From Type A to Type Ahh

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


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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.

 


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The Good-Bye I Never Saw Coming

Perfection and I have been besties since as far back as I can remember.  I always had a strong inclination toward being perfect.  I wanted to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect employee, the perfect wife.  Truth be told I only saw value in myself if everyone else thought I was perfect.  For a long time I thought that was what drove me to succeed.  I thought I am successful in my life, career, and marriage because I don’t settle for less.  Also I wasn’t happy, not really happy.  I mean that kind of peaceful contentment and acceptance.  Not a manic annoying bouncing off the ceiling happy!   That is crazy town.  I was willing to give up being happy, comfortable with who I am in pursuit of perfection.  Which if I am being honest, I never achieved, even when all outside signals may have indicated otherwise to people.

Over a year ago I started to meditate and do this blog.  I started to really let myself get uncomfortable, by questioning where I was and what I always believed.  I don’t really know why.  I can’t tell you this was the particular moment I decided to meditate and look at my life.  I guess like so many other things, I was just ready then.  I don’t think the me of even 2 years ago was ready.  When I started to meditate, I could really hear myself for the first time in the  silence. I could hear what I say to myself.  Learning to take a breath in the heat of conflict I learned to hear what I said to others. Truth was, I was not perfect.  I was not open to criticism, because it is hard to be criticized and perfect at the same time.  You should try it.  I could be so judgmental and sometimes mean.  I still struggle with the impulse to defend myself, to interrupt out of my discomfort.  It is an ongoing and imperfect struggle.  Out of which I might become a slightly better version of myself. perfectionquote

Perfection kept me from a lot of things.  It is hard to be vulnerable and fully present when part of your mind is always questioning if that is the perfect answer, or did I ask the perfect question?   What are those things any way?  Is what I declare to be perfect or what someone else points out as my “perfection” actually perfect or just someone’s iteration of perfection?  This has been a difficult realization and even more difficult letting go of it.  Frankly, without perfection I felt unsteady and unmoored for a while.

What happened in the uncertainty and fear was finding a more true version of me.  I am impatient, sometimes, unfriendly, distracted, judgmental, self-involved, loyal, passionate, hard-working, compassionate, generous, and imperfect.  I am now a little kinder, a little more forgiving, starting with myself.  Once you realize you are not perfect it becomes easier to accept the imperfection in others.  We all have things that influence who we are and what we think.  I am definitely not the arbiter of what is right and perfect.  I am just another imperfect person trying to be a little more me and live a little more in tune with what I believe and value, regardless of whether or not that appears perfect.


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Minimal Cats?

lena

Lena enjoying a box, I am sure from something we bought them

I have been wanting to do this blog topic for a while.  Mostly to help me process the inconsistency or find that maybe I am right where I need to be.  I do strive to be more of a minimalist. I want to have less material possessions and focus more on experiences and the people and beings in my life that matter.  I have pared down my wardrobe, my kitchen paraphernalia, my coats and jackets.  I try to be a more conscious consumer and still I struggle, but I keep trying.  That leads to my cats.  I would say my cats are where minimalism goes to die in my house.

First we have 5 cats.  Most people would not consider that minimal.  For us this is the smallest number of cats we have ever had.  The most was 7 cats that lived with us full-time and 1 foster mama and 4 kittens.  The truth is if I ever won the lottery I would spend it creating a no-kill haven for kitties no one wanted.  Difficult to win the lottery when you don’t play it.  That is another story.  Back to my feline minimalism quandary.  If you walked into my house you might first ask, “how many cats do you have?”  When my husband and I moved into our current home a couple of years ago the movers commented that the cats had more furniture than we did.  My husband just calmly stated, “there are more of them and don’t break any of their stuff. ”

My cats have stuff.  They have their own “bedroom”  really it is a place to call their own.  It houses their toys (when they have not carried them all over the house) the food bowls and the litter boxes that are upstairs.  It also has a floor to ceiling post and a loveseat my husband brought home from work just for them.  They have cat posts and cat jungle gyms in every significant room in the house, including our bedroom.  Pablo and I share the downstairs as a meditation space and his cat man cave.  He has a bean bag chair he took over from us, a litter box, window perch and cat tree.  I still get my meditation chairs a sofa and the second TV so I can watch Hulu while hubby watches sports.  The cats are fed a diet I make because they are obligate carnivores and they need meat and who is going to take more care with their diet me or a cat food conglomerate?

All that is to say the cats take space, they take money, they take time, they have stuff.  With all of that, maybe, to many I am not a true minimalist.  I had to ask myself that.  Here is where I landed.

I like the concept that minimalism helps you clear the things that don’t matter so you can focus on what does matter.  To me and my husband those cats matter.  We say what we are grateful for before dinner every night and there is rarely a night where we don’t mention one or all of the cats as something we are grateful for.  When I think about life without them, or minimizing them, I feel like I would be missing out. Not FOMO, I know for real what they bring into our lives.  I feel like I am comfortable with where I am with our cats.  I am grateful we have the means and shared will to help cats and give our cats, all of whom are rescues who were thrown away, a pretty spectacular life.  I don’t see us without cats and as long as we have cats those cats will have everything they need to have a fulfilling life indoors.  What is it that makes you question whether or not you have simplified enough?


