A quiet refrain: why wasting time matters

This morning I had some thoughts about boredom. I’m reading a book by a Buddhist nun, as one does, and in it she speaks of the need to refrain. Refraining is the first step on the path of mindfulness. She says this:

“Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–has something to do with giving up entertainment mentality. Through refraining, we see there is something between the arising of the craving–or the lonliness or the aggresion or whatever it might be–and whatever action we take as a result. There is something there in us that we don’t want to experience, and we never do experience, because we’re so quick to act.”

Hi, I’m Dana, and I’m a habitual numb-er and self-distract-er.

This is something I have become more mindful of lately, my penchant for distraction. Honestly, I think it’s something we all do without really thinking about it – which is why it’s habitual. For myself, this happens for at least two reasons. The first is that we live in a productivity driven culture. Empty time is an anathema. In fact, we are consistently guilty of double-booking, over-scheduling and undervaluing rest and relaxation. Ask the next ten people you know how they are and at least six of them will respond with “busy.”

We check our phones when we wait in line.
If we’re out to eat, the news and at least one sporting event plays in the background.
Most world events that happened more than twelve hours ago are barely relevant.

We are as tuned in, turned on, active and informed as any people have ever been anywhere. It makes us feel so terribly important to be so.

We fill time because culture expects it. If we aren’t producing something, we are wasting time. We’ve elevated busy to a status symbol. I’m not pointing fingers. I am very much talking about me.

Lately though, I’m trying to shift my focus by refraining for a moment in the margin, that space between what I am doing now and what I intend to do next. I pause. I consider. And sometimes, if the thing I’m reaching for will only distract from the present, I let it go.  I experience boredom in grocery lines. Sometimes I even eat a meal with no noise and no book. Just me and food. I don’t even invite the monkey brain (sometimes she shows up anyway).

The second reason I think we fill our time so completely is because we are afraid to who we might find in the silence. As a whole, I don’t believe we like ourselves very much. Whether it’s society telling us we don’t measure up to the latest trending standard, or religious institutions convincing us of inherent evil, we just don’t experience in a very self-compassionate existence. The more consciously I create margin in my life, the more I hear the self-destructive messages the world sends us echoing around in my head. I think it’s killing us; I know it was killing me.

When I make space in time, in my head, in my soul, I can replace those toxic messages with something real and valuable and loving. I can finally hear other, more beautiful but less clamorous messages writ on my soul in a deeper, quieter language, the one the world tries so hard to drown out.

I’m thinking about all of these things in relation to my summer break. Honestly, I’ve tried to convince myself it’s a selfish, lazy, foolish endeavor. A waste of time. But that isn’t the truest message, it’s simply the loudest. It’s the message the gods of productivity and self-loathing would have me believe. The true message is that my soul is created by love, to love and for love. My worth is based not in what I produce, but because of whose I am. I don’t have to fill time to matter.  I don’t have to be afraid of what I will find inside of myself, and I don’t have to prove it to anyone by working hard. Even if I’m bored, uncertain and unproductive, there is beauty and worth to experience.

I will refrain, and in that space, find peace.

On fathers: when one day holds so many big emotions

It occurred to me this morning while walking the dog, this is our twentieth father’s day. It’s hard to imagine this is true. Granted, we celebrated for the future that long-ago, first fathers day. Our oldest was a bump of possibility, only beginning to make herself known. But we celebrated, dreaming of a lifetime of fathers days to come.

I feel a tinge of sorrow today as well. I had only twenty-five fathers days with my own father, nearly as many have passed as were observed.  It’s funny to me, looking back over celebrations with our children, twenty years seems a lifetime, and remembering how many I have missed, it seems far too few. Time is such an elastic and untrustworthy construct.

My husband had only four fathers days with his father. He isn’t here for me to ask, but I imagine he has no memory of them. And yet, when it comes to fathering, I can’t imagine anyone who loves with more care and consideration than he does. His love in action is beautiful. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes. In my life I have received two great gifts, one of experiencing a wonderful father, and one of watching a man become a wonderful father.

