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Friday, November 1, 2013

A Month Gone By



I can hardly believe how October has rolled right by. Tonight starts my second weekend of yoga training, so of course I'm spending my afternoon doing all my homework, completely last minute. Here's where practicing ahimsa is a challenge. I started out the month with great intentions, to finish my homework a little at a time and to really spend quality time studying. While I did do some reading and writing, I largely didn't meet my goal. And that's okay. A little bit is better than none at all (and even none at all is okay). So I'm trying to be kind to myself while holding space for improvement next month.

What's really held me up this month has been job stress. It's been a major period of adjustment for me at work, and the business itself is going through a lot of transition, which all adds up to no solid daily routine for me yet. Starting next week, I expect to be on a much more stable schedule, and I've made some decisions about my daily life to help me feel less rushed and to take back some power over my days. Mon-Thurs, I start work at 1pm. I'd love to have a great, productive morning every day, but it's become obvious that waking up at 8am is not going to happen on a regular basis right now. Instead, I'm resolving to save all of my errands for Fridays, when I generally have the day off. Mornings before work will be reserved for yoga, reading, writing, and preparing food. By taking the pressure off myself to Get Everything Done (because I have so much free time! Not.), I can go to work feeling relaxed and ready for the day, rather than like I've already squandered time. In other words, I'm resolving to be kinder to myself at least four days out of every week.

The other (and frankly, a bit larger) challenge to my month of kindness has been my boss. When she gets stressed out, or makes decisions I don't agree with, my thoughts are very much less than kind. I vent with a couple of my coworkers, or complain to my partner when I get home, and I think a certain level of release is okay. That frustration can't stay inside me. But still, as calm as I stay on the outside (because I will not feed into stress, panic, or negativity), I need to bring that calmness and kindness inside. Judging my boss' decisions get me nowhere, even if I'm right. She's another human being, and as such, I can practice being kind (and truly, I need practice) in my thoughts as well as my actions.

Here's to practice making better.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ahimsa

True to my self-avowal, on Tuesday night I made a decision about which yama to focus on and journal about for the next month (well, two weeks).

Ahimsa

The decision came about after work, when I met my man to see a local band. The band was awesome. They sounded even better than the last time we had heard them play. As we finished our drinks, the next band came on stage, and I was ready to politely listen until I finished my rum and ginger ale. Wouldn't you know, the man loved this band. This band of three people- vocalist, bass player, keyboardist- and a drum machine. This vocalist of extreme energy, vocal stylings ranging from a smooth baritone to rough yelling, and interpretive dancing. As I looked at my partner radiating in enjoyment, I thought "He would like these weirdos."

Aha. I could probably use some gentleness in my life. Not that I was using "weirdo" to be derogatory- I really think embracing the weirdness is a good thing, if not always my thing. But that thought was not far from my usual judgmental thoughts. I started with a nice long journal entry today, in hopes of getting down all the various ways I think this exercise will be helpful and challenging to me, and I'll share my thoughts along the way. Every time I think "this will be the hardest part," I come up with a new "hardest part" that will challenge me. Oh, lifelong learning.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unbridled

One of my pieces of homework for the month is to pick a yama to focus on, then journal about it. The assignment is proving more difficult than I first imagined.

To explain, the yamas are one of the eight branches of Yogic philosophy. Translated as "restraints" or "bridles," the yamas are five principles that guide us to live in harmony with others. They include gentleness (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), abundance/non-stealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya), and simplicity/non-attachment (aparigraha). As with other life principles, they each have layers of meaning. For example, asteya, or non-stealing, doesn't just mean don't shoplift. It also means don't rob others of their experiences or their words. To an impatient spotlight-lover like myself, it's hard not to finish other people's sentences.

The difficulty I'm having is in picking just one to work on. I mean, the month is half over and I've not started journaling about any of these yet. I'm not indecisive, it's just that in the past two weeks, ALL of these have seemed hard to me. Every day seems to bring a new challenge with my latest job transition, meaning that I've often not had the energy to even be nice to others, much less to focus on being particularly harmonious. Incredibly obvious here is that when the yamas are hardest to practice is probably when you need them the most. And indeed, I'm pretty sure that journaling, meditating, or even just focusing on one of these principles on a daily basis would help me get out of my own head and fuel myself with some positive interaction.

