Happy 2015!

Good resolutions … are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account.

~Oscar Wilde

Since moving into a small apartment last year, we’ve no longer had a television set. I don’t really miss it, except when I’m sick. Then I wish I could turn on the tube and stare at it mindlessly while images play across its screen. I assume that not having a TV is the reason that I have neither heard much about New Year’s resolutions or thought about it.

In years past, I made lists. What inevitably occurred is that I lost interest or failed to maintain effort. Soon the list was a reminder of my failures. I cursed my lists and threw them out a few months later, hoping I could get bring myself back out of the self-hating funk for not achieving my goals during the year.

For my 2014 resolutions, I decided to go with a short list of a few items, broadly written, so that I could have some flexibility as to how I could achieve my goal. In 2014, I wanted to write a book and get healthy. I started off with a lot of writing and have had my struggles to maintain it. In August, I began working out at the gym and making sure I put in my time four days a week.

For 2015, I have already decided to continue to focus on those two areas in my life: health and writing. For writing, I will continue to write in my blog here twice a week, and get back into my daily writing and book writing.

For health, I will try and figure out if I have any food issues through trial and error in the first few months of the year. I am in a Facebook group called FOODS for Fibromyalgia. Earlier this year, I bought access to a 12-week program devoting to helping you identify your health issues and perform a series of food challenges. I forgot all about it until recently. I started yesterday by listening to the weekly call and began charting what I ate in my food journal. On Sunday, I will be removing all foods with yeast in them for two weeks, followed by a reintroduction. I will be doing the same thing with dairy, gluten, and sugar.

I am deeply praying that I can get some relief by identifying offending foods and removing them from my diet. Being in pain everywhere on your body is no fun, and I really want to feel better. I watch the pain-free people I know moving on with their lives, following their dreams, and adding to their lives. I’m tired of living in my own shadows. I want to soar. Wish me luck.

And good luck to you in 2015!

7 Steps to Awaken Your Lazy Mind

Your mind is lazy. Very. Lazy.

When things are predictable or set, your mind doesn’t have to expend as much energy in figuring out what to do. Mental habits allow your mind to take a break, like a night guard snoozing in a chair instead of being alert and scanning the cameras for intruders. After a while, you stop noticing all the pieces that go into your mental habit, and you are left reacting to events in a repetitive way.

If that works for you most of the time without significant distress, a mental habit can save you time and effort that you can expend elsewhere. If the opposite is true, then it might be time to investigate how your thought process was constructed so that you can break it down again.

I have been stuck thousands of times. The method below has worked for me, and I hope it will help you, too.

Step 1: Identify the thought

Pick one thought process or reaction that you want to change. If there are many thoughts jumbled together, do your best to identify the first one. If you’re not sure whether one thought precedes another, that’s OK. You might not be conscious of it right now, but it will show up as you dig deeper.

STEP 2: Relax and let go

Mental habits can be challenging to break when they stir emotions within us that we find overwhelming. Trying to push your mind to find out what is really going on can make matters worse and add to your stress. Don’t go there. Instead, we relax and let go so that we can put ourselves into an observing role instead of participating in the mental drama.

Make some time where you can be alone and listen to yourself. Some call it your intuition, gut, or your feelings. I find that they tend to “live” in my stomach. If I want to know how I’m feeling, I might also listen to feelings that in heart, throat, or head.

To get centered, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. If you need more time to relax, try to focus on your breath as it goes in and out, or in the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe. When I have great difficulty in getting a break from my obsessed mind, I find using one of two mantras help for me.

The first mantra I use is  Live in the body, not in the mind. As I slowly repeat this mantra, I focus on relaxing my belly and then any other place where I seem to be holding myself in. Don’t zip around your body. To be calm is to relax is to be slow and deliberate. I find that this mantra helps turn the freight train of thoughts in my brain and feel calmer.

The second mantra I use is Good thoughts, bad thoughts. They all fall down into the sea of thoughts. I can’t take credit for this mantra, however. I learned it from Maddy Klyne, one of the teachers at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center during one of their weekly Tuesday night beginners’ drop-in class. With this mantra, I try to let any other thoughts that pop up pass away, or I tell myself Thinking, thinking and then letting go of the thought.

By relaxing our inner mental chaos, we are more likely to be relaxed in our body and to see the thoughts and feelings that arise within.

step 3: observe Your Thought process

When you are ready, think of the habit or situation that you want to address. For me, it’s easiest to start thinking about the feeling that troubles me the most. I try to let my mind float with thoughts over what I felt and what happened, interchangeably. If you get stuck, you can ask yourself questions that may elicit information from your brain that may otherwise be hidden from you. Work your way backwards by asking yourself What caused this feeling? Work your way forward by asking And then what happened?  Hopefully, you will not only see what you’ve been thinking and feeling, but you’ll discover new information that was not in the forefront of your consciousness like some of the other details that you mind became obsessed with.

