Tilting the framework: learning to embrace a change in perspective.

I’ve been following the same morning routine since January. Having a plan when I get up helps me focus and move into the day smoothly, before the coffee kicks in and really wakes my brain up. I know the majority of people have been working their entire adult life, but as usual, I am not most people. I’m still acclimating to not having the entire stretch of the morning, waking until lunch, to shape however I want.

But this morning I am shaking it up. I’ve used darkness and cold to put-off my reentry into running, but no more. I have such a love/hate relationship with running. For me, it’s hard work. I’m not long and lean. I embody a lot of body to put into and keep in motion. Hips are fine for walking and dancing, but they sure don’t lie when I run. Then there’s the 1/4 dead lung thing which I’ve had so long I don’t know how much it really affects my breathing, I just know I like to blame it when I’m struggling to both breathe and be conscious at the same time.

I’ve been looking forward to this morning almost as much as I’ve been dreading it. Routine is easy, but change alters your entire perspective and shakes you out of complacency. It turns your framework. Even when it’s difficult to breathe.

Last month I read a book which made me start thinking about Buddhism again. I’ve long been fascinated by the philosophy which seems more about flow and less about struggle. So I decided why not? Why not study an ancient philosophy which seems to bring peace by embracing suffering? I’m discovering the thought and lifestyle patterns I’ve been traveling for the last five years or more are already moving me down this path without being intentional about it. Why not continue the journey and see where it leads?

The me who leans into routine and familiarity says this is a ridiculous idea, but the me who knows what it feels like when running transforms into flying, when the breath flows and the legs are powerful and gravity eases its grip, that me knows that tilting my framework is worth both the effort and the upheaval. Routine may bring me pleasure but pushing myself into bursts of challenge and discomfort deepens my capacity for joy and adventure.

It’s important to me to have a plan and a focus every day, but it’s even more important to have those things written down in order to return to them after my life wanders down an alternate path or to cross them off the list and discard them altogether. I didn’t plan to be a runner, or to return to work full-time or to consider agnosticism or Buddhism philosophies to embody in the world. But here we are in the soft dark of a February morning, standing on the edge of my tilted framework, waiting for the coffee to kick in.

Chasing Rabbits

This morning when I took Mo for his morning walk, we saw our first bunny of spring. Now, I know some of you are just coming out of the polar vortex and reading words like “spring” seem thoughtless and taunting, and for those of you who feel that way, I have two words: Georgia Summer. We all have our own nightmares to deal with. Anyway, this morning in the not-quite-light of dawn, Mo flushed a bunny and lost his damn mind.

He bayed and barked. He lunged and grumbled. He chuffed and snorted. He would have given anything for me to release the leash at that moment so he could chase a little bunny, who by that time was so far gone she was barely a memory. So I just stood there and held his harness and reminded him of our purpose: Poop, Mo. We came out here for poop, not bunnies.

If you follow my Instagram, you saw some thoughts last night about toxic productivity. Not everyone is like me in this regard, but I have this weird one-up-manship with myself where if I have one productive day, it’s obvious that the next day, I could be even more productive. I mean, being productive feels good so it stands to reason that being more productive will feel MORE good (Dear Grammar police, “more good” is me using creative license. I know about good, better, best). And it does, for a while.

But eventually, I can’t do any more. I can’t be more efficient. I can’t pack it any tighter. Or even worse, a day will come where nothing goes as planned, as life does, and all those unchecked items on my list drive me right over the edge into despair.

It’s a sickness, I know.

Last week I felt ragged around the edges. I understood the danger signs of pushing too hard and expecting too much out of myself. I recognized that packed-too-tightly feeling like I might explode out of my own skin. Fortunately, I’ve crashed and burned enough times that began to mindfully retreat from the edge of insanity.

For February, I instituted a weekly play day every Sunday. I filled the first one with rest and relaxation and creativity and a long walk by a stream I didn’t know existed. At least twenty times I started to do something “productive” and made myself put it down and walk away. I was a lot like Mo and the bunny. I chuffed and huffed and strained at the leash, certain I could catch my elusive quarry, but finally allowing a quiet voice to redirect my focus to the relaxation at hand.

