How I spent all day reading: thoughts on guilt

Today I fully intended to write a follow-up post to yesterday’s thoughts on happiness. I even have part of the post pre-written. Instead, today, I read books. It’s the perfect sort of day for reading, dark, rainy, quiet. I was alone in the house all day except for the dogs, who love nothing more than to curl up next to me on the sofa. Since I have quite a few books que-ed up right now, I gave in to my base desires. I spent the entire day reading. It was completely delicious.

True, when I go on vacation, I spend entire days parked in a chair by the ocean reading book after book after marvelous book. I find it harder to indulge this way when at home. Here I can always find ways to be busy. Or to lose myself in the million responsibilities tied to parenting and wife-ing and life-ing. You can fill in the details, we all have lives filled with them. It’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time for the things we want when there are so many things and people that need us.

It’s almost a drug, this illusion of being needed. We want to matter, to know we hold an important position in this world. We measure our worth by how many people depend on us day in and day out. So we pile it on, the duties and activities and responsibilities, making ourselves important, believing ourselves invaluable. Then we look at all the appointments and responsibilities which fill our lives to the limit and beyond, leaving no time for self-indulgence or rest.

Or maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last five years feeling guilty for failing to measure up to an arbitrary, shifting standard. I’ve signed up, cleaned up, cooked up and shown up to the point of exhaustion. But about six months ago I came abruptly to my senses. I realized I’ve wasted innumerable hours chasing after ill-fitting recognition for something I don’t want after all. I’ve chased acceptance and value in a vicious cycle, constantly falling short, constantly trying harder.

So I stopped. Yes, just like that.

And then I felt guilty…again, maybe more than before.

But instead of fighting the guilt with more busyness and activity and fixing and forcing, I just leaned into it. I leaned in and listened to what my heart was telling me about how I really saw myself. At first the image was distorted, almost unrecognizable. But the longer I looked, the more still I became, the more my inner vision came into focus. I began to recognize myself again. Day by day, slowly finding the real me, buried under the ways I tried to make myself bigger, better, more…whatever thing I suddenly thought I needed.

I still get caught up sometimes in the belief that I need to do more or work harder to be worthy of love or acceptance or …insert whatever thing is poisoning your soul here. Guilt for not measuring up lingers, and whispers, telling me to go, try, work, do. But I’m less inclined to listen now. When I’m not chasing every urgent detail, I can actually handle the important things and leave the rest for someone else, or no one else. It doesn’t really matter.

Which is why I’m perfectly content about my choice to drift around the house today, snuggling dogs and reading books and drinking tea. I accomplished nothing of consequence to anyone but me. Because I’m worth. I’ve always been worth it. Even when I was too busy to realize it.

This and That on Saturday: ideas, projects and books

On Writing

Yesterday as I blogged, I realized it’s becoming difficult to come up with new content every day. Apparently, seventy days worth of words is all I have without some sort of break in between. I’m not giving up on the one-hundred days project, not at all, but I am feeling more challenged. This is actually a good thing. It means I am looking for new things to say instead of rehashing old ideas forever. I feel like I’ve taken seventy-three cleansing breaths, and now I’m ready for anything.

I started a separate book review blog. You can click the link, or find it in the page menu. The Mo’Joy Reads page will direct you there. It’s a teeny, tiny, baby blog with just a few entries so far. But it’s making me immensely happy. It’s so clean, organized and lovely. I’m using categories and tags to help facilitate looking up subjects and genres. I’m toying with author tags too. I’m like Monica from Friends with her label maker. SO HAPPY. Feel free to check it out.

On Reading

Earlier today I was commiserating with a friend who is reading too many books. I have too many on-going myself right now, even after trying to carefully curate my consumption. (I get alliteration points for that sentence, right?) I started reading on Netgalley and went a little crazy with book requests. So I’m hammering through some advanced reader copies and trying to wrap up a few loose end books. I’m still having a great time reading all sorts of new things for the 100 Story Summer. I’ve picked up so many books I might never have otherwise. In fact, be looking for a review today of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf which may end up being one of my favorite books of the year. SO GOOD!