Whenever we, as a culture, celebrate these identity specific holidays, it seems we enter into a minefield. Fatherhood isn’t always beautiful or empowering. For some it’s an empty space, or filled with difficult, painful memories, for others it’s grieving someone lost. There’s room for all of these feelings, from great joy to deep pain. There isn’t one way to feel about fathers, just as there isn’t one fathering template to follow.

For me, today, I’m making room for great, big emotions, the swell of love and pride for the father who shapes our lives, the ache and emptiness for the one who gently shaped mine. There is room, room for both. One does not negate the other. The joy isn’t better or more important than the grief. Both are valid and together they make the day more beautiful still.

Maybe you have complicated feelings this father’s day. It’s OK. If you are looking for permission to feel however you feel, here it is. Feel your joy, your gratitude, your grief, your pain, your loss, your pride, your heart. Celebrate what is worth celebrating, for there is so much to praise in this world. Mourn what is worth mourning for there is so much pain in this world. Be generous with your love, for your fathers, for your children, for each other.

It’s an amazing thing to be alive, and I am so very grateful for my experience in this world, the beautiful and the sorrowful as well.

Waiting on the wind to change

I met an old friend at the post office today. She is moving soon and was eager to tell me the news. While I tamped down my jealousy, we shared moving tips and ideas. She talked about her basement, and told her the best place to unload her stuff in town. we discussed packing and purging, two of my favorite things to do. I’m excited for her that everything feels like a whirlwind of change and newness. The smile on her face was absolutely contagious.

I’ve experienced change in the whirlwind fashion before. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying, and often leaves you gasping for breath the same way running a hard mile will do. Given a choice I will always choose the rapid pace over the slower one, at least where big change is concerned. Right now, however, I clearly don’t have a choice. We’re on the slow train to change and there is no speeding this process along until the moment the pieces fall in to place. This month? Probably not. This year? Who can say.

Limbo, limbo, limbo.

Meanwhile we’re doing the things rooted people do: meal planning and school enrolling. We’re looking ahead while letting go, acknowledging the ends of seasons in healthy ways. I’m grateful for this. Grateful for the natural turning of time rather than the unexpected emptiness when the rug is yanked out from under you.

But gratitude doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got bag to haul to Goodwill in the back of my car.

We’re being stripped, right now. Down to the bare bones, the essential elements, carrying only the most essential parts of our soul – the ones we cannot give away and still remain ourselves. There’s a vulnerability and a rawness to this process. It’s damn near excruciating most days. Other times it’s wrapped around with golden threads of anticipation. Even when you don’t know what’s next. something is…something is.

So I sink my roots in portable things, routines and digital words, pictures grabbing moments and memories as they happen, in case tomorrow changes everything.

Because it could. It could for any one of us.

How to get it done (aka sanity for shopping days)

If you showed up for wisdom today, it’s not happening. I spent the morning at Wal-mart, friends. Wal-mart. I only go to Walmart about once every other month because I loathe it so. The sheer volume of consumerism, the crowded aisles, the checkout nightmares, the entire shopping experience is absolutely exhausting. But my daughters had needs and gift cards, and we live in a town with 3 stores…we hit two of them. So off we went because sometimes you just do the thing.

I have a history of being a terrible procrastinator. I can let a thing go for a ridiculous amount of time simply by walking right by it and pretending it doesn’t exist. Or I use busyness. I know what’s urgent, but shouldn’t I fold the laundry instead? Or water the plants? No really, I can have the cleanest bathroom in the world and still be scrambling to meet a deadline.

But lately I’ve imposed some rules on myself.

If a thing can be done in 3 minutes or less, I do it right now. The moment I think of it (unless I am meditating, then I pin it to my mental cork board. What? It works.)

If a thing can be done in under fifteen minutes, it goes on the daily post it. The daily post it helps me keep track of things without having to rely on my questionable memory. It lives in my planner. I don’t have to finish everything on the daily post it every day. By writing it down, my chances of finishing it in the next 48 hours increase draamtically.

