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Lately

Lately I have been doing my personal writing over on 750words.com.  I am trying to work through a deeply personal decision that I cannot write about here, and writing has always been for me one of the best ways to get to know what I am really thinking and how I am really feeling.  750words.com is a splendid “freewriting” space for these kinds of not public writing (although you always have the option of making it public).

In the meantime, I have been slacking on my Happiness Project resolutions and goals.  A vacation during the first week of June, followed by a wicked summer head cold have taken me far astray from my daily routine.  I am slowly getting back into it now though:  writing, reading, meditating every morning.  I have given up on the morning yoga practice.  Instead, I am doing yogaglo.com’s 15 day trial — practicing fewer days per week, but for longer periods of time and given the range of videos, also experiencing a more challenging practice.

May’s resolution was to improve organization and housekeeping.  In part, I was hoping to follow along with my One Year to an Organized Work Life book, but that didn’t happen.  Both offices, but my home office in particular, are in such a state of disarray that I could just cry.  At the same time though, I am trying very hard to “train” myself to be more laid back about things.  I fully subscribe to the necessity of having a calm, peaceful, organized exterior in order to steady and calm the mind; however, I also am trying to focus on staying calm internally even while the outside world might be in chaos.  It’s a difficult balance to strike.

June was supposed to be about creativity, and I feel this one is important to give attention to.  Creativity and organization somehow don’t seem to jive that well, so instead of combining them for July, I think I will return to organization in August — setting myself up for a solid start to the school year.  July will be devoted to creativity, as well was memories and family.  These two will meld well in the form of scrapbooking!!  Additionally, I already have family plans that involved my parents coming to visit and then traveling with my mother to visit my grandparents.

I have also begun reading Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind.  It’s an inspiring little book.  The advice (so far) is nothing new or unheard of, but it’s nice to have reminders to put creative work first.  Of course, it feels easy to do that during the summer — free from the glut of meetings and demanding teaching load — but, perhaps, if I start prioritizing some of these things now, the habits will stay good during the semester.

 

Another Year Older…

Next month I will turn 38.  I feel like it has taken me so long in life to come to a lot of simple realizations:  Things like — I am not the boss;  and, kindness is of great importance, and sharing critique and feedback needs to be done in a fair and diplomatic way.  Things like — “the spoons don’t really matter” (in reference to the way I hate how D unloads the dishwasher).  And yet, at the same time, while I have come to understand these kinds of things — in a rational, logical sense — I still react to them strongly, viscerally.  It’s a battle all of the time in my head:  “The spoons don’t really matter,” says the voice trained by therapy and self-help books; “Yes, they god damn DO matter!  I HATE messy stacks of spoons!” says the voice in my core — the ever present child who just acts and expresses without thought to recourse.

This post was actually supposed to be positive — focused on what I have gained in knowledge and insight.  I was thinking about this in relationship to my career.  After two years on the tenure track, I finally feel (a little bit) that I am getting into the swing of the academic life and managing the work/life balance.  As I work in 15 minute and half hour bursts of research-based reading and writing and dedicate hours to finishing a project that is already accepted for publication, I really “get” the enjoyment that can come from working hard, while also creating the time and space to dedicate to all aspects of my job.  This is not so say that I’ve totally mastered the teaching/service/research ratio.  I am still always dropping balls and/or coming up short on certain committees (or coming up short on one venture and trying to make up for it the next); however, I guess I have come to realize that a ball dropped isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t get tenure.  (During my first year, I felt that way, and it was a tremendous amount of pressure).  I am just getting much better at figuring out how to do enough to be a responsible academic citizen and colleague, while also not making myself into a complete crazy person.  This seems a very valuable birthday gift to myself.

I finished up the month of April (focus on Mindfulness and overall health and well-being) without a quote but then just came across this one from the Buddha:

To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

Overall, I had a good month.  My strongest goal was maintaining daily meditation; this was followed closely by doing yoga three days per week and getting to bed by 9:30.  I did not closely adhere to my goal of 25 push-ups each day, and I only managed about six days of the entire month to keep my refined sugar intake to under 36 grams.  I also did not consume nearly enough water.  There are many goals from this past month that I plan to continue to incorporate into my life, even while they are not specified goals for the month of May.  These include:  weekly blogging, meditation, yoga, 9:30 bed time, and maybe even (hopefully) the push-ups.  The sugar reduction is the one goal that I am officially reinstating this month.

