From Type A to Type Ahh

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


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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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Education for a Better You

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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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Mindful Cat Care: Kali’s Storyline

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This will be a different post and a little longer.  Most of this blog focuses on my current pursuit of a more meaningful and mindful life but more than 20 years ago I met the cat  that made me a more mindful pet owner and was my first foray into mindfulness, but I did not know it then.

Kali came to us as so many cats did back then, an owner brought her in to euthanize her at the vet I worked with at the time. They said she peed on the floor and they had hit her over and over and she stilled peed.  She was almost 3 at the time and absolutely terrified.  I said, “will you agree to turn her over to me instead of euthanasia?”  I received the usual response, “what do I care.”  I took Kali home and she proceeded to hide in the back of the closet for nearly three weeks.  We had her urine checked for a medical issue.  None was found.  After a few months at our house Kali never had an accident.  I came home and found Kali laying on the floor.  She was lethargic, barely responsive, the veins in her neck, visible through her fur, were black.  I rushed her to the clinic.

I knew when I heard the vet say, those can’t be her kidneys they are smaller than raisins that Kali’s life was hanging in the balance.  That proved true.  The vet came in explained Kali must have been born with congenital kidney failure.  Her numbers were higher than they had ever seen.  They advised I say good-bye and end her suffering.  I asked for a few minutes with Kali, a cat I had only known a few months, but felt a connection to instantly.  I sat quietly with Kali.  She was one of those cats who change your life.   She was a very clear communicator.  I sat with her and asked her if she was ready to go.  I asked her if she even wanted to try.  In that quiet I got a very clear answer.  “I want to live.  I looked in her eyes and promised right then.  “Okay.  I will try, if you will try.”  My vets stabilized Kali.  It took a week in hospital, two weeks at home on IV fluid diaeresis and two trips to the ER.  After a month Kali’s numbers were down to what would be considered within the range of CRF, Chronic Renal Failure.  IMG_5318

Here is where our real journey began.  My vet said they were surprised we got her values down, and I should enjoy her, but at most we would have 6 months.  I could tell Kali did not agree.  I was so tuned into her and I felt like she and I worked together.  I started researching and one of the things I researched and joined was the Holisticat CRF internet group.  There I learned about nutrition and the companion role of traditional medicine and holistic medicine.  I got Kali to Susan Wynn, DVM and we worked on nutrition and supplementation.  Nutrition is Kali’s lasting legacy in my feline household.  I learned about how cats digestive tract is designed for meat.  I learned about the pet food industry and what is in most pet food.  Working with Dr. Wynn we created a homemade diet.  Since we had 7 cats at the time all of our cats transitioned to this diet.

At first we started with a cooked diet and after they were weaned off of kibble we transitioned to raw.  For a long time we fed whole ground chicken with a few supplements and some rotating vegetables.  This is what we fed Kali for her whole life and the other cats for about 10 years.  Kali thrived on this diet and the Chinese herbs she was prescribed.  She went for regular bloodwork and blossomed into the funny mischievous calico she was always meant to be.  Kali did not leave us after 6 months.  She never had to go back on IV fluid therapy.IMG_5316

As I mentioned Kali was the clearest feline communicator I have ever known.  When Kali was 8, nearly 9, I noticed she was slowing down.  I again talked to Kali and this time I got a different feeling.  I made a different promise.  “No more this time.  When you are ready let me know, and I will let you go.”  About a month after that my husband and I woke up on a Saturday.  Kali was sitting on the dresser and my husband and I turned to each other at the same time tears in our eyes and said “Kali is ready.”  We spent that weekend letting Kali do everything she loved.  We put up the Christmas tree, event though it was July, because she loved laying under the lights.  We let her lick down an ice pop because she loved that and we helped her go out to the cat enclosure to enjoy the sun.  On Monday I held Kali and I hope I was a clear communicator when I told her how much I loved her and how much I learned from her.

Why tell Kali’s story?  So many people have asked me about why I feed what I feed?  Kali taught me that my cats’ health is my responsibility.  What I learned through research and then what I experienced in my own cats changed the way I viewed cat nutrition.  Yes we lost Kali at 8 but those other cats I told you about lived into their 20s and late teens.  Mo is the last of those 7 cats.  He has been raised on raw. He is now 18.  More than how long they live is how amazing their coats are, how much energy and vitality they have while they are with us.

It is work and I am not perfect.  About 10 years ago.  Work was crazy and I had left the animal field.  I thought now there are so many organic and grain-free foods.  Surely I can feed that.  So I did.  I mean these cats were on premium all natural, grain-free kibble.  All but Mo.  He never ate anything except homemade food and he refused to recognize anything else as food so I continued to cook for him, a smaller undertaking than cooking for 6.  The others became quickly addicted to kibble and the cats that joined us and were on kibble did not understand homemade food.  After about 5 years I had 6 obese cats, lazy,with no energy, greasy coats, bad teeth.

Again a funny demanding cat would lead me back.  My little Georgia was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.  She was only 5.

