Friday, May 28, 2010

Operating at an 11. Watch out.

It's been 13 days since my last post. And I don't have much to report. If working all day at a computer and then going home and doing the same thing counts as "sitting with myself" then I've achieved my goal for May. Otherwise, I have failed on a grand scale.

I did manage to meditate after my last post. And it was easier than I expected. My mind wandered a few times, but I re-focused on my breath pretty quickly. I sat in a patch of sunlight on the floor of my hotel room with a candle on the table in front of me and tried not to try not to think. Because I read that you're not supposed to do that.

The time went by quicker than I expected...I thought ten minutes would be really hard. But I'm not sure it really did anything for me. I didn't expect enlightenment with one try or anything, but I guess I sort of expected that feeling you get after a good yoga class. Maybe if I had meditated for 60 minutes, I would have gotten that.

My intention was to do it every day for the rest of May. But May has presented a few challenges that I did not rise above. Work is...ridiculous. I really mean that. You know how I was telling you about that exercise class where I found out that I was supposed to be working out at an intensity level of 9 on a scale of 1-10 and I usually only do about a 5 or 6? Well, if we apply that same scale to work...I typically work at about a 7, at least in terms of my capacity.

But lately I've been hitting a ten pretty regularly and I might have discovered an 11 last night. It's the kind of week/month where everything seems to need attention and devotion at once. Everything other than meditation, that is.

Last night was a perfect example. We were on duty. We had dinner duty. We had to drive the girls to the grocery store at 9 pm. There was a roommate negotiation gone awry.

And there were these damn Nice Lists.

You've all read the email forward about the teacher that asks kids to write a list of nice things about other kids in their class and 30 years later they are at the military funeral of a classmate who had his list with him when he died in battle, and several of his classmates share that they still have their lists too.

Didn't that email make you wish you had a list like that about yourself?

So last year I started a new Nice List tradition in the dorm. Everyone wrote down one nice and true thing about each other student in the dorm. And I spent a truly ludicrous amount of time proofreading them and compiling them into beautiful, font-happy collage works of art. Here's a sample:
I even did them in their favorite colors. And the girls freaking loved them. There were surprised and happy murmurs and fond noises of remembrance as they read them. The project took more than 40 hours to complete though.

So I was going to do the smart thing and skip it this year.

Only then we got all that negative dorm parent feedback and I remembered how much they meant to the girls and it seemed like maybe one of the few good investments of energy from last year. So I asked the girls how important they felt they were. And many of them started exclaiming about how they still had theirs from last year and how much they loved them. And the new girls in the dorm saw the ones from last year and got all excited.

So I decided to do it again. Only I was going to start WAY earlier. Only that didn't work out so well. I decided to collect the comments via an online survey tool to simplify the compilation, which did work. Unfortunately, we apparently don't teach spelling, grammar, or punctuation at this school because it is taking HOURS to proof the comments. Travis made a brilliant word merge to sort the comments by length and automatically insert them into text boxes for each student. But Word sucks ass and so it took forever to change the fonts and make them fit in the text boxes properly and there were apparently so many spelling errors that Word couldn't display them. Who knew?

So I went back to photoshop. My old friend. Only the newer, CS5 version which is admittedly a bit cooler than the old one. But not magic. It still takes an hour to do each collage. I swear I've tried to let go of my perfectionist tendencies to just GET.IT.DONE.

But I still have 23 left to do. In a week. And we're headed to NY to visit with my family this weekend.

So I'm really starting to panic a little.

On top of that, we're deep into a publications project at work. Which is fun for me. At times. But it's turned into a mess which has mostly resulted in an unhealthy amount of work to be done by me in an unrealistic amount of time. Which I predicted would happen but was somehow unable to prevent.

So here I am. Operating at an 11.

Watch out.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To be able to come back to yourself, at will.

Well, the second week of May hasn't gone that well, either, to be honest with you. I'm definitely LESS obsessed with facebook and email, but enough that is still surprises me. And I've been thinking more about why it bothers me that I'm so addicted. It is, partly, the fact that I recognize that I look to it for validation--it's a way of putting myself out in the world and waiting for a reaction. Which sort of makes me disappointed in myself; it's a very adolescent impulse and need, in a way. But, actually, I think the bigger problem i have with it is that it goes against everything I've been learning about mindfulness. It is a fairly constant pull away from whatever I am doing. And yet there's rarely anything significant about it.

