From Type A to Type Ahh

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World – Ghandi


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Origins

new-beginningsI was listening to a podcast this week about origin stories.  I thought about how much had changed in my life over the last 20 months.  It is a lot.  Since I am nearly 50, I was trying to think what made me want to change some things about my life.  From appearances I would have seemed pretty successful and to have everything under control.  I was respected in my career, had a good marriage, home, fiends, etc.  I think most of the time I was on autopilot and in those moments I wasn’t, I was usually pretty reactive and frankly pretty raw.  I had a lot of the things we think about as being ideal.  The reality was I was often restless, snarky, judgmental, angry, and mean.  What I lacked was what I really wanted, more peace.  I wanted to feel internally what it looked like I had externally to most people.

Why all of a sudden?  Then listening to this podcast I thought what was my origin story? At first I thought,  nothing. Then my mind drifted back to 2013-15.  That was not a super time for me.  What is that saying, if everything can go wrong it will go wrong.  My husband and I were robbed twice the first time was a shock and then the second time about 3 months later.  After they had watched the house and made sure we replaced everything.  We were renting and our landlord decided the house was safe enough he was not going to make any changes. So we broke our lease, with his consent, and had to find a new place to live rapidly.  The situation was not ideal. It was our most stressful move.  The house we moved into needed work none of it was done.  I had to keep leaving work to get things finished.  I had a brand new boss. Also our previous landlord, the one who did nothing to prevent the repeated break-ins, decided he would not refund our deposit since we left after being robbed twice in 3-months.

I was taking care of my mother who was having eye surgery at the time.  Then in the spring I got a phone call.  We were not celebrating Easter. My brother was in the hospital.  By that evening we were all in the hospital when his surgeon told us they removed his colon but the cancer was everywhere and he very little time left.  He was gone in less than 2 weeks.  We had not been close, but he did live with my mother and handle some day to day duties, so now I needed to find someway to take care of her.  In the meantime my aunt fell and went in to rehab.  My sister ended up with some severe chronic health problems.

I was stressed, tired, overwhelmed, everyone was looking to me and I was trying to keep it together.  My husband was there every step of the way but I am afraid I took out most of my frustration on him.  I had running as an outlet and it helped.  I needed something else.  The what else was not immediately obvious. In fact I tried several things.  Then at the end of 2016 I injured my foot and they said no running.  I am not going to lie.  I was hanging on by a thread.  That is when I decided to try one thing.  Meditate everyday even if just for a minute.  If you read this blog you will know that it has helped me in so many ways to become a better, truer version of myself. By doing that I have been able to give more openly to those I care about and causes I value.  What kicked you into change?


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Rising Above

helping the sickConfession time.  I could never be Mother Theresa.  The fact is I am not very good with illness and I spend an irrational amount of time and energy making and following through on healthy habits.  Here comes the irony part, every single member of my family has died from or currently faces debilitating illnesses.  Now my best friend is facing a battle with cancer.  Though I have been working hard to be non-judgmental, easier with my friend.  Not as easy with my family.   It is hard to spend so much of your time immersed in the ramifications of a lifetime of bad decisions and not sometimes feel a little bitter and angry.

People often remark when I pack my healthy vegetarian, usually Vegan lunch everyday, forgo dessert at work celebrations, get out of bed every morning at 4 AM to run, cook dinner at home most nights, and regularly include chiropractic and gym visits into my life; “I could never do that.”  I would be giving up so much.”  I try to explain with all honesty nothing tastes as good as being healthy.  I will never look back and think I wish I had watched more TV, and wasted less time exercising or meditating.  In fact over the last 2 years the biggest difference in how I react to my family and what feels like unwelcome obligations brought on by someone else’s irresponsible choices  has been to prioritize my own health both physical mental.  My mother in particular has had a different life philosophy.  She has always subscribed to the idea that to truly help someone you have to give all of yourself, until it hurts, literally.  For a time I also tried that.  What I found was bitterness and resentment, exhaustion and poor health.

