Thursday, October 17, 2019

Trying to make it to Friday, unironically

Wednesday: 45 minutes sitting
Thursday: 45 minutes sitting

I swear, working so hard for so long just breaks your brain somehow. I’ve had just a normal amount of work all this week, but the weekend was an absolute, you-don’t-need-to-hear-the-details nightmare that capped off three straight weeks of long workdays, and there’s no doubt in my mind that what I really need right now is a few days off, and soon.

I’m sure I would have been able to figure this out anyway, but sitting down to try to meditate really makes a broken brain come into sharp focus.

I’m assuming the meditation time is a force for good here, but it’s also a lot of mental work, and sort of exhausting. I’m thinking about breaking the session up into shorter chunks for a few days to see if that seems more manageable while I try to recuperate.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In the eye of the storm

Thursday: 40 minutes sitting
Friday: 40 minutes sitting
Saturday: 10 minutes(?) lying in bed
Sunday: 40 minutes sitting
Monday: 40 minutes sitting
Tuesday: 40 minutes sitting

I had a horrifyingly bad day in the middle there—there was a computer issue compounding a deadline issue, and I spent all day figuring out how to fix the former when I needed to be working on the latter. I realized at 10 p.m., just as things were finally getting sorted out, that I still hadn’t gotten around to meditating, but since 10 p.m. is already at least an hour past my bedtime, I knew it was pointless. I did what I could to avoid writing a 0 up there.

I have another big deadline on the horizon, but I’m hoping now for a week or two of relative calm (and real weekends) before things get stupid again.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Keeping it together

Tuesday: 40 minutes sitting
Wednesday: 40 minutes sitting

All my clients insist on continuing to send me work, even though I was maxed out about four projects ago. I’ve already said no where I can (thanks but no thanks, Grumpy!) and pushed back several of the proposed deadlines. Now, due to basically never leaving my desk, I think it’s just possible I might be able to deliver for everyone—but only if the influx stops immediately.

So that’s the situation, and it’s notable to me that I’ve been just steadily working through it all, prioritizing appropriately, without panicking or getting overwhelmed. (I mean, I am overwhelmed, but not emotionally.)

I’m just a baby meditator in the grand scheme of things, but I think I’m seeing the fruits of doing a serious, sustained practice versus doing the five-minutes-a-day practice I’ve seen recommended in self-help books.

I’m still waiting for acquaintances to remark on how calm and enlightened I am all the sudden, but maybe that’s just because I never leave my house in order to see any of my acquaintances.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Work mode

Saturday: 40 minutes sitting
Sunday: 40 minutes sitting
Monday: 40 minutes sitting

I probably technically don’t have time to write anything, but you can’t work ALL day, even with a giant book deadline, concurrent with two less-giant deadlines this week that need to be worked into the cracks. Everything I do now counts as a “break,” including flossing my teeth and taking out the compost.

On the numbness front, Saturday was the day my right leg fell so soundly asleep that I literally couldn’t move it. I had to flop over onto my stomach and belly-crawl until it was straight enough to regain feeling. Sunday went much better, and today was somewhere in between.

And I’ve worked 27 hours now since Saturday morning; the book I have due for Happy is going to take a minimum of 27 more, but that could go much higher if I want to do a better job. (Happy’s industry prioritizes speed over perfection.)

It’s an easy decision not to jump up to 45 minutes of meditation anytime soon.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The gym situation

Wednesday: 40 minutes sitting
Thursday: 40 minutes sitting
Friday: 40 minutes sitting (in a chair)

I quit the gym a few years ago, having decided that it wasn’t worth the money and that the bossy, competitive, appearance-focused, “no pain, no gain” attitude there was not really my style. But this summer I wanted a place to swim that wouldn’t require me to get up at the crack of dawn and then freeze to death while embarrassing my son, so I took advantage of a special they were having to join from May through August.

