Catching Up, Checking In

It’s been 75 days since my last post, and I’m feeling it.

The summer is gone, I’m in a new house (eeee!), I have hardly written or kept a routine for the intervening 2.5 months. That being said, excuse this post for being scattered.

Last weekend I went on a second writer retreat with my writing group. As was expected, we got very little writing done, but much talking and fun was had by all. More importantly, we got to re-establish where we were going as a group.

When you write (or do anything) as an individual, you can set your own pace. I get to write or ignore my characters as much as I want to, and the only person whose feelings I have to worry about are my own. If I put off writing a blog post, it’s not like my followers are going to rise up against me. You may be disappointed that I’m not here to brighten your day, but I can handle that kind of disappointment. I don’t kid myself into believing that I’m really all that important.

But, when you work on a group project, you have to deal with egos and schedules, with points of view and disagreements. You have to be flexible. When people don’t act in the way you want them to, maybe you can have some empathy, try to understand why they are acting (or reacting) in the ways they are.

This past weekend with my writing group helped me remember that sometimes it’s important to step back and remember why you came together as a group in the first place. Conflict doesn’t have to break us, and it is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to break our relationships. It can make us stronger. Our group came together because we wanted to write and be more creative, but we also wanted to support one another. These were the original goals for our group, and when we left our little cabin on Sunday morning, we hoped that these goals would help to bring us together again.

I don’t really have any deep meaning, I just wanted to share a little something. Hope you’re having a wonderful day, and go outside!

“Open your eyes to all the love around you” (Dove chocolate wrapper wisdom for your Monday).

The Constant Questions & My New(ish) Answer

There are so many times during the day that I take stock of things.  I often ask myself, “am I happy with this? Does this make me feel good? How did that go? Why did I say that?” Perhaps this is part of my anxious nature, and maybe some of it is just a human need to test the balance of the world around me and myself in it.

What I like to remind myself to stay conscious of is my internal monologue as I answer those questions. Not just, “Why did I say that?” but also, “it’s ok that you did.”

This is part of my learning to love myself a little bit more each day. A new acceptance of self that has been troublesome in the past. I championed the individuals around me, while I beat myself down for the smallest inconsistencies. My new mantra is, “It’s ok.”

So, I’m short with the guy behind the counter: it’s ok.

I don’t get up in time to meditate this morning: it’s ok.

I let myself eat cheese or meat or have one too many beers: it’s ok.

Because, after all, life is short. Worrying about whether I came off as mean to that guy behind the counter isn’t worth my time. I want to be a good person, by my level of goodness doesn’t entirely depend on my tone of voice with the guy behind the counter at the store. I want to be a person of good habits, but sometimes my sleep and a longer morning cuddle session is more important for my mental state than a morning meditation. C’est la vie! And sticking to a diet, OMG. Get over that one quick. If I had a nickel…

It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. Don’t try harder later, just accept that today is good. It’s not revolutionary advice. Lots of other people have said it. But ya know what? It’s ok.

Staying Focused in the Hurricane

It’s been a full two weeks since my last post. In that time, so many things in my life have changed. My car went in for and out of the repair shop. My husband and I started looking for, found, and offered money for (that was accepted, yay!) a little house of our own. He and I also started a new vegan lifestyle that has changed the way we look at our eating habits and how we cook.

During this time, I started taking the bus to work. Turns out Nashville has a regular, well-run, clean and fast mass-transit (bus) system! Taking the bus meant that I either had to get out of bed earlier, get to work later, or lose a lot of my me-time in the middle.

You’ve heard this story before: it’s like If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, but with your needs. If you don’t have a car, you have to take the bus. If you take the bus, you have to make time to walk to the stop. If you walk to the stop, you have to cut out meditation. If you cut out meditation, you start to feel icky. If you start to feel icky, you have to be on guard for self-medicating behavior.

I was lucky to stay on a semi-schedule because I have to get up for work, and I have a wonderful, supportive husband who is willing to help me stay on track. I also was able to take a few minutes to meditate while walking to the bus or driving home from work when I borrowed the car.

What I have been missing is my morning routine of journal, yoga, meditation that has kept me so grounded for the past few months. The struggle to stay balanced and happy not only depends on the things you do, but how you view the struggles you’re presented with.

So, how do you stay focused on staying well in the middle of upheaval? What do you focus on (or ignore!)? Let me know in the comments!