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No One is Guaranteed A Tomorrow

heavenly

Pretty perky, huh?  You might have thought I would write about our recent vacation. Instead I am thinking of a dear friend we laid to rest today at 41.  He had some medical challenges and he went in for surgery on Wednesday, supposed to be routine and a start to his healing.  Something happened while he was in his room recovering and he died Wednesday night.  I had just talked with him.

Everyone who knew him takes comfort in his strong faith.  He truly had strong faith.  I am of the secular Buddhist persuasion and he was a southern Baptist.  We did not share a similar faith, but I could admire his faith and he never judged me for mine or lack thereof.  He was possibly one of the kindest and most compassionate people I knew and that was echoed in the outpouring of memorials on Facebook and throughout the Water Industry in Georgia.  Duane did not know that Wednesday would be his last day here, but the way he led his life, the impact he left behind; it feels right and complete.  I don’t mean at 41 anyone has or should be considered to have lived a long enough life. Duane lived a life full of the important things.  There is sorrow, and a sort of disbelief that none of us will benefit from his counsel or his laughter, but there is not a sense of regret. No one could say “Duane was going to give back, spend time with friends and family, after he retired.”  Duane was living in the here and now, fully present for those who knew and loved him.   It made me think what if that happened to me?  Am I living like Duane?

Do I spend too much time projecting into the future or analyzing the past.  When I could spend a few more minutes cuddling my husband and cats in bed; do I always have to bolt out to start the to do list?  Could I be more engaged when my mom tells me the same story for the 10th time?  Do I have to interrupt and say yes you told me that.  The truth is, sooner rather than later she won’t be here to tell it at all.  I could take that extra moment to be  kinder and more patient.  I could see that maybe someone is hurting and put aside the project at hand just to listen.  My pursuit to slow down, be more present, be more compassionate continues.  Life provides guides and opportunities.  Duane was at first a guide, a truly compassionate, non-judgmental  person.  Now he has given me an opportunity to recognize where I can grow and improve. No one is promised tomorrow so we better start today.  Rest in Peace, my friend.  You are gone but the lessons you left live on.


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Aligning with My Priorities

vegetarian_diet_pyramidThe year is coming to a close and I can hardly believe it!  It was 354 days ago I made a small decision, to start meditating.  I really started because an injury had sidelined me from running.  I needed to find a way to cope with stress.  Running had been my outlet.  I thought at the time, “I will do this for a few weeks until I get cleared to run.”

Funny things happen when you make plans.  I actually saw real benefits from meditation.  I decided to see if I could commit to meditating every day for a year.  I am now 11 days away from that goal.  I look back and can’t believe where this one simple decision led me over the last year.

All of these unintended consequences happened.  Let me be clear they did not happen over night.  In fact just this week we made another change I feel I would not have made if I had not started with that decision to meditate.  We decided to go back to a vegetarian diet.  We had been vegetarian several years ago.  Honestly, I have been struggling the last year, as I tried to decide what was a priority it seemed to conflict with eating meat.  Of course this only my personal conflict.  As an environmentalist, animal rights advocate, and someone who placed health as one of her 5 core values; eating meat no longer seemed to align with who I was and what I believed in anymore.

I made a decision to go back to a vegetarian diet.  I announced this to my husband and he surprised me by deciding he wanted to do that with me. We started this week and I have to say it has been great.  I told my husband today I feel better cooking our meals because I know they are healthier.  Preparing vegetarian dishes has renewed my cooking creativity and vegetarian cooking is faster and easier to clean up.  A side benefit is my cats are a lot less interested in helping me cook chickpeas than chicken.  Another benefit was being reminded how nice it is to have a husband who supports me and my growth.  Kind of a nice thing to remember this week, since Tuesday we celebrated 19 years of marriage and 25 years together.

 


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Giving Back and Getting More

volunteers Do you volunteer?  I mean with time, and your heart and energy behind a cause?  If not why not?  That is a question I had to answer.  I always saw myself as the kind of person who would volunteer.  I have causes, and activities I am passionate about. I care about my community and the greater good.

Truth was I had no problem volunteering for my profession.  I gave a lot to water related organizations in time and leadership.  Though I care passionately about my career field and water, it is not all I care about.  It was the only place I volunteered.  I had to take a hard look at that.

What I found was not that flattering.  It was easy to volunteer in my profession because work allowed it and the time investment I made, with small exceptions, was time I would have dedicated to my job.  The time I had trouble dedicating was my own.  I believed in these things and causes and certainly believed that people should give back in their community.  It just seemed whenever I really had an opportunity I thought more about what I would have to give up, my time, and my resources.