It was nice to have a place to swim and really nice to rejoin my favorite yoga classes for a few months, but mostly I reconfirmed to myself that it’s really not worth the money. So I’m a nonmember once again, but I’ve hit on a great way to have the best of both worlds: Since my mom is a member, she can bring me in as a guest for $5. I’ve been arranging to have her bring me in at 9 a.m. on Friday to go to my favorite yoga class—and then because the guest pass is good for 24 hours, I get up around 7:30 on Saturday morning to swim. So I get to go twice a week for $20 a month. That’s like 90 percent of what I would have done with a regular $60-a-month membership anyway, so the math works out favorably.

I don’t know why I even decided to mention all this on my meditation blog, except that it’s part of my “training” to sit and also I’m really tired right now from yoga this morning. :)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

In training

Tuesday: 40 minutes sitting

Getting up to 40 minutes feels like a big accomplishment! It will be good to hit the magic* number of 45, though, so I can stop increasing the time for a while. My main challenges are physical—it is just hard to sit up straight on the floor for so long, plus my legs are still falling asleep. Of course I am adapting—I have basically the same issues I started with, but instead of appearing at, like, minute 9, they appear at minute 32.

I was thinking about how I could work on the physical aspects of meditation, so I used the trick of asking my pretend internal life coach. She wisely said, “You have to train for this $#!+,”** so there you go: an exciting new incentive to work on my core strength, hip flexibility, and overall health.***

* Magic meaning that’s what the book says my minimum should be (but I’m allowed to get there in my own time).
** Remembering fondly how my mom used to read me the comics when I was very little, and every time she encountered one of those symbols-as-swear-words constructions that show up so often, she would say, “blankety-blank.”
*** As if being blankety-blank 48 wasn’t reason enough.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Staying away from the news

Saturday: 35 minutes sitting
Sunday: 37 minutes sitting
Monday: 37 minutes sitting

As I mentioned to M.H. yesterday, I can now occasionally maintain focus on my breath for upwards of 30 minutes at a time, which is a real accomplishment—try it for a few minutes if you don’t believe me—but I’m not entirely sure what that ability buys me in the real world.

Possible answer: enough awareness to know that spending time on Twitter or going deep into any sort of news right now is just going to royally piss me off, and that I don’t have time for that. Honestly, I didn’t need any further evidence that the moron was also a criminal. To me the only relevant question is whether his supporters (and. rally. goers.) whom I know personally have come to their senses in any meaningful way, and I can probably guess that answer so I won’t be asking.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Still at my desk

Friday: 35 minutes sitting

Today I was a whole different uhhhh…meditation practitioner. Is the term yogi? Everything that went wrong yesterday went great today, and I decided it’s like that phenomenon where you set a really early alarm to get up to go to the airport only to wake up every hour worrying that it’s time. I started a 35-minute meditation at exactly 8:25 when I needed to be at my desk at 9, and my brain just couldn’t take the pressure. That’s my theory.

I’ve been making a point of taking Friday nights and Saturdays off, but I can’t possibly do that this week. Every time I look at my inbox I find another piece of work I’ve been neglecting (or have already missed a deadline on). Will be sure to resume having weekends when the current emergency passes.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

It *is* harder

Tuesday: 35 minutes sitting
Wednesday: 35 minutes sitting
Thursday: 35 minutes sitting/lying down

My mind and body double-teamed me today to try to thwart my meditation. Nothing can make meditation “hard,” huh? Naive noob! Have you ever tried it with a sore back, stiff legs, AND a freaking-out-for-no-real-reason brain? Who’s calmly accepting whatever comes up now?

(I don’t know who’s supposed to be talking there.)

I didn’t have time for yoga today before meditating (people are actually expecting to be able to reach me by 9 a.m.), and I had a huge, impossible day of work ahead. Again. I sat down not realizing anything was that amiss. But then my mind and body both went berserk, and I couldn’t seem to stay either still or focused. I didn’t give up on meditating, but I did give up on sitting and finished the last 10 minutes flat on my back, which was only slightly more tolerable.