I can at least narrow it down to three, and hopefully make a decision from there. My top contenders are:

  • gentleness (which would include having only kind thoughts toward myself when I don't get my homework done, toward other drivers when they don't use turn signals, and toward the bagger at the grocery store who can't keep cold stuff all together)
  • non-stealing (which would include not robbing my partner of his down time, and not being envious of people who have houses and dogs and their shit together in general)
  • simplicity and non-attachment (which would include valuing memories over souvenirs or heirlooms, and remembering that an extra object, no matter its function, will not make me happier. The story of how I struggled with our exercise in aparigraha during the first weekend is yet to come)
By the end of the day, I'll have my first entry written. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Diversity

As my classmates and I settled into the studio on Friday evening, one of the first things I took note of was the diversity in the room- or lack thereof. Immediately noticeable were the wide range of ages and body types gathered together. Also immediately noticeable? All women (or appearing to be so, at least). While I'm on-board with girl-time and hanging with a bunch of smart, cool, women once a month, I'm still a little sad that there were no stereotype-bashing men signed up for class. Yoga has this rap that it's just for white chicks, but you know who yoga is good for? Bodies. All bodies, any body, every body. Other genders have bodies, too.

I did remind myself, as I made a mental survey of the faces ranged before me, that diversity isn't always visible. Every single person in the room brings their own set of experiences to the group, adding richness to our discussions. Making assumptions about people's lives (present or past) damages everyone, and subtracts richness as group members feel marginalized.

Later in the year, we'll be taking field trips as a class to three different religious sites: a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and a Catholic shrine. Our instructor gave us this information and reiterated that yoga is not a religion, and the intention is not to convert anybody from their chosen faith, but to enrich their faith and allow us to feel the energy (that illusive "it") in each of these spiritual places. I'm really excited for these trips. I have very little knowledge or or contact with Hinduism or Buddhism, and I will be intensely curious about their traditions and rituals. The Catholic shrine is a site I've been meaning to visit for the past two years- set on a hill visible from the interstate, this shrine is all glass and exposed wooden beams. Beyond gorgeous, even from afar.

Gandhi has said that "all religions are true," which I firmly believe as well. Practicing yoga or learning about other religious traditions is not about conversion, but about further understanding. A fellow student shared some insight from a recorded talk Gandhi gave in NYC, where he explained that the religion you choose is right for you. Being accepting of other religions doesn't mean we should all be practicing the exact same one. It means there's room for different expressions of similar understandings. That's definitely something I want to keep exploring in my writing. I have a hard time putting to words the breadth of Truth I believe in. As soon as words come into play, humans put their own meanings to them. If I use the word God or Universe or Mother Nature, a reader can come up with three different pictures, the same picture for each, different pictures with the same meaning. . . and on and on. No wonder each human being is on his or her own journey of understanding- our means of communication are too flawed to carry such expression.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nine Month Goal

This past weekend, I began what seems to be a nine month process, but will likely be a lifelong journey of learning and growing. I started the process to become certified as a yoga instructor. Before the weekend even started, I was excited for where this certification process could take me personally and professionally, but I also had the feeling that I had thus far only understood the very surface of a deep river. Now that the weekend is over, my professional excitement remains, and my personal excitement has doubled.

I've had the blog on hiatus for a while, unsure what I really wanted to share, what thoughts I had that were important enough for a platform on the world wide web. That internal debate on content will continue, I'm sure, especially considering my recent job transition, which yielded a lifestyle transition, and has thrown me back into the self-reflection cycle. With this new endeavor, however, I think working through my thoughts in writing will help me express myself better as a teacher, understand the yogic philosophy better, and if it helps another person in their exploration of yoga- or of life in general- then huzzah for them.

The writers I admire always espouse writing for yourself first, and the audience will come. Well, this born spotlight-grabber has a hard time with that. I think by focusing on writing about my yoga training for the next few months will also train me to write for my own sake first, and for the sake of my life off-line, and let the online chatter happen or not as it will.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Virtue

I am not a patient person.

This isn't news, even for this fledgling blog. But I'm once again at the point where I have exciting, great things ahead of me. . . and WORK to do before they get here. UGH. If I decide I'm ready for the next life event, whatever it might be, why can't it just ARRIVE already? I would like change to happen immediately, not after three or four months of more miserable work. 