For years, I’ve felt a bit guilty about giving in entirely to my desire to read like a maniac at every spare moment. But this little side-project of mine has actually proven not only fun, but a huge productivity boost. Instead of getting fewer things done because of my reading, I’m doing and enjoying a lot more. I think I’m just not wasting time like I used to. This is an unexpected and delightful side-effect.

On the Month-of-No

The landscape of summer has shifted a bit since May when I got the idea for a month of no. It has actually opened up a bit more, relieving me of a few more responsibilities for a nice little window. I’m going to keep refining my schedule and saying more no than yes this summer. In fact, if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a resounding no . I like myself a lot more since starting this little plan. Although it can’t go on forever, this little window seems tailor made for me to take advantage of it and listen. Since I’m learning to trust my gut more and my guilt less, I’m going with it.

On Running

In January I set a little goal to lose 36 inches. I can’t use a scale because I obsess over numbers and climb on the awful device no less than twenty-seven times a day to see if I’ve fluctuated an ounce. It’s ridiculous, and not very healthy for me. We don’t actually own a scale. But for whatever reason, I can healthfully engage with a tape measure.

Anyway, since January I’ve been walking, and then walk/running, and now, I’m a runner again. I’ve had an on-again-off-again, mostly off-again, relationship with running since the half marathon almost two years ago. In fact, I’m beginning to toy a tiny little bit with doing another one. NEXT YEAR. Part of my crash and burn was training too fast and too hard for the last one and then a really difficult experience with heat and humidity actually forcing the route to close for marathoners.

This month has me clocking some of the longest distances I’ve run since before half marathon training (remember the giant toe blisters? and the terrible fall? I was a beat up girl). I remember, now, why I loved running to begin with and what a healing practice it is for me. The continued shrinking is nice too. I’m a little bit ahead of pace to meet my measurement goal by the end of the year.

So here we are. Caught up on the little things that matter so much to me, but seem difficult to work into a blog. Happy weekend to us all. I hope you find a good book to read, a quiet place to rest and someone you love to share it all with!

 

Monsters in the closet: Scary things I’m doing right now.

It was a dark and stormy day. No, really, it actually is a dark and rainy day, but that’s not scary. I love this sort of weather, quiet, meditative, peaceful. It’s the perfect day to think about plans and dreams, for puttering around, reorganizing the dresser and cabinets. The perfect sort of day for examining the monsters hiding in my closet, and maybe chase them away for good.

Scary monster #1: Writing every day

When I decided to do this one hundred day writing thing, it scared me. I stink at follow-through. I’m constantly distracted by shiny, new, exciting!!! Not to mention being terribly out of practice with writing. Also not to mention when I go public with my thoughts and feelings, it tends to come back and bite me in the…well, you know.  It hasn’t been a good experience. While I can’t control how people react to my online conversations, I can control whether or not I let those people scare me. I can control whose voice I listen to or whether I want to listen at all. If I show up and you show up, we can face scary things together. Monsters, and mean people, aren’t nearly so frightening in the light, I’m finding.

Scary Monster #2: Speaking up in public

As an introvert, I’d much rather handle all my communication in writing, after thinking about it for a a few days. But over the last year, I’ve been in a teaching/leading situation where more and more often, I find myself telling personal, vulnerable stories to an audience. The first time, I thought I might hyperventilate or throw up, or both. Even though I’d written a manuscript and practiced, practiced, practiced, it was scary. Yesterday I shared that acceptance is my drug of choice, but when you share the messy parts of yourself, rejection is always a risk. Fortunately my audience was grace-filled and understanding. They even laughed at my jokes. Some of the monsters in our closets are boggarts, they disappear when we laugh at them.

Scary Monster #3: Saying no to toxic people

Fortunately for me, I’m co-teaching a class right now which uses the book Boundaries as part of the curriculum. It’s my second time reading it, and it’s possible I’m learning even more this time. (Seriously there isn’t a single person who can’t benefit from this book. It’s amazing.) I’m learning to make peace with the fact that some people are simply bad for me, whether intentionally or unintentional. I’m stepping away from guilt, manipulation, control, and boundary tramplers. People may be upset or angry. They may react badly. My big, bad fear is a level of rejection like we faced years ago when we were excommunicated. I realize it isn’t likely, but it’s what I know. It’s all I know. Stepping away from that fear to do what is necessary for my own well-being is facing one huge closet monster.

