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.