I'm currently on the precipice of a long, hard summer so that I can reach a few goals in the fall (financial, career, and travel). I don't even what to share my goals broadly yet (remember about keeping the good things close?) because I can feel the tiny seed of chickening out in my brain. What if I don't take a second job? Do I really want all that stuff later? Isn't that reserved for cooler, hipper, different people? Ones who live in sunny places, bigger cities? Do you really want to be working hard at two jobs again? For months? Cleaning up after other people, having someone else set your schedule, working long after you'd rather be asleep? 

. . .sigh. Hard work, here I come. Practicing my visualizations for when work sucks. And.. . 

Go. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Joy to the World

The hardest things for me to share, even with my nearest and dearest, are the good things. I admit it doesn't make much sense that joyful, hopeful, exciting things would be hard to say out loud- wouldn't sharing them ALSO share and increase the joy, the hope, the excitement?

Well, sometimes. It depends on whom you share it with. My deepest joys have always been secret joys, held close to my heart. It's why I don't like talking too much about Harry Potter or about my favorite music. It's why I never liked watching my favorite TV shows with my family, and why I liked to hole up in my bedroom, condemning all intrusion, to read.

This is the life of a bookworm-turned-social butterfly. I take immense joy in having people around me, and am fueled by connection with others. In grand social events, though, I'm sharing only a piece of myself: Party Sarah, Funny Sarah, In-charge Sarah, Helpful Sarah. In intimate social events, all attendees (most likely) have been vetted by years of friendship. But sharing things that bring me true joy? That involves incredible vulnerability; that joy comprises my deepest sense of self. So when others respond flippantly, casually, or, heaven forbid, mockingly, it's not my public persona or one facet of my personality they are tossing aside, but the most authentic concept I have of me.

In fact, sharing this on the internet is a bit easier than sharing with my loved ones in person. Because their opinions matter so much to me, and because I tend to make assumptions about how they'll respond, I tend to keep the truly good, exciting things to myself rather than have someone respond "wrong."

I'm not ready to declare this system of thinking as "bad;" after all, I do believe it's important to keep boundaries around the important things when you know that someone else will rain on your parade. But I do think it's something to reflect on, in terms of developing more and better ways to savor my joy in life and share the joy (either particularly, or just a general cheerfulness) with the world at large.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Neighborly

This weekend was absolutely lovely. The weather was gorgeous, which made it so much easier to actually live the weekend, instead of while it away, dreading the return of Monday.

Of course, one incident, involving the neighbor kids, was not so lovely. A "slip-in" apartment building sits immediately next-door to our humble house-turned-fourplex, and the children who live there often play in and around our yard. While I always keep an eye and an ear open for anything suspicious, and I really am not fond of loud, joyous child-laughter, I recognize these kids have limited playing options near home (I'm assuming they're not allowed to head to the parks that are about three blocks away), so I don't mind them playing in our yard.

Except in instances like last evening. One of the kids started throwing bricks from the neat stack at the back of our yard onto the gravel driveway. I came outside and asked him to put them back, which he did, nicely. One of his playmates, however, apparently took great offense to my request. This little girl, who looked to be about 8 or 9 at most, started giving me more attitude than I would tolerate from any adult. She took it upon herself to hurl insults, throw a couple more bricks, and then start cussing me out when I repeated my requests that they play nicely and not mess up our things when they're in our yard. Given her un-checked swearing and obvious disregard for anything I had to say, it didn't take long for me to go find her dad and ask that he step in.

As this little girl ranted and raved at me, and told me in very inappropriate, misguided language how awful I was and all the ways I was wrong, I saw very clearly that she thought she was sticking up for herself. She interpreted my calm "You can't behave that way here" as a deep personal attack, and struck back the only way she knew how. She thought that by being (exceedingly) rude and (marginally) violent, she was really being clever and assertive and strong. So while I'm confident I handled the situation properly, I'm also concerned. I'm concerned that she won't figure out the difference between rude and assertive until the rudeness is so ingrained, changing her behavior becomes incredibly difficult. I'm concerned that she will continue to misinterpret calm, assertive people as personally offensive or as threatening authority figures, rather than as models of behavior, or simply as upholders of peaceful, respectful social boundaries. I'm concerned that in a rash of childish vindictiveness, she might cause more damage on or to our property. (Though I have my landlord's cameras to thank in case recourse proves necessary.)