Scary Monster #4: Being Myself

Listen, I love Jesus, but I struggle with church. That’s not news. However, church is my husband’s occupation, so this struggle is in my face daily. I’ve carried hurts and collected scars for a decade now. I’ve absorbed the message that I’m dangerous, subversive, not good enough, and that I need to sit down and be quiet all the way into my bones.

But no more. Just no more. Measuring every thought, word and opinion in case it makes someone uncomfortable is an activity I’m quitting. I’m done accepting I need to change, conform or contort my position in order to fit into a cultural construct I’m not even sure I like anymore. My deconstruction has been leading me back to the me I used to be before I got so bound up in all the rules and false constructs of who a “church person/pastor’s wife/ proverbs 31 woman” should be.  I am myself, and the flaws or changes I make are between me and the Spirit who dwells within me. I like the me I’d forgotten how to be. It’s nice being in her skin again.

 

 

 

Between Days: Finding clarity when nothing is clear

Today is the day between, between celebrating my youngest daughter’s life and celebrating my own. I’ve already picked my hammock spot for tomorrow, a nice shady spot on the lawn. I have lovely books at my fingertips. After a breakfast date with the Hunky and before dinner which I will neither plan nor cook (the best kind), will be hours of hammock reading.  

We’re on the cusp of summer here. We start the morning with windows open, but close them before lunch, and by evening are grateful for air conditioning to ease us into sleep.  I had hoped for things to happen this summer which no longer look likely. So now I’m wondering what I will do while my kids work, and I wait for whatever happens next.

More between space.

Today, life is fairly busy. Preparing to speak, writing, reading, teaching, coaching, planning. This month is filled to bursting, and I am deftly managing and arranging to accommodate all the pieces. It’s a good kind of busy, much of it right in my sweet spot, and things which aren’t are made more pleasant because they are for those whom I dearly love.

But I’m also looking forward to things winding down.  I can’t maintain this pace forever without becoming snarled and mean.  My personality generally requires more space than it has now, and eventually, the bill will come due for the energy I’m expending now.  Tomorrow’s lazy celebration will be a welcome oasis in the middle of this manic swirl.

But today I’m waiting and wondering, what will I do with this abruptly unplanned summer?  I already know I don’t want to fill the days with mindless busyness or too many social expectations. ( This is Introvert Level 10 code for: Can I not see anyone all summer long?) How can I spend days mindfully and well, while also continuing to care for this soul which is still feeling tender and new?

Recently I’ve been spending time with breathing meditation, quiet, empty, focused.  It’s definitely making a difference in my balance during the busy days.  I’m considering making this summer an extended breathing meditation. A quiet, empty, focused space, a space between, tucked gently inside a busy season and the season of what’s-coming-next.  Perhaps a pause for deep breathing is exactly what this anxious heart needs more than anything else.

 

(Zen Habits’ 44 training challenge arrived just in time for my own turning 44. You can check it out here.)

Hello, goodbye: A self-care guide for my next year

If you haven’t guessed by this week’s writing, it’s a churned-up emotional time here at Palace MoJoy.  MoJoy, in fact, is in short supply. While I purposed internally at the start of this little project to avoid making this a platform for political diatribe – don’t worry, I still won’t – I also can’t change how the political atmosphere affects me emotionally. It’s a self-care nightmare for many of us.  Today my anxiety is sky high and learned helplessness is running frantic laps around my brain muttering, “We’re doomed. DOOMED!” under her breath.

My therapist moved out of town, dang it.

Still, I can’t continue like this emotionally. I can’t be always angry, and the way to stop this cycle is to pull the plug. In the month before the election, I had to step away from social media in order to stop feeling anger towards everyone and everything, all the time. I couldn’t manage my anger so I cut off its supply. It worked, until the nightmare of election night.

However, next week is my birthday week and my 21st cancerversary (you better bet I’ll toast that milestone, and not with Bud Light in the Rose Garden), I don’t want to spend the whole week outraged and offended. I can’t expend all my energy on processes over which I have only miniscule control and which drag on in agonizing slowness.

