Friday, June 27, 2014

reconnecting with outside

I have a porn stash, but it's not what you think. I have subscriptions to Outside Magazine, Backpacker and always pick up the new, thick and lavishly photographed edition of SUP Journal. I pour over their glossy photos, read articles about far away places and draw my own conclusions about which gear is truly "essential". I then indulge in lengthy fantasies about adventures somewhere else.

This is all done from the comfort of my soft chair as I gaze into my own back yard. No camping trips on the books or other adventures. The reservoir I was going for my paddleboard fix is nearly dry--Summer solstice has arrived and I am suffering a huge outdoors deficiency. I make this lament nearly every year but this year is particularly poignant. I spend time in my garden every day and take frequent walks but if anything it makes me more keenly aware of how precious and fleeting this time of year is. I'm just as much of a freak about summer as I am about spring--every peach, every flower, every fresh ripening thing seduces me on multiple levels. Everything is alive right now--as alive as it will be before it starts receding towards the darkness of autumn and winter. I starve for it.

But like anything else, a grand gesture will not soothe my desire to connect. Small things, small things.

I noticed just the other day how I work against smelling things too much. I'm not sure why except I suppose I'm guarding against exhaust or other unpleasant industrial smells. So much so that in an unguarded moment I was shocked to realize how fragrant my lavender bushes are--enough to notice without trying.

Some things have come up in my personal life that are really hurting my heart and literally making me feel tired. I was asking for help but I couldn't escape the feeling that I was the only one who could fix a certain thing that had come up. For a full week I buzzed from one high priority emergency to the next, not really focusing and not knowing what I should be doing. The mountain of things I "should" do loomed ahead of me but both the outline was unclear and what steps I should take evaded me. I felt my ability to "lead" my situation had tapped out and the only way forward was a direction I really didn't want to take. The whole matter made my heart and stomach clench with anxiety.

I came home from a particularly difficult day, droopy and defeated. I flopped in a chair feeling somewhat helpless. I looked at the disorder surrounding me but had no energy to even clear off the kitchen table. The house was stuffy and hot. I got up and opened the sliding glass doors to my backyard wide and stepped onto the cool concrete patio. At first I fretted that I needed to check on what needed watering and rescue from the heat but I stopped. Crickets were singing and my sun caressed sacred white sage was giving off a heady, resinous perfume. I sat down on the aging redwood bench and remained still. It felt good to just stop. I opened my senses to the moment--my hearing, my sense of smell and all the finer feelings that I mute out during the course of the day.

The sky shifted from rose to lavender and one by one the fairy lights winked on. I noticed the cool feeling the evening had as the outlines of the plants in my yard faded darker. My cat Miso came and curled up in my lap and I sat there for several more long moments noticing the shift all around me--none of it my own doing. I continued to do nothing. I was ok.

I felt much better the next day. The mountain was still there but I could see some small things to do. Miss Keri took a large burden from me by doing some important research that I couldn't manage on my own. Later that day my sister called with some extremely good news. For the first time in days I started feeling hopeful.

When I started writing this I wanted to actually exhort you all to try to find time outside as a daily practice but something didn't feel right about that. The sweet power of going outside and seeking stillness was always there for me even in the middle of my chaos. Even though I didn't have enough time and the thought of another practice made me droop, the healing and regeneration of a few quiet moments outside were waiting for me to accept them. Slowing down, noticing, breathing, sensing--these are the things that help me refill on the inside. Not manic doing. Not another list. Not another "thing" to accomplish.

We all do things daily. Some are rejuvenating and some are not. And some habits, even well intentioned ones, won't help if I'm not present for them.

Before rushing off to plan an adventure, a doing or even another practice, try sitting outside for a few moments. Even in the heart of an urban environment life abounds--birds, plants pushing up through cracks, patches of dirt. Find the life around you and allow yourself to experience it on as many levels as you can. Open your hearing to all sounds, your nose to all smells, your eyes to unnoticed things, your skin to feel the warmth or coolness or the stirring of air. Just be with it. Notice what happens inside yourself. That is where the adventure happens.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weird and beautiful things...

I started writing a different article when I noticed that I had written 100 blog entries--the vast majority of which I've published! There are a handful however that I lost steam on or just decided to not continue with. Here is why.

Before I kept this blog I had a LiveJournal. At a certain point I decided to discontinue that effort but before I deleted it I downloaded a copy to archive. I was amazed to find I had over 1000 pages of text. I was dismayed however to find out the it was essentially 1000 pages of complaining--the predominant themes being my dissatisfaction with my job (no matter what the job was), my angst over my body image (which I masked with ridiculous and extreme self improvement projects) or other self inflicted misery based on the thought "the world is full of assholes" (I know, enlightened).