Time Investment and Relationships

Last week I traveled to Buffalo, NY, to visit friends from high school. These ladies were not those I considered my best friends for much of high school. We didn’t have a ton of classes together and we didn’t engage in a lot of activities after school together, either.

What made these relationships different was that when we went away later in life, to college, to jobs, to other cities, we always found ways to make time for one another.

So now, 15 (yup, that long!) years since we graduated high school, we still make time for one another at least once a year. I live in Nashville and my ladies live in Buffalo, but they come down here or I fly up there. My parents no longer live in Rochester, where we all went to high school, so that makes visits more difficult because we don’t have the holidays to share with one another.

When I started this post–two weeks ago as I was thinking about my journey to Buffalo–I was thinking about how the time and resource investment is what makes these relationships special. There are friends of mine from that same period in my life that are visiting Nashville this week, but although we were close then and follow one another on social media now, we haven’t made the requisite time investment to see one another recently.

This is what changes people in your life from acquaintances to friends and from friends to family: the amount of time you invest into your relationships. Your Significant Other becomes the most important person in your life, and eventually a member of your family (if you’re lucky) because the two of you invest time in building your relationship. Remember that “best friend” you had once upon a time? You spent all that time together and really connected because you spent that time together. There may have been some initial chemistry in any of these relationships, but the investment is really what will carry them through.

When people say “Relationships are work,” sometimes they mean that one has to make compromises and do things one doesn’t want to do, but more than that, on a basic level, relationships require investments of time and attention. What do you invest your time in, and in whom do you invest? Contemplating (and actually answering!) these sorts of questions are a path to happiness.

So: who and what?!

Little Bits of Happiness | Scrumming our Home Lives

My husband and I are both middle children of highly intelligent and motivated parents. We are both in our early thirties and in our second (or third!) careers. We love to learn and to work, and we’re protective of our free time. In addition, we tend to over-commit ourselves. We go to meetups and groups and classes, and all of this is after our normal work day has ended. This may make us early-Millennial generation poster children, or it just may make us products of our culture and upbringings (are those the same things?).

Well before we got married, Hubs and I were already working toward common goals. We’ve always worked pretty well as a team, which is one of the reasons we work so well in our relationship. Back in our first year living together, we decided to make fitness a priority and ran a half-marathon six months later. We decided to make careers our priority, and we’ve now moved from jobs that weren’t making us entirely happy into more lucrative and fulfilling positions. And gosh-darnit, we put on a wedding. Want to test a relationship? Plan a wedding together.

So now that all the honeymoon stars in our eyes are clearing, and we’re actually planning on taking a honeymoon, we’ve started a Honey-do list. This keeps us responsible for our own tasks and gives each of us a sense of ownership over our household duties. And, we’re using the Kanban technique and Trello app I referenced in my earlier Little Bits of Happiness post.

Here’s a screenshot of our Honey-do board on Trello. This is what we use to track the household chores we need to do, what we are doing, what is blocked, and how we celebrate what has been done! We pull from the “Parking Lot” on our Monday night meeting. We have a full week to get through all that week’s tasks (or not) and then we celebrate and discuss our issues on the next Monday night meeting.

It’s been working pretty well! I have not done the worms (harvested the worm compost) or cleaned the floors this week (I also need to charge my phone!), but that’s for tonight.

I also assume that once we start doing big-kid things like buying a house or procreating, that Parking Lot list will be a lot longer. For now, we’re just getting used to the idea, but the weekly meeting and the board are great motivators.

What do you to keep yourself motivated for all of that extra stuff?

A Moment for Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a big trend amongst the happiness gurus lately, and for good reason. Our lives have become so busy that we tend to multi-task everything. We drive while talking on the phone, email while composing tweets, watch TV while checking our Pinterest and Facebook and watching the kids and helping with homework and cooking dinner. All of this doesn’t make us stronger, but in fact drains attention away from each task.

Add in the constant narration of anxiety and worry that some of us have running through our heads, and there’s hardly any rational space left. This can lead to those spiraling negative thoughts while cleaning the pots and pans (one of my personal traps), vacuuming the floors or mowing the lawn. I find that my brain goes out of control when I perform a repetitive task that involves silence or white noise.

In order to combat this brain-drain, we have to train ourselves to concentrate on a single task or thought. On-the-mat meditation helps, but the practice of mindfulness in situ is also useful.

Mindfulness is simply the awareness of your current task to the exclusion of all others.