For May my focus is on Organizing and Housekeeping.  My friends thought this was a bit nutty (if not just obsessive) considering the fact that I already tend to focus on these items and keep a pretty clean and organized house; however, NOTHING (well, perhaps very few things) keep me happier than a tidy house with calm, organized surroundings, so think that giving these items a little extra attention this month will result in a truckload of happiness!

  • Return rooms “to ready” by end of the day.  This simply means that by the day’s end all of the rooms in the house are back in order (the dog’s toys in his bin, blankets folded and put away, dishes cleaned and in place, etc.).
  • 5 minutes of before/after office tidying:  This means that before I begin work each day and before I end work for the day, I will set a timer and spend five minutes organizing and tidying my office(s) (applies to whichever office I work in that day — both, if I use both).
  • From 5/16-5/19 I will work on cleaning out and organizing the cabinet under the bathroom sink.  This thing is a pit and just in need of some dollar store crates to sort the items into categories.  Cannot wait to get this one under control — might even do it sooner, if I can find the time!  I will also go through my Google RSS Reader and sort out what blogs I am actually reading from those that I am not and add other sites that I do (or want to) read regularly.  I also need to spend some time figuring out what I am going to use as an alternative to Google Reader, because its service is ending July 1.
  • During the week of 5/20, I will tackle the kitchen cabinets, which are currently making me insane, and attempt to get out from under the paper piles in my office(s).  This will involve tweaking and refining my filing system(s).
  • Finally during the last week in May, I will be applying the “Magic Formula” from Regina Leed’s One Year to an Organized Work Life to my office(s).  This involves the three steps of:  eliminate, categorize, organize.  I guess that technically these three steps apply to the month as a whole.  And I will be organizing my music (digital library MP3s and CDs in the basement — making sure they are integrated into my iTunes library).

So that is the plan for the month of May.  Let’s see how I do….

Obligatory Post

As I have mentioned, one of my Happiness Project goals for this month is to put up at least one blog entry per week, and I missed last week.  Lately I have had a number of brainstorms for blog post topics.  The first one I had came during meditation, so naturally I had to “let it go” and hope that I would remember it again by the end.  I didn’t, and I was upset that I hadn’t jotted down the idea.  While out walking another day recently, I came up with another idea.  This time I grabbed my phone, opened my notes app, and wrote down this:  “blog: great ideas strategies.”  Huh?  I have strategies for coming up with “great ideas”?  I do?  Why can’t a remember any of them?  Clearly they are not that useful if I can’t even remember that I know of such strategies.  I have to laugh at myself.

So I do not have any “great ideas” currently on the books, nor do I have any strategies readily available for eliciting any, but I have been thinking a lot lately about Spring and patience.  There was a little part of me that actually was not looking forward to the emergence of Spring this year.  (Side note:  I generally don’t love Spring — despite all its hope and beauty — because I tend to ALWAYS be so cold during this time of year.  People turn their heat off, and yet it is still often cold and, worse yet, damp outside.  I feel like I can never quite warm up.  Still, I tend to embrace it because it is the season that ushers in Summer — the time of year where I can bask happily in the sun and heat).  We moved into our new house in October, as Fall was winding down and Winter was beginning to take hold.  I found refuge in our combined den and kitchen area, keeping warm and cozy alternately with cooking and the fireplace.  I spent many happy evenings there watching Jeopardy and crocheting, drinking tea and eating cookies with friends, and cuddling with my other half.  I was bonded with the inside of the house but not the outside.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and was resistant.