So, as my brain is wont to do, I spent some time last night and some time this morning, lying in bed imagining what I would do in a myriad of scenarios. Hopefully none of them are necessary. Fortunately, aside from this post- meant to be a reminder to readers to both practice and teach the difference between rudeness and self-assertion- I'm mostly remembering a weekend of sunshine, bike rides, and gelato in good measure.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Extended Metaphor

Though born under Pisces, I definitely never felt like I embodied the characteristics of the fish. I was born a week early, so I take that as confirmation that I'm really supposed to be an Aries kind of girl. Be that as it may, my life feels like I'm under water right now. (Perhaps I'd fare better if I were a fish.)

At the beginning of this year, I was ready to jump off into the deep end of opportunity and change- to GO for it, whatever life had to offer. I was done with thinking about it, so I dove in.

At first, it was exhilarating, the thrill of wind against my face as I plummeted toward the water, the shock of breaking through the surface, slicing through this new medium, getting deeper than I thought possible. The scariness only adds to the tingling thrill of life as you feel everything all at once.

But, then. Then you're just in the water. And the options are so much more varied than sink or swim. There's the confident, though newly learned, stroke. When confidence fades, or muscles tire, there's faltering, swallowing mouthfuls of water as you gasp for air. The thrashing struggle to regain control. There's the brief wonderment when submerged, seeing light move more slowly, the noise of the world go mute, before rising again to the surface. And then there's resigning to simply float for a while, not paddling towards your destination- perhaps you remain where you are, perhaps you drift further away- until a wave crashes and it's back to thrashing, swimming, or being submerged once again.

That's what I feel. Constant internal struggle. Changes in state from week to week or even day to day. Sometimes I'm pulling through the water with strength and ease. Sometimes I fighting and failing and gulping tons of water in the process. And sometimes, I think "Is floating along really so bad?" Until I remember what I'm swimming towards, and the process starts all over again.

Thanks for bearing with me on my extended metaphor excursion. What I need are the skills- tips and tricks I can find aplenty, what I need now are solid, practiced skills- to keep the vision in mind. If I can avoid floating, and find some way to return to my slow front crawl after thrashing through the water, I think I'll be leagues ahead (get it? leagues?).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shift

It's a quiet day at the office today, with both my coworkers in D.C. for this three-day weekend (No KXL!). but I'm enjoying it. My panoramic view of the city is blurred by some snow and rain, and I'm happy to be tucked away from the elements. In fact, I really hope the phone doesn't ring, nobody emails me, and nobody stops by. (One person has stopped by and three phone calls so far. Not bad, though.) I'd prefer to devote today to my own work at my own pace. I have lots of catching up to do, and I definitely need a calm space in which to do it. While normally I thrive on hubbub and goings-on, ratcheting up external energy also excites and agitate the gremlins in my head.

The calm and quiet should be a nice foil to the frustration I've harbored of late in making big changes in my life. I just do NOT have the patience or energy for mental clutter anymore. Anything that doesn't contribute to a more positive life, to the goals I've set for myself can just GET OUT. I'm fed up with my old fear and my old habits that are holding me back from the greatness I see ahead in this year. I can almost feel my toes grip the cusp of a new, exciting direction- no longer bogged down by jobs, I can seek a career. No longer bogged down by adolescent behaviors, I can own adulthood confidently. But ridding my life of those old mental processes is more daunting than sweeping clutter into a box for Goodwill. I want to tattoo this quote from Meg Keene at A Practical Wedding onto my forearm:

 I’m writing this post because I think that so frequently, when we try to change, we re-create the very worst elements of our past. We leave the bad boyfriend, but we repeat all of his crappy commentary of us in our heads. We change jobs, but we take the bad habits with us. We move, but we don’t let go of the stuff that just was not working. We change, but we don’t let ourselves really change. Because real change is hard. Real change is forcing a paradigm shift on ourselves, rooting around deep inside to dig out the parts we really don’t like and get them out of there. Real change is believing. And the weird part is that it’s not just believing in what we’re capable of doing; it’s believing in what we’ve already done and in what skills we have in us right now.

