Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bolognese AND Black Beans

Pulitzer prize winning author Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Of course! But what does that truly mean?

As I get closer to my half-century mark on this planet, I question how I live my life on a daily basis. Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here? I used to worry more about my legacy. What would I be remembered for? What actual products would there be to commemorate my life's work? The older I get, the more I realize that I'm not actually that important. I'm a mere spec on the earth, so what I do in the eyes of the world isn't that significant. It's knowing that I'm living as my truest, best self that feels important now.

My meditation teacher says that one of the reasons we meditate is to clear our minds in order to get closer to our intuition. "Intuition," she says, "is very patient. It will wait in the shadows until we are quiet. Then it will show up."

We've all had a clear moment of hearing our intuition. It's a deeper sense of knowing, a true clarity. Most of my decisions that have stuck, I now know were based on intuition. The decision to leave social work, for example, and open a yoga studio was completely spontaneous, ill-advised, and ultimately perfect. Other big life choices that have crumbled around me, I can see were based more on processing, contemplating, over-intellectualizing. Going to the best college I got into, for example, and studying a major that was familiar and comfortable, didn't actually pan out all that well for me.

In my 48th year, I've committed to becoming a student of intuition, to learn more about it, to work more from that place on a daily basis. The truth is, it's just easier. I get so tired of weighing pros and cons, talking to multiple people to get their perspectives, struggling to make big decisions to the point that I lose sleep, weight and hair!

So every day I start small. Last night I had the house to myself. Normally when I get that much space, I indulge in stupid television that no one else wants to watch. I've rationalized that this indulgence, though not actually that satisfying,  is well-deserved and I should take advantage.  Last night though, I tried to get to my intuition instead of my regular pattern. I listened. It was a slow process and many times I nearly defaulted to turning on the laptop and opening Netflix. What happened instead is I found myself in the car heading for the grocery where I bought ingredients for two meals (even though I was the only one at home).

I spent the evening making a huge vat of Bolognese and enough black beans to roll two hundred burritos. In the process I listened to the chanting music that normally gets poo-pooed in my house.
This morning, my intuition was simply to eat a pear before drinking coffee.

The waiting is the hard part. The stillness before the knowing can be a struggle for those of us who feel anchored by being in control. But the payoff is immense. There is a feeling of ease, of calm, that comes from trusting your gut, from listening to intuition. It feels right. It's definitely how I want to live my life.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seeing through the rain.

The rain gets me down. I've lived in Seattle for 27 of my 48 years and the rain still gets me down. This morning I went running and it was sunny. The Cascades were out. The Olympics were out. I saw Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. I was happy. Joyful.

After my run, I went to yoga and it was a great class. Frani had a tender, creative playlist and it was the usual delicious experience of doing yoga after a run. Hard and necessary. But when I left the studio, it was raining--again. My heart sank.

But why does the rain take my mood towards the bowels of despair? The beauty is still there. I can see so much of it as I sit typing this on my couch. Mount Baker is now hidden by clouds, but I can see the conifers and cherry blossoms down the hill to the lake. The lilacs in my front yard are about the pop and the magnolia tree next to my front door is in full bloom. Yet I pout.

What is it about the rain? I tell myself it's a state of mind, a pattern of thinking. But is it? I wonder sometimes if the mood I get in the presence of clouds and rain helps me to balance out my fast-paced, high-frequency energy. I spend so much time being up, spirited, positive. And I really do feel that when when I'm acting that way, but it's not sustainable. I'd collapse with exhaustion if I maintained that "up-state" of mind all the time.

I wonder if it's like one of my yoga teachers talks about the common cold. The common cold, he says, is there for a reason. It reminds us to slow down and heal. Maybe for a few days or a week we sit on the couch, read more, drink more tea, and in that time, we are giving our bodies a chance to fight the cold naturally, to build our immunity.

Maybe the rain is like that for me. It invites me to shut down a little bit more, to go inside, to settle into the "low" feelings that for me are generally more buried. When I think of it this way, it's a comfort. The rain makes me quiet. It's like a blanket wrapping me up, keeping me warm and calm so I can build up my strength to be who I am when the sun comes out again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A State of Grace


One of my favorite things to do after a long day is walk on Lake Washington and listen to podcasts. My favorite podcast is OnBeing. Krista Tippett, the host, interviews different theologians, artists, philosophers and scientists about the meaning of life as they see it through their personal existence. Especially now, when the news media is so overblown that it is either undigestibly frightening or absurd, it is refreshing to chisel down the information source to one person's perspective. I always glean at least a few kernels of wisdom from these podcasts.