I’ve never been great at the concept of slow and steady. Most things come easily to me. Once I begin, I tend to move quickly and decisively through the process, regardless of whether a slower pace would be the wiser course. But the fact is time, energy, even possibilities are finite resources every day. I cannot do, live, experience or accomplish all the things which fill my mind. I must choose and accept that it is enough. I can’t keep chasing every rabbit I see, but will never catch.

This time I was able to stop myself before the crash and burn. Perhaps eventually, I’ll gain enough wisdom that I won’t even be singed around the edges when my leash pulls me up short. Mo, however, is never going to lose his desire to finally catch a delicious rabbit.

January Habits

Photo of my desk this very morning. My creative process isn't tidy and requires coffee.

Can we talk about the fact that it’s nearly February? It doesn’t seem possible that the first month of the year is almost behind us. Personally, I feel like I climbed a mountain of hard things right at the beginning and that I should be able to coast the rest of the way through the year. Alas, that’s probably not going to happen.

This January is different from many which have come before because it’s the 29th day, and I am still plugging away at the habits I started on day one. Before you walk away in disgust, I want you to know how easily I started/ I picked four things to track: Pause, Move, Journal, Routine.

January’s theme for the Happiness Project Experience is “Self-Knowledge” and my four habits anchor on what I know of myself. Making time to pause and reflect daily (in my case, this includes meditation, daily gratitude practice, and habit tracking) is an activity right in my wheelhouse. If anything, I can be in my head too much. This habit gives me permission and focus without letting my internal narrative have control of my mood and sabotage my intentions.

Move is the habit which challenges me this month. I often make my habits very ambitiously which inevitably brings a crash and burn. I do have a big ambitious goal of running ten miles by the end of 2019. But it’s January, and the only thing I had to do this month was to move. Most mornings I did a 7-minute HIIT routine or yoga. Somedays I did more – and occasionally a lot more. Every day, I moved because something is infinitely better than nothing. Next month I want to actually start some running if the lengthening days will cooperate. It’s difficult to run on rural roads in the dark.

Journal is the cog around which everything this month and probably in the months to come hinges. By journaling, I mean keeping my bullet journal. This month my bujo tracked my habits, planned dinner and mapped out my daily and weekly intentions. It’s also where I did my gratitude practice at the end of the day. Basically, spending five minutes in my journal, reviewing what happened and looking ahead to the next day meets a large portion of my pause habit. By making my habits entwined, I was much more likely to complete them all.

Routine is the scaffold which upheld my other habits. This month I focused on a morning routine. I built time into the morning routine for exercise (Move) and meditation (pause). I look ahead to dinner and tackle a daily chore or two (Journal). I didn’t set an intention for writing for this month, but I did make it part of my routine most mornings which led to considerably more than when I am just winging it. I consider this a bonus habit which I hope to build on in the months to come. February I will work on building a nighttime routine hopefully is just as rewarding.

There are other things I am tracking with my 19 for 2019, but I haven’t had time to sit and monitor that progress yet (pause) and may not until this weekend. Perhaps they will be part of a second month’s end blog post in case these things interest you.

I do want to share how very satisfying it is to look over my habit tracking for the month and see how well or how sporadically I engaged my intentions. My habits don’t move mountains but they have significantly impacted my happiness level this month which ripples out into every area of my life. I’m so pleased with the investment I made in myself with this project and am hopeful that each month will bring more growth and change instead of each month simply drifting into the next as has happened in years past.

For February, the focus will be on energy. I haven’t yet set all my intentions as I want to finish this month fully and well before I leap to the next one.

The Feminist in the Room

This weekend my husband spoke at a marriage retreat. I swear speaking ideas to a crowd is his lifeblood. Me? I’d rather do a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. else in the world, but he is so damn good at it. He’s known he was going to do this since some time last fall. I finally decided I was going about a week ago.