I wanted to serve with a happy heart.  I wanted to be as judgment free as I could be, given the circumstances  I know this may sound cliché and like “Sure, Right.  Maybe you can do that, but I live in the real world.”  I get it.  I was there.  In the nearly two years I have been adapting my lifestyle, I have found that well I have to draw from for service is far deeper when I take care of myself first.  If I continue to keep the commitments of mental and physical health I made to myself, I am a better caretaker.  They are not life altering. I want to eat healthy so I have that food on hand with me.  I want to run so I get up at 4 AM so I have time just for me when everyone who might need me is fast asleep.  As soon as I finish my run I meditate.  Most nights as I lay in bed, where I would previously silently stew in bitterness, judgment and resentment about why I am stuck doing all of this.  I now meditate.  I sleep better.  These simple promises and gifts I give myself make all the difference in how I approach caregiving.  It also frees up a lot of the chaos and anxiety in my life, so I have room to embrace the unexpected.  It is not a perfect system.  I certainly wish health on my friends and family.  Finding this gap for myself fills my well so I can give to others.


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Oh Yeah…That’s Progress

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I can often become obsessed with outcomes.  That is part of who I am, and also a trait of most perfectionists, even recovering ones.  How is this working? Have I arrived yet? Did I finish? Is this correct?  All of these thoughts can and have dominated my life for a long time.  The weirdest thing happened recently.  I realized that for the most part they don’t anymore.  Even weirder for a results oriented perfectionist, I also realized I was not consciously trying to get rid of them.  I was not really even focused on them.  Instead I was focused on adopting some positive actions.  The journey I started over a year and a half ago.

All of sudden this week I noticed that some things had actually shifted as a result of the actions I had tried to adopt.  It feels a little like compound interest of the soul.  All of these little investments and changes actually led to some real change.  I have been working on being more mindful and present and being kinder.  I had to spend a lot of time reminding myself stay present.  Or realizing three hours later that I am not even sure what I did for the last three hours; I was that much on autopilot.  Also because my nature is defensive sarcastic, I had to really consciously work to be kind.  Reminding myself be nice, be compassionate, listen.  Last week I was in several conversations, even difficult ones, and I noticed that instead of saying “be kind”, I was actually being kind.  I found myself fully engaged in moments with friends, family, my husband, and my cats.  Also I could notice when I wasn’t.

I am not sure when all of this started coming together.  Probably not a great tribute to mindfulness.   I am clueless as to when the whole thing started coming more naturally and bringing more awareness about when I am not achieving these goals.  I do think certain soul investments have been most valuable to me.

  1. Meditation everyday.  I don’t know when the promise to do it just once a day for  2 minutes  became twice a day and able to sit for 30 minutes or more.  I know the results have been revolutionary for this hyper-active, performance driven workaholic.
  2. Gratitude practice.  The sharing three things we are grateful for practice my husband I adopted before dinner is now a highlight of my day.  Not just because it makes me focus on something positive but I am learning more about what my husband finds joy in.  Also this lens, without even knowing it now changes many things in life for me.  I can view them and say “wow I am really lucky.”
  3. My Buddhist Communication Course and Insight timer Courses.  Having daily lessons and activities as well as tools to achieve better communication and deeper meditation have really helped me with clarity, honesty, and empathy.
  4. Volunteering.  This has really brought a lot of value to my life and helped me align my values and step out of myself.
  5. Going back to vegetarianism. It has helped my health I feel better than I have in years. Also it was true to my soul and values.  I believe all animals are sentient beings and eating them is just not consistent with that belief.

It was not a lightning bolt and I did not do all of these things at once.  I added them gradually as I was ready.  All of it has begun to add up. I feel, calmer, kinder, more aligned, less reactive, and more focused. Turns out incremental progress is okay after all.


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Change

change

I have been working on changes, that is kind of what this blog is all about.   I have recently been focused on a specific change, a big change at work.  It has also interestingly intersected with all the internal work I have been doing.  I guess all that stuff about the universe and presenting opportunities when you are ready may be a real thing after all.