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“Really, after all that, Kibble?”

I had to prioritize and my cat’s health is my priority.  Fast forward 5 years I have 5 cats: 3 are 10, 1 is 9 and Mo is 18.  If you walked in my house you would never guess it is full of senior cats.  They now eat three small meals a day.  Georgia’s HCM is controlled on a 1/4th of what would be considered a normal dose and there is little to no real evidence of heart disease anymore.  She goes every 6 months for a check up.  Pablo, who topped the scales at 21 ponds is down to 16 pounds and my cats continue to be the picture of health.  I don’t know what pet food manufacturer will watch everything my cats eat and adjust their diet weekly based on preference and reaction.  Right now we have a diet that is partially lightly cooked and raw and we use a complete supplement Wysong Taste of the Wild.  We no longer feed bone.  It was too much for our cats and research has changed.   In closing I will give you the diet that works for me. Also some encouragement.  I have over the years gotten a lot of push back from vets.  Fortunately, my vet now supports me in my decision.  She readily admits she wishes she had received more independent research and education on nutrition in vet school.  She says she can’t argue with the health of my cats and my commitment to research.

My cats Diet prepared weekly for 5 cats

6 lbs boneless skinless chick thighs – lightly cooked

2 Turkey thighs with skin- lightly cooked

1/2 pound chick organ meat (Hearts, kidneys, liver, etc.) – Raw

1 package chicken breast strips – raw

Wysong Taste of the Wild added per instructions for weight

Two Gerber Pumpkin Baby Foods

24-36 oz. of water

The chicken and organ meat is ground with a Maverick meat grinder.  Everything is mixed together.  Packaged per day and frozen.

Yes it takes work and time.  I think of all the time I have freed up not running them back and forth to the vet and chasing them to medicate them.  Also there is nothing like sitting with your little carnivores listening to them eat a species appropriate diet and knowing their bodies don’t have to eliminate all the junk in  traditional cat food.  Also I can still clearly hear Kali.  Telling me she came to us for a reason.  All the cats we have had, with her and since her, have one tough, plucky, funny, loud calico to thank.  To this day I miss Kali, but her legacy lives on my cats clear eyes and healthy lives.  IMG_5319


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The Benefits of Lazy Days

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Sometimes I feel like I am on a never-ending treadmill to get it done, check it off.  In an effort to have more experiences and be more present, my homebody hubby and I have lost most of our quiet weekends.  It seems with volunteering, races, going out, seeing friends, plays, festivals, concerts, and sporting events; we have had later nights and busier weekends.  With all of that I have been pleased that we have spent our resources of time and money on those experiences over stuff.  That being said I am tired.

Maybe it seems wrong to those who are naturally extroverted and gain energy from being surrounded by people and stimuli a plenty!  Give me a Saturday at home with a cold rain falling, meaningless TV, some hot tea, PJs, and cats to cuddle and I feel recharged.  It is not that I have not done anything today.  We went grocery shopping, a necessity unless your idea of sustenance is Cheerios and 2% organic milk.  Also I cleaned the house and made my cat’s homemade cat food.  The difference was I did them in my own time and did not have to fit them in before jetting off to an activity.  I love doing these things with my husband and my friends.  In fact in November Hubby and I will be catching the Atlanta leg of the Minimalists’ Less is Now Tour and my best friend and I will be going to see my cat hero, Jackson Galaxy, and get a signed copy  of his new book.  I am really looking forward to those.

I think the key is balance.  Lately, I haven’t felt like I have had any lazy/do nothing time.  All rest was like breathing in the pause.  I found myself at the end of this crazy week looking forward to this weekend where we had nothing planned like it was Christmas.  I think maybe I have said yes to too many outside things and not yes to me enough. I can enjoy all of those things, but only if my introverted self gets a break.  Meditation provides some space for me to evaluate and I feel like that has helped me look at things more clearly and really be able to assess.  “How do I really feel?” It has been one of the surprising benefits of regular practice.

Clearing clutter and trying to live more simply and minimally has shortened the time and frustration I used to feel cleaning up.  I still think I can simplify more and this last month we definitely purchased more than we had the previous couple of months. A lot of it was necessary, or at least it seemed to be at the time.  I don’t know maybe after a lazy weekend I will be able to look at things with a clearer head.  Here’s to cold rainy Saturdays watching mindless TV in the clean house with a fridge full of human and kitty food.


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Reigniting Passion

Last weekend my husband and I went to the Decatur Book Festival.  There we met a Vietnamese author who wrote a graphic novel memoir of her life.  Hubby had always wanted to do that and meeting her reignited his passion and he has been excitedly working on ideas.  It is cool to see him energized about a personal passion project.

It made me think what did I used to love. Why do I think I don’t have time to do that, or I am not good enough.  It came back to writing.  I write this blog, true.  I used to love creative writing.  Poetry, short stories that sort of thing.  So I thought why can’t I do some of that.  I don’t have to be F. Scott Fitzgerald or Emily Dickinson.  I could just write for me and where better than on the blog I started so I could write just what I wanted, just for me.  So I decided to do exactly that.  Periodically I will use my blog to explore some creative writing.  Below is a poem inspired by my meditation practice, marriage, and mindfulness.