One easy mindfulness exercise is to practice mindful walking. This can be done just standing up from your desk to go to the bathroom; you don’t need to spend a long time practicing this. Here are some directions:

1. While still sitting in your chair, put your feet flat on the floor. Feel your feet in your shoes, the shoes on the floor, your seat in the chair, your back resting in the chair.

2. Prepare to stand by placing your hands on the arms of your chair (if you have them) or the seat of the chair next to your bum. Feel the ground in the 4 corners of your feet and down through the palms of your hand. Try not to lock out your elbows, as you will need to push up out of the chair (and it’s just bad for your joints).

3. Push up to a standing position, slowly enough to feel your joints and muscles stretch. Feel your bones take your weight, move the weight of your body through your feet and balance yourself into all 4 corners of your feet. Stretch up to the ceiling if you need to now.

4. Letting your arms hang naturally by your side, pick up a foot, and begin walking. It may feel strange at first, to notice how you walk. Do you put your heel down first, or your toes? When does your back heel come up in relation to your front foot going down? How do your arms swing?

5. Don’t forget to breathe! Keep walking and feeling your feet moving. Feel how your leg bones work together with your abdominal muscles and your arms and all the muscles in your body.

As always, start slowly. You will want to only try this for a few minutes at first. But as you get better, transfer this ability to other tasks. I love to use this method while gardening, as it helps me to feel connected to the earth. When have you used mindfulness in your life?

Meditation | OMG I just can’t sit for that long

Whenever I share with others that I meditate, which is not often, I get one of a few responses:

a. meditation saved my life

b. I can’t sit still/quiet my mind for that long

c. huh (disinterested glazed-over look)

d. I wish I could do that, but I don’t have the time/the energy/the patience

I used to try to convince those who showed interest that meditation really was a wonderful thing, that it has saved my life, that it has made me a better, more patient and forgiving person, that it was easy, that it was worth the time spent, and that they could do it, too.

And then, one day, I remembered that I don’t like to be preached to. I don’t like anyone else telling me about their conversion experiences. Real change must find its own way to you. It took me three years of therapy and lots of missteps to actually commit to sitting down on the mat (or pillow, or chair, or whatever) and trying to do nothing for just a little while.

So, if it’s just not worked before or you’ve just been too scared/tired/busy to try, here’s some advice I’ve gathered over the years:

1. If you can sit quietly for one minute, then you can meditate. Start small. Don’t expect too much from yourself. No one’s ever been the world’s best meditator, so really, do not put so much pressure on yourself!

2. Try a bunch of different types of meditation: guided, counting, breathing, walking. Also, try different body positions: sitting, standing, laying down, working with props. One of these will be your favorite, your baseline. Others you’ll use for those days you feel wonky or weird. Try them all, it’s good to have a bunch of tools at your disposal. Don’t expect that your brand of bliss is going to look like mine.

3. Read as much as you can on the subject. It’s good to know that other people are having just as much trouble (and success) as you are! It may also give you great ideas for mantras or intentions to guide your practice.

4. Not every time you sit on the mat is going to be life-changing. Sometimes, you’re going to get up before your timer is done. Sometimes you are going to chase your thoughts. Sometimes you are going to feel icky and bad. Remember, meditation is a practice. It is what makes every other part of your life (the game!) a little bit better.

5. Meditation is not about clearing the mind (h/t theyogadoer). You are going to have thoughts. You are human! Meditation is the time to say “Yup, there that thought is. I think that sometimes,” and then, in the immortal words of Elsa, “Let It Go!”

6. Have a focus in mind when you sit down.The focus is that place you snap back to when you realize you’ve been making the grocery list or thinking about what your hair would look like another color or how you’re going to deal with that guy at work.  Some people find that just following the flow of their breathing is helpful. Others find that repeating a mantra with their breath (“I’m Okay” is a favorite suggestion from my long-time friend and life coach Meg Cline) helps to focus their practice. If you’re working in a guided meditation, follow the leader’s prompts.

No pressure, though.

What’s in Your Jug?

I have an app on my phone called “Buddha.” All it does is give me sage little nuggets of advice, proverbs and aphorisms that I think about during my day. I had one recently that I can’t get out of my head:

A jug fills drop by drop.

Ok. So, depending on whether you’re a half-full or half-empty kind of kid, or maybe somewhere in between, this can feel like a boost or a weight.

The way I see it is that your jug, your life, is filled with drops. Sometimes there is a steady stream of them and sometimes they come slowly. Some of these drops are sweet and some are bitter, but eventually they’re going to fill that jug.