I had an interesting chat with my boss this week. We were talking about characteristics of candidates we were interviewing for an open position in our office, and somehow we started talking about the ability to juggle a commitment to family with a commitment to the office. She shared that something changed for her in the past year, where she's felt a lot better able to find balance. And, since that's what I've been thinking about so much lately, I asked her if she knew what had changed, exactly. And do you know what she said?

I kid you not...she said she took a mindfulness workshop! And now feels like she is able to be more fully devoted to her family when she is with them, because she knows she has set aside time to focus on work later. And she can be more devoted to work because of the fully engaged time she has set aside for family.

And then, completely unrelated, I was talking to my mom about how important it is to each of us to be fully engaged. I was talking about how even though I could look at my week at work one way and feel totally disheartened and frustrated and overwhelmed, I was also really engaged in some projects and that made the time fly by and kept me satisfied in a certain way and it was easy to focus on that instead.

And, to circle back, that's really what this whole year of month-long resolutions is about for me. Finding that level of engagement (Thich Naht Hanh would call it "flow", I think) seems to hold the key to being happy for me. And finding that level of balance that my boss was talking about seems to hold the key to staying sane. There is something in the idea that parallels the concept of "multiple truths" for me, and that's an idea that's been on my mind lately too. "I am completely devoted to my family" and "I am completely devoted to this engaging work that I do" can both be true. And, maybe HAVE to be true, to feel fully engaged and centered and whole.

After reading several meditation/mindfulness books last month, I really thought I was doing pretty well at staying centered and rational and...not unaffected, exactly, but unchanged by situations that would usually leave me ruffled or frustrated. And I was proud of myself. But this past week, I've been disappointed to find that when the situation hits a certain level or a certain button in me is pushed, I don't yet have the ability to stay within myself. I become part of the perceived hurricane.

And...that brings me back to all of my excuses last month about why I didn't meditate. I wanted to do it right. And Gina called me out on all of my excuses about finding the right exercise and told me that I just needed to do it. And that was the only right way. Or there was no right way, but you just had to do it anyway. The idea was to sit with yourself, not necessarily be guided by someone else. To be alone with yourself and notice yourself and be okay with yourself. To come back to yourself when your mind wanders. She told me that that ability...that was the point of meditation, in a way. To be able to come back to yourself at will.

Even in the middle of a hurricane of a situation, you can supposedly notice it and be okay with it and then come back to yourself.

Like your own personal PAUSE button for life.

And I have noticed myself noticing (and getting frustrated with) others who lack the ability to press that pause button when needed. And my books last month pointed out that what frustrates us most about others is really tied to what frustrates us most about ourselves.

And the truth is I have been scared to try to meditate. And I have no idea why. I keep saying that I like spending time alone with myself, and that is true. But it is time when I am reading or crafting or listening to music and cleaning, even. Not time just sitting. Being.

It feels silly. I don't know why. But sitting on the floor for 10 minutes just feels silly. It keeps coming to my mind to do it before going to bed, but I am tired and fear I will fall asleep. Or I am laying down and feel silly sitting up, cross-legged, with my arms resting on my knees like I have heard you are supposed to. Can you meditate lying down? Is it still meditating if you fall asleep?

Can sitting still with yourself, for ten minutes, really make a difference in your life? In your day?

I tell you what...I don't know but I am going to find out. I'm making an executive decision to change my goals for the last half of the month...again.

I am going to stick with the reduced facebook and email time. But I'm dropping the Danish and photography as a goal. I'm going to sit with myself. Silly or not.

Starting now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Erm, Hello There.

Is anyone else ever caught off guard by their own chest? I'm pretty sure my boobs grow during the day. Or else my shirts shrink. I get dressed in the morning, and look in the mirror, and I look fine. Some days, even good. I work with teenagers, so I always take extra care to make sure I look can't see anything you shouldn't.

When I leave the house.

Somehow though, sometimes by the time I get to work, I look less appropriate. I'll be sitting in an interview, or an afternoon faculty meeting, and will glance down to jot some notes and HOLY SHIT. Where did that cleavage come from? I SWEAR it wasn't there this morning.

I'm now going to go on a wrap-buying spree, thanks.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Well, obviously I can check facebook at WORK

So good news and bad news.

The good news is that I finished up all but one of my goals from April this week (the one I didn't do was fit in more walks). I went to a Body Pump class with Melissa (at 5:45 am) and it was a really great class. It's weights/barbells to music with lots of instruction in a group setting...perfect for getting in my hour of strength training per week like Dr. Oz recommends.

