Spring is for Starting Over

For 114 days in a row, I meditated. At least a little every day. I use this app called Insight Timer (yes, I know there are a lot of options, but I like this one so I’ve stuck to it). I spend a little time every day reflecting. I vary between music, guided meditations, and straight up silence.

My previous record before this one was around 60. I over doubled it.

Then, on chaotic day, I forgot.

Okay, you’re reading this so I might as well be honest with you. I forgot about a week before that. But I remember that I forgot before my timer had realized I missed a day. I inserted a one minute meditation, justifying that I had actually been to yoga that day and we laid down in savasana, so I wasn’t explicitly untrue, even if it wasn’t true true. I didn’t want to lose my streak.

Then, just recently, it happened again. I remembered throughout the day I needed to take pause to keep my streak up, but I just forgot. I didn’t take it when I thought about it and the day got away from me too quickly.

I remembered very early the next morning. Technically, I could have meditated and probably been within the range to keep my streak up. But I remembered how I was already feeling like a bit of a cheat because I skipped one day and just added it in later. And I didn’t want to keep that feeling of inauthenticity up. And for what? This was a challenge I was only having with myself.

The truth was (and is) that I was scared to start over. 114 days in a row is a lot of days. Every day I was setting a new record for myself. I was proud of myself. And, if I admitted that I failed, I’d have to bite the bullet and admit that I needed to start over.

And, man, starting over is way harder than simply keeping momentum. You have to be humble and resilient. And you have to believe in yourself even when you’re redoing some of the things you’ve already done before. It’s simpler when it comes to a little meditation app. But it’s not as simple when it comes to major changes in your life. But the principle is the same.

So I made the choice to not sneak in that meditation so I could keep my streak alive. I opted to simply let the streak go, admit it had gotten away from me, and start over.

It happens to be the very beginnings of the spring season, too. At least in Los Angeles, we’re starting to feel it become slightly warmer and less rainy (it’s been so rainy around here) than it has for a while. There’s a new little hope in the air. So I’m going to use that momentum and remind myself it’s okay to start over.

In fact, it’s as important to learn the skill of starting over as it is the skill of keeping the momentum going. So really, this is an opportunity I gave to myself. I get to go all Christian Bale’s “Batman” on this particular goal and say to myself “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to get back up.”

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Stoop Sittin’

If you do a quick perusal of anything I write about or share, it won’t take you long to figure out that I’m a big fan of dogs in general. And I’ve got what some have called an “unhealthy obsession” with my own dogs. Or, as my neighbor once put it, “I’ve never seen a human love her pets as much as you love those dogs.”

And it’s true. They’re perfect light creatures meant to bring nothing but happiness and companionship into this world. So, yeah, I’m pretty obsessed with them.

But it’s not just their doe eyes and floppy ears that I love. I’m constantly learning from them.

Okay, listen. I realize that people saying they learn from their dogs is as innovative and refreshing as people saying “boy, men and women are really different, aren’t they?” So let me be clear that I understand that I’m not breaking new ground here. I’m not trying to. I’m just trying to further fertilize ground that has been broken for years so I can plant a new seed for this current season.

I’m not totally sure but I think I really like that metaphor.

clyde 3

Anyway, I want to tell you a little about one of my absolute favorite activities my dog does that is the best lesson in the world for me.

Clyde (my younger pup aka my Tasmanian Devil with a heart of gold) has a lot of quirky personality traits. But I’ll be damned if there has ever existed a dog more happy to be alive than that little hooligan. His favorite thing in the morning is just to go outside and sit and smell the fresh air.

Though right now we only have access to a balcony for them to enjoy the breeze without going on a full walk, he and my girl Bonnie don’t care. She likes to sit outside and watch over her kingdom (aka the apartment complex) and yell at intruders. And my Clyde likes to just look and smile. He just sits outside, takes in the smells, and is more present in the moment than any zen monk who ever meditated for hours.

My in-laws joke that first thing in the morning, Clyde likes to get up and just sit outside by himself. He smells the early morning air and listens to the birds as the world awakens. It drives them crazy because he wants to be outside at least an hour before sunrise to really take it all in. But he’s more than happy just enjoying it on his own without any distractions.

At home, he sleeps in and enjoys morning cuddles. But you’d better believe after his day has started, all he wants to do is enjoy the fresh air on the porch and feel the cool breeze on his perfect golden mane.

My absolute favorite thing he does, which is what I titled this piece after, is when we walk back in from a walk and he just wants to sit on the stairs of the apartment complex by our entrance. The first time he did it, he just sat down and looked at me, basically beckoning me to sit by him. At first, I thought we didn’t have time for this. But I quickly realized that he just wants a couple minutes to soak in the beauty around him with someone by his side. So for such a worthy cause, there’s always time to be made.

clyde 1

Now, when we walk in  and he’s in the mood for “Stoop Sittin’” he just walks right up to the step and sits down with his little cute face turning around to me asking to join. When I sit next to him, he often puts his paw on my knee and smiles his big dopey smile. And I get to scratch him while we simply smell the air and listen to the leaves and watch the hummingbirds fight each other over the apartment feeders.