So, I’m unplugging. It’s all too much, too big, too heavy, too awful. And I’m not a very kind person in the middle of it.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in self-care. I’m teaching it, preaching it, and learning more about it. But I’m not very good at practicing what I already know.  Lately, social media is more about escapism than connection, and it’s an escape which usually leaves me more distraught than whatever it was I was seeking to distract myself from. It’s a draining cycle with only one solution.

Stop it.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I’ve changed since my last birthday. I’ve drawn some hard lines, rebooted some relationships and just booted others. I lost a pants size and gained reading glasses. So much healing and self-awareness has happened in my soul. I don’t want to go start my 45th year angry and defeated. I need more Truth and less rhetoric. If I can’t change the political climate of the nation, I can at least work to cultivate peace in my soul.

So be it.

PS I still have seventy days of writing ahead of me, so this little corner of the internet will still have new content daily.

Self-care and minimalism: How to create space for a lazy day

I think about self-care a lot lately. I’m certain it’s partially because of this 100 day project, which is entirely about  self-care. I’m also getting ready to teach for several weeks on Inventory (step four for those of you familiar with a 12-step program), and inventory is all up in the self-care business. My awareness tells me I’m dancing perilously close to depression – though perhaps not as close as I was month ago, thanks to…self-care.  So you can see why it’s frequently on my mind.

This morning on my run, I distracted myself from the hills by considering how minimalism is a form of self-care. First, it’s a way to feel empowered instead of powerless. Second, when minimalism creates margin for priorities, there is more time to do the things which inspire us rather than the things which drain us.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening reading.  I also napped. Normally, these activities make me feel guilty for not being productive. After all there are always things which need doing, right? Except, for me yesterday, there was nothing urgent to be done. My house was mostly clean. I spent a bit of time every day working on my projects. There were things I could choose to do, but to what end? To appear busy? Exactly who am I trying to impress?

So rather than make busy work for myself, I relaxed. I took care of myself.

As I look back over this, I realize it is easy to respond with, “It must be nice to have it all together like this.” It is, except when I don’t. Honestly, last week I worked hard getting things done. I used my bullet journal like a boss. I wrote stuff down and systemically worked through the list, asked for help when necessary, and practiced my no.  I’ve picked up these tools over the years of practicing minimalism. When I use them, I am more likely to “have it all together,” or at least I know where it all is. When I don’t use them, I forget, or procrastinate or create busy work because I have no real direction, driven by an overwhelming anxiety that I am desperately behind on something.

Because I am self-aware, I know that I can function under pressure, but I prefer not to. I do better handling one thing at a time with plenty of forewarning. Practicing minimalism and using my tools usually provides the margin I need to thrive. Obviously, no system is fool proof – crises and the unexpected will always be part of the world we live in. But when I have a well-rested Sunday afternoon to draw on for extra strength, even a curve ball isn’t so frightening.

Practicing minimalism has created space for self-awareness which in turn creates space and opportunity for better self=care. Healthy behaviors lay a foundation for a lifetime of learning and putting into practice, of receiving and in turn pouring out from a soul of abundance. Last month, if asked, I would have said I felt worn out, used up and tired.  This month, when I’m worn out, it’s the kind that comes after a well-lived day. If I’m used up, it isn’t without space for refilling on the calendar.  I’m listening to myself even as I spill words out into the world.

Sometimes I even have room for an entirely self-indulgent Sunday afternoon.

The intersection of margin and play: A Playful Manifesto reboot

Nothing feels more expansive to me than an unscheduled stretch of time.  When I take a day to refocus, I swear, I can actually feel my brain, my physical brain, relax.  Learning how to create margin in my schedule and responsibilities is an on-going process, but I am getting much better at it.

While I not looking at my to-do list and not vacuuming the bedroom, my brain was deliciously occupied with plans and fun projects for the summer (I can barely stand not to write about it today, but I’m saving that fun for the weekend. It’s going to be great!). I hooked new yarn and dreamed about our new bed. For a little while, I stood outside and glowered at the tomatoes which aren’t going to grow anymore apparently.  I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, or seven. What?!! I’m almost done with the whole show!

