The Menacing Burning Within The Soul

If you jump and leap, don’t leap or jump for the landing. Leap for the experience through the air. -Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

As I prepare for my transition, finishing up my last full month in China, I’ve been wondering if I made the right choice. Preparing to jump into the unknown fills you with a lot of doubt. Is this really the place in which I can develop more of what’s best about me? Will my Judy-ness get an upgrade? What about my family, Ryan and Hannah?–will this be the best for them?

Do you ever feel like you have gambled all your chips at the roulette table at Vegas and you’re hoping that life lands on the Red 6?  Well, the wheel is spinning, isn’t it?

We read Wild in our book club a few years back and she definitely left an impression on me as a writer. She doesn’t mince words; strength and power are something that Cheryl Strayed is really good at articulating in her work. Her memoir and her subsequent work encapsulate this idea of Motherfuckitude, which is a combination of 2 seemingly opposing ideas: humility and faith. And, although the term may upset your modesty, I assure you the idea transcends your opposition.

I’m going to really try and I might fail, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself but I’m going to be strong in the midst of my humility. Forget success and instead put my faith in the work and be really fierce and very exacting. I must demand a lot of myself when it actually comes to doing the work…having a sense of surrender and acceptance that ‘I’m going to do this work and I don’t know where it may lead.

-Cheryl Strayed- (in an interview on the Tim Ferris Show)

bravery.jpgHer words put a ding in my trepidation, making me consider that there could be no way I could fail if not failing forward–towards this furious ache that is in my soul, the one that causes me to be more than I am today.  The one that tells me that I am not too old, too dense, too unyielding, too silly, too pollyannish. Instead, it tells me that ‘life is long and I am young with so much to learn–isn’t that wonderful?’ It berates me until I have no choice but to heed its advice.

Anyone who writes knows how incredibly hard it is to write something that actually is interesting and meets your level of expectation. Anyone who runs knows how incredibly hard it is to run, in the rain, when you’re tired when you’re in pain and injured. Anyone who teaches knows how incredibly difficult it is to plan, to care and to put in the effort when you’re sick when you’re annoyed when you’re disappointed in life. Anyone who parents know how incredibly hard to be attentive, tuned in and patient. I could make a list of any job, hobby or role that we love dearly and are passionate about–there’s a time in which you want to throw in the towel and quit, but you can’t quit because your devotion to it is too strong and your life would be an empty shell without this struggle in your life. With the struggle comes the beauty and the joy.

So I have to wonder–will I expect more of myself in this new environment? As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a blogger?–Can I work at it like a motherf*cker there?  Am I willing to diligently press on when it will be easier allow distractions to overcome me? I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl, that once you surrender to the hardship of whatever craft one wishes to perform, then there is a grit and dedication that arises and overtakes the urge to abandon the task at hand. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that if you were to maintain a steady focus on it, you would eventually persevere. You believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out.

Long before I put all of my chips on Red 6, I had this menacing burning in my soul to have a fresh experience, to hit a reset button. I have to trust that I have made the best decision, that this move serves the highest vision of my creativity.  I wasn’t looking for a j.o.b.–something that I have to clock into- but instead, something that helps me to improve my art–something that I get to explore, experiment with and craft. I also felt this was the best option for my husband as well. So I must have the faith that this will be a fantastic challenge and that will cultivate joy and curiosity in our lives.

What experience have you had with your struggle to transition? What are you willing to leave behind and what did you want to “pack”, in a metaphorical sense?

Just Drop IT

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. ”  The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Robert A. Heinlein.

This excerpt reminds me of the great pressure we put upon ourselves to be “perfect”-diligent, resourceful, competent and clever. Multi-tasking has been a dream that all have aspired to in our current day and age. But is it really making us better and more efficient humans? “Survey SaysX!” (Family Feud game show allusion)

Attention switching, aka multi-tasking, has now been proven to make us actually less productive and switched off than ever.And this attention residue lingers when you switch from one task to another, making it harder to focus on either effectively.

Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of deep work–work which is rare and valuable to produce because of the intense focus and emphasis you put into it; it is produced through blocks of time dedicated to it. And what I find some fascinating is how wonderful it is for our brains–we get a myelin workout whenever we remove distractions and pay attention intensely to a task at hand. Turn off the phone and the device cartoonnotifications and banging out a project or task with a single-minded purpose is quintessential–not just for our productivity but also our brains.

Mindfulness is brain candy? Turns out to be so–and I love this!

 

Moreover, not only is mindfulness handy  with completing work, but also in our social interactions. UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices. (Learn more: reading emotion in digital communication ).  So it seems that just dropping your need to be on your device temporarily can make you more connected–not just to your work but to others around you. Seems like a simple solution in a complicated world.

So this week, I’m honoring my commitment to be present and switching off so I can switch on.

 

 

 

Big IFs

Have you ever read the poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling?

If you can keep your head, while others around you are losing theirs…..If you can wait and not be tired of waiting….If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same….