Before I decided, I set some stipulations: 1) I don’t have to decide until the last minute if I don’t want to. 2) I can change my mind at any time, even up to the point of pulling away 3) I don’t have to go to the sessions if I don’t want to.

I know it’s hard for people to understand why I would even consider going in the first place. It’s certainly hard for me to understand why I would put myself in harm’s way. I’m still very much working out my own spirituality, but sometimes, I miss experiencing it with people. I miss being excited about the potential of discovery that only happens in when ideas are shared. I don’t want what we used to have, but I don’t want to walk away from spirituality either.

It’s complicated.

Even though I had a big ball of anxiety in my stomach the first night, I was excited to hear Craig speak again. I am the reason he was pulled from the platform at our previous church. Apparently, if you can’t control your woman, you don’t get to do what you love, even if it’s to the detriment of the organization. In my head, I know this is some messed up bullshit, but in my feelings, I still wrestle with those emotional wounds.

Nervous or not, it was ok. I was doing ok until the question was asked, Can you imagine if there were feminists in the room listening to this right now? I know. I know it’s shocking except to me it isn’t. I am intimately acquainted with the ideology and language of church and believe me, Feminist might cause more raised eyebrows in a sanctuary than the actual F word ever will.

And there I was, the feminist in the room. The odd one out, again.

I started to go into a shame spiral just as I have for years when I realize I am the one who is wrong, broken, who doesn’t belong. And then I thought, NO! Nope. No. I don’t have to buy that steaming load anymore. Yes, this is hurtful, but it isn’t personal. Yes, it is generally exclusive, but it isn’t personally directed. And I don’t have to stay and be a target if I don’t want to.

So I didn’t.

And while I am desperately disappointed that I didn’t get to see my husband do what he does so very well, I took myself on a morning adventure. I meditated on the water. I watched all the water birds whose names I remember, and some I hadn’t met yet. I walked where Spanish moss trailed through my hair and stood with my eyes closed and face upturned to the sun. I breathed and laughed and petted random dogs and was fully my feminist, feminine self.

I didn’t go to another session the whole weekend, and I had a marvelous time. And I met delightful people who I don’t see eye to eye with theologically, and it’s ok because I don’t have to. I can know people and not agree with them. I can work with people without being a victim of conflicting worldviews. I can walk away if I no longer feel safe.

Maybe that all seems like practical common sense to you. It probably is to most people. But when you’ve been the subject of spiritual abuse and a controlling personality, you lose sight of these basic concepts. I experienced learned helplessness for so long it manifested as general anxiety and unpredictable panic attacks. I was not ok, and I could not escape.

This weekend I practiced a skill that I hadn’t felt free to practice before. I left a room where I felt unsafe without feeling shame about it. And I found ways to feel safe again without being less myself for it. If that’s the only spiritual stride I make in 2019, then I’ve already conquered ten thousand inner demons.

I’ll keep being the feminist in the room, thank you. I’ve had enough of pretending to be anything less than who I am.

A little help, please?

I wasn’t my best self last night. I came home from a very busy work day to burned rice and an overflowing sink and trashcan. I was tired and hungry and for some reason cold. all. damn. day. It was not a recipe for success.

After I frammed and slammed around the kitchen for a while, putting dishes away, washing dishes, putting dishes away -we don’t have a dishwasher and sometimes that makes me hate everything- taking out the trash, I made cornbread and fried apples to go along with my rewarmed chili and burned rice because I wasn’t about to allow being pissed off keep me from the ultimate comfort food meal. Anyway, after all that, I served up my dinner, left everything on the counter, texted my kids to coax them from their bedrooms, and took my dinner into my room.

And closed the door.

And turned on Netflix.

And channeled my own mother.

And texted swear words to my husband.

As you do.

My narrative was filled with should: Those are grown women. They should see what needs doing. They should do something about it. They should know I am going to come home dragging. They should should should should should.

Gross, right? I mean GROSS.