Yesterday, Richard Rohr was the guest. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and a revered spiritual teacher.
In his interview with Krista Tippett, Rohr talked about a metaphor he uses to teach his students about getting to a state of grace. He suggests using three boxes- Order, Disorder, and Reorder. Rohr goes on to talk about using these boxes, or stages as a path to transformation.

As I listened to Rohr describe these concepts, I thought about my own tendency towards safety. My nickname is "safety patrol." I like to pack healthy snacks for trips (in case there's nothing good at the airport or on the road). I always pack extra undies (you never know if there will be a washer). I struggle with change of any kind. In other words, I crave familiarity. I am a major order junkie.

So much goodness though, comes through disorder. I wouldn't have found my current career had I not entered a minor crisis of identity in my last profession. I wouldn't have fallen madly in love if my heart hadn't been broken. I wouldn't have a wonderful daughter if I hadn't gone through all of the scary contemplations of what it means to raise a child in this world and pass through the ongoing myriad of challenges that exist with everyday parenting.

And what has come from the wreckage, the disorder is transformation, the reordering of priorities, of values that make me who I am, that make my life what it is today. Disorder is part of the deal. It's not predictable, it's not negotiable. It's the path.

This idea, this metaphor of Order, Disorder and Reorder is useful to me in every part of my life. The SweatBox, for example, went through a period of transition where we stepped off the pure Bikram train. That was scary. So new, so different, and at times chaotic. But now! Now, we have such a beautiful bouquet of creativity and energy and vibrancy. I am grateful for all of the disordered times in my life. They've brought me to this place, this state of grace,  and I love it here.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Saved by Gratitude

This morning as I drove up the greenbelt that leads to Yesler Way, I had a moment of intense anxiety.  I'm very familiar with anxiety, and for as long as I can remember, I've run "panicky."  I get hit with periodic, unexpected pangs. Usually they are related to an upcoming event, but often I have non-specified panic.

My anxiety this time was related to the demolition and construction that is going to start on The SweatBox tomorrow. Contractors are going to rip out the garage door and build a permanent wall. It's a good thing. We'll have better insulation, new windows, and greater soundproofing from the street noise. In the passenger seat beside me, Lucia, in her adorable 12-year-old voice, was chirping on about her day. I faintly heard her at the same time that my mind wandered towards the impending construction. I felt my chest tensing, my focus blurring, my breath quickening. I remember the moment because the beauty of the tree canopy was so striking as we climbed the hill. Despite my panic, I was still aware of the grandeur of the trees, grateful for their beauty.

Maybe it was the beauty that interrupted my anxiety. Maybe it was something Lucia said. I can't pinpoint exactly the moment, but all of the sudden I had a revelation. "I am having so much anxiety right now," I recall thinking. "But I'm only one person of billions in the world. There's no way my anxiety can be THAT huge." And just like that, I started breathing normally and I was able to hear and see clearly again.

Over the years I've developed lots of tools for managing my anxiety. Of course yoga is my everyday go to. Mindless TV can help. Running, playing scrabble, shopping, all take my mind off of my current anxiety fixation. My thought today-- that I'm just not important enough in the scheme of the world to have that much anxiety-- was one of my first successful attempts to rationalize myself out of an anxious state.

Driving up a beautiful tree-lined road with my healthy, happy daughter by my side, on my way to a job and community I love, it just didn't make sense that I would let a construction project highjack my mental health.  The truth of the matter is that I am unbelievably blessed. As part of a year-long meditation class I'm taking this year, I write ten gratitudes each day to two of my classmates. I think the daily reminder of how much I have to be grateful for played into this shift with my anxiety today. Gratitude gives perspective. No matter what's coming, what stressors (known or unknown) might be in front of you, regardless of the daily conflicts or discomforts in life, if we can find people, things, experiences to be grateful for, that other stuff comes more realistically into focus.  Tomorrow it's a construction project. In two years, it's sending my baby off to high school. In ten years, it's making sure my parents are well cared for. It's always something. The good news is, for every one of those possible stressors, there are at least ten things to be grateful for.