I wonder if finding time for yoga first is more essential than I thought, or if this morning was just a perfect storm? I’ve learned a couple of ways to try to work through stuff like this—calmly observe the emotions as they arise, mindfully change your position—but I don’t think my skills were quite up to what happened today.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Panic response

Monday: 35 minutes sitting

I was happy with my extension to 35 minutes, except that 20 minutes in, my phone gave half a ring and nearly startled me to death. I had Do Not Disturb turned on (I had forgotten to also turn on airplane mode) so I knew it was a call from one of my nearest and dearest, and I literally lunged for it before realizing they had already hung up. Not so mindful of me, but then again the little break/movement/heart attack midway through mostly kept my legs from falling asleep. :)

Um…

I wrote that first paragraph sort of judging/laughing at myself—and I’m leaving it the way it is—but I just remembered something. Probably the last early-morning call I got that broke through Do Not Disturb was the one summoning me to the facility where my dad was on the day he died. Good Lord. No wonder.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

This is me trusting the process

Saturday: 30 minutes sitting
Sunday: 30 minutes sitting (in a chair)

My book says Stage Two is mastered “when episodes of mind-wandering are brief, while
your attention to the breath lasts much longer”—soooo, if you’re counting, I’m moving on to studying Stage Three. I don’t want to move beyond that until I’ve worked up to 45 minutes per meditation session, and right now I’ve been letting my physical tolerance for sitting dictate when I increase the length.

To quote the book again, eventually “sitting still becomes so deliciously pleasant that it takes an act of will to move.” In the meantime, though, I keep thinking maybe there’s some magical leg position or hip stretch that will keep my foot from falling asleep. Then I get fidgety worrying about whether I’ve got it right this time.

My goal for this week is to chill, trust that I will adapt, and increase my time a bit regardless of what happens.

Friday, September 20, 2019

It is not harder

Friday: 30 minutes sitting

I made a minor error in a bit of work I did yesterday, which the client now known as Grumpy blew slightly out of proportion—or maybe it was just that thing where nuance does not come across well via email. But of course as an editor I already hate making mistakes, so I started my day harried and irritated. I don’t know if it was just that or also other things (I do have a ton on my plate), but I knew it was going to be really hard to settle down and meditate today.

But then I had this thought: Sitting still for 30 minutes does not get harder because of the state of my mind. It’s not expected or possible for my focus be at its best every day. All I have to do is sit down and follow the simple instructions, and the outcome is out of my hands. So it’s not possible for meditating to be “harder” based on my mindset.

That is a capital-I Insight that I definitely read in the book but had not really connected with my own life until now.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Onto Stage Two

Monday: 30 minutes sitting
Tuesday: 30 minutes sitting
Wednesday: 30 minutes sitting
Thursday: 30 minutes sitting

I don’t know if you’re really supposed to declare yourself ever “finished” with a meditation stage, because the book notes that you can move back and forth among them day to day or minute to minute. But it also says you’ve achieved the goals of Stage One “when you never miss a daily practice session…and when you rarely if ever procrastinate on the cushion by thinking and planning or doing something besides meditating.” So I’m going to focus on studying the chapters on Stages Two and Three and count Stage One as done.

Maybe it’s just because I got veryverybusywithwork and just want to have something checked off my list.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Running nostalgia

Thursday: 25 minutes sitting
Friday: 27 minutes sitting
Saturday: 27 minutes sitting (in a chair*)
Sunday: 27 minutes sitting (in a chair*)
Monday: 30 minutes sitting

Ruh-roh, better catch up. The blog suffers when I have a real weekend, but it is well worth it not to turn on my computer at all.