I don’t have much to add except for a question: What is in your jug?

Routine and Security

Every house must have a foundation. If you’re going to build a house of happiness, one of the first steps is the lay down that foundation. We don’t have cement or bricks or rebar to set up in the morning, all we have is the ability to structure our time.

I denied the necessity of a morning routine for a long time, believing that I could wake up late, roll out of bed, and rush to work without giving myself time for me. Let’s be honest, there were a few years when my morning started before dawn most days, and the idea of getting up any earlier than 6:15 was insane. But now that I don’t have to be in at the buttcrack of dawn, I have a little more time to stretch my hypothetical and literal limbs.

So, about a year ago, I took a community ed writing course, and our teacher challenged us to sit down at the page every day and perform the ritual of morning pages: purge our brains for 3 pages without really thinking, first thing in the morning.

I was reluctant, as I am with all change. I didn’t think it would work or be worth my time. But, as I began showing up to the page more and more often, I found that I changed. My day was better, I felt lighter.

Around this same time, I began practicing meditation regularly. This was to combat my kaleidoscope of anxieties. It just seemed right to pair my morning pages and mindfulness meditation.

This pairing plus a little bit of yoga has helped me survive the past year. Of course, there are days when I don’t meditate or I don’t write because of time. But most mornings, I take a half-hour to write, then spend 5-15 minutes stretching or performing yoga asanas, and 10-20 minutes meditating. This foundation has helped me weather a wedding, the last winter (when I always get depressed) and several personal and professional changes.

I don’t expect my morning pages to have any deep insights. I don’t think my yoga will make me skinny. I’m not prepared to visit Nirvana in my meditations. I do have a quieter mind, though. My brain doesn’t spiral out of my grasp as often. And I feel happier.

What do you do to make yourself happier? What are your routines? Anything I can steal or add to my day?

Little Bits of Happiness

We all need a little bit of happiness in our life. I try to take my happiness as it comes: a breeze on a hot day, the way the leaves look in the wind, a flower growing in an unexpected place. Sometimes the greatest happiness can come from making your life and your surroundings beautiful.

It’s easy in this Insta-Pinter-Vega-Hipsta-Techno life to get caught up in the look of simplicity and beauty while really over-complicating our lives, but here are a few Little Bits of Happiness that I’d like to share. These are beautiful and thought-provoking things that help to get me through the day. I have in no way been compensated for endorsing any of them! All of these are my own opinions. But, if someone would like to give me a load of cash, I wouldn’t turn it down.

Websites:

designlovefest: Beautiful lifestyle blog with amazing free backgrounds for your computer under the “Dress Your Tech” section. Oh la la!

design-seeds: “For all who love color” but really, I just love the plants. The daily curation of colors will inspire you to re-do every room in your house, and the flowers will make you want to run off and be a florist.

phickle: I’ve recently started fermenting, and it’s so delicious and easy that it’s really hard to stop! So far I’ve made pickles, sauerkraut, rubenkraut (from turnips), pickled radishes, and started my own kombucha from scratch. This site gives great tips and tricks, and the pictures are mouth-watering!

Apps:

ChakraChime: I use this one almost daily for my 5-30 minute meditation (some days you just have more time than others!). The UX is great, the set-up is easy, and I love ending my morning sit with a chime or the sound of a monk’s bowl, rather than a phone alarm.

Trello: This is a to-do list and productivity app that uses the Kanban method for organizing tasks into assigned, doing, and done. You don’t have to know a lot about Kanban to use Trello, and you don’t have to know a lot about Trello for it to improve your life. We used it to organize wedding tasks (and our sanity) and now we use it to organize our household honey-do list.

LastPass: This password storage program is a total lifesaver. First of all, it generates strong passwords (a must) and then saves them to an app/extension/your computer for easy retrieval.

Reads:

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin We’re all fighting to make our lives better and happier, but this woman made a plan and spent an entire year working towards happiness. More of a how-to than a story, this (cook?)book for happiness is full of fantastic tips. You should also check out the blog that grew from her several books, gretchenrubin.com for a daily dose.

Brain Pickings I am not one for deep philosophical preaching, but this blog will give you short doses of deep thought. It’s just enough to tide you over through the weekend, and maybe to bring you a little happiness in your life.

So those are my picks for this week. What brings a little bit of happiness your life? Anything that makes your worries smaller, your life more centered, your day more simple?