of this 28 days (is it a 28-day thing? I don’t even know) and wonder what happened, having spent a month in a distracted state of auto-pilot. So I’m committing to being mindful, paying attention, appreciating the details, tasting my food, showing up for my meditation, my yoga, my workouts, my walks and runs, and focusing on one thing at a time.

Do you have a word of the year?

fitness · mindfulness

Ten Percent Happier app is free for many types of frontline workers

UPDATE, 6/26/21: Ten Percent Happier’s free offer of the app to frontline workers has expired.

Hi everyone– we at Fit is a Feminist Issue don’t do advertising or product placement (except for comedic purposes, and that’s mostly me…), but every now and then, we come across something out there that really works well, or is otherwise worthy of mention.

This is one of those times.

I’ve blogged a bunch of times this year about how restarting my meditation practice has helped me endure, better understand and adapt to the pandemic/political maelstrom which was 2020 (and apparently hasn’t read the calendar to see that 2020 is OVER). Others of us have written about contemplative and self-care and mindfulness habits we’ve revisited or started.

I’d like to share some very nice news with you: my favorite meditation app, called Ten Percent Happier, announced in December that they were offering the app, which usually costs about $100/year, for FREE for the following groups:

  • US Postal Service workers
  • warehouse employees
  • teachers and educators
  • grocery and food delivery workers
  • health care workers (obvs)

All you have to do is click here, and you’ll be directed to sign up immediately, or you fill out a short survey and then can sign up.

They are using the honor system to limit the free signups to the indicated groups. Here’s what they said on their site:

We know that many groups of people have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we’d love to support everyone, we have been completely overwhelmed by the response to these offers. At this time, we’re only able to offer free access to warehouse employees, teachers, healthcare, grocery, and food delivery workers. Please honor this and do not click on the above buttons if you do not work in these fields. By doing this, you’ll allow us to serve these workers more quickly and efficiently, helping them in the critical work they are doing to support us all.

I love this– that is, I love that they’re making an effort to support who they can, making it easy for those groups to sign up, and asking the rest of us to help out by not deluging the system. I hope you do, too.

A heart symbol, made by two hands, against a warm color background. Wish the world were like this more often.

Readers, do you already use this app? Did you just download it and try it? Do you use others? Do other apps have this deal? Please share any info, as we are all in this together.

habits · mindfulness · motivation · new year's resolutions

I’m Struggling, Can You Help Me Figure Out My Challenge for 2021?

Welcome 2021. We begin the year of how-the-fuck-do-I-make-a-plan? And I’m not even talking about grand plans; regular old-style plans and small wishes and intentions feel hard. For me, it’s six days into the year and I’m still trying to figure out both my Word of the Year and my challenge. I usually have both well in hand by now. This year I struggled mightily to find a word. As for the challenge, I’d love your help.

A bit of background. My cousin introduced me to this Word of the Year practice more than a decade ago. As I wrote last year in my January post, “The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.”  

Past WOTY’s have included presence, grace, renewal and attention. Last year’s WOTY was becoming. I was feeling open, excited and daunted by the challenges ahead. I almost cried when I read how optimistic I was feeling at the beginning of the year. Even though, I also mentioned that I didn’t know what my big project was for the year. I was sure the project would emerge and be so energizing.

Oof.

In the end, there was no big project last year. There were lots of medium and small projects—1) figuring out how to fluidly adjust to the virtual world, when my collaborator, Julia, and I had to cancel the very first weekend retreat we had planned for our new venture, ImagiNation Playshops (embodied emotional intelligence workshops, facilitations and coaching); 2) almost moving to Montreal from New York City and then having that whole plan dissolve at the 11th hour (with significant financial loss); and 3) just plain figuring out how to navigate pandemic normal and the constant low level (sometimes high level) fear that I (or worse, someone I loved) would get sick and …

Plus, there was my sprained ankle in September, followed by agonizing shoulder pain that came out of nowhere, and which I now think may have been generated by all the internal stress and angst of the decision to move to Montreal. A move I’d longed for in my dreams, but which turned out to be way less straightforward logistically and emotionally than I’d expected. As if the pandemic and the US election weren’t enough turbulence and stress, I’d added tearing my life up by the roots. My shoulder is healing. Slowly. I can put on my coat now without feeling like my whole shoulder has dislocated and needing to sit down and recover. And, I am still wondering what my big project will be this year; except now it’s next year and that was supposed to be last year’s wondering.

Aargh.

Wise old elephant. This image came up on Unsplash when I searched “tears” and it just struck me as appropriate, even though I don’t think the elephant is crying. Captured my feeling of pleading with the universe for an answer. Probably the elephant is feeling joyful and I (and the photographer) are totally projecting. Photo by Amy Elting on Unsplash

So, what’s the WOTY that captures this state of ongoing not-quite-sureness? Here’s last year’s list of possible words: “[I]lluminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.”