In other words, today was great big unruly, lazy, restful enjoyment, and I don’t feel one bit guilty about it. It’s true; I require a good deal of margin to be at my best, but I’ve decided my best is worth the wait.

Last week, I planned to start a sort of throw-back Thursday theme, sharing writing which originally appeared on the Middle Places blog (A moment of silence, please.  They were good years). Instead, I decided not to stress over an in-depth project today.

However, while I was sorting through the word treasures, I found this fun little piece from last summer, which completely fits my mood today.  I remember feeling full of hope and inspiration when I wrote it. Which helps me believe that maybe I don’t hate everything anymore. Maybe I just hate some things, now. It seems a little writing, running, music, booking and hooking and great deal of margin is exactly what I need in this season.

So as a reminder to us all: The playfulness manifesto, a reboot

 

Playful Manifesto

Today, I will not lose myself in the mundane or the hum-drum.
Time is precious and happy memories last a lifetime;
No one reaches the end of their days with regret over unwashed laundry.

I may make a to-do list, but I reserve the right to leave items for tomorrow.
I may sleep in, or I may get up early to see the sunrise.
Some weeks I will do both,
And take naps.

Refusing to hurry, I will waste time.
If there is cake, I will eat it.
As often as possible
Yes! will be my response to myself and my loved ones.
I will read books that make me feel.
I will watch movies and eat popcorn.
Since, both ice cream and watermelon both have healing properties,
I will have second helpings of both

I will smile often,
Be in pictures with my family.
 The words “beach body” or “bikini ready”
will not be a measure of self worth.
I will wear pajama pants at inappropriate hours.
As the sun sets,
I will drive fast with the windows down and the radio on
Full blast.
I will live in the moment.
When I forget to live in the moment,
I will breath deeply and try again.
Then I will try again.
I won’t stop trying.

I will swim in the lake.
 Lie in the sun,
Rest.
I will stop looking at the time while rushing everywhere.

Playfulness is as important to life as discipline and responsibility.
I will not lose myself in in should and must.
Instead, I will laugh, because laughter is a miracle.
Embracing imperfection I will remember
just because I can’t do a thing perfectly doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.
It’s perfectly acceptable to be weird.
or eat cake and ice cream for breakfast.
I don’t have to conform to the modern definition of anything.

 Now, let’s go out and play.

How to Love your Introvert: lessons in self-care

When I was talking with some friends the other day, I explained how life as an introvert is like spending from a change jar. Where a person is on the introvert scale determines how much change she can spend each day. I am extremely introverted, so my change jar spends quickly. When it’s gone; it’s gone along with my ability to process, tolerate spoken words, my manners, my patience and my desire to see another living human being. Introverts must spend time alone to refill the change jar, the more often the better. It’s been a wild week, however, following a busy weekend. Lots of expenses, not much replenishing.
I always assume, because introversion is so often the subject of books and articles, everyone understand the difference between shyness and introversion. Then I remember not everyone is a personality junkie like I am, and I probably assume too much.  The conversation about the change jar was actually part of a defense for the wide array of introverted personalities in the world. Honestly, I’m a loud introvert.  Not when I am in a new place with people I don’t know, but when I am among friends, feeling comfortable and safe, I’ll talk your ears off and not in my sotto voce.  What can I say? I really am a performer at heart, though I’d much rather play a part than be my authentic self.
Learning about, and finally accepting these things about my personality radically changes my ability to care for myself.  All the impatience and irritability I feel bristling underneath my skin isn’t something I can just “get over” as I’ve chided in the past. My body is trying to tell me something, Provide me with a quiet, safe place for a long period of time, please. Then we’ll be able to play nicely with the world at large again.  It helps in my home relationships as well. I can just tell my family, I need to introvert, and they understand it’s not them. Mom’s not in a bad mood, she just needs a time out.  And they kindly provide the space I need to be my best self.
I used to think, and I believe a large portion of American culture still thinks, that introversion is a handicap, a trait that needs reforming or overcoming.  As though I could just make myself enjoy being around lots of people, expectations, and noise. I should just force myself out there into the fray until I am comfortable in it. But introversion isn’t something which is likely to change, and I don’t want to anymore.  I like living in my head and pondering life deeply. I enjoy being alone, being quiet. Certainly, I can handle social situations; I just have to buffer them with quiet space before and after. It’s fine if you love your room full of lively people. Instead, I’ll be engaged in a meaningful one on one conversation in a quiet corner.  There’s room for all sorts in this world, even we quiet-ish types.
So you’ll forgive me if I keep it short and sweet today. I’m storing up for the last social thing I have to do until next Monday. I’ve scheduled an introvert weekend (with time to write) to refill the stores I’ve seriously depleted. Even when my life is wonderfully full, I still need to withdraw for awhile until the quiet works it’s magic within me.