When we went out for a walk yesterday we ran into a couple of Montana Marathon** stragglers passing by Mile 20 rather late in the day. One of them was limping and looked awful—I wanted to pull her aside and ask if it was really worth it to press on for six more miles—but it still made me sort of nostalgic for the marathon experience. I no longer think it’s good for me to run such long distances, but I started fantasizing about training to walk it next year. I am officially slapping that idea away, though. The meditation thing is the thing I’m doing now, and I don’t want to make the classic Julie mistake of starting a whole bunch of other rules/resolutions at the same time.

* I have a chair in my closet that is great for throwing once-worn clothes on, and it also works for meditation when my normal spot is not available (perhaps because someone is napping near there). It was a pleasant little break to not have to worry about my leg falling asleep.

** I went looking for my race report, and it’s not on this blog but on a computer file and dated Sept. 20, 2009. Ten-year anniversary!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Weeds

Tuesday: 25 minutes sitting
Wednesday: 25 minutes sitting

I’ve been in a weird, moody mood where I definitely don’t feel like working or socializing, but I do feel like weeding the lawn. Like all day, weather-permitting. I might just be crying out for fresh air and sunshine—or maybe it’s the sad, neglected lawn doing the crying. It’s infested with some insidious new kind of weed this summer that is really challenging my commitment not to use chemicals.

At any rate, my current status is: Wishing I did not have any other commitments so that I might spend a relaxing week or so filling cans with yard debris.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Posture

Saturday: 25 minutes sitting
Sunday: 25 minutes sitting
Monday: 25 minutes sitting

I dove into the index of my meditation book this morning to read everything it had on legs falling asleep, because that has suddenly become a major issue. The topic comes up a bunch of times, and it seems I have several options:
  1. Just meditate in a chair or lying down; it doesn’t matter
  2. Wait for the body to adapt; it will eventually get used to sitting for long periods
  3. Ignore any harmless sensation; it is practice for dealing with distraction
  4. If it’s too distracting, turn the focus to the sensation itself and meditate on that instead of the breath; I can then mindfully decide to change position if I want
I’m trying to get over the silly notion that sitting in a chair is not how the cool meditators do it. At any rate, #1 and #2 are mutually exclusive, so for now I’ll just try #2 and #3, resorting to #4 when I have to. Oh, and great idea* that just occurred to me: I’ll also raise my cushion a little higher off the ground for the time being.

I think I heard somewhere once that the whole original purpose of yoga was to make the body more comfortable in meditation. I really like that concept (which is why I’m not even Googling it to find out if it’s accurate), and I do enjoy some yoga before I meditate. It definitely makes sitting afterward feel that much more relaxing.

* As I was flipping around the book, I noticed that one of my earlier observations is addressed as well. I called it “The challenge of ideas”; he calls it “The Problem of Discursive Brilliance.” :)

Friday, September 6, 2019

Sitting and Twitting

Friday: 20 minutes sitting

I was planning to increase my meditation time by 5 minutes a week until I hit 45, but adding that precise amount of time precisely every seven days feels so arbitrary when I am clearly ready for more. (I swear I am not just trying to rush through Stage One!)

I know you’re probably very worried about how I’m going to find 45 minutes in my busy schedule, but I’m thinking I can take some of it from the approximately 15 minutes I waste on Twitter after every session before even getting up from my meditation cushion. Now you’re probably wondering what the hell is wrong with me, and I don’t know. I guess sometimes I don’t want to stand up yet because my lower legs are asleep, and sometimes I’m just succumbing to an addiction to my phone. It has a nifty meditation timer app that I like using, but I suppose I should at least start setting the thing down out of reach.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Gift from a neglected garden

Thursday: 20 minutes sitting

Sometime in, I assume, May, I planted some seeds in my little garden as if spring and summer of 2019 weren’t going to be a nightmarish haze. Fast-forward to September, and I’ve pulled some weeds now and then but honestly have no idea what else is supposed to be growing in there. There are several large, leafy things, but no vegetables that I can discern.

I honestly didn’t bother about it much, but then a few days ago, some part of my mind piped up with: Kale?