But HOLY SHIT am I in pain now. I feel like I was in a really bad car accident. In fact, at work later that same day I involuntarily yelped when I went to sit on the toilet! Agh. I try to walk down stairs and find my legs have turned to jelly. And my right arm...ridiculous. It surprises me every few minutes how bad it hurts.

So I assume that all means I did something right. But that I haven't been doing anything right for the last 30 years or so. My body is MAD at me.

I also signed up for that try-pack of personal training too, and had my first meeting, which was more of a consultation. A bonus was that it went on sale for $29 for May (instead of $79) so it's a REALLY good deal. And I was impressed with my trainer. She's much more holistic than I expected, and is even going to look into a meal plan for me too. She really thinks my diet has a lot to do with my lack of energy, so I have to remember to really look into that connection during cooking month in June. My first real work-out with her is on Wednesday, so wish me luck. I'm a little scared now after that body pump class.

And, I signed up for that meditation retreat and got confirmation that I'm in. That's both terrifying and exciting.

So the good news was that I really did a great job meeting my goals for April, even if it took me an extra week into May. The bad news is that I'm not doing so hot on my May goals.

Staying off facebook and email has been ridiculously hard and I keep making justifications to myself, such as "well, obviously I can check facebook at WORK" or "I just need to quickly see if so and so replied to my earlier email." So I figure I need to really think about WHY I wanted to resist the urge. Is it because it sucks up so much time? If that's the case, then it should be fine to be on at work. But if it's because I look to it for validation and fracture myself and my attention, then I need to be more restrictive.

And, I think it might be all of the above. I actually think I've done fairly well at staying off outside of work--you'll notice I only had 2 status updates in the last week. But I do check my news feed on facebook during the day at work and once at night. And I'm still pretty attached to my email. I still check it when I'm home for lunch, and before I go to bed, and before I leave the house. Still, I've heavily reduced it and I have found myself feeling like I have more time on my hands to do things like a spontaneous mid-week movie night. But, I haven't done Danish, photography, or meditation yet. hrmmm. I've been putting off the meditation because Michael hasn't cleaned off the futon in the back room, so I don't have a great, clear, pleasing space for it. I know that's just another excuse, though, so maybe I just need to do it anyway.

So I'm thinking of ONLY being on facebook at work and a few minutes each day on the weekends, just to limit it a little more. I think email should be no more than 3 times a day outside of work, instead of 15 minutes. Because that allows me to quickly check it about 13 times, which is still pretty obsessive. So those are my new rules. eek. Let's see how week two goes.

On an unrelated note, today was a pretty good day for being on duty. I was miserable when I got up to go to the personal trainer, because I was still really sore and really tired, but I felt better when I came back. And then I talked to Alexis for over 2 hours while I cleaned my apartment, both of which made me feel really great. And tonight, Michael and I got dressed up and went to the parent auction to benefit the school...for four hours. I wasn't looking forward to it, because you all know how much I hate mingling, but it was actually REALLY fun. Thankfully, everyone was wearing name tags, so even though I didn't recognize anyone, I could easily chat to them about their kids and introduce them to Michael. So much better than the floundering I usually do. And the auction was really fun, even though I didn't win anything. There were some pretty great deals. The best one was a week-long vacation in a beautiful house in Park City, Utah with a PRIVATE DRIVER at your service all week. It went for $2300, which was way below value. If it hadn't have been the week of our cruise, we might have just gone for it. Instead, our res life boss snagged it. It was fun sitting at a table with him and my admissions boss, and just chatting and teasing each other all night. It reminded me how much I like working here, even if I don't always love my WORK so much.

So it's been a good week, but I definitely need to focus my efforts for next week!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May: A Low(er) Tech Life

I've decided on a combination of goals for May, which may seem contradictory to the idea of focus. But I've come to realize how much time I spend on this computer, and on facebook and email in particular. I'm not against spending time online paying bills, uploading photos, or looking up recipes. Or blogging, obviously. But I'm clearly and unhealthily addicted to staying "connected" via email and facebook. I check my email while waiting for the shower water to get hot in the morning. I leave my work computer at lunchtime, walk home for two minutes, and check my email again when I get here. And again a few minutes later. And again before returning to work...where there's a computer. I leave the laptop on the coffee table, inches from my waiting fingers, as I lay on the couch watching tv. I check it constantly. Sometimes I literally cycle from window to window, reloading my email, facebook, and gmail. You know, in case something life-changing has been delivered in the last 30 seconds. I check it before I leave the house and before I go to bed, and if I get stuck in traffic for more than a few minutes or have to wait for an appointment, I check it on my phone. You get the idea.