Introvert Cookies: how I defy cultural norms

Each week when we meet together for Celebrate Recovery, we have snacks.  It’s a well-known law in the south that wherever two or more are gathered in His name there will be a covered dish. Now, I’m not opposed to snacks in the least, but I gave myself permission to defy cultural norms and not take food every place I go. Therefore, I don’t snack socially anymore (the basic, don’t eat if you didn’t contribute principle – my own rule, not anything imposed upon me). It reduces my stress level and my waistline. Win-win.  But Monday evening, my friend was concerned about the quality of her cookie contribution. I sacrificed my principles and taste tested a cookie, strictly for quality control.

It was delicious. Amazing. Soft, crumbly, buttery shortbread cookie topped with melted caramel and chocolate, which then cooled into a sort of shell. If someone made a homemade twix bar, it would taste like this cookie, only this cookie makes twix blush with shame. I know this because after the first cookie I ate two more. I am the sort of friend who will sacrifice deeply in this way.

There was, however, one slight drawback to the cookies. The caramel, as it hardened, became very, very chewy. And as my friend does not stint on ooey-gooey toppings, it wasn’t a thin layer. The result was an amazingly, delicious cookie which rendered the eater entirely unable to communicate during the consumption process, or for a few minutes afterwards. Worth it.

While most CR guests are in small group, two or three of us set out the snacks in a separate room. This is where the quality control occurs, and it is where two of us succumbed to shortbread cookie ecstasy and silence for several minutes. What’s funny about this is both of us handling the set up are highly introverted. Together, we share our introvert struggles, anxieties, and what we like about our personalities, even when they make it difficult to fit in. We are also quite comfortable to be together quietly for large chunks of time, as introverts do. On Monday nights, these quiet setting up moments are sandwiched between two periods of high social interaction for us, This little bit of quiet space is always welcome.

So here we are, alone in a big room, chewing cookies. And chewing cookies. More chewing. And still more chewing, delicious buttery, caramel-y cookies.

It went on for a bit.

And then, we got the giggles. We attempted conversation, but we just couldn’t do it. We could not talk and consume this cookie at the same time. Instead we immersed ourselves in cookie-chewing until the experience ended. After we laughed and giggled…and ate another cookie…we decided to call them Introvert Cookies. If handed out to a room full of people, these cookies would halt conversation for a very long time. Which of course got us giggling even more. We had to eat another cookie to prove our hypothesis.

Sure enough, delicious silence. Just like I like it.

It’s interesting to me, as I look back, not just on this silly moment, but over the last year, how much more at ease I am with myself. My decision to eat before leaving home so I don’t have to take a covered dish somewhere, or my contentment with sitting quietly in a room even with other people around, or a hundred other quirks and oddities which make up the essence of me have long been a point of internal contention. One day I finally realized I don’t have to conform to popular culture. I don’t have to buy certain things, or eat certain ways, or be on certain bandwagons just to fit in.

I can do these things, and sometimes I do. But when I do, it is without pressure or resentment. Giving myself permission to be who I am has freed me to do everything more wholeheartedly.

It helps when we realize, we all exist in imaginary cultural boxes. Christians think this. Teen-agers do that. Poor people are this way. The world works that way.

Except it isn’t true, not all the time, or for every person. Boxes are neater, sure. And whole lot easier. We all experience tremendous pressure to conform to box where we mostly identify. But what would it look like if we didn’t? I don’t have the answer, but exploring the possibility has led me on a very healing and exciting journey.

If you like, we can share an introvert cookie and think about it.