Yes, of course! A vegetable where the leaves are the finished product!

Brain almost immediately fortified with kale chips, I thought to have a look at my seed packets, and the other plants are supposed to be baby bok choy and Brussels sprouts—but if those are happening this year, they don’t seem to have happened yet.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Trips and traps

Wednesday: 20 minutes sitting

As I mentioned, the book I’m reading presents meditation as a journey that’s actually leading somewhere, versus just a thing to do for a few minutes a day to be better at life or whatever. Maybe that is not a surprise to you, but apparently everything I’ve read on the subject until recently has been rather Americanized.

Anyway, I’m on Stage One, where literally all I have to do is establish a regular meditation practice. I’m also working at the same time on Stage Two, where I aim to lengthen my periods of focus and shorten my periods of distraction. Doing both at once is fine (and book-approved), and I suspect—since I’m really taking my time to get Stage One right—that when I’ve mastered it I will have pretty much finished Stage Two as well.

All this stage stuff is tricky, though. You want to stay motivated and aware of where you are on your journey, but you also don’t want to get fixated on goals or achieving the next milestone. I feel like I could be vulnerable to that latter trap, so I haven’t even read the chapters about Stage Three and beyond.

Another trap, by the way, is categorizing any one meditation session as good or bad. That leaves very little to talk about in a blog post, but I will just say that today’s session was quite pleasant in general and that for the first time in a while no body parts fell asleep. :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The children

Monday: 20 minutes sitting
Tuesday: 20 minutes sitting

Dex graced us with a short visit on Monday morning, which was nice, because it’s been days now since we’ve had a child in this empty nest. His life is full of adventures that it’s probably good he never tells me about until after the fact: four-day backpacking trips with sketchy trail maps, full days spent rock climbing, a series of quests to soak in secret hot springs, that kind of thing. (Actually, literally those things.) I’ve always been glad we moved to Montana, but I think I’m gladdest about having brought Dex here. At least we will always know where to find him.

I wonder where Mik will ultimately end up, but I suspect it won’t be determined by something esoteric like the call of the mountains. I feel really good about where he is now, though, which, if you don’t know, is a teeny Midwestern college with challenging academics and a superior swim team. He’s just casually enrolled in Calculus II, hit the weight room, and gotten on with it.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The challenge of ideas

Saturday: 15 minutes sitting*
Sunday: 15 minutes sitting

Here’s an initial challenge to blogging about a meditation journey (as opposed to blogging about an Ironman training journey): While doing the meditation “training,” you don’t get to amuse yourself by writing your next post in your head. Writing in your head is an amazing distraction for, for example, swimming laps, but here the whole point is to not get distracted.

Actually, all sorts of ideas pop up while you’re sitting and breathing, but rather than entertain them, you’re supposed to pat them on the head, set them aside, and go back to focusing on your nostrils.

At this (early, early, early) stage, I have to say that ideas are a particularly tempting distraction for me. I really love to entertain them and have even been known to form elaborate plans and acronyms around them.

But all this is just a monkey running off with my elephant, so I’m patiently walking the path.**

_______________________________

* I am specifying “sitting” because at some point down the road I may break up longer sessions with a walking meditation or something else.

** The monkey is distracting thoughts, the elephant is my mind, and the monk at lower right is me.

 Image result for monkey elephant illustration meditation

Friday, August 30, 2019

Now this

I keep restarting and restopping my blog—for very good reasons, including that since The Election I haven’t been in A Place to share much of anything happening in my head, let alone the kinds of stuff I used to write about. The personal tragedies of 2019 then took that “There is so much suffering; enough about infused water” mood and made it super-real.

Buuut I really love the exercise of regular writing, and I think I now have something up my sleeve that’s not too fraught AND not too frivolous. It actually falls into the category of “Writing about doing something awesome,” which I’m a fan of.