So here goes the paradigm shift. As much as I want a Big Event or Big Moment to set it all off, that's not really how change works (so it seems). It's small steps every day, and tough choices that shouldn't be so epic (watch another episode on Netflix? order out for dinner?), and dusting off the mistakes from yesterday. I'll let today be a calm, quiet day filled with small victories. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mighty

Guys, I'm going to Palm Springs, CA this year for Camp Mighty and I am SUPER JAZZED. For those of you who don't wish to click on the link to learn more, Camp Mighty is a retreat/conference that oozes positivity for all the right reasons: to declare one's goals out loud (or at least in writing) and then take action to make them come about within a community of people who want you to succeed. Goals range from charity work to career ambitions to travel dreams to sartorial experiences.

Anyway, attending Camp Mighty would pretty much be the culmination of the past ~9 months of immersing myself in the positive blog atmosphere I've come to love. After discovering A Practical Wedding, which led me to Go Mighty and other fantastic feminist and entrepreneurial blogs, strangers on the internet seem a lot more like friends, and have helped me through a rough year of change. These bloggers and the communities they've gathered about themselves have distilled so much wisdom for me about adulthood and womanhood. I'm finally realizing- and internalizing- that the time is now for all the things I want to do "when I grow up."

I was told last night that I'm remarkable- and I suppose by nature of that person remarking it, it must be so. It's hard to see the remarkability of my behaviors or thoughts or actions when I've not yet netted any of my major life goals. But I'm constantly in pursuit of them, constantly struggling and trying and striving for better and better. Usually, this is only remarkable in the amount of frustration I feel on a regular basis. I know better things are out there, though, and I want them NOW. I don't have the patience to wait for the universe to get around to aligning stars for me, and I don't have the time or space in my life for anything that's not serving my higher purpose.

Camp Mighty, though nine months away, kicks up my drive into high gear. I need to work out more- not because I'll be wearing a swimsuit in the unlikely month of October, but because taking care of my health is a priority I want to display proudly, not make trite excuses about. It's time to get my career in gear so I can confidently and clearly introduce myself and give some context about my life. And my writing will need cultivation as well. If other attendees will be looking me up before or after the weekend retreat, I want them to see a portfolio that shows strength and growth.

I'll be the first to admit that maintaining momentum is difficult for me, as my life involves a roller coaster of moods and emotions. But going to Camp Mighty is something I think I can consistently work toward. And the work starts now.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reminder

I am a good person. I am still a good person, even when I am remiss in important communication. I am still a good person, even when I suck at my job. I am still a good person, even when I forget my phone at the office when I go to lunch. I am still a good person, even when I screw up a lot. I am still a good person, when when I fail at fulfilling my responsibilities. I am still a good person, even when I have a bad week, or month, or year. I am still a good person.

I am a good person because of how I define myself. I am not defined by my communication skills. I am not defined by my job. I am not defined by any occasional absent-mindedness. I am not defined by my screw-ups- not their quantity, nor their composition. I am not defined by my responsibilities. I am not defined by a week, or a month, or a year of my life.

I am still a good person. I am enough. And so are you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mercy- or Not

I’ve touched on this subject before, but every time I have a particularly struggle-some day, it resurfaces: I’m always uncertain of the boundary between having mercy on my shortcomings and pushing myself to work harder. Now, the intellectual in me will counter that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Smart as that sounds, it’s difficult to internalize. The writers I admire have each written about the need for both: self-forgiveness and self-discipline. As a perfectionist, as someone who wants to do it right right away, and who is never satisfied until I do all the things the cool, older kids are doing, I don’t have the patience to wait around and let experience guide me. I want to know now. I want the never-fail litmus test. I want to know when to forgive and when to push through so I can work smarter, achieve more, be content. That’s not too much to ask, is it??

Days like yesterday also make me take quite the longview on my struggling. And let me be clear: my struggles are, in the historic sense, piddling. However, I persist in naming them so, mostly for the verb: struggle. I feel like I am locked in continual struggle: to carve out a profession, to live more sustainably, to achieve my goals, to be my best self. While I feel this struggle at all times, it probably isn’t as epic as I paint it. Sometimes, I even win a struggle or two.

The good news (in this instance) is that my moods are so variable, my perspective is always changing. Today- same level of productivity, much less angst.