Do you know that when Craig and I first married, sometimes dishes would sit in the sink for an entire week until the apartment stank? It’s true. I’m not proud of it. We were two grown adults who couldn’t be bothered to even wash up after dinner. So I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t understand about mess apathy. I do. Back then, I was happy to leave that mess because I didn’t have a mom in the house to fram and slam around making me feel bad for not meeting up to expectations.

Should is a heavy burden to lay on someone, especially when those someones share our DNA or our bed. The fact is, as a grown, fully functioning adult, there are three words that could have diffused my temper tantrum fairly quickly. What are those words?

I need help.

I need help with the trash, with the house, with these tasks that never end because we just keep living here day after day. I need help living this life, as much as it pains me to say it sometimes.

We all need a little help.

And maybe we’re right. Maybe someone should notice or act or handle or whatever. But more often than not, our default setting is to handle our own priorities. We can be quite blind to things which don’t make that list. I am as guilty as anyone. Whether or not someone should do something, by our estimation, when they don’t, it’s our job to communicate what we need. Framming and slamming may be momentarily satisfying, but it still left me alone in the kitchen doing all the things I was pissed off about having to do. I didn’t prove anything except that I can slam the cabinet doors really hard and repeatedly, oh and isolating my family.

I could have asked for help.

And maybe then they would have frammed and flounced about, but maybe not. Maybe I would still have retreated to my bedroom for introvert dinner, but maybe not. Maybe I would still have texted swear words to my husband.

But at least I wouldn’t have should all over everyone in an unmet unexpressed expectations ambush like a martyr guerilla. Gross.

This whole being a decent human in a crazy world, having it all together, getting things done, not eating your offspring gig comes with an impossible list of things we should be doing. We absolutely can not do it alone.

We need a little help. We’ll probably have to ask for it.

It’s the very best way to receive what we need.

On Divorce and Graduation

Sometimes when Craig and I talk about leaving the church, we liken it to a divorce. They kept the reputation, most of our friends, the house, and carried on like nothing happened. We were completely upended, moved houses, avoided (still avoid) seeing certain folks in public, bought new-to-us cars, and figured out what to do with Sunday mornings. There was a decent alimony package for a while, at least.

Recently, I listened to a podcast which posited the idea of considering endings more as graduations than divorces. I like this idea a lot. There’s much less residual bitterness.

When we graduate, whether from high school or college, it’s very much an ending like the one we walked through in 2018. Graduates change residences and take new jobs wherein they learn an entirely new way of living and thinking. Many relationships fade away and new ones are built. Sometimes there are even celebratory mimosas.

But even though many of the details are the same for graduation and divorce, the emotional load feels entirely different. This is interesting to me. As I’ve turned the idea over in my mind, I wonder if the reason is because divorce is something which happens to a person while graduation is something we actively work to achieve. Does it really all boil down to who controls the narrative?

(I know it’s so much more complex than this, as most things are, but stick with me for ideas about owning our narrative anyway)

In the last two years that we were part of a congregation, almost nothing felt like it was in my control. Punishment and censure happened unpredictably. Emotional abuse and gaslighting left us questioning our experiences and our sanity. When critical decisions were made regarding my actions and motives, I wasn’t allowed to be present to defend or refute allegations or accusations, but I was expected to humbly accept judgment as it was meted out. The narrative felt entirely out of my control.

But graduations feel entirely different. Graduations are our stories to tell. The work we do, the goals we achieve, these are our choices to make. What we will study and how we will present what we’ve learned rests on us. Questions, examination and curiosity are welcome and encouraged. We decide the path of our practices and our lives. We control the narrative.

It’s easier for me to keep playing the victim. To say, ‘this happened to me, this was taken from me, these things are lost to me.’ Being the victim is very passive and excuses me from any responsibility for what happens next.

But that’s not the story I want to tell.