So to back up, I have dabbled in meditation because it is supposed to be good for you (as you probably know, I have dabbled in everything that is supposed to be good for you). Recently I got the notion that I should get more serious and, on a recommendation, checked out The Mind Illuminated from the library. It’s really turned my whole idea of what meditation is on its head. I had been thinking of the practice as the mental equivalent of flossing—you do it for a few minutes a day, you’re a better person now, end of story. But the book describes meditation as a journey, something much more like Ironman training, to use the pertinent metaphor.

At this point I’m just trying to establish a daily habit, so for accountability I’m going to record the time spent the way I used to write out my workouts.

Thursday: 15 minutes sitting
Friday: 15 minutes sitting

Monday, January 28, 2019

The people's choice

I’ve been thinking about a new habit to focus on for February and got it narrowed down to two. I honestly couldn’t decide, so I asked my Twitter people. And behold! The six people have spoken:

I was afraid they’d say that. Now I just need to figure out the specifics of how to free my brain from the social media haze it’s slipped into. I’m not ruling out a monthlong “detox” where I never touch the stuff but am leaning instead toward trying to establish some sort of sustainable habit of not looking at social media until I’m done working for the day, for example, or setting a time limit on my phone.

I really don’t want to, which seems like a sign that I really should.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Time to think

I got caught up on work for the first time all year on January 22—not too bad, actually. I have the sense that in 2018 I was playing catch-up straight through until the week before Christmas, but that can’t be right, because I did take at least three trips where I wasn’t working. Anyway, it’s nice to have some time to breathe, and to think, and to write about what I’m thinking.

The “CEO” word-of-the-year that I wrote about before has continued to be a helpful idea when I need an immediate decision made, but of course a real CEO does a lot more than just make that kind of call. She also sets a course for the ship and decides on the big-picture plan of action. I think I already know where I want to steer this ship: toward having my health dialed in, participating in more creative stuff, doing more good/less harm in the world, and working toward a few other farther-off personal goals. And yet I want to make sure that I don’t get so ambitious that I get sick of it all and quit.

I know from experience that diet is the absolute foundation that makes all other plans a lot easier, so I’ve been taking January to completely get rid of all sugar and grains in my life and in fact go keto again. My diet right now is vegetables, meat, healthy fats, macadamia nuts, European cheese, tea, coffee, and 100 percent dark chocolate (in the coffee). After about four weeks of this—since I actually started almost immediately after Christmas—I feel really good! So of course now I have 50 ideas about other good habits that I want to add to my life, but I’m going to try to narrow that down to just one thing to be the big focus for February—the next-most important foundational thing, if I can figure out what that is.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A free idea

You hear a lot of talk about choosing a single word as a theme or abstract ambition for a new year, rather than making a resolution. Again, I’m trying NOT to overthink my life too much right now—which you will find pretty funny when I eventually tell you about all the things I did in the month of January—but I did get an idea for a word: CEO.

The idea is that I am the CEO/yoga instructor/life coach/boss of my own life, which is literally true in the sense that I run a one-person business and also in every other sense. But I learned when I was training for the Ironman that it’s sometimes helpful to consult this imaginary person who’s in charge of you—asking for example, “If I were my coach, what would I advise myself about this?” It turns out that the imaginary-boss you often is easier on you than the real you would be on yourself, if you’re still following me here, and usually has some sensible advice. She also does not buy whatever excuse you’re trying to sell.

I used this yesterday. It was late afternoon, which is always the witching hour for me, and I was mindlessly dinking around on the computer, feeling SO tired that I kind of wanted to lie down but with too much work on my plate to quit for the day. So I asked my inner life coach what to do. The answer came that I’d be perfectly fine once I got started (my work is only sitting and typing, after all), and that I just needed to decide exactly what to work on next, close all my browser tabs, step away from the computer for a moment to make myself a cup of (caffeinated) tea, and then come back and get right to work.

That got me going again. In fact, I got super-focused on what I was doing and forgot to even drink the tea.