If a thing will take longer than 15 minutes it goes in the future tasks list in my planner. I use this list when I find myself with a bit of extra time that I won’t use for reading or when I make my…

Daily top three list in my planner. I am a big fan of bullet journal, but for my birthday I received this amazing planner. It doesn’t quite have the freedom of a bullet journal, but it pleases my inner perfectionist so. It’s been an easy shift, and I do love it. Also, each day comes with a little Top Three checklist. And well… my little soul loves nothing more than checking a thing off. Nothing.

None of these things make a shopping day more pleasant for me. It’s just not something I love to do. But all of them work together teaching me that sometimes though only way to get through a thing is to just jump in and do it. Even though it wasn’t the case today, usually the mental anguish of procrastinating is far worse than the actual experience.

How to prepare for a Month-of-No without guilt

I had plans for writing today. I even have a mental script and a written framework. However, when you can’t drive for four days, the next day will fill quickly with all the things you couldn’t do the previous days.  It’s been a bit hectic. Since Saturday, I’ve worked on a list of things to be done before the ‘Month-of-No’ which begins tomorrow (or tonight at sundown if you’re speaking sabbath). I’m just about ready now, but my words are few. So instead:

How I prepare for the Month-of-No
  1. Decide now what and who gets my yes. Make sure the list is short.
    My family, Craig and the girls, are my first line of yes.  I will pick Olivia up from her friend’s birthday party and handle most work transportation for Bailey.  I’ll also make sure we have groceries each week. But no, I’m not dropping everything for last minute plans, or ill-planning. The last two months were packed, packed, packed and I have juggled, juggled, juggled. I want us all to enjoy ourselves. Since no one likes being home as much as I do, I will occasionally have to venture out. But only with fair warning.
  2. Don’t apologize for self-care. Yes, it is nice to be able to take this time. Yes, I understand this option won’t work for everyone. I do realize how lucky I am.  This is the way life goes sometimes. I have margin at the exact time my soul really needs it. Only a fool looks at that gift and ignores it.
  3.  Make a plan to accommodate my limits. Probably one-third of my running around is due to lack of planning on my part. Over the last few days I wrote out a menu plan and a master grocery list. Honestly, I’m over making dinner. But I also am one of two people in the house who isn’t employed, so dinner is on me. Fortunately this month has girls and husband gone for weeks at a time, and I’m simple. A few groceries go a long way. Beyond that, there is not one thing I need that won’t wait until later.
  4. Have a ridiculous number of books on hand. I currently have 18 books out from the library with another 9 on hold. (The library is on the yes list for the month of no.) I’ve actually set myself up with several projects and plans -with tools already on hand – for the entire month. I don’t want to spend it watching seasons of netflix or scrolling through social media. Even though I enjoy those things, more often, I use them as numbing tools. I want to spend this month aware and engaged.

My family has observed a weekly Sabbath for many years. That observance has taught me rest doesn’t come without preparing for it. There is a front load of responsibility to handle before I step out of sync for a bit. Fortunately for me this year I have a rare window. Many of my responsibilities are winding down for the summer. No children are taking classes or doing activities, and as I already mentioned, parts of my family will be gone at least a week this month. So, I made a choice to do what I need to do, which is rest, relax and restore.

When I went to therapy a few years ago, my therapist gave me a great gift. She told me to take an entire year off of everything. She recognized what my traumatized soul most needed. Quiet. Margin. Room to breathe. Room to dream. She was right. But it’s been couple years since I did that, and the last season was packed. Even good things- so many good things- wear you down over time.

One last thing to remember for the month-of-no is this:

5. Practice Gratitude. Every day, friends. Even the ones filled with yes in the months to come.

Bailey Bash: Something fun Sunday, Episode 7

Yesterday was all about this girl, my Bailey. Normally, I try not to tell my girls’ stories here. Their stories belong to them, to share or not as they see fit. But it is also true that my story and their stories are entirely intertwined. Sometimes, I can’t tell my own story without their part in it.