I am currently a water resource manager.  I have been working in this space since 2004 and the exact job I have right now since 2009.  Because of it and some great mentors and some very fortuitous opportunities, I have gotten to do a lot and make a big impact, on the regional, state, and national level.  I have gotten to travel and keynote professional conferences and I have gotten to make a big impact on the environment and preserving water resources.  Truth be told, a couple of things have been nagging at me lately.  One I don’t find that much challenge in the work anymore.  I still find value, but I no longer have many of those new learning opportunities. I have shifted to a mentoring phase, which I also enjoy.

The other change is that as I get quiet and clear through my attempts at minimalism, meditation, and growth; I am realizing that my priorities have shifted a little.  I have gotten to do so much and I am grateful.  I am looking to make a little more impact locally, as in my own utility.  Also I no longer really enjoy the travel.  I want to work and come home to my husband and cats.  I want time to cook, meditate, read, and help my mother.  Where has all of this led?  As fate would have it about 6 weeks ago our Customer Service Manager just up and walked out. He had been struggling and he just could not take it anymore.  Our leadership immediately came to me to see if I was interested.  It would be a big change, but I have been the interim Manager 3 times between other managers.  Every time my bosses asked won’t you apply?  Each time I said no.  This time I really felt different.  I had always looked at the position that is full of managerial, policy, and relational challenges as both too daunting and too limiting.  After working on the things I have been working on about myself I feel more ready for this challenge. I have decided to apply for the job.  It is not a guarantee for me.

I feel ready if the opportunity arises.  I have also noticed how things line up to support you.  I have been taking some courses on Insight Timer and I am currently taking one by David Gandelman on Letting Go.  Leaving my current position and clinging to that has been one of the obstacles I had to overcome.  As I needed some support, here came this class, by one of my favorite teachers.  I have also been taking the How to Communicate like a Buddhist Class through Daily OM and this is also enhancing a skill set I will need.  It will be a time of transition, but I feel excited about the possibility of being on the learning side again.  Are you considering any changes?


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Education for a Better You

Education Policy Outlook small

Why is it is so easy and almost universally celebrated when someone seeks traditional education to improve in a skill or subject area needed to advance to a career goal, but almost shameful to say you are seeking education to be a better, more centered person?  I have been pursuing some education through non-traditional channels, not to be better at my job but better at life. I want to be kinder, more calmer, speak with more integrity and compassion.  I mentioned before that I use the Insight Timer Meditation App and I love it.  In one of the recent updates they added 10 day meditation classes through the app. They are only $4.99 and they are short and subject focused.  I completed one with Kate James and found it very helpful. I will undoubtedly do that again.  I also recently embarked on an eight week course “How to Communicate like a Buddhist” through Daily OM.   This course was only $25.00 and I am finding it very interesting.

Now that I have been working on being more aware and present and functioning less on autopilot, I am also more aware of how I act and feel in certain situations.  What I noticed is that I never hesitated to tell anyone I was in school pursuing my Grad certification in Environmental Management, but I was intimidated and hesitant to tell, even my husband, that I was taking these courses.  It made me wonder what the difference is.  I am not sure I really understand but I have thought that maybe, at least to me, this appears selfish.  Working on yourself would not really result in any kind of advancement or next step in the traditional sense.  I have come to believe that this kind of investment in being a better and more conscious person has a benefit to the people in my life.

It also may be that I live in the south, widely considered a Christian conservative community and coming out to say I am a Buddhist in pursuit of higher learning about the practice would be judged.  I never really thought I  was the kind of person who cared about that, but I now realize I am.  That has been the focus of this week’s course lesson.  I am understanding how I talk to myself.  In an effort to speak with more integrity something came up at a meeting and I said to a table full of people I can’t do that because I am a pacifist, vegetarian, Buddhist.  You know what?  No one said anything and since it was the truth I did not really care what they thought about it.  I hoped they would see I am the same person, just maybe a better version.  if they don’t I guess I can live with that too.


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Separation of Work and Home

 

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My husband is now off for the summer, one of the perks of being a teacher.   Over the summer he has to read a book about choosing one word to be his guiding principle over the next school year.  It is familiar to me since this has been my approach the last two years.  Choosing one thing and focusing on it and seeing what happens.  The first year my one thing was meditation.  Quite simply just do it, imperfectly, but consistently.  Sit everyday, even if just for a minute or two.  As discussed previously this has had so many reverberations in my life.