This poem comes to mind as I reflect on my practice–not just when I have my eyes closed, meditating, but also when I am engaged in my life’s daily events. It’s really those times “off the mat” (to steal a yoga phrase) that I know mindfulness is truly being cultivated. Indeed, it is how I approach those those difficult moments that I am able to recognize that my effort is worthwhile.

I have to celebrate the process, the journey, and the struggle of mediation.  Although noticing that my mind is wandering may seem like a failure at first, however, over time, it is becoming the evidence and validation that my practice of mindfulness is paying off. This awareness is the essence of a mindful moment.

What surprises me is the development outside of my meditation- not just the awareness of the emotion that I am experiencing but also theHeart-Rate-Variability the shift in my perception. I can look at challenging people and situations and find something within these experiences to have gratitude for. It’s like these emotionally gritty experiences are turning dirt into pearls of wisdom for me. Of course, to become attached to this transformation seems to contradict the point of mindfulness as well. However treating my successes and failures with the same openness is something I can strive towards. Though cultivating  mindfulness as my preset default mode seems to be a BIG If, but nevertheless, its pursuit is worthy of my effort.

 

 

Accepting the Journey

This past week we celebrated the 4th of July in Indiana. It was a wonderful time of celebration and patriotism–something that I haven’t experienced in a long time due to living overseas. It also was a time spent with family. And spending time with family in the context of celebration can challenge us because we work hard to avoid conflict and remain in a cheerful mood, even if we discover that there are painful realizations about our loved ones (or ourselves) and some members are going through difficult seasons in their lives. It can feel like forced happiness at times.accept-4 But then, that is the beauty of loving someone–cultivating joy through holding the space of what is possible for someone else and believing in the change that this loved one needs in order to create a shift in their life.

In this past week, I began to see the benefits of mindful communication, by generating more presence and engagement in these conversations with loved ones. Taking my practice “off the mat”, sort of speaking, and into my everyday life, allows me to develop greater empathy and compassion for my favorite Earth travelers–my family.

For me, my greatest struggle was accepting the aging process of my mother. older.jpgI found myself losing patience at first with her because she has become so elderly, embracing old age and submitting to decrepitude. I have come to witness that my reactions to her are a result of my own fear of aging and worry that I may become a burden to others.  My mother is losing her hearing, in particular, and I found myself shouting in order to communicate. At first, I just yelled and I am sure that my frustration came out as I “spoke” to her.  Then I decided that I needed to take a mindful breath as I engaged in conversation with her so that my communication could soften and be more gentle. Whether or not I like my mother becoming elderly is a moot point; she is my mother and I love her. (Perhaps one day my own daughter will have to face some of the challenges I have with my mom–what kind of role model am I being for her? Am I showing her how to be kind and respectful to aged persons?) So I just kept breathing, noticing my feelings and accepting my frustration, until it began to loosen its grip on my me.

Obviously mindful communication is not a one-off practice but a habit that must be cultivated patiently. My loved ones provide rich fodder for my practice, especially since I often engage with them in “default mode” in which I have attachment to my opinions of them and how I think their lives “ought to be”.  And of course, no one pushes  my buttons like them. Bless them! lol

Clearly the challenge now lies in whether I can stay committed to making mindfulness a habit in all areas of my life. And I wonder: Can I really become the person I wish to be?

As I understand that change begins with awareness and then with acceptance. Perhaps in a year’s time, my commitment will create a significant distance toward this goal. Meanwhile, I can be grateful for my loved ones and the struggles, as we journey on the Earth together.

 

Addicted to Distraction?

report cards keep calmIt’s report card time here for teachers and there’s nothing I’d rather do than NOT write and read those comments. So this week’s journey into distraction and procrastination was perfectly timed.

Did you know that we are wired for distraction?–that every time we get off task, our brain’s get a little dose of dopamine, which is a chemical on the reward pathway in the brain; furthermore, avoiding what needs to be done and letting ourselves wander off task could actually be addictive. So we are screwed, right? Not necessarily because through our directed attention, mindfulness works to subdue our emotions, bringing us back on task and renewing our focus.

 

Also, the attitude in which we pay attention can also determine our ability to stray or come back into focus. I found this video of distraction memeBrendon Burchard’s War and Peace model a reminder that when we want to change something in our life, we must commit to finding every possible solution and accepting that change takes time. I think this is really relevant as I consider that the practice of mindfulness is not just a one-off thing that perhaps I do in the morning or evening, but I need to find ways to seed this activity throughout my day in order for mindfulness to be hard-wired into my brain and become my mind’s default mode. An excellent suggestion was to take a moment to get in touch with the breath as we transition to a task that we may find challenging in order to avoid procrastination. This would help to give attention to what is relevant and necessary to complete a task, instead of allowing the mind to wander into worry or fear. Moreover, extending compassion to ourselves when we do stray off track, helps to decrease and de-activate the stress response that may accompany us when we are in avoidance and procrastination. Not only does it help to alleviate the negative emotion associated with the task, but has physiological benefits such as improved immunity and executive functioning of our brains.

So, I have to wonder, if I can be addicted to distraction, can I also become addicted to awareness? Is that possible?  I’m not sure, but I’m willing to dedicate myself to this challenge….one moment at a time. (: