Chasing Rabbits

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

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

Happiness Project Experience, Living
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.

Day by Day

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

Someone asked me the other day about the Happiness Project. I talked about it for a few minutes, about why I paid to join a coaching system and what I hope to accomplish. Then there was a follow-up question: So how many “resolutions” do you have this year?

I don’t know. I’m taking it day by day and month by month.

In years past, I’ve launched all my initiatives at the same time. Do all the things, every day! Do them without missing a day! If you skip a day you’ve ruined everything! Friends, perfectionism ain’t no joke. She’s a terrible life coach.

In my divorce from the rules and regulations of religion, I’ve developed softer lines and fuzzier edges (not just from stress eating and Sunday morning mimosas). My inner voice is softer. I’m no longer thinking in all or nothing terms. I believe not in transformation but in evolution.

This year will bring changes, some of which I will plan, but many of which I will not.

These changes will not all happen at once, but they will happen.

I will hold space to welcome the unknown and the unexpected.

For January, I have four foundational habits I am forming:

  • Pause morning and evening – these are moments of planning, meditation, and evaluation. Sometimes I journal, but if I’m tired or in a hurry, simply a moment or two will recenter and redirect me on the path I intended for the day, or create space for a new intention. Yep, I’ll change a whole plan mid-day if unforeseen events require it, and call it a win when I adapt rather than resist.
  • Keep a bullet journal – I’ve planned and failed at this more often than I care to admit. But my pausing habit facilitates my bujo habit. I’m experiencing more success by pairing the habits and more happiness by tracking, recording and remembering things by keeping them all in one place. And it’s pretty yellow, which makes me smile each time I pick it up.
  • Plan Dinner – This habit pairs with my bujo. I don’t know about you, but when I know what’s for dinner on a daily basis, we eat better and shop better. Also, it cuts down on cranky late afternoon texts with my Hunky demanding a dinner plan. We are both more inclined to cook rather than eating cereal when we know what is prepped and available. Eventually I want to plan out a couple weeks or even a month at a time, but for now, I plan dinner down one side of my bujo page and the groceries required on the other. In a month or so, this will make grocery lists so much easier and that will also make me happier.
  • Move – I do have some physical goals this year that will involve more specific and intense habits, but those habits aren’t for this month which is already pretty full. Instead, I just need to get my ass out of bed, off the couch and away from the desk chair. I follow a 7-minute HIIT many mornings or a 4-minute kettlebell routine. I step out for a 4 o’clock walk, take the stairs, park farther away, walk if it’s under 5 minutes, whatever comes to mind to make motion part of my daily experience, I do it, and I don’t think too hard about it. Good enough is good enough, right now.

Day by day these four small things are making me happier and making my life flow more smoothly. Doing them regularly may take an extra 30 – 40 minutes, but generally save me well more than that amount each day. They are investments in myself, my family and my time. They make me happier which is what the Happiness Project is all about.

For the months to come, I have some general ideas and a rough sketch of what goals will fit where, but I’m taking it day by day and month by month. Change will come whether I want it or not, the question is, will I have the tools to shape those changes or will I simply let them roll me along with them? I’m choosing my tools this year, but prepared to enjoy the rolling along for a short time, if and when it comes.

What changes are you making this year? What tools are you using?

This is the Work

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

On Monday of this week, we held job interviews for a couple of positions we had open at my workplace. Truth be told, I really, really love being part of a team that gives people jobs. It’s amazing. However, the day of the interviews can be long and tiring. It’s an enormous amount of social energy for me (hello, introvert) and our interview process has several steps which require set-up and recording scores and printing rubrics and just lots of little details.

And all the while, the work of the library flows around me so my train of thought is often interrupted and side tracked, which isn’t an ideal mental situation for me.

I love helping people get a job, but the process can be exhausting. Isn’t it funny how so many worthwhile things are like that, and so we avoid them? Or maybe you don’t, but I do.

Anyway, we had a bit of a mid-day break between interviews where I grabbed lunch and dropped one of my people at their job and tried to spend a little time with the dogs who aren’t loving the 5 people at school and work most days schedule after Christmas break. When I returned to the building, I began setting up for the final interview of the day, and I thought to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today. And then my entire mental momentum came to a screeching stop.

All I had done all day was work, and work well, and work hard. I do a good job, sure I have loads still to learn but I am good at what I do. Still, I literally told myself: you haven’t done any work today because you haven’t really done anything visibly productive or which was in your wheelhouse routine. I considered this terrible message I was selling myself and I realized:

This is the work. Enjoy the process.