Spring has been very slow to emerge this year.  We are almost upon May 1st, and still most nights are getting down in the 30s.  Once in the past week, the cars have been covered in morning frost.  Still, there have been nice days as well, and on those days, D and I have spent time in the yard, preparing the beds, mowing the lawn, and most of all observing the new Spring growth.  We have a hibiscus plant that we cut back in the Fall, and it still have not produced any green this season.  Similarly, our lavender plants, which need to be cut back are waiting for new growth to occur.  Finally, we also have a bunch of ornamental grass (which I don’t really understand, but D likes it) that just looks ugly — brown, dead wisps and stiff twigs sticking up into the air.  I keep checking on these plants anxious to cut them back or have them grow or to just DO something.  D keeps saying to me that “it’s still a bit early; there’s still time.”

Spring feels a bit like a holding pattern to me.  I feel like I am just waiting and waiting:  waiting for consistent warmth, waiting for the school year to end, waiting to get started on all my Summer plans and projects; waiting for everything to be reborn and come alive again.  Birth, of course, is often a slow (and painful) process.  The results, however, are entirely worth the wait.

Happiness and Prayer

One of my April Happiness Project goals is to put up at least one blog post per week, and it is almost the end of the week, so I figured that I should work on composing one. The funny thing is that I am actually rather excited about this book proposal idea that I have, as well as some of the other scholarly writing projects that are currently percolating. Typically I would much rather devote my short bursts of writing time to blogging, but this morning I felt torn, wanting to do both. In keeping with my monthly goals, however, I chose to blog and just mention the other projects. Just by putting out there my desire to work on these projects reminds me of their importance and place in my life.

Instead of actually focusing on the details of that writing, though, I think I want to address prayer. Today after meditating, I did a quick prayer. This is something I used to do commonly at the end of meditation after my “om, shanti, shanti, shanti,” I would pray for internal peace for myself and external peace for the world — sometimes focusing on a war torn country or place with civil protest and unrest. When I returned to meditation after the move, I felt a lot of pressure time-wise and began leaving out the actual prayer part. Today when I added it back in, it reminded me of the fact that I have gone to church for the past two Sundays and got me thinking about the role of religion and prayer in my life.

I think that figuring out religion and spirituality for ourselves on an individual level, and maybe too on a larger philosophical or intellectual level, is one of the great human struggles. How many people do I know who grew up Catholic, moved away from it as adults, and continually struggle with whether or not to go back to the church? (This is a rhetorical question, but the answer is lots).

In the past two weeks I have attended a Lutheran service and a Methodist service — both Christian denominations, the services are very similar to the masses that I attended for most of my life (although I suppose I am getting to that age where I have actually spent about 50/50 in and out of the church). Praying more regularly certainly seems to bring with it a kind of power; however, this morning I was thinking about whether or not we prayer primarily because we want something and we want help from a higher power. I guess this is a slighly obvious observation and statement. Perhaps the more loaded or pointed question is: Does belief (faith) really “count” it if is motivated by want or desire? In other words, am I a “true” believer if I just kind of make myself pray because it’s what I should do and have been told it is the way to facilitate miracles?

Years ago (shockingly six years have somehow passed since I started this blog!) I wrote a lot about my struggles with choosing a form of meditation and whether that choice encouraged me to keep my eyes opened or closed.

Last week a friend came over for our “happiness project” group, asking if she could borrow a room in our house for a bit before the meeting started because she needed to fit in some meditation.  First of all, I truly admire her flexibility in finding time and space for her practice.  I really need to take that in and try to apply it to my own life (for example, once I arrive at work I act as if any chance at meditation is impossible.  When, in fact, I have my own office with a door at the end of a hall that few people venture down — a completely viable space for meditation to happen whenever I need a quick break and time to refocus my energy).

After my friend wrapped up her meditation in our den, she talked about how relaxing her practice is and how she can get so far into it that the outside world melts away.  I have never achieved this in meditation.  I told her how I am lucky to achieve three breaths before my monkey mind jumps in.  It turns out that she does a mantra based meditation (eyes closed, one sanskrit word with “good vibration” — she didn’t tell me what word — in her head).  This got me thinking about shifting my meditation practice again — back to where I began.