So that's where low-tech month comes in. I figure if I limit my laptop time--and even move it away from the couch--I'll have a lot more free time. So I figured it'd be okay to make this a two-part focus. Part one is less laptop time, and part two are guidelines about how to better use that time to do three things: something educational, something creative, and something relaxing.

Thus, my proposal for May looks like this:

a. I will move the laptop to the kitchen table, so it's not in front of the couch and tv.
b. I will resist checking email and facebook constantly. In fact--limit usage to 15 minutes a day outside of work, with the exception of blogging and intentionally purposeful efforts like paying bills. I thought about deactivating my facebook account for the month, but I do want to post blog updates there. But I'm going to try to limit myself to JUST posting blog updates.
c. I will NOT do work outside of work time (unless really, REALLY necessary to keep my job.)

a. learn Danish!
b. meditate!
c. take pictures. I still haven't learned how to properly use my fancy camera I bought last summer, and I really want to. Taking pictures for the tree photo contest reminded me how much I love photography, and the only reason I don't do it more often is because I don't feel confident with the new camera. And there's only one way to fix that...

I could make a long list of other things to do with more free time, like reading and walking, but I won't. I'll focus on these three things, and see where it leaves me.

I have to admit, I'm kind of scared. It sounds ridiculous, but this is the month that seems most doomed to fail. Checking email and facebook has become such an automated and frequent action that I can't imagine drastically reducing it. I hate to admit it, but I do get a certain amount of validation from comments on my status messages and photos. I feel like people are interested in my life. I feel like people like me. And my pictures. And think I'm witty. It will be hard not to have that constant source of instant feedback...and the constant source of information about what's going on in the lives of my friends and family. And the birthday reminders! Agh. At times when I haven't had internet service, I've felt nearly frantic. I know intellectually that if I don't check facebook for a month and I come back and it tells me there are 36,000 new news feed items...none of it will be really important. But the idea of missing all of those's like throwing out 4 years worth of magazines I haven't gotten to read yet.

Do me a favor, okay? Since I won't be on facebook much...maybe you could just leave a few extra comments on the blog this month?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What I learned from Exercise & Meditation Month

I decided to pretend today was the last day of exercise month, mostly because I didn't make it to the gym on Thursday or Friday. It was a good decision. Michael went fishing in Plymouth today, with the boat, which meant also with my car. Which meant I was somewhat trapped at home. I decided to pretend I was on a hotel getaway weekend, where I don't mind being trapped in a hotel room, so long as I have some books and some snacks.

So I read the rest of the books I had wanted to read this month. I liked Dr. Oz's book a lot better than the Body for Life book. Although BFL had some good tips--and I'm sure the program works--I felt like I was reading an infomercial. And the progress reports seemed like so much work. Not easy enough to incorporate into my life, although I did learn some important things from reading it. And, all that reading about being healthy left me inspired, so I decided to don my pedometer for another day and WALK to the gym to sign up for my personal training sessions. Sadly, Michael had my mp3 player in my car with him, so the vision I had of running all-out to a Melissa Etheridge soundtrack sort of evaporated. I walked. At a normal pace. It took about 40 minutes to get to the gym, which is probably between 1.5 and 2 miles away. It also took 5,000 steps! sweet. Once there, I signed up for my three training sessions (eek. I was ridiculously nervous about this for some reason.) and then did some expressline weights. The walk back was more was hot out, and I was hot already.

And I got passed by an older gentleman shuffle-jogging along. He was probably 70 years old, easy. I was relieved when he turned into an industrial park so I didn't have to eat his dust anymore. Until I turned a corner, and he was jogging towards me. Sigh.

Still, I felt GREAT by the time I came home, and I sank into a bath with my Eckhart Tolle book. But then I found myself falling asleep, so I had to get out. I guess all that exercise really took it out of me. Also, I was sunburned. sigh. I really don't know why it didn't occur to me to put on sunscreen. I think I thought it would be a shorter walk than it was, but still.

So then I continued my hotel weekend getaway with a lifetime movie (shhhh.) and a nap. It was one of those naps where I closed my eyes and felt like I was in a time warp when I awoke 2 hours later. I had just dead passed out. Luckily, Michael came home soon after, bearing groceries and the makings of his wonderful stir fry which is one of my all-time favorite meals. Not a bad day for feeling trapped. AND it turns out I actually accomplished nearly all of the goals I set for this month. I haven't yet signed up for the meditation retreat, because you have to actually mail in a form. I wish you could sign up online!