BaileyMuch like any parent, I’ve second guessed a million decisions. I’ve desperately hoped that I’m not making a complete mess of the entire parenting business. Hopefully, they won’t spend too much on therapy on my account in the future. But yesterday was one of those affirming days. This whole parenting thing happens completely imperfectly, but even so, it’s pretty damn good.
Baile
We’re so lucky to have so many people who love us and who took time from their day to be present with us celebrating my amazing girl.  The weather even greeted us with darn near perfection for the end of May.

We made the most of our photo booth (Craig may have enjoyed the raspberry beret a little too much!). We held cut throat games of cornhole where my brother earned the right to hold Olivia’s stuffed monkey, William, for one entire hour. This life long feud between Matt and Olivia stretches across states and decades. Perhaps they have finally come to some sort of agreement as they both begin to mature into adulthood…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bailey and her friends, and sisters and sister’s friends (when you are this close in age, you drift in and out of each other’s lives easily, the relationship lines are blurry) moved from front to back, food table to carport to hammock as people came and went. Some moments are kind enough to kiss you softly and whisper, Hang on to this, it’s the only thing that matters in this life anyway.  And so it is.


The gift of Here and Now: learning to be in the present

This window of time right here is the calm before the storm. As I type grandparents are flying and driving, brides are having their hair and nails done, wheels are turning for the wedding we will attend and which Hunky officiates this evening and for Bailey’s graduation party tomorrow. But right now, right in this moment, I’m not part of any of that. I’m simply here.

This week I’ve written about perfectionism and slow, often invisible change. In a culture addicted to the quick fix, we constantly look ahead. While true change, soul deep change takes time. Often more time than we are willing to give before moving on to the next shiny quick-fix. I know I’m guilty. I’ll probably be guilty again in the future, but in this moment, I can actually trace long winding ribbons of behavior evolving over time, bringing me to this point right here.

I keep mentioning this moment because here, now I feel calm, content and hopeful, despite all that is happening around me. My inner voice isn’t leaping about telling me all the things I must do to prepare for this evening and tomorrow. My perfectionist isn’t nagging me about things forgotten or left out. Instead, just over the top of my computer screen I see tiny, new arms growing on my cactus. Squirrels are racing around the tree outside my window while one of the cats waits hopefully on the ground. My candle burns. And I am right where I am meant to be, doing the only thing that matters in this moment.

Learning to be in the moment has not been something that comes easily. My mind prefers to be busy planning, analyzing, perfecting. Like so many people, pausing often means staring at a screen waiting for the next ‘ping’ of dopamine when I see a piece of news drop or a comment from someone who normally sits at the cool-kids table. I’m as susceptible as anyone to zone in and tune out. For years, I’ve been altering behaviors in an attempt to focus my awareness on what’s happening here and now.

Most days I don’t think I’ve made any progress at all.  But today tells me change, although slow, is happening. It tells me there’s plenty of time for good enough.  It’s put on it’s last lovely show of spring just so I will sit and simply be. Be here. Now.

Occasionally, I make the mistake of hanging on to this feeling too tightly. As soon as I do, judgement and justification step in and take over. This moment is a gift. I can’t make it stay, nor can I control the next moment coming up. It might not be as beautiful or calm. It might, actually, be the worst moment of my life. To date, I’ve never seen one of those moments coming or been able to avoid them. I can tell you already, I won’t be able to maintain this sense of calm through the entire weekend.

But I can be in this one. Now. Breathing in and out. Listening to the bluebird who sits right outside my open window. I can accept that imperfection and frustration are as likely to make an appearance later as joy and laughter, though I’d rather have only the latter.  I can feel grateful for the creative space to sit right here and share these shining minutes, which are only now, not a promise for all time.

Here.
Now.
Exactly where and who I’m meant to be.

 

Fifty days later: Thoughts from the middle of everything.

Fifty days ago, I decided I would write and publish a blog for one hundred days in a row. Today is day fifty-one which means it’s all closer to the end than the beginning from here. I’ve reached the middle at last. When I started this project, I hated everything (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not much), and I could tell I was circling the drain of depression. The question I ask myself today is whether or not writing and sharing daily is really makes any difference.