For the past few years, my meditation has been in the tradition of Shambhala instead of the mantra based and metta meditations that I practiced early on.  So for the past week or so I have gone back to doing eyes closed with the mantra –” om mani padme hum.”  This has been going well, but also meditation has been doing the work that it is intended to do by revealing my continued obsession and difficulties with decision making.  While I am meditating, I keep getting hung up on whether or not this is the “right” mantra for me.  Additionally, at night I have been reading Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job.  Her method is metta meditation, which I learned from her on a retreat and found it to be both delightful and truly challenging (compassion toward my enemy = not easy).

I think that my issue with the “jewel of the lotus” mantra is that I have trouble understanding its meaning.  It is difficult to accurately translate Sanskrit into English, and this phrase, for whatever reason, seems particularly elusive.  The 14th Dalai Lama, however, gave a simplified meaning as follows:

“Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Ultimately most meditation practices that come out of ancient/historical religious or spiritual tradition have, at their heart, the goals of mindfulness and compassion.  Metta meditation works this directly into the meditation practice, but this does not mean that meditating in a different way somehow excludes that focus or those goals.  So perhaps this mantra isn’t as distant or distinct from my beliefs about meditation as I once thought.  Practicing the transformation into pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha does actually consist  of mindfulness and compassion toward humanity and all living beings — the same way that another of my favorite mantras does:

Today’s monkey mind meditation brought to you by…the first-floor bathroom.

We bought a new house in October.  It is just over twenty years old and so does not NEED a ton of work, but a number of the rooms clearly have the early -90s date stamped on them, and the first-floor bathroom was particularly ugly (think country-bumpkin wallpaper).  We decided to do the bathroom over.  Everyone talks about the certain kind of hell that stripping wallpaper is; however, I really loved that job.  We rented a steamer and I spent a number of happy hours trying to steam large strips of paper off the walls.  Each success held it’s own excitement.  However, much of the stripping job resulted in peeling the top layer of the dry-wall off, leaving us with much patchwork to be done.  The TRUE hell is upon us.  Neither of us has ever used compound before, and while it appears easy on an array of YouTube videos, it apparently is a very difficult technique to master.  I admit that I have not attempted to apply the compound myself, but have contributed to the impossible and completely NOT gratifying work of sanding down the set compound.

Last night, D reached the end of her rope.  She was on round four of applying the compound, and it was going terribly with rips, and dips, and lines, and bumps appearing everywhere.  She gave up and closed the door and refuses to go back in.  This leaves us with two options:  1) I go in and try my hand at this horrifying task or 2) we try to hire someone to just come in and do the wall prep.  My feeling obligated to at least attempt to go through what she has gone through kept my morning meditation in a state of tension and distraction.

In other news…I am considering trying to meditate with my students today.  I’ve always thought it kind of hokey when writing instructors have introduced meditation into the classroom, but we are currently reading Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, which is about mindful use of the internet (which could potentially lead to us being even smarter!).  He discusses the breath as the key to mindfulness.  So I’m thinking of giving them the basics, turning out the lights for five minutes, setting my little meditation timer app, and then afterward having them write about the experience.  I won’t tell them ahead of time that they’ll be writing, because I know what that kind do to one’s meditating mind.

Happiness Project

It seems like one of latest cultural trends is toward “happiness.”  In the past year I’ve seen (and read some) countless books on happiness.  I have watched the documentary called Happy and have also seen one on Bhutan — the happiest place on earth (although I’ve heard the same thing said of Iceland, which has one of the lowest rates of depression anywhere in the world).

For my own part, I decided to start a “Happiness Project” group (as I mentioned in a previous post) as part of setting and attaining my 2013 resolutions.  There are now many different takes on this same idea — such as Christine Carter’s “Cracking the Habit Code” (which also looks really cool.  I would consider doing this in the future) and Gabrielle Bertstein’s May Cause Miracles.  The thing that appeals to me about The Happiness Project is the amount that one can accomplish by working on things in monthly “micro-steps.”  That is, rather than starting out the year setting five resolutions and trying to keep them all year, you can set a few resolutions each month, focus on those resolutions, and keep building on them.  By the end of the year, you might have started thirty-six (maybe more, maybe less) new habits that contribute to happiness.