How often do we do this? How often are we involved in something which is large and complex with many moving pieces, which requires a great deal of energy and time and which carries some pretty serious weight but because the visible product is small or perhaps even non-existent, we think to ourselves, I have to get back to the work, the real work. We are selling ourselves a great big load of bullshit, and most of us are buying it most of the time.

I stayed home for almost twenty years to raise my ladies, and there were many days where I fell into bed exhausted and thought to myself, I didn’t get a single thing done today because I missed the point that this is the work – not the to-do list or the product, but being fully present for the most important thing at the time.

The work is not the product; the work is the process.

I’ve embarked on a pretty big project this year, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience. The point is not only to explore things which increase my happiness but to actively engage in those things and measure the result. I expect to have as many failures as successes. I expect to sometimes expend a great deal of effort with very little product other than my own personal satisfaction. I know there will be days when I think to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today.

And hopefully when that happens I will remember that crystalline moment standing at my desk with the whole library buzzing around me and remember:

This is the work. Be present for the process.
This is the work. Don’t miss it rushing to cross off the list.
This is the work.


Beyond Belief

Happiness Project Experience, Healing, Learning, Living

So here we are, at the dawn of a new year. I’ve thought quite a bit about this writing space during the waning days of 2018. I’ve considered its presence and its purpose, how I have used my voice and how I want to use it moving forward. I even considered how I felt about having shared my experience in so public a forum, knowing what people are saying about the things I write and the person they assume I have become.

Vulnerability isn’t easy at any time, but least of all when it questions the most basic tenets of foundational belief systems.

2019 is a brand new page to write upon. I have considered whether I want to keep sharing the story of my experience with fundamental theology, and why I understand now that unless it evolves into wider, more open space, it will continue to devolve into more rigid and abusive means of expression. Unfortunately, when the stakes are the eternal damnation of your soul, questions and doubts are singularly dangerous. Slippery slopes end only in lakes of fire.

I can do nothing to change the path I’ve already walked. I can’t retrieve the years I lost to narrow-minded concepts and “loving” with an agenda. But I do know I am in good company where regrets are concerned. We’ve all gathered a fair collection, and now it’s our decision how far we carry them, and what lessons we will take when we lay them down.

For me, I’m still working it all out: faith, wholeheartedness, emotional health, relationships, kindness, empathy, loving humanity. It’s hard work interspersed with tremendous beauty and glorious belly laughs. I want to end my days feeling I have lived them well, not that I have lost myself in the bitterness of what has passed.

And yet, there is an empty space which demands the voices of those who have been down the slippery slope and lived to tell the tale. Whether we call ourselves the Nones or the fringes, whether we are humanists or agnostics or atheists or simply none of the above, there is space for us to come together and share ourselves and our dream of a better world and kinder humanity, a space beyond belief. Whatever label you affix to its members, I believe that space is sacred, and it needs voices brave enough to stand up and say, “A shitty thing happened to me! I was changed by that thing, but I am not defined by that thing.”

I’m developing a set of personal commandments, which I am sure I will talk about more in the days to come. One of the fundamental understandings upon which I intend to live is this:

People will love me. People won’t love me. Carry on.

I won’t continue to dwell in the events leading up to and culminating our graduation from religion in 2018, but I also won’t ignore they happened, and they still happen to people who desperately need to know they aren’t alone.

It’s been over twenty years since I had cancer, yet every time I hold space for someone walking their own cancer journey, it hurts as much as it did the first day a surgeon said to me, “You have a cancer.” I have lived that moment a hundred thousand times in my mind, and will probably live it a hundred thousand more, but I can carry it and not be victim to it as long as I let it remind me how strong it made me, and the rare and strange gifts it left behind.

I can follow this same pattern with my experience of spiritual abuse. I can hold space and still live and grow and move away from the reality of it. The reality will fade, but the experience will remain, and others will need to hear it.

I intend for 2019 to be a year beyond belief, outside of the faith constructs which guided me at one time, but which eventually strangled and expelled me.

I also hope 2019 will be a year of growth, experience, and adventure. I invested in myself and joined the Happiness Project Experience (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a book I have read and reread and enjoyed every time). I believe there is space for this voice too, the voice of a woman rediscovering who she is in the middle years of life, a woman embarking on a journey after the kids are raised and after a year where everything, everything changed.

So much change happened unintentionally in 2018 that it excites me to imagine how much can change when I intentionally set out to expand my life, my heart, my understanding of the world, and my love for myself, for humanity and for the earth. The possibilities are endless. There is space for that adventure and all the stories and ponderings it brings.

Thus we ring in a whole new year in this space. People will love it. People won’t love it. And that’s exactly as it should be.