The answer is yes. It is making a difference. I am different than I was fifty days ago. I’m emotionally healthier than I was fifty days ago.

Is it all due to the writing? Probably not. However, the writing has been a catalyst, a foundational habit on which other positive changes are laid.  I write daily. Since beginning to write, I also run and meditate daily. My reading is more focused; I finish what I started. After completing a journaling class, I write in my journal before blogging each day. I wrote the curriculum for and co-taught a community care class which opened the door for many brilliant conversations on self-care/ self-awareness, compassion and healing. I’m reworking step 4 (Inventory), and shared my own story of recovery with my recovery community.

Yes, these fifty days have been full with all of the pieces playing a vital part of my journey back to health. The spark, however, comes from this practice taking place on-screen every day.

The discipline of writing so many days in a row, forces me to plan intentional writing time. On the days when I have not, I’ve regretted the cobbled together silliness that gets published. The same response happens on the days I procrastinate too long and am trying to make coherent thoughts with my afternoon brain. Afternoon brain can do many things, but writing isn’t one of them.

I continue to learn more about myself every day. How toxic relationships have stolen my joy for far too long. How I can live within healthy boundaries instead of exposing myself to further harm. I’m inspired to be bold again, and honest, and kind. I often feel afraid, still, but I don’t let fear be the loudest voice in my head.

More than anything, writing opens up my desire to be creative again. I don’t know how long my creativity laid dormant. I only know I’d forgotten how good it feels to create something new in the world, even if no one but me knows of its existence. Writing ignited the spark and all the other creative endeavors are blowing life into it, convincing it to stay, to grow.

Even though our life circumstances haven’t changed, and the waiting continues to feel like drowning in molasses, I wait differently now. I am not without hope, not the powerless victim of whatever circumstance tries to throw my way. I can generate change, within and without. Writing has taught me this. Showing up, following through, embracing imperfection, muscles I’d forgotten to flex. Using them makes me feel strong again. Even on sad days, I don’t have the despair that was so heavy before.

And here you are, fifty days later. Patiently returning to read each day. You provide inspiration too. You remind me we aren’t alone in this big, old, chaotic world. I remember now that we are far more alike than different most of the time.

What will I do after the next fifty days? I’m not sure yet, but that doesn’t bother me. In time, all things will be revealed. Until then, I continue to do the work I know is good and healing. I don’t have to be afraid to stop doing things which aren’t beneficial, or to try something new, or recognize when a season changes. All things change. Even me.

Thank goodness.

Becoming: How I’m rediscovering anticipation

The week long celebration of all the good things in my life has ended, which is a good thing. If every day were a celebration, then soon enough, no days would be. There is a season…and all that jazz.  As much as I love a good lay around and indulge myself day, Eventually, I want my routine. I thrive on anticipation of what’s next, but only so long as I know what it is. Surprise is not my strong suit, at least, not the complicating kind. Boring or not, I adjust slowly, and irritably, to sudden change. In this, as in so many things, I can either fight against my personality or embrace it. I’ve decided to finally, after too many years of beating myself up for who I am.

I’ve considered these upcoming summer months for a few weeks now. May races by like a dervish, throwing parties, graduations and program endings near daily. Previous summers we’ve done a form of “school light,” but this year, different in nearly every way, we won’t. School’s out for summer – at least, at the end of the week it is. School’s out, programs are ended, life will slow and still, requiring little of me, a speed I very much enjoy.

It’s easy, I’ve discovered, to lose myself in busyness and distraction. I can do it even when life is slow and still, perhaps even better than when too many things are clamoring for my attention. This summer I’m creating intentional habits and routines to prevent this slide into disarray. I may not have much I have to do, but I often don’t anticipate well by creating space for the things I want to do. Instead I fall into distraction. I invent ways to elude self-awareness and focus. Self-awareness can be discomforting when you focus on internal disruption, and I tend to avoid discomfort when I can.