The funny thing is that every time I made a post I was sure this was the newest, freshest thing going on in my life. How shocking to look at my self from 30,000 ft and see what a depressing thought loop I was in.

I want to be authentic when I share something with you all. At the same time, I sometime start things and catch myself going down lines of thinking that are unhelpful--rehashing negative stories of the past most commonly. Memory is an imperfect lens--the way we tell our own stories influences thoughts, behavior and emotion right now. Even if some past experience turned out very badly and even if it was completely my doing, I am able to do differently today because I know better. I am not my past.

Journalling for me today is an opportunity to examine my thoughts and to catch thoughts that are weighing me down--awareness allows me to work the thought over and chose thinking that empowers me. However, this blog isn't a publication of my journal like the livejournal was--I'm trying to share thoughts and experiences that I hope you all find helpful (or at least entertaining).

Having said that, I've recently been spending a lot of thought on how I can share more of my inner world with you. I find this time of year to be so enlivening and inspiring that I can barely contain myself! I feel flooded with images and ideas and feelings that I struggle to express with words. Here at the apex of the year I desire to take all of this in and put out something that captures it all. A perfect kingdom of beauty. I only have the tools I have today--limited skills to translate perception and feeling into mediums that somewhat share the weird and beautiful things inside me. But that's what I want to do. I want to share more with you. I hope you will come along as I strive to more fully express these weird and beautiful things.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

small things, daily things

Ok, it's confession time. Up until a year ago I never flossed my teeth except for a frenzy of hyper attentiveness before dental appointments to somehow cover up the fact that this adult still had juvenile oral hygiene behaviors.

I know, gross.

I then read a friend's blog post (newsletter, facebook thing...can't recall) confession that SHE had never really flossed but read an article that highlighted the importance of good oral hygiene especially flossing for overall health. I was so impressed that she admitted this publicly and was willing to just add this one habit that I decided I would too.

Here it is a year later. I went to the dentist who checked my gums and said they were pretty much picture perfect--no gaps or pockets. I don't think I have ever had a dentist smile and give me a thumbs up for my not bleeding gums. It made me wonder what other things I could make happen by changing simple behaviors. A lot it seems!

I cannot stress the importance of small things in my life. Almost all significant progress I've made with personal goals has been because of small, daily rituals and adjustments. I do pushups, lunges and planks daily--not a multitude but I do them before I leave the house and start my day. I would love to say these had given me into a beach body or made me ready to run a Tough Mudder (not really) but when I went in for a fitness evaluation it turned out I had measurable fitness--the kind of fitness that helps get you through the day and get things done. Even if I never do another race or challenge I have good enough fitness. I'm far from being a couch potato and I continue to get stronger as I go.

I've tried to control my weight with odd ball food plans with varying degrees of success but mostly find myself going back to old habits after whatever dietary regimen crashes and burns (seriously, anything that excludes entire categories of food doesn't make sense). I decided to drop all dieting and find a new way to treat my body. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I've been experimenting mindfulness practices. Just recently I decided to work with a nutritionist at my company gym to evaluate the kinds of things I'm eating and to give me a reality check. He suggested a few small adjustments to my lunch and snacks--nothing huge. He said to make another appointment when those adjustments felt like second nature and I was ready to try something new. I left our appointment feeling sane and relieved that he didn't try to eradicate my Sunday lunch at Mom's house or wine or meat or ANYTHING really.

Who knew a healthy diet was full

If you are anything like me you probably have a long list of attempts to make major changes in your life by going FULL THROTTLE and changing EVERYTHING at once (over exercising, extreme restrictive dieting, information immersion and so on). Personally, I would make progress but some "thing" would come up and knock me off my stride (holiday eating, I'm looking at you). The cycle=overwhelm. disaster. cold dead stop.

What I've learned is that there is an enormous difference between shifting a habit and and trying to force a change through extreme unsustainable measures.

Creating a good habit--even a really small one--is like putting money in an account that compounds interest. Over time you find yourself wealthy. Getting healthy, rich or anything else you want is mostly about building manageable habits around those things and paying attention. Even a small amount of daily focus can lead to incredible results over time.

Put aside the outcomes and timelines for a while and allow yourself to embrace small things done daily. Check yourself in six months or a year and see how far you've come. Allow yourself to be surprised and delighted by the power of small things.