Okay, okay...typing that made me realize how much I make excuses to not meet my goals, so I'm going to go install the printer on my new computer (which I've been putting off, because it's such a pain) and then I am going to print the registration form, fill it out, scan it in, and email it in. Then I will have completed every goal except the body pump class, which I'm okay with since the personal training will enlighten me on the world of weightlifting.

There! I did it. (50 minutes later!). I'm registered.


So, here are some of the things I learned during my exercise/meditation month:
  1. It's best to exercise first thing in the morning, before eating. It's WAY more effective than exercising in the afternoon or evening, because you've been inactive for hours and your body immediately turns to stored fat for energy, rather than using calories from something you just ate.
  2. Exercising in the morning didn't really increase my energy levels (except the morning I did spinning) but it also didn't DECREASE my energy levels, and it did leave me with seemingly more hours in the day and ensure that I was able to exercise.
  3. Spinning made me want to puke, and left me hurting for days afterwards, but it also REALLY revved me up and the high lasted for hours. Now that I've been a couple of times--and invested in padded shorts--I think I'll go more often.
  4. I learned from my book that if you tend to do a similar workout most days (like, ahem, 30 minutes on the elliptical) your body and metabolism gets used to it and adjusts. You need to vary your workout in order to continue to lose weight efficiently, tone your body, and build muscles.
  5. I also learned that, if you rate the intensity of your workout on a scale of 1-10, you're supposed to be around a 7 or 8. I typically am somewhere around a 5. Spinning was somewhere around a 12. So that's probably why I felt so great afterwards. I really thought that if I showed up and put one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes, I was putting in the proper amount of effort to keep my body healthy. I was wrong. Turns out you actually need to WORK at it. dammit.
  6. According to Dr. Oz (and I'm going to go out on a limb here, and call him an expert) you need to walk 30 minutes EVERY FREAKING DAY. Doesn't matter if you split it into smaller chunks of time, but you need to do it every day. In addition, you need 60 minutes of cardio training per week (usually in 3, 20-minute sessions) and 60 minutes of strength training to build muscles. If I would have actually followed this, it would have been a lot easier to reach 10,000 steps per day, which I only did three days out of this whole month.
  7. I learned that muscles burn calories WAY faster than fat, which is why resistance training is so important and you can't rely simply on cardio. (If only I could convince Michael!)
  8. I get in my own way a lot, and make a lot of excuses. For example, I couldn't meditate until I found the "right" exercise to guide me. I didn't even realize I was doing this until Gina pointed it out...the point of meditation is to BE. To sit with yourself. To be aware of your thoughts while sitting with yourself, and sit in them, and get through the other side of them. You don't need a guided meditation for that, just a few minutes of committed quiet time. I was so worried about doing it "wrong" but it turns out, you really can't do it wrong...unless you don't do it because you're so hung up on doing it right.
  9. There was one day this month that really felt different--I awoke in the morning and DIDN'T feel tired AND I still wasn't tired after work. The only thing I can think of that was different, was that I had done a spinning class the night before. Maybe it helped me get better sleep?
  10. I grew to like oatmeal. AND I grew to understand the importance of a fiber-filled breakfast...and a few walnuts a half hour before eating a meal....and lots of water throughout the day.
  11. I learned the most from my Susan Piver and Eckhart Tolle books, and I am LOVING applying those lessons to my life. After reading up on the ego in "The New Earth", I often warn myself "Don't be right" which sounds odd, but helps me clarify my intentions in interactions. I want to make sure I'm not making myself be right by making others wrong. Which it turns out I do a lot more frequently than I would have guessed. It's already helped me wow my boss in a tricky conference call. I was particularly proud of that. Not the wowing her part, but my ability and inclination and willingness to jump into the middle of a thorny issue and be helpful instead of right.
  12. The single most important factor to the success of exercise month was my exercise buddy, Melissa. If I made a commitment to go to a class with her, I would go, even if I had gotten only a few hours of sleep. And she made a few hours of exercise and chatting a week feel like a luxury, especially when taken during an on-duty shift in the dorm. I managed to get to the gym approximately 5 times per week this month, and I give her LOTS of the credit. Another share of credit goes to Michael, who was always willing to let me skip out of being on duty in order to exercise, and kept telling me how proud he was of my efforts. The rest of the credit goes to me (and, indirectly, making myself publicly accountable on this blog)...but I probably need to work on being my own motivation a little more.