This Moment

This moment is everything and nothing.

The ties to the past have been sliced off.

The tangled ties to the future lay untouched and smooth at my feet.

I laugh at the beauty of you.

I Weep at the pain I see there.

Both there, all of you fully before me.

I am the most perfect I will ever be

I know less than I ever will

The innocence of not knowing this moment has passed

I will never see you exactly as you are right now

I will never be exactly the same

We will never be in this moment again

Let’s just both be who and where we are

 

 


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It is Not You it’s Me

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I am pretty far into my year of trying to meditate everyday and see what else happens.  Chief among my hopes, not goals:  trying to let go of my obsession with perfection, being more present, and letting go of my old “Type A” ways.  All of that has been surprisingly easier than I had anticipated, and I give a lot of the credit to the first decision.  The decision to meditate everyday has been a gateway for me to learn so much.

Recently I learned something that I have been told my whole life, and certainly my entire married life, by my husband, it really is all about how we react.  No one can make me feel anything.  That all happens in the big theatre behind my eyes.  I had always heard this and in my mind thought “whatever, but really what you said, what you did…that’s the reason I feel like this.”  You know what?  It turns out that it really is all me…not you.  I would have bet anything it was you.  Especially every you that does not like me, or who has a differing opinion, or who disagrees about some key issue.

It is kind of humbling and amazing to realize that all of those relationships can be changed if we change the way we handle something or the way we take something.  For example my boss and I had a rift a couple of years ago.  Don’t get me wrong he said some things to me that he will have to reconcile with himself.  He has made repeated tries to reconcile with me.  Until I started this year, I was unwilling and unwavering.  He had done me wrong and I would be mortally wounded for life.  It was not easy but somewhere, some time doing a Metta meditation and focusing on him; I began to realize all of that was more about him than me.  It was the way I was reacting and holding on to it that would not allow me or him to move past it.  I am not even sure when it happened.  Still working on that “fully present” thing, but one day I just let it go.  I just chose to react differently.  I chose to let go of the wounded victim, reminding him of his transgressions by my cold stare.  I just treated him like a person, full of potential and short comings just like this person. You know what?  It actually made me feel better.  I was not necessarily letting him off the hook.  I was letting myself out of a prison of my own making.

Yes, he said those things, yes, I reacted the way I did.  Only, I decided to remain in that moment for the next several years.  This is just one example.  I have also noticed that taking a minute to breathe and center myself before immediately reacting has made me calmer and enriched my relationships.  All of the avoided arguments and hurts that never happened could not weaken and wound my relationships.

It is still a struggle but I feel like I keep learning and keep growing, and after all isn’t that why they call it practice.


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Marriage Is Hard

 

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Dung and I nearly 19 years ago at our wedding

Recently I have noticed a Facebook phenomenon.  Many of my friends have curated the perfect online marriage and usually their “Oscar worthy” depiction is followed by a similar follow up post “Mr. My friend and I have decided to divorce.”  “Picture” perfect marriages rarely last.  After thinking about this I wondered why, and I am now fairly certain of the reason.  They don’t last because they don’t exist.  Prepare yourself to be comforting and downing wine with any friend who spends nearly your entire evening out waxing poetic about ‘the perfection she has found in this idyllic partnership with her/his soul mate’.

Caveat, I am married.  I am happily married.  There is a difference between being happily married and being immersed in some dimensional alternate universe where two people live day in and day out through the mundane, fabulous and hideous days right alongside their families’ dramas as well, and capture each in perfectly edited selfies on their much followed joint Instagram.  That is not reality.  That is a couple or part of a couple wishing for something while living something else.

I have done hard things in my life, but if pressed I would say nothing has been harder or more rewarding than being married.  This year I have been trying to be more present, to be a kinder gentler version of myself.  I strive for that older, wiser, and less intense version of myself and it is two-step forwards and one step back process.  I would say my marriage is my own personal laboratory.  Prior to today I thought my experiments were top-secret.  While hubby and I were having one of those “missed connection” conversation I let it slip that I was working on really trying to evaluate what I say and not just say it.  I was trying hard to ask myself will I add anything positive by providing my perspective, or is this important enough to him that my role is just support.  I am just there to say, “I’m sorry. That’s great. That sucks. Carry on.” whichever is appropriate.  I thought this news would blow him away.  Instead he looked me straight in the eye and said. “I know you are.  We have been living together for 25 years.  You don’t think I noticed?”  That brings up a separate issue about my failing to be fully present and aware but that’s another blog, or something to meditate on later.

Marriage is a lot of things: funny, happy, ironic, messy, exciting, peaceful, frustrating, comforting,  lonely, exhausting, invigorating, infuriating, inspiring, and boring.  That is just on a Tuesday.  Marriage is a lot of things, but if someone tells you theirs is perfect, run.