Each month has a kind of overarching theme that the individual sets for him/herself.  For example, my focus for January is workSo for this month I want to focus on being more productive, becoming a better (more attentive, more involved, more organized) teacher, and just generally feeling more confident in my position on the tenure track (something that I’ve really struggled with and is at the root of much of my anxiety).  In support of this, I have set the following resolutions for the month of January (which, I know, is now almost over):

  • Write more:  this involves blogging and/or using 750 words.com for 15 minutes, five days/week.  I also want to keep a teaching journal that I write for another 10-15 minutes on Monday and Wednesday afternoons after I teach.
  • Update: I have been doing great with the blogging. I think I’ve only missed two weekdays this month (maybe three if we count MLK day, which was a day off). I haven’t yet started the teaching journal. I’m a bit disappointed in myself about that.
  • Update #2:  Began the teaching journal on tumblr., so I’m also learning to use that blogging platform, which so many of my students use and rave about!
  • Make bed every day: this one might seem unrelated to work, but, in addition to the happiness project, I am also working through a book called One Year to a More Organized Work Life by Regina Leeds. In it she suggests one home resolution and one work resolution each month. This month’s home resolution is to make the bed every day because doing so gives an overall sense of ease and calm. And it’s so true. This is the resolution I am doing best with.
  • Work an 8-24-8 schedule: this essentially means that I will attempt to stick to a 40 hour work week, while also attending to all three parts of my work life — teaching (24 hours), research and writing (8 hours), and committee work and meetings (8 hours). Invariably, teaching takes over and ends up accounting for about 30-40 hours all on its own, but it’s still a goal (it’s also one that I set last year and did not stick to).
  • Reduce social media intake: Earlier in the month I did a week long Facebook fast. It was surprisingly easy and actually enjoyable. I didn’t feel this incessant need to “keep up” the way that I sometimes do when I read what friends of mine are up to. Since then I have tried to reserve one day per week (either Saturday or Sunday) as a social media free day. I don’t count Flipboard, as I try to focus on reading the news on those days, since it is hard for me to keep up on current issues with any depth during the week. I fluctuate over whether or not Words with Friends “counts” as social media, but since it has the word friends right in the name, this seems kind of like a no-brainer.
  • Update: Between the week long fast and the reduced time on social media on the weekends, I feel that I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend on social media. While my weekend SM free day hasn’t always been perfect (yesterday, for example, I posted a picture to FB in the morning and then checked it again last night before bed. I did stay off of all social media during the day), I am also trying to stay off FB as much as possible during the mornings and during the day. I have been successful with this for the most part.
  • Get a writing project:   This one has been nagging at me.  Each day I do some personal writing and blogging but get nowhere in terms of a professional research project.  For the moment, however, I have come to the realization that my presentation for CCCC needs to become my current writing project.  Also, fingers crossed, maybe I’ll get a revise and resubmit on a recent journal article, and that will also become a writing project for this semester.  I also have ideas for a research project beyond the conference in March that involves studying the digital composing practices of students, so I can begin some of the reading that I made note of last night while prepping for my grad class.  Also on the horizon:  the thought of running a writing workshop at my old job, and who knows where that might lead in terms of my own writing life.  For now, I am just glad that I’ve prioritized writing in my life.

So now…here we are two days from the first of February, and I’ve finally completed my month of January post.

Thank you, Jodie Foster

I am taking a brief detour from my scheduled writing for this morning (to put the finishing touches on a journal article) to respond to and think about Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech for the Cecile B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at last night’s [I began drafting this the day after the] Golden Globes.

The debate over whether or not celebrities or those in power should come out publicly has many angles.  As a lesbian, I truly see both sides.  I do firmly believe that the more we (the GLBTQ community) get represented in the day-to-day lives of the majority, then more likely we are to be accepted by those who might initially shun us.  I do believe that being in the public eye comes with some social responsibility as well.  On the other hand, I see the many problems with the ways in which all of our lives are increasingly lived in public, and I feel badly that those in Hollywood, Washington, etc. are so often put under the microscope and frequently chastised and ridiculed for living the kind of flawed lives that most of us take for granted.  And, after all, straight celebrities and politicians aren’t required to go public with their sexuality.  Coming out is a deeply personal act, and I don’t ever think a person should be required (or even feel obligated) to do so.

