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Archive for the ‘daily thought or experience’ Category

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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