Oh man. Again, I read those bright, shiny words and I want to cry (okay, I did). I had such plenitude in my spirit. Except this … I do feel like I tapped into new personal resources last year. We all discovered reserves of strength and resilience we didn’t know we had. There is one word that jumps out at me off that old list: recharge. But that’s not my word for this year. The word feels premature. After reading Nicole’s post on January 4, a word started to percolate that felt right: enough.  The “I am” before that word is implicit. I want to practice feeling enough-ness, practice being grateful for the enough-itude in my life and practice relaxing into the gentle comfort of enough. At the same time, I want to use enough as an engine to get motivated around a writing project that’s been percolating in my brain for the last many years, to stay energized around the workshops we are creating at ImagiNation Playshops and to be curious and open to what other projects arise.

Yesterday I was playing with all the permutations that capture the fullness and nuance of my WOTY:

  • Enough-ness
  • Enough-itude
  • Enough-ing
  • Enough-ed
  • Enough-ment
  • Enough-y
  • Enough-es
  • Enough-ly
  • Enough-ful
  • Enough-ist

Yay. I have my word.

How about the challenge mentioned in this post’s title? Challenges are my version of resolutions (but not): “There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over.”

A friend calls these challenges my annual devotional tasks. Last year’s challenge was not buying anything from amazon (except books/tv/film). That proved to be more pointed this year, but I stuck to it. Though, full disclosure, there were a few household items that my partner bought on amazon, that I used. Like the hot plate, because the gas is shut off in our New York apartment, so our stove top is out of commission. I may keep up that new habit, my ongoing protest against the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer companies (and therefore individuals’ pockets). My other challenge was not to shop for clothes/shoes in the alternate (even) months. The no-shopping task was a bust—not because I didn’t stick to it. I did. But because it brought me no peace of mind. In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes/shoes for a whole year. I felt clean and clear by the end of the year (actually by about 3 months in.). While I never intended to extend the challenge beyond the year, I hoped it would make me more mindful. It did, but then that mindfulness started to fade. I thought I’d re-up my attention with the alternate month idea. Nope. Instead, I spent the last week of every even month obsessing about what I might buy during the upcoming odd month. I can’t tell how much of that was also COVID driven. In the midst of a general sense of deprivation, the added denial of not allowing myself to buy something fresh to wear (at home) felt like an extra layer of no-you-can’t. Yes, I recognize that I’m privileged to even be able to contemplate buying something new. So, there’s that, too.

This year … what? I’m struggling to come up with something. After the 2020 we all had, I’m not inclined toward a you-can’t-do-this-thing challenge. And I’d like my challenge to have a generative or contributive element. I’ve thought about creative/artistic writing projects. Write a new poem a month and offer it up to friends in written and audio form? But then, as much as I think other people’s artistic efforts are generative and contribute to our collective fullness, the idea that my own work might do the same appalls me. Egotistical. Delusional.  I know. I only just chose my WOTY and already there’s not a whole lot of enough-ful-ness in my feelings around my work. Sigh.

I wanted to write something cheery and intentional, to inspire myself and you. Instead, I wrote this, a mess of confusion and unknowns.  

Where are you at? I’m in need of your wisdom and insight.

covid19 · holidays · mindfulness

We Wish You a Meh Christmas

The holidays are a bummer this year, and I’m ok with that.  I’m ok with it being a bummer; I’m ok with being bummed out.  I appreciate that my husband and I have enough privilege that our discomfort this year is about disappointments, not serious suffering.  We are not food or housing insecure like far too many people; we aren’t yet mourning the loss of anyone close to us due to the pandemic. In that context, being bummed out is actually a pretty good place to be.

Buddhism teaches that expectation is the root of all suffering, and while I’m not a Buddhist, I see wisdom in this perspective, and I’m working on letting go of my expectations.  Expectation management looks like telling Mom a few weeks before I was on winter break that I won’t be seeing her during my vacation.  It looks like shipping gifts to friends with notes saying, “I miss you” rather than “I can’t wait to get together.”  It looks like planning a tasty but modest meal for celebrating the holidays with my husband, alone in our house.  We’re keeping low expectations to avoid regretting that it isn’t more.

That’s not to say that there aren’t real consequences to not getting together this year.  I have family in poor health, family I never see except at the holidays and may not see for another year, and family with problematic lives I’d love to see face to face to KNOW they are actually ok.  I am sad and concerned to miss this yearly check-in and opportunity for connection.  But we agree that the risks outweigh the benefits, and I will not be seeing any of them in person until it is safe to do so.

I’m doing what I can to celebrate the little joys–the smells of fresh-baked, spiced lebkuchen cookies and boiling candied orange rinds, the glimmer of Christmas lights in puddles as I walk through the neighborhood, a quiet evening at home with my fireplace, my cats, and a puzzle.  It’s a kind of mindfulness that I can get behind, being present and not wishing, hoping, yearning for more.

My goal isn’t to convince myself it’s all exactly as I would wish it to be; the lack of validation that can coincide with the forced seeking of silver-linings doesn’t make me feel better.  I’m not a gratitude practice kind of person.  That sort of list-making seems to make me focus on what’s missing rather than on what’s there.  Instead, I’m acknowledging it, that it’s not quite right, that it’s not what I want, and that it’s still ok, good enough even.

