Idling

There isn’t much going on around these parts these days. That is to say not much beyond my hectic life as a full-time working mom with two busy boys. So, of course, I’m busy. But I’m also idling with the familiar rumble of routine filling may day.

I’ve settled comfortably into the depths of January, a favourite month of mine because it holds so few obligations. The weekends are long, filled with only the menial tasks of groceries, laundry, and vacuuming. We’re getting out to enjoy the winter weather when we can, and I’m enchanted to watch my boys’ joy over the time-honoured Canadian tradition of backyard skating rinks.

I’m reading voraciously and recently lost myself completely in State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s weird, wonderful and full of life. I’ve just cracked the cover on Learning to Breathe: My year-long quest to bring calm to my life by Priscilla Warner. I’ll write about this one soon.

I’m busy, oh so busy at work. I arrive at my office at 6:30 a.m. each morning and feel as though I don’t come up for air again until I leave at 2:30. And this is just how I like it.

I’ve registered for a year-long professional certificate program that I expect will be invigorating and stimulating, but that will surely put added pressure on a schedule already bursting at the seems.

I’m organizing and planning for a winter weekend scrapbooking retreat that I’ll be hosting for some of my closest friends. I’m so eager to lose myself in the creativity and good company.

I’m enjoying a return to the kitchen and feeling a renewed sense of interest in good, healthy food prepared from scratch and with love for my family’s table.

I’ve committed to a Yin Yoga class one night a week. It’s all I can fit right now, but I’m so glad I’ve made it a priority. When things feel like they are slipping just a bit out of control, I can look forward to the moment when I’ll force my mind to stop and focus on resetting my energy.

At night, I’ve been addicted to Lie to Me on Netflix. It stars Tim Roth. Have you seen it? Gosh, he is hot isn’t he? My husband and I have been ploughing through the 48 episodes. I’ve loved every one.

In short, I’m busy. But that’s nothing new. More importantly, I’m content, settled and moving through each day with a sense a calm in spite of it all.

 

Calm

Today has been quiet, not in a literal way since I live in a home filled with boys, but in a figurative way. After months of being swept up in the cadence of a busy life, I’ve gently reminded myself of the importance of protecting quiet time, time that is free of obligation, when I can let myself wander from task to task without pressure or any particular plan, a day spent at home in the company of my family when we all do whatever we feel like doing. These are the days that make me most happy. These are days that help me maintain calm.

Instead of setting any resolutions for myself this year, I decided to choose one word to sum up who I want to be and how I want to live. I’ve never done this before, but I noticed that so many did last year, and after my post late in 2011 when I wrote about focussing on moments of quiet, taking long deep breaths and maintaining perspective, it seemed clear that this would be a good exercise for me—a mantra by which to frame my life over the coming months.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my word would have to be calm. In fact, it kind of just came to me. I’d discussed the feeling that I was losing control of my life again with my therapist and with my yoga instructor, and how I wanted to nip it in the bud before it became a problem. It’s the very thing I value most in my life, and the thing that often seems the most elusive.   I write often enough about how busy my life is, how easy it spins out of control, because as simply as I try to keep it, working full-time while raising a family is no easy feat. It’s busy. At times it feels like there is too much. I realized that if I wanted to live it, than I should just do it—make it a priority, make it my word.

So calm it is. A simple word. A good way to live.

The reality of living it fits so comfortably and perfectly that I wish I had thought of it sooner.  Over the last week I’ve reminded myself of it often. I’ve sat in meetings at work and reigned in my thoughts by saying it to silently to myself. I’ve returned to yoga to intentionally set aside time to let it grow. I take deep breaths when my children’s energy boils over and remind myself to keep my cool. I’ve turned off the radio when I drive just to allow myself space to think. Baby steps toward change, but steps forward nonetheless.

For many, many months I’ve been singly focused on looking inward, assessing, reorganizing, evaluating, and forgiving myself. And I’ve changed. It may not be outwardly obvious, but I feel it deep within myself. I am not the person I was two years ago. I am profoundly different. The way I think, the way I feel, my dreams and my hopes, they’ve re-calibrated. The shift, for me, has been as palpable as stepping from a pair of heals into a new pair of comfortable running shoes.

Several weeks ago I wrote about my struggle with the notion of getting out of my own way. Within the space of a few days two people whom I admire and trust had gently suggested it to me. The idea of it was weighed on me, and if I’m being honest, it still does. I think that is because it’s important that I figure it out, that it’s time to actually do it. I’ve realized that for me it means acknowledging the pesky voices in my head that hold me captive and undermine my confidence but trusting myself enough to set them aside  and move beyond them.

So I’ve realized that the next step is to begin to live this change, infuse all parts of my life with it, weave it into the fabric of who I am on the outside. This is the year I’ll begin to do that. And this word, this intention will provide the platform from which I’ll find the strength to do it.

 

 

Intoxicating

The most important revelations always happen when you aren’t expecting them. I think it’s when we let down our guard, or when we are looking the other way. We spend so much of our lives searching for meaning that we easily forget that many of the answers are right there inside us, just waiting to be found. I know this has often been the case for me, particularly as I’ve learned to focus on looking inward, to slow down and listen to my heart.

It happened just the other night. I was sitting cross legged, relaxed, but tuned-in, talking with a woman who has seen the very heart of me, a woman to whom I’ve opened my heart and my mind in the most courageous and vulnerable way when I had a breakthrough. It wasn’t something she led me too. We were exploring something completely different, and yet at the same time centrally related. I think it was because of that  the crack opened just a hairsbreath and made the awareness available to me, otherwise I probably would have missed it completely.

I stopped our conversation short, just like when you’re walking and the person ahead of you suddenly stops and you walk right into her. I could almost hear the thud in my brain, and then see the awareness of what had happened as I saw myself clearly for the first time ever.

In a moment I had a pivotal discovery about myself that, to date, had been hiding in plain sight. The obviousness of it once I turned myself to it and acknowledged it for what it was changed everything—my assumptions about myself and the demons that have haunted me.

Within the space of a moment I realized that all these long months of trying so hard to come up for air, I’d been fighting so hard to unlock the meaning of something that was nothing more than a misunderstood demon. And while the realization of it feels entirely happenstance, it offered an important key to my struggles that is vitally liberating.

And that’s what demons are right? They are unclean spirits that sit with us, haunting and tormenting, but never facing us head on where they can be dealt with, defined, eliminated. They stay hidden, but always there. They know that if you can name them you finally get the upper hand. You learn how to fight back. You understand. And with knowledge comes power.

That’s how I feel right now, that I’ve finally found something tangible and specific that I can extinguish. It’s a heady feeling, a welcome and hard fought for feeling. It’s the taste of success, but better than that it’s the taste of self-understanding and God it’s intoxicating.

The crux of it

Last night I asked Twitter if I should do the obvious and write a resolutions post. Those who responded overwhelmingly answered no, at least not unless I was going to do a different kind of resolutions post. And that was the problem, I couldn’t think of a different way to do it. But I was feeling that I should just write—write all of my hopes and my dreams for the coming year and organize my thoughts and priorities with the words that have always helped to keep me rooted and accountable, to me, to you, to the universe in general.

I am an incredibly organized person. I try to keep my life as clutter free as possible, I write lists, lots of lists; I plan and track my days with an eye to evaluating and reevaluating every action and reaction. My life fits in neat, categorized mental boxes and I have a knack for over-analyzing them. It’s how I think—tight, neat, programmed, in control. I like it that way, I do well that way.

But as much as this I believe is my greatest gift and has helped me achieve so much in my life, it has also been my greatest struggle. For more than a year now, I’ve been working hard on learning to let little bits of control go. It hasn’t been easy, it takes a lot of  personal reminders about what matters and what really doesn’t. It takes trust, and I’m not very good at that. This fall I fell deeply into old habits, habits that fed and bred on this compulsion, habits that ironically eventually start spiral out of control. I was tilted too far in one direction, and could feel that I was on the verge of losing my balance.

So I wrote about my need to do a little personal reset, to implement some checks and balances to help me get back on track. It was time to remind myself of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and what I need to do keep moving forward in a positive way. And I’ve been doing just that —thinking and considering. 

Yesterday I went for a coaching session with my yoga and meditation instructor. She asked me what I needed, what I wanted to focus on. I told her that my life was beginning to once again feel like a freight train, and that I needed to start 2012 in a calmer more confident way.

And so that’s the crux of it, the places I’ve been, and the place I want to go leads me over and over to a profound sense that all I need is calm. So for 2012 I won’t make any grand declarations or promises, I’ll just keep honouring the work that I’ve done, pulling myself back whenever I need to, practicing all this change, learning to make it habit and routine. I’ll focus on moments of quiet, deep long breaths and perspective. I’ll pull it together so that I can continue to work on defining my life instead of letting my life define me.

 

Reset

I’m having a hard time adjusting to the fact that  we are only a few short weeks away from the end of the year. And while this isn’t meant to be a resolution or a re-cap post, I have, in recent days, been drawn to thoughts of where I am and where I’m going. For many, many weeks I’ve been sustaining an incredibly busy professional schedule, actually it all started early in the summer and hasn’t slow down since. I’m engaged in a huge project that is stimulating and challenging. It has lit a fire inside that I haven’t felt in a very long time, and the warmth of it is welcome, if sometimes overwhelming.

Because I’ve been so highly immersed in my work, I’ve been less engaged here. The project I’m working on is very fulfilling, but it’s stealing all of my mental energy and focus, leaving little for anything but the day-to-day effort of keeping my family fed, entertained and clothed, not to mention planning and preparing for the holidays. Because of it, I’ve had far less time than I’ve grown used to for nurturing the changes I made in my life earlier this year. I rarely write, I never meditate, I’m struggling to protect chunks of obligation free time, and because of it the weeks are barrelling by far too quickly. I’ve been swept up in it so completely that I see problems looming if I don’t do something to reign it in and make space for myself to breathe and reconnect.

At night, when I lay in bed and finally have a moment to reflect, I find myself more often than not lately wondering how to go back to the place I was even just a year ago. A quieter place, a place that was focused on my heart and my loves. A place that was calm and collected. It’s amazing how quickly and easily it can all slip through the cracks of our hands if we don’t hold on tight. Staying mentally fit is work. No amount of medication can change that fact. When push comes to shove, staying well requires a commitment to change, but more than that it requires constant vigilance and checks and balances to reign you in when you need it.

The fact that I know that now is a huge leap forward and a testament to just how much I have changed. Where the old me would have ignored them and kept barrelling forward, now, not only do I recognize the signs long before they become a problem, but I have the skills I need to reset my focus and actually make the change is needed. Until recently I didn’t recognize how instinctual it had become, and how much more smoothly I can transition from mindset into another. This is a tremendously empowering awareness of oneself—one I’ve longed for a very long time.

The thing about this place, my writing place, is that coming here, to think, share and connect, has always kept me accountable. And some of the reason why I’ve lost focused is because I’m not actually focusing—in words. You see it’s the words that help me translate change in my life and make things happen. If I write it, then I think about it and when I think about it, I can plan and program, and ultimately keep on track. It’s my nature, if I declare it, I’ll do it.  So it stands to reason that because I’ve been writing so much less that I would revert to old habits, and lose some ground.

So I’m here, doing a little reset. Reminding myself of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and what I need to do keep moving forward in a positive way. Stop, breathe, make space for myself, meditate and above all write.

Learning to find our way back

We’ve been going some through growing pains with my oldest son recently. He’s 5 1/2 and discovering his individuality which is just a nice way of saying he’s testing his limits and our patience along with them. He’s bold, sassy and moody. There have been more battles of will in our house in the past few weeks than I care to admit. I’ll be honest, every once in a while I blow a gasket. It’s not always pretty, and usually ends in tears (his and mine).

In theory I consider myself to be a firm, but reasonable parent. In practice, my husband is far better at setting limits than I am. We don’t spoil our children, far from it. But much like he’s challenging us by reaching for new independence, so too am I testing my parenting limits and exploring my comfort with different kinds of discipline. I’m constantly wondering which behaviour needs to be a “teachable moment,” which is completely unacceptable and which are best left alone? It’s so hard to know. But it’s even harder to translate frustration into positive discipline. Sometimes I just lose my cool. I’ve told him I get as frustrated as him, and sometimes my emotions get the better of me. I’m not sure he understands that yet though.

So you can imagine my contentment when we declared a truce Saturday afternoon. While his younger brother napped, the two of us worked on decorating our Christmas tree. In previous years this has been a bit of a chore, with him eager to put every ornament on the same branch and in a rush to unwrap every ornament with little care for their fragility and me taking deep breaths trying to remember exactly what the joy is.

This year, he was thoroughly engaged. As he unwrapped each one, he joyfully commented that this was his favourite and then thoughtfully place each on the tree. We worked companionably, talking about each ornament, whom it was from and why it was beautiful. Every ornament on my tree has a story, whether purchased on a family adventure near or far, or given as a gift from someone special. I loved sharing all of it with him, hoping that it would inspire him to feel connected to our holiday traditions in the same way that I always have, and to know that the tree has been adorned with love and happiness.

It was just what we both needed, to restore the peace and faith that no matter what we’ll find our way. The two of us just trying to figure out this mother-son, individual-parent relationship as we go. There may be bumpy roads along the way, but we’ll always be able to find our way back to this, this place of love and happy companionship because ultimately that is what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

Get out of my own way

Twice this year I’ve been told by people I admire and respect that all I have to do is get out of my own way. The first time I thought: Why of course! That makes perfect sense. The second time I realized I have no idea what that actually means.

Get out of my own way.

How does one do that exactly? And is that meant as a constructive criticism? Because I’ll admit, on the face of it, it doesn’t exactly feel like it.

The truth is, for the last year I would argue that is exactly what I’ve been doing by acknowledging my triggers and learning to set and keep personal barriers. But now I’m not so sure. Because after all of it, the change that I’ve made my life and the calming of emotions, I continue to struggle every single day with one important fact: I still don’t trust myself.

So last night, when I heard this again, in a more intimate and significant way, I felt shaken and confused. I realized that the hard work I’ve done to pull myself out of the trenches of depression and anxiety has been important and valuable, but hasn’t yet fully addressed the root of my struggles—my sense of self-worth and my ability to love and honour myself.

I’m not very good at seeing the forest for the trees and tend to get wrapped up in the little things and then let them eat away at me.

Like my own thoughts, and the words and emotions that sit lodged in my head and that seek to negate all the progress that I’ve made.  

And so I realized that that is what is meant by this well-meaning advice: To get out of my own way is to acknowledge those thoughts and then trust myself enough to be able to move beyond them. What’s more, I know that it has less to do with my day-to-day happiness, but rather with day to day life management.

Seems simple enough stated here, crisp and bold in black and white. But in reality I think this will be the biggest hurdle of my life.

Some time

When we are lucky, we enter what the poet Marjorie Saiser calls “cruise control.” It is a state of grace, in which our egos have disappeared, the juices are flowing,and we are on with the writing. Musicians and athletes call it “going into the zone.” Often, this most effortless of writing ends up being our best work.   – Mary Pipher, Writing to Change the World

It has been forever since I’ve entered “cruise control,” or had any connection to my muse. It hasn’t come over me in ages. Though I search and wish for it everyday, I have a feeling it just needs some time away.

My limit

Did you hear that? It came from deep inside, a long, gut-emptying exhale, like the last few gusts of wind at the end of a blustery summer storm. That’s what I sound like tonight. I’m tired. I’ve had some kind of commitment every weekend since Labour Day. I’ve ignored my new set of rules, the ones where I minimize commitments, stay close to home and keep a low profile. The ones where I acknowledge my triggers and honour them.I’ve  allowed myself to be swept away like the fallen leaves, tossed and whipped about carelessly . This fall has been full, happy, but too much.