The truth is, I anticipated leaving church, even when I had little hope it would happen. I worked very hard to acquire my own expression of faith and personality. I earned my understanding of the Universe because I dared to ask hard questions and explore the answers. I knew these actions would be considered subversive and dangerous to those who seek to control the narrative, and I did them anyway. I knew the eventual cost (though I did not anticipate the cruelty of the method) when I started. I knew I was working towards a graduation.

Last year I spent a lot of time pulling free of the victim narrative. It isn’t easy to unwrite fundamental brainwashing and relearn self-compassion, but it’s the only way to reclaim my sanity and sense of self. The church divorced me, but it’s ok. I’m ok. I’ve graduated to a better understanding of myself and regained control of my life’s narrative. There are things and people and entire systems of belief I had to release along the way. It’s the way of life: we evolve and change and not everyone and everything evolves with us. It’s more painful to try and force conformity than it is to say goodbye and move on. This lesson is one I am still learning to embrace.

There are things and people I miss, but not as much as I enjoy anticipating what happens next. More growing, more changing, more graduations to come for as long as I have a story to tell.

How to start every day

I’m a fan of Seth Godin. He’s a little odd but enormously brilliant. He thinks big thoughts and consistently shares what he’s thinking. It’s not just about his day, but about culture, community, marketing, communication, and personal well-being.

He shares every day and has for a very long time.

One of my goals this month was to write something worth posting twice a week. So far, I’ve managed to hit the goal but I’ve struggled with creating space to do it. Uninterrupted time is at a premium in my life right now. There simply isn’t much of it. Last night I was alone in the house for twenty glorious minutes. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s difficult to find the time or creativity to produce “content worth publishing”

I’m also reading a book called Atomic Habits (so practical, no really, if you are interested in habit formation it’s filled with great tools and tips) which talks about skill formation. Apparently – perhaps you know this already and I’m the last person to really get it – it isn’t producing a perfect product/result time after time that really hones our skills, it’s simply consistently practicing. The more we practice and produce, the better we get at it. Garbage product can be as beneficial as perfect product while we are still in the practicing stage.

My inner perfectionist screams and wails at this idea; she’s quite upset that I didn’t throw it out as bullshit to begin with.

Running ten miles is another one of my goals this year. It seems a lot when I look at it as TEN MILES – the finished product. So far, I haven’t run at all. But what I have done is get up every morning and do something. Whether it’s a 4-minute kettlebell workout or a 7-minute HIIT or 10 minutes of yoga, or a 20-minute walk (usually only on weekends *shakes a fist at the dark*), I just have to do something. I know when it comes time to run, I will think of reasons to skip out. I know me. It isn’t the running that’s the problem, it’s the getting out the door. So instead, I’m working on the habit that every day I have to move in some way for at least five minutes. Once the habit of starting is deeply ingrained, the habit of running will slowly follow.

Now, I’m contemplating how to implement this concept for all areas of my life. Rather than focusing so hard on the end result, I’m considering: what could be the most important first step that I can do easily and repeatedly which will allow me to build on them later?

The other day I wrote about accidentally skipping meditation, so I adjusted my parameters. There are some longer guided meditations I want to do, but for now, 5 minutes before I even leave the bed is the plan. Every day. I have to leave the bed to start the day, but I can’t leave the bed until I meditate. If I can find the space and isolation for a longer sit later, I will. 5-minutes. Everyday. First thing. Easy. I can build on that.

So why not with writing? How does that translate? To begin with, I have some things to unlearn. Most of these messages are that “all successful writers do ______” or “in order to gain the attention you desire you must _________.” Basically, I’ve got to release a lot of bullshit and just get down to business. What’s the right way to write? Make words happen. Some words. Any words. Every day. Great words and garbage words and words I can build on.

I need to stop looking over my shoulder or wondering if what I’m writing/creating/forming/learning today is better than what I wrote/created/formed/learned yesterday. It may not be. But eventually the more we do anything, the result will trend towards improvement if we’re really putting our heart into it. Eventually, I will run ten miles; I will sit and focus for twenty minutes; I will read two hundred books. But I won’t start there.

I just have to start somewhere more often than I don’t start at all. I can do that. We can all do that.