STEP 4: Write it all down

Open your eyes. Get out your favorite writing implement and paper, and write.

The act of writing slows your thought processes down because you have to deliberately write each word down. As a result, your mind sees the progression of your thoughts more clearly. Using computer software is not as useful because our minds and our fingers are quick, maybe too quick to really notice what’s going on in our minds.

Take your time. Write it in whatever way suits you. Make a list. Use index cards. You can write in a linear way with arrows between steps and feelings. If you do this, remember to leave a lot of space between steps so that you can add things in as you become aware of them. You might be surprised at how effective just this one method is.

step 5: Let it stew

You’ve chosen your thought. You relaxed and let go. You wrote it all down.

Next our minds need time to absorb new information. In some cases, seeing the thought pattern in its entirety is enough to help you understand why you do the things you’ve done, why you have felt the way you did, and to break the pattern.

Most likely, your mind needs time to absorb and integrate the new information.

Step 6: Make A new choice

When the old thought or situation comes up again (and come up again it will), you will recognize it when it occurs. Then, you can choose what you want to do in the moment. It will be all up to you in a way that did not exist before you took the time to investigate your mental habit.

Now that you’ve been able to break your mental habit, your lazy mind becomes your active mind. New actions mean a new course for your life ahead. Even if nothing changes outwardly, inwardly you will be born again.

step 7: Remember to be happy

You cannot have two thoughts or feelings at the same time. Sometimes it may feel like it. What really happens is that we cycle so quickly through a number of thoughts and feelings that it seems like they are occupying the same mental, physical, emotional, and psychological space.

When you are stricken with the same old negative emotion or thought, choose to focus instead on what it feels like to be happy. Happiness comes from within. So often we let ourselves feel that what the other did is what caused the feelings that arise in us. But that’s misleading. No one lives inside us but us. No one can feel what we feel but us. No one can make us feel but us.

Therefore, we can, at least briefly, turn our attention to something more positive. Stop and smell a rose. Remember how your first kiss felt. How wearing an outfit made you feel confident and strong.

If focusing on the positive isn’t your thing, then spend time on a hobby, help a child with homework, go volunteering, or exercise. The point is to let your mind be busy with something else, anything else, but the thought that gets you nowhere.

My Waking Up Pages

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she suggests writing every morning upon awakening. She calls them morning pages because they are to be done in the morning. I call them my Waking Up Pages because it will be waking up through my writing, which has meaning on more than one level.

In the Basic Tools chapter, Julia lists 10 Basic Principles that followers of the 12-week program are to read every morning. Item #6 reads:

The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

I made two copies of the Basic Principles list. I put one inside my daily writing journal and one inside Julia’s book. I wanted to ensure that I would read the list before doing whatever writing I was doing. Number 6 in the list has been particularly poignant for me because I have refused to be creative for my entire life.

One of my first memories is playing with Barbie dolls with my friend, Kendall. She loved dolls, dressing them up, and pretending that Barbie and Ken were going on dates. I remember begrudgingly playing with the dolls because that is what my best friend loved to do, and I wanted to play with my best friend. I remember admonishing myself about not having anything to add, that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that I did not what to make the dolls do, either.

In a recovery inspired manner, the twelve chapters of The Artist’s Way help the reader address various blocks. Week 1 is about Recovering a Sense of Safety, an important base from which creative work springs. My morning pages writings have centered much on recreating that sense of safety and exploring ways in which I have refused my creative drive. Even if you do not believe that creativity is core to the nature of human beings, my refusal to follow a creative path has been counter to my own nature.

This morning, I did not write upon rising. I had some food and got ready to go to an aqua fit class. I arrived in the locker room only to realize I had no towel to dry myself off. I wanted to pout and go to Starbucks for a consoling snack, but I left my wallet at home. I came home, answered emails, and felt a rising panic in my stomach. I was conscious that I was putting off my writing. But why?

My husband and I came to work at the Bellerose Starbucks, and I began to write my daily writing. Although I had interesting dreams to write about, I ignored them to go to aqua fit class. When I sat to write, I could no longer remember them. I vaguely remember exploring themes of companionship and self-care, but the interesting details were gone.

Why did I not write them and go to a later class? My unconscious mind was feeding me back the issues of creating my own safety net and truly taking care of myself. I refused to let myself learn. I refused to grow because an external, logical reason told me that I had something more important to do. Despite knowing there was an afternoon class, my decision to go to the morning class meant that my left brain refused to relinquish any control to satisfy the right. Half of my brain is the prison guard convinced anything not like itself is to be crushed to dust.

This has been the crux of my lifelong creative self-denial: Creativity cannot be defended as logical and practical enough to be respected. Why does my left brain contain such a self-effacing critic that seeks to deny and to destroy anything within my life that is not the same as itself, especially feelings, desires, and urges? As a recent observer, the realization is shocking.