I’m tired again. Very tired. But not in a bad way tired, not the kind of tired that leaves my heart racing and overwhelmed, but the kind of tired that whispers gently but firmly, slow down or this will get out of control.

It’s time. It’s time to honour these shorter days with rest, quiet and solitude. I’m craving it. I’ve lost my centre, and I’m starting to feel it. It’s licking at old wounds, showing their dark and uncomfortable edges. There is a gentle tug inside myself and it’s keeping me from finding my balance.

Even though I knew this season of social obligations would be long, anticipated that I would reach the end and feel spent, I’ve allowed myself to just live it without consideration or worry for how I’d feel when it was over.  I’ve enjoyed the time spent nurturing new friendships and a budding neighbourhood community of families, I’ve thrown myself into my own family and all the fall activities we enjoy and, I’ve focused intensely on several important and exciting projects at work.

I’ve been busy. Too busy. I’ve lost my footing, slipped just a bit.

And now I’m tired. But I recognize it now, where only a year ago I couldn’t, when before I would push and push and leave myself unable to cope. Tonight I’m exhaling. I’m exhaling because I’ve reached my limit. My healthy limit. And I know, if I push it anymore, it will no longer be healthy.

So I’m sinking into the shorter days, anticipating the comforting embrace of longer nights spent cuddling on the couch and curled up in flannel sheets with a good book. I want to reconnect with myself, my writing, with all of you. I need to do this, to pull myself back together.

To find my centre again.

I wrote this as part of Heather at The Extraordinary-Ordinary’s Just Write exercise. Head on over if you want to learn and read more.

 

On my mind

I really enjoy reading blogs. There is so much wisdom and vitality to be discovered in the thoughts and stories of others, and I feel so privileged to call a handful of bloggers trusted and kindred spirits. The woman I am today, the journey that has unfolded since I first got serious about my blog more than two years ago, has been moulded and massaged by the experiences I’ve read about and shared in this online world. I’ve cried and laughed because of your honesty. I share your stories with my husband and speak of so many of you as if you were here, in real life, instead of hundreds of miles away. I’ve been humbled by your willingness to share and inspired by the perseverance and love that exists in this online world. Often I’m reminded that without our blogs we may never have found one another and created a community of womanhood and friendship.

This place, my own slice of this interconnected matrix, has evolved and matured on its own, so much so that, in many ways, it has developed a life of its own. It has been my quiet place when I needed it, a shelter and a sounding board. Until recently I was never at a loss for reasons to come here. The words they flowed and ignited and I just allowed myself to be enfolded into their embrace. It was comfortable. It always felt right, and good.

These days, days like today when I am surrounded by quiet and opportunity, when I feel the urge to sit and write— it doesn’t come. I find it very disquieting. The words no longer tumble and fall. The urgency to share fades, even though the desire still festers.

I feel like I’ve said so much, and now I’m just on repeat. And the repeat is good for me, but I’m not so sure it’s so good for this place or for you. Because let’s face it, a blog is for the readers otherwise I’d write in a notebook.

What’s unusual is that I’m not panicked about it. Yes it’s uncomfortable and vaguely worrisome, because I’ve been so incredibly connected to my blog and to those of others, but I feel like this is just a pause.

Or maybe not. I don’t know.

I’ve been mustering enough to write a post a week. Every once in a while I feel a fire in my belly, a need to spill something out. And then I do. But that flame flickers far less frequently. I remind myself often that this was only ever about having an outlet and that because of that I should use only when needed. That it’s okay to release myself from my own expectations, to let this nonsense go.

But I can’t because it matters to me. I want to write. I want to practice. I want to explore my thoughts and describe them with words. I was to share and be vulnerable and make a difference. And this is the place I believe I am meant to be doing it.

So how to charge it up again? How to feed the fire and keep it going. Must I reinvent myself? Or is what I’ve been doing here the right thing? Is this what I should be doing? That, my friends, is what’s on my mind.

I wrote this as part of Heather at The Extraordinary-Ordinary’s Just Write exercise. Head on over if you want to learn and read more.