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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?

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Today is President’s Day–the kickoff to the new semester.  I have dull sense of dread in my body.  During therapy last week, D suggested I think about my fear as something that can be with me but that I don’t have to be attached to.  She created this image of my fear as a separate person that I can kind of have sitting next to me while I do my work, move forward with my days, etc.  As in, okay fear, I know you’re here, but I’m working anyways.  I think it’s a helpful thought. 

In addition, I’ve been reading the book Comfort:  An Atlas for the Body and SoulIt’s written by a Catholic priest.  Probably the first book I’ve ever read written by a priest, but it’s really working for me.  Brett Hoover describes comfort as the thing we are all seeking, and yet he reminds us that discomfort is an integral part of life and something we can all learn and grow from.  It might seem kind of obvious, but it’s a lovely reminder.  My desire to leave academia was/is driven so heavily by this idea of seeking comfort–of wanting to be somewhere that I feel safe and within my comfort zone.  But this isn’t necessarily the best kind of drive, and I’m comforted by this articulation of the issue. 

This reminds me of the fortune that I got on New Year’s Eve:  “A solid challenge will bring forth your finest abilities.”  Let this be my new mantra for 2012!

 

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I did not set any new year’s resolutions this year. This is unlike me. I am typically a list person, a goal-setting person. I love writing things down, checking them off, seeing their fruition. This year, in the depth of my depression, I just felt like goal-setting would make me feel worse about myself than I already do/was. I felt conflicted over this, as I typically love to start a new year with that turning-over-leaf-feeling. I appreciate the hope and possibility that resounds with the ringing in of a new year, but this year I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m still not. However, this morning I was reading some of my favorite blogs by other academics. These bloggers had splendid new year’s posts complete with reflections on the previous year. They made resolutions and detailed how they might achieve them. I tried not to beat myself up for not attempting similar things. What struck me most, however, was the fact that these women too struggle with some of the work/life balance stuff that I do. When I’m in my anxious/depressed state, it’s easy for me to fall into strong feelings of envy and to convince myself that everyone’s life is “perfect.” It was a good reminder to read these posts and remember that we all struggle. We all want to make ourselves better and that wanting that doesn’t mean we are failures currently. This also relates to the reading I did last night in the book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha. Although, I refused to make resolutions, I did encourage myself to read five pages from this book each night before bed. I started last night. Brach explains that “radical acceptance” doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to want to improve ourselves. It’s not about resignation. Instead, “Radical Acceptance means bringing a clear, kind attention to our capacities and limitations without giving our fear-based stories the power to shut down our lives” (38). Right now “fear-based stories” are ruling my days and paralyzing me when it comes to work.

It helped to read Dr. Crazy’s reflections on 2011 and see that she is still going strong (stronger even) despite the conflicts with her Chair and Dean. It’s a reminder that I can (and will) encounter critique in my job, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean I will fail at/in my job. Reading Geeky Mom’s various posts on her struggles to keep her house in order and her idea to tackle her resolutions in the form of small daily activities, helped remind me to not become obsessed and overwhelmed by the big picture. Looking at the semester as a WHOLE seems like SO much work! And reading some of her past posts about life/work struggles made me feel better about my own mad juggling.

This illustrates one of the beauties of blogging: reminding each other that we are not alone.

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It’s Funny/Interesting

My first ever experience with meditation was with the Compassion Buddhist Center when it was located in Delmar NY above the Center for Integrated Health and Healing. I remember I was so apprehensive that I kept opening my eyes and shifting around in my chair because I thought that if I totally gave myself over to meditation it would actually be so transcendental that I’d literally take off and be transported to some magical, spiritual place. That first experience was more than two years ago, and it took me another year to return to a group/guided meditation experience (or any meditation experience for that matter). Little did I know then how difficult it is to completely give yourself over to meditation. And now, a couple of years later I wish for my meditation practice to be a little bit more transcendental than it is. At this point I don’t feel like I’d be too freaked out by seeing colors or feeling something a little “floating-like.” I actually don’t know exactly what a transcendental meditation practice might feel like; however, I highly doubt that is spends too much time getting caught up in deciding what lifting routine to do at the gym that day (which is where most of my mind was during today’s practice).

I also thought today about the upcoming semester and how for teachers and students each new school year is a bit like New Year’s with the possibility of setting goals and resolutions. I know that I want to really work on maintaining my meditation practice but also to allow myself ample time each week for my Life Organizer. So on Thursday afternoons I want to spend time looking at my weekend and planning the week ahead, clearing my mind of it to allow more time in the present moment.

Another thought I had today was to abandon my academic blog and focus more on this one. Although I don’t yet have a readership for this blog, these days I feel more comfortable with this pseudonymous form of writing. It seems to be a space where I can be more personal and really pour out some goals and plans for the future. It also feels like a space where I can write random thoughts without over-analyzing what other graduate students and folks in my field might say, write, think about it.

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The past two days have been tough in terms of meditating. Maybe it’s the heat, but I’ve been overly agitated (both in and out of meditation), and my mind has been especially active — obsessing over details, planning, planning, planning. While I sit there, my mantra goes on auto-pilot and I’ve been thinking about what books I need to order (this one and this one, for example); what food I’ll make for an upcoming birthday party; what I need to return at Dick’s Sporting Goods; what pillows I might by at Bed, Bath, and Beyond; what I’m wearing to spin class today; what I might do at 11am when my meditation ends; and on and on like that.

I also spend a lot of time stressing about my dissertation, but doing nothing about it. I haven’t worked on it since May. My excuse has been this class that seems to swallow all of my time, but this (teaching one class and devoting ALL of my time to it) is not a realistic or sustainable model for teaching, researching/writing, and living a balanced life. Today, while on my little meditation bench, I made a vow to start working on it — even for short periods of time like and hour or two. I need a deadline and a schedule (I’m sure I’ll come up with one the next time I start meditating).

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Today I meditated for over a half hour. That is more than ten minutes longer than I have typically been meditating. Meditation has also been really tough lately because I haven’t been doing it daily — almost daily, but not quite. And that makes a huge difference in being able to get into the place of being present and relaxed and with my mantra. I’ve been learning enough to know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a completely relaxed and present meditation for it to “count” or be a useful practice. Pema Chodron describes her meditation practice as being filled with a chattering mind. The “practice” part is about repeatedly coming back to the breath (or the mantra or whatever is that single point upon which you’re focusing). Still, I was restless and squirming.

Also, “hot girl mechanic” crept into my meditation, so that made me smile, and I found it a bit difficult to let go. I thought about Pema Chodron saying to let go of the storyline regardless of whether it is a pleasurable one — a really, juicy sexual fantasy — or a negative one — difficult childhood memories and such. However, she says you might sit with the feelings through the meditation. I’m not sure how that works for pleasurable feelings. It seems to make more sense for negative ones where repression might be ignoring the feeling, writing it off as just “thought” and not having to sit with it and work through it.

Lastly, I’ll mention that lately when I first begin my meditation I get this burst of excitement/agitation. It’s a weird jittery feeling that runs through my whole body, and it makes it difficult to settle down into the meditation. I’m not sure what that is or what it’s about, but I thought I’d put it out there. Maybe others have experienced a similar “rush.”

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