This idea did not align with what I have been working on, so head long into volunteering I had to jump.  I decided to pursue two things.  First was a joint venture with my husband.  This way volunteering was something we could do together.  Two years ago we started coaching a running club at his school.  The school is a low-income school, primarily hispanic population.  We coach a running club through Atlanta Track Club every Friday for twenty weeks a year.  It turned out to be fun.  We get to do something we enjoy, run.  We get to inspire that love of running in kids and we can be a support and role model for at risk kids.  Since this happens Friday after work and with my husband the dreaded time loss was minimized.  After that success I decided to do something I have wanted to do for years, volunteer in animal rescue.  Specifically, volunteer with cats.

This was not something I would do with my husband and not something I could do within work hours.  I was going have to give of my time, my heart, and my personal resources.  I started small by attending a training and volunteering for a couple of spaced out outreach events for Good Mews, a local cage-free, No Kill shelter.  As I began to volunteer I found that I did not really lose anything like I feared.  I gained so much more.  I now volunteer regularly as a team lead for programs like Reading to Cats and Yoga with Cats.  I recently became a Kitty Buddy committing 30 minutes a week to help a shy and under socialized cat get used to people so they are more adoptable.

I have really gotten more out of these volunteer experiences, than I give.  For the professional volunteering I have gained contacts, leadership experience, and knowledge.  From the running club I have a shared experience with my husband, exercise, and I get to participate with his school which helps me appreciate what he does more.  At Good Mews I am truly helping a cause close to my heart.  I have made new friends and talk about a stress reducer: lunch hour spent with 100 cats.  Maybe not for everybody but for me.  If you think you can’t volunteer, start slowly.  I have found that I feel more aligned with what I always said I believe is important.


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I am Back…Learning to Let Go

Balance Rocks

We all have ideals.  As you may remember my goal was to write one post once a week.  Well, I failed to achieve that goal.  September and the beginning of October was unbelievably busy at work and with personal obligations.  At first I thought, “I have to find a way to also get my posts done.”  At that moment my blog was no longer an opportunity to write, an activity I love.  It became a burden and a source of guilt.  “I am not getting this done, I am failing.”  This lasted until mid-September.

Then all of a sudden I thought, “why am I guilty? ” The blog was supposed to be for me. It was supposed a vehicle to explore one of my priorities writing.  Now it was full of pressure to perform, come up with original content, and meet arbitrary expectations (held by no one but me).  So I stopped feeling guilty.  I let go of that expectation.  Now I am still a struggling perfectionist, who loves nothing more than a fully checked off list of goals and objectives.  So do not think for a minute I just threw off all expectation and jumped into the ‘hippy dippy, go with the flow’ culture.  By let go, think of it more like fingers gripping and slowly slipping from a ledge.  At first it felt frightening.  “I see the rocks of mediocrity and defeat below.”  Then a strange thing happened I gave in to the free fall.  You know what?  Today I am writing a blog about it.  I am excited to do so.  I could not wait.

How did the metaphorical slipping into the canyon of failure below become a free fall before a soft well guided landing?  For me I asked myself some questions.  How much can I realistically accomplish during this crunch time?  What can I do well? I realized the answer was not everything.  After I stopped crying about that reality; I set about a rigorous evaluation of my big goals for the year and my life.  Right now and for a short period of time work demanded more of me.  It was going to cut into chunks of my free time.  So what other priorities do I have and which did I want to go forward.

  1. Meditation
  2. Healthy Exercise
  3. Healthy Eating
  4. Volunteering
  5. Reading
  6. Helping my family
  7. Writing

I was not going to fit all of those in and not all of them at the idealized level.  Meditation is the practice that allowed me to get through this time and made me more focused and productive so it stayed.  Also it helps that it and exercise are linked in my pre-dawn 4 AM rituals.  Those were easy to keep and as of today I have 327 consecutive days of mediation.  I also have my regular running and my morning Savasana  yoga practice. I was not successful yet at adding regular strength training and biking took a back seat.  Healthy eating was up and down.  On the days I was in the office or teaching I brought my lunch but I had to travel and work late; so I did not always get to cook at home.  Overall I did not abandon that completely.

Volunteering is very important to me.  I will be doing a post about that later.  Suffice to say I found a way to continue that: my work with the no-kill cat shelter, coaching a youth run club with my husband, and volunteering for my profession through the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.  I get far more out of volunteering than I give.  Helping my family.  That has remained a challenge but I did find time to work on a project to get my mother and aunt access to some discounted transportation and I checked in at least twice a week.

So reading and writing really suffered.  I realized that I was not going to have the time or provide very valuable content on the blog since I was so wrapped up in the other things going on in my life.  I just said, “you know what, you will write when things settle down.” As hard as it is for me.  I let myself off the hook. A hook of my own making that is.  Being much more tired at night I spent less time reading.  I still did read in the morning, on flights, and a little at night. I definitely did not get as much read as usual.  I did find a way to incorporate more “reading” through audio books.  It was a good way to learn and use my time in the car between work and other obligations.

So there it is the long involved process of letting go for a recovering perfectionist and Type A personality.  How do you let go?