I acknowledged today that I have not wanted to write upon waking because I am too fuzzy headed to think clearly. But maybe that is exactly what I need. I need to act before my rational brain is awake enough to interfere with the expression of my creativity. Using the I’m not awake enough excuse is similar to the I’m not feeling well excuse, the I don’t know what to write about excuse, the the cats won’t leave me alone to write excuse, and the I’m in pain today excuse. Because I have fibromylagia, I chronically experience pain despite taking pain meds.

I need to wake up through writing as my head gains clarity I open my eyes. I need to wake up to my discoveries of self, to my own ability to protect and nurture my self, and to wake up to my own life as it is and can be through creative endeavors.

I am waking up to my conscious and unconscious mind, to my creativity and spirituality, and to my excuses. By surrendering my refusal to create and my negative self-will, I wake up to my life as if sunshine were waking me up from a long, cloudy existence.

Why Just One?

The world is fixated on just one thing. Whatever that one thing is, you decide. But you can only do one. You have to own it, master it, face it, eat it, stomp it, put your own spin on it, refine it, learn more skills related to it. Stay focused. Never stop until you are at the top.

I have a problem with that. You could interpret that in two ways. They are both true. I have a problem with focusing on just one thing because I am not satisfied with just one thing. I have an intense level of curiosity and a drive to acquire skills via hands-on learning. What peaks my curiosity one day might not interest me at all three weeks later. I don’t want to focus on just one thing.

The other interpretation is that, since I love to start a bunch of new things all the time, I never take the time to develop and hone my craft, my art. What I do is supposed to make me money, make me rich, famous, elite, sought-after, and paid well. I am supposed to want to learn how to do things so I can earn money, feed myself, make it, make it big. No, make it Bigger. BIGGER.

The fact that I have posted daily on this blog since 1-5-2014 goes against a life-long struggle with commitment when it comes to work. I hate being pinned down, sitting at a desk, day after day, doing the same thing. On the flip side, I love coming home to the same house and the same person and the same pets. I could no sooner give up my family and home life to travel more than I could stop fantasizing about what I want to do next, or where I want to go next. The fact I am still blogging, that I haven’t given up against the internal struggles I fight again, and am still here trying to post is a freakin’ miracle.

Actually, I think the platform for my writing has a lot to do with my ability to write in it on a daily basis. I love the blogging interface. I feel like I am having a conversation with you inside my head. I have the time to craft what I want to say, and, hopefully, you will get the meaning that I am trying to convey in the way that I am trying to convey it. That is much harder than it sounds. The one area I am not following through on is on editing the story I chose for 2014. It’s on my short list of tasks, but I find the pull the to do’s to be almost irresistible. But that’s a topic for another post.

I like to make jewelry, which I will share as I make things. Lately, my interest has been in images in Gimp and/or the Zazzle interface on my Zazzle store. I am not sure how to make money from it, but I think it’s one area that I have found something I love to do. Hands on. Creative. Always new and fresh while using skills I have already  learned.

I used to think that life was about making yourself useful for others. Having followed that belief like a die-hard believer who made no room for her Self, I am in the process of reversing that. Since June 2012, I have been in a privileged position to do school half to full time  and then start a home-based freelance business. I have applied for a couple of jobs this week, both remote, one is temp and one is full-time. But at least I am now making decisions that also serve my needs.

Whether life is about being useful for others is, well, a topic for another post.

Forget the purple slippers

This morning I finished reading Andrew McCarthy’s 2012 book, The Longest Way Home. In the chapter on Kilimanjaro, his guide Zadock tells Andrew:

Old women are the best to guide. They listen, they go slow, and they nearly always make it to the top. I had an eight-two-year-old last year. She was great.

Now I know when I must go to Kilimanjaro: when I am an old woman. I already wear purple and clothes that don’t always go together. I already eat poorly and have my quirks about what I will spend on money. My husband and I have been together 23 years this summer. During that time, we have hoarded pencils, pencils, and erasers in a box. They will outlive us. If growing old means I spit without shame, then I am willing to keep some of that kind of propriety. And is it a good thing really to plan on growing fat?

I understand the poem’s message. Don’t wait until you are old to show your individuality. Don’t be so obsessed with appearances or what other people think. Cut yourself some slack instead of trying to be perfect. I get it. I really do.

However, when I get old, I will go to Kilimanjaro while I wear purple. I will don my hiking shoes and bring extra layers of clothing. I will follow the guide, and take deep breaths. Step by step, I will walk up dirt roads. I will sleep under stars posing in the open evening skies at base camps. I will look into a crater at the top, rejoice that I made it, and then head back down. When I finally get back home, I will know that I can make it no matter what mountain looms in front of me. I can see the mountain now, but I am not sure that I believe it exists.

Until I get there, I will conquer each Kilimanjaro I encounter. I will try to remember that it is the experience of the journey, the connection with others, and the growth in myself that matters. If I am wearing purple plaid or purple sweaters, I will move and grow and learn until my last too-brief day upon this blue pearl that I call home.