My family is Danish-American, and Christmas Eve was traditionally the day we celebrated growing up, a day for a big family dinner and opening the presents under the tree.  (Only stockings stuffed with treats from Santa to be enjoyed on Christmas morning.)  Christmas won’t be that this year, it’s going to be a bit disappointing, and I’m fine with that.  I hope you are able to be ok with your holidays, too, in whatever form they come.  “Meh Christmas to all, and to all a good enough night.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found making tins of homemade candies and cookies to send to her family, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Five people on bicycles wearing Santa Claus costumes. Photo credit: Rocco Dipoppa photographer, Unsplash.
fitness · mindfulness

Fitter in 2020 (from the neck up)

2020 will be remembered as (among other things) the year of zoom fitness classes and challenges, Zwifting, building and using of home and backyard gyms and yoga studios, widespread dog acquisition and subsequent walking, etc. Movers gotta move, and a global pandemic has proved insufficient to slow many of us down for long.

Gotta Move!

I have to say, I’m not in the above-mentioned group. Sam posted about being on Team More during the pandemic, and writes about some of the ways she’s changed up her workouts. I wrote here about being on Team Less is More, doing more meditation, even when I couldn’t do more cardio. This brings me to my first increased fitness item:

  1. Daily meditation is transforming my life, my world, my sense of self.
Oh. Well. Uh, good for you, I guess.
Oh. Well. Um, how nice for you, I guess.

Sorry– did things just get awkward? Let me see if I can help.

What meditation does for me is to slow things down so that I have a front-row seat to the show which is my awareness moment to moment. And what happens in that show? Not much. Thoughts come and go, itches and pains and warm and cold sensations appear and disappear. Feelings of desire or fear or shame or pride or whatever– they show up and then recede. Any of this can happen during 10–20 minutes of sitting. Then I get up and go about my day.

The cool thing is, awareness of thoughts and feelings and sensations persists. It offers a subtle shift in how the world feels to me– it’s still great and horrible and delicious and mundane and tiring, but I experience it from a stable perspective. This is a good thing.

2. I’ve finally gotten a bit better at the New York Times crossword puzzles (even Thursday and Friday!)

“It’s not like you solved world hunger or anything, but congrats” card. I need some of these.

You may be thinking, well, congratulations, but what does this have to do with fitness? Glad you asked. Scientific American explored this question here, and the answer is complicated (because science…) Whether doing crossword or Sudoku or Scrabble or other word games improves or preserves cognitive function is still not clear, as studies show conflicting results. But some recent work suggests that doing crossword puzzles calls on skills at the intersection of short-term working and long-term memory:

In 2014, researchers in Claremont, Calif., examined how Scrabble and crossword experts process and store information in short-term memory. They found that these puzzle whizzes had extremely strong working memories as compared to their control group, college students who had scored 700 or higher on the verbal section of the SAT.

It’s hardly surprising… but things got interesting when the researchers looked at how their short-term memories were firing. Both groups, but especially the crossword experts, appeared to use both verbal and visuospatial components of their short-term memory—that is, that instead of separating out visual cues from verbally processed ones, the crossworders [and Scrabblers] were integrating both types of perceptions in their short-term memories.

Well that’s something. It’s 2020, and I’m counting it.

3. I’ve devoted more time to crafting (albeit with mixed results). Still, it’s relaxing and also social (in that Zoom way). Here are some things I made this year:

See what I mean by mixed results? It’s okay, I can face the fact that I’m not a great crafter. But it’s so relaxing, and satisfying. And, I didn’t do it all alone. This year I had my annual Women’s Craft Gathering (I think this is year 13 in a row) via Zoom. My friend Pata put together manilla envelopes with card stock, pretty paper (both big and small), and red and green colored felt pens. She also mailed them! A bunch of people showed up online– some to craft, some to chat, some to just hang out to listen to others chat. It was fun and companionable. I’ve done this a few times with Pata, and several of us are interested in continuing the Zoom crafting together. Winning…

4. I’m trying on for size the idea that attending to my emotional fitness is just as important as (and contributes to) attending to my physical fitness.

I love moving under my own power. On land, sea or air– it’s all exhilarating and makes me feel like me. But the moving life isn’t simple; not lately, anyway. The huge advantage of 2020 for me has been that when regular life came to a screeching halt in March, I had the opportunity and excuse to be more still and more quiet, to listen and observe. And what have I noticed?

  • I tend to impose lot of expectations on myself when I do physical activity.
  • These expectations almost always result in me feeling bad about myself.
  • Letting go of expectations is scary, too– what if I never move again?
  • Lately, when I let go, I often find joy in movement. Or exhaustion. Or boredom. Or satisfaction. Which makes it like life.

In 2021, even when the world speeds up again, it’s important for me to remember how to slow down in this way (whatever that is), to stay in touch with a life of movement.

What about you, dear readers? How is your emotional fitness doing? What have you got? What do you need? I’d love to hear from you.