That small focus helped me clear clutter physical, mental, and emotional.  It helped me be clearer about my purpose and led me to renewing my commitments to volunteering and vegetarianism.  It helped me try to learn to say no.

This year my word has been presence and it has been more of a struggle than I thought it would be. I do believe I am making progress though it is painfully slow.  It is also revealing some things about myself that I am not thrilled with, but I am trying to accept.  I wonder how many of us really like control and really like feeling that your worth is a little tied up in your status and in being the “go to” person.  That was not a terribly attractive realization for me.  Also simultaneously I noticed that does not make me happy.

In an effort to be more present and battle my arch nemesis, the cellphone, I started doing something to help me separate work and home.  A friend and I were talking and she mentioned a mentor she had that told her something she did to be able to effectively separate from work, and to set a reasonable expectation for those she worked with.  At the end of her day she put her out of office response on her phone and email  It was simple.  It was clear.  I decided I would try that.  I wanted it to be kind of end of day ritual for me as well as providing those trying to reach me with the necessary info they needed.  The message is not long.  It has had an instant impact.  The message is simply says, “I am gone for the day I will return day at 7AM.”  All it does is set a reasonable expectation.  I have left work and all work behind until I return.  I do sometimes find myself checking email.  I also find I am doing this less because I have set the expectation. It is sort of an actual physical act of disconnecting from work.  In our always on society I think this can be very powerful.  I anticipate as I continue this habit I will check my phone less and less once I am home.  This will give me more time to be fully here with my husband, kitties, family, and friends.

 

 

 


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Change is Hard and Slow

peaceful-person

I wish I could say this was me everyday.  The reality is as I pursue this journey to a more genuine, calm, and centered version of myself it seems I take one step forward and one step back.  Like my experiment with my phone in January, which was a miserable failure.  I should be stronger than that.  I was recently listening to a podcast where they were talking about cell phones and addiction.  I could relate to some of it, but not all of it.   In small ways that made me a little more conscious about how I use my phone.  So I adjusted my more ambitious goals and I am just trying to ask myself a few questions before I pick it up.  This helps bring me more fully present.  What am I checking? Am I just bored? What do I physically feel if I just leave it?  Then I have been regularly plugging it in to charge  when I am home.  Now if I want to check it I have to walk into another room and pick up the phone.  That has a way of making you feel ridiculous.  I realized real change comes from all of these very small decisions that we consistently make and then build on, sometimes without noticing.  It also helped I was listening to the Minimalist podcast and they were talking about how if you look around and see everyone on their devices also notice that none of them seem happy.  I have been doing that, and they are right.

Meditation has been the anchor for me to making many of the small decisions and changes in my life.  I feel like it has made me more aware of what I really want.  When you get quiet, turns out you can listen alot better.  I will say for now, most of my improvement with meditation has been geared toward me.  I am definitely calmer and less reactive.  I am definitely quieter and actually much more content.  Where I still struggle is being fully present in my life especially with other people.  I have every intention of doing that and I find I fall into old habits and I will be in a conversation and suddenly I have drifted off.  I also really want to be more compassionate.  I have been working on it.  It is easier with people close to me.  I still struggle with judgement and sarcasm, which have been a part of my life for so long.  They are such a comfort zone for me.  I am trying to leave conversations that turn negative or gossipy.  Right now rising above often looks like taking off, but again baby steps.

There are other things that I have been working on that are going really well.  I would say health which is super important to me.  After 7 months as a vegetarian, I really feel like this is the right and easy choice for me.  I feel healthier and more aligned with my values of animal welfare and environmental protection.  Also as part of my work wellness rewards program I was able to get a Nutribullet Pro for free and now everyday I have one meal that is just juiced fruit, veggies and nuts or seeds and it has been great.  We rejoined a gym and I have committed to a minimum of 2 day a week strength training with the ideal of 3 days.  I can really tell a difference and it helps my running.  I am also very consistent about sleep, which has never really been a problem for me.  There are other things I could talk about but this is long enough.  I will deal with other stuff in another post.  If you are working toward a better version of you it may seem like you are not making progress.  It is a slow incremental process and I am sure you are further along than you think.