As for acceptance speeches at awards shows — well, I don’t think I’ve ever continued to think so carefully about one until Foster delivered hers last night.  Sure, throughout the years, there have been speeches that have made us laugh and cry, moving speeches, speeches that have had historical value and relevance, but I don’t think there has been a speech whose brilliance doesn’t actually emerge until the next day.  And that is what I feel Foster’s speech has accomplished.

The skill it must have taken to deliver a speech that created dozens of interpretations that filled up the social media stratosphere.  Folks who are privacy advocates and GLBTQ folks alike are thanking Foster for what she did last night.  It’s tough to please such a wide range of audience members.  One tweet did stand out to me, however.  I don’t have a link, so I’m paraphrasing, but the tweeter referenced the cutaway to Jane Lynch during Foster’s speech and analyzed her as “angry” — arguing that being “out and proud” is different than “reality TV” (which was a kind of comparison that Foster made her speech).  I can truly understand where this writer is coming from.  I’m not sure that Jane Lynch was “angry” (her demeanor appeared neutral.  I just found it entertaining that the camera had to pan to a “token lesbian); however, I can understand if she were.  After all, her advocacy is important work.  Speaking out on behalf of rights for the GLBTQ community is not “trashy” and “vulgar” reality TV as Foster might have implied.  I say “might have been” because that was/is part of the beauty of Foster’s speech — it was ambiguous enough to hold up to multiple readings.  Her defense of privacy and condemnation of reality TV were clear, but beyond that, there is enough textual evidence to say both that she “came out” and that she “didn’t.”

In was thinking about Foster’s speech, I admit to feeling a little let down.  In thinking about my own struggles coming out, I thought about the ways in which my own mother might have been receptive to the “kind of” (and here I am using my mother’s words, not my own) Foster is.  The confirmed “existence” of a feminine, successful, mothering lesbian is one that could have been reassuring both to me and my mother when fewer out folks were public figures.  Again though, this is not Foster’s responsibility to shoulder (I don’t believe).  I feel strongly in the importance and effectiveness of activism, yes, but I also feel that Foster’s speech was a kind of activism.  It might not have been GLBTQ activism but it was an act on behalf of the importance of privacy and the downfalls of a life lived too much in public.

Meditation Brainstorm

I just finished my morning meditation.  Because my recent resolutions involve both regular meditation and regular morning writing (15 minutes, 5 days/week), I seem to have developed a new form of “monkey mind”:  I call it the “write this” category of “thinking.”  As I meditate, my mind keeps jumping to plans for what I can write about.  As any writer knows, writer’s block is a particularly invasive, pervasive, and paralyzing occurrence.  And since fears commonly rise to the surface during meditation, it makes complete sense that my mind attempts to spend my meditation time trying to deal with this particular fear — especially since I have been writing after I meditate each morning.

To change this, I thought to try to write first; however, my morning goals need be accomplished while also accommodating my partner’s morning schedule.  Then there is my need for my morning cup of coffee (as a side note, I am rereading Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier than You Think, and her opening section is about our conceptions of spirituality and how this doesn’t always jive for people with her own love of morning coffee.  I’ve tried to quit coffee in the past, thinking that it’s bad for my anxiety, but my shiatsu practitioner once described coffee as her “joy,” and I thought, “It’s my damn joy too!”  And joy goes a long way in helping to prevent anxiety).  Dorthea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer,  actually recommends the first thing in the morning approach:  get out of bed, stumble to computer, write.  First thing.  Before coffee.  Before yoga.  Before shower.  But this subconscious writing isn’t really the writing that I’m trying to do.  I don’t have time to continue to write throughout the day, so my morning writing time needs to be rather conscious.

Alas, I don’t seem to have a perfect solution.  “Monkey mind” is an inevitable part of meditation, and I think that being aware of this new category “counts” for something.  That is, part of the practice is about noticing our thoughts and coming back to present/breath.

But before I forget — some upcoming writing ideas (freshly hatched during this morning’s practice!):  my happiness project goals and update, difficulty with “natural breath,” posting about sugar addiction to healthy lifestyle group google page.