However, self-care keeps jumping up and slapping me in the face. After years of being responsible for the raising of young humans, I’m graduating too.  My decades of hands-on, day in and day out parenting were the most beautiful, crazy and fulfilling ones yet. To be given the gift of presence in my own children’s lives has been the defining characteristic of mine. But time moves on, and the definition is changing. Although it feels sudden, it’s truly not. It’s merely the thing we’ve been moving towards for the last twenty years.

Still, I plan to allow myself the grace to adjust slowly to whatever the new definition is. I’m not certain myself, yet which is terribly unsettling. This summer I will embrace the discomfort and the adventure of self-awareness, listening to who I am and what I want.  The years ahead will be fundamentally different than the ones before, and I must be different in them, or flounder and despair.

One day last week, I came to a sobering realization. I can’t remember the last time I felt excitement for whatever happens next. Part of that feeling is depression talking, a voice which is receding now, another part is learned helplessness, the rest is my resistance to acknowledge a life change. It’s time to evaluate everything, even myself, especially myself, in light of this entirely new season.  I can’t continue to wear my winter clothes and expect to be anything but ill-suited to this emerging spring. Not only do I realize this now, I feel excited, at last, about the possibility of it all. I anticipate becoming me again.

Summer is coming and I am becoming in it. This is a scary and wonderful thing.

This is forty-four

This morning my husband took me out for breakfast because today I’m forty-four. I had a low country omelette. We talked about the things old married folks talk about: graduation, tuition, root canals, Idaho, the usual things. As we stopped outside the restaurant  Craig snapped a quick couples selfie. I would have avoided this if I could get away with it.

The truth is, I hate that picture. I hate most pictures lately.

As much as I love being forty-four, forty-four doesn’t love selfies. At least, it doesn’t love selfies the way I think it should.

Last year I wrote about this old body.  It’s truly an amazing thing, scarred and stretch-marked. It’s been treated for cancer, carried and birthed three babies, endured a double digit number of operations and invasions, run a half marathon, climbed a mountain, scuba dived, traveled, explored, swum, and walked thousands of miles. Forty-four doesn’t hide the mileage, either.

Forty-four says here are the baggy eyes and chin hairs. Here’s where time relaxes your chin into your neck and turns the backs of your arms into flappy weapons. Forty-four says you may feel like twenty-five just as long as you don’t indulge in a selfie or look too closely when you walk by that reflective plate glass. It rudely reminds you in the middle of a good time, that you may just look like one of those old people trying to seem young and cool.

Nevermind that in my head I am still young and cool-well, as cool as someone like me gets.

I considered these thoughts for awhile as I lay in the hammock and winced at that selfie strewn across social media. I realize it’s silly to vow not to be in a photo for the next forty-four years.  When I’m eighty-eight I plan to take a selfie every day just to prove to the world that this tough old broad is still here!

It’s ridiculous, really, this scrutiny, this vanity. I absolutely don’t want to be twenty again. Even thirties, fun years though they were, aren’t something I care to revisit. I love being in my forties and refuse to lie about my age. So why is it when I look at a photo, I get mad at the woman inside looking twenty years too old?

I like to pretend I’m mostly free of petty vanities. I wear my graying hair short and natural. Not because I’m opposed to hair color, far from it. Just because I decided it’s not how I want to spend my time anymore. Make-up only rarely makes the morning routine. Again, just too much effort for someone whose fanciest weekly outings are Aldi and the post-office.

Or maybe I’m just trading vanities, from upholding some standard of beauty to upholding some standard of curmudgeon. Certainly self-deception is something I’ve yet to outgrow.

I decided to look at the picture again, past forty-four and see what else is there. Me, standing with the man I love, have loved for half my life. It’s a gorgeous May day and we’ve enjoyed another of hundreds of breakfasts where we talked about the things old married people talk about. Twenty years ago, that same handsome man asked me not to die. Said we’d just gotten started.

Two days ago I wrote of abundance, of all the years I never thought I’d have. Forty-four of them now. Hard ones and sad ones and sick ones and crazy, wild, beautiful, wonderful, glorious years. All written right here on my face for everyone to see.

This is forty-four.