It’s bliss.

I have a tendency to move fast. I like to be productive and get going. I like to be active and get my energy out. Funny enough, both my dogs have similar tendencies – especially my sweet little psychopath boy. But if he can insist on finding time to simply be in the present moment and enjoy the world around him, I certainly can, too.

A Bear in the Sensory Depravation Chamber

As I stared up – or was it sideways? – while floating for an undisclosed amount of time in what I can only imagine my mother’s womb probably felt like, I felt the presence of a terrifying grizzly bear I hadn’t interacted with in years. And I was absolutely trapped and unable to have any sense of what direction in might come from to attack me. For a few moments – or was it hours? – I was convinced he would finish the job he attempted to so many years before in the Smoky Mountains.

Let me give some context here.

A couple years ago, my husband and I decided to try a sensory depravation chamber. As with most experimental holistic decisions, we did so with a Groupon. You know, to make sure we were getting top-of-the-line service with the people we would soon be trusting to keep us alive in a scenario where we would have absolutely no way of calling out for help…but on a discount.

As we prepared to go in our separate chambers, I was anxious. I had heard and read about sensory depravation before. And I’ve been meditating off and on long enough to know how to breathe through some intense monkey mind complaining. But the idea of floating in an underground chamber in a small bit of water with absolutely no way to see or hear anything happening in the world around me made me, understandably, anxious.

I considered not going in. I live in LA, after all, and “The Big One” (aka a catastrophic earthquake that everyone in LA is constantly hoping will wait until after their lifetimes to hit) could happen at any time. What if there’s a terrible earthquake while I’m in the chamber and I get locked in and I’m stuck there and I suffocate and that’s how I die?

Or what if I have a heart attack or an anxiety attack and I can’t call out for help and my body rebels and I lay there and they don’t know it until they find my body two hours later?

Or what if [insert any real or imagined catastrophe] happens and I [insert any real or imagined physical ailment of any degree] and that’s how I die?

My mind was already resisting, which is why I knew I needed to press on.

I did it. I got in the chamber. I closed the doors. And I floated in my own thoughts, eventually resigning myself to the fact that anything in the external world might happen at any time – including some major catastrophe. And, as fun as it was to worry about, I am generally powerless to do anything about it anyway so I might as well live life on my own terms and choose to face my challenges whenever I can. My first little zen moment of serenity.

Of course, I didn’t count on that damn bear showing up and haunting most of my experience.

More on him in a second.

If you haven’t experienced a sensory depravation chamber, it’s a fascinating challenge for your brain. I don’t want to say it’s good or bad because those are arbitrary judgments that mean nothing anyway. And I don’t want to outright recommend it because everybody is different and what works for one brain may genuinely be awful for another.

But, assuming you’re a pretty normal human living in this loud and distraction-filled world, it’s a fascinating way of shutting it all out and getting deeply in touch with the abyss of your creative mind.

The tank is essentially set up so you float in a shallow pool of body temperature salt water (so you float easily) without the ability to see or hear any element of the outside world. And you do that for some pre-disclosed amount of time. Basically, you want to feel like a floating brain completely unaware of your external surroundings. They come in and knock on the door when you’re done and then you sort of float around to find the handle and reenter the previous world, a little more in touch (hopefully) with some truth about your own self or your own mind. Or, you just got a refreshing two hour nap in a weird underground tank. There’s no right or wrong to the experience, just that you experience it.

It took me a minute to adjust to the fact that I had basically lost my body and was more or less just a disembodied brain. It felt sort of like en episode of Black Mirror where my conscious was present but I couldn’t figure out where my body went.

And then, you guessed it, that damn bear showed up.

Okay, pause again, I want to take you even further back in time so this makes a little more sense.

When I was in fifth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The two most memorable parts of that field trip, for me, were the scat scarves we all got that told us how to identify all sorts of woodland creature poops and the mile-long solo walk we went on to get in touch with our own minds.

All of us in my small class would all take part in this half mile-long solo walk. It was an easy enough, clear path we were told not to stray from at all. A teacher went first and chaperones were periodically placed in the line up. They’d have someone go, you’d wait a few minutes, and then the next person went so that you couldn’t see who was ahead or behind you. It was a very awesome way to experience nature quietly with none of the usual distractions.

I remember I went after John Loser. Fun fact, his younger sister would go on to marry my older brother. That has nothing to do with the solo walk, it’s just funny how life works out like that sometimes. Anyway, he plays a tiny little role in this so I figured I’d mention it and throw in that fun aside because why not. You’re still reading aren’t you? Okay, great.

So I started my solo walk and I did my best to stay calm. I was nervous. I’m an extrovert and like being around people. I’ve always been someone who enjoys having people around. Though my active imagination and general love for the outdoors combined with my brother’s introversion and preference for video games meant I often played outside by myself for hours, I generally liked to experience life with other people around. A solo walk was way outside my comfort zone.

Combine that with the fact that, as a girl, I have been reminded from a young age that if I go anywhere by myself, I will probably be hurt, robbed, or swept up into some horrible underground life, I wasn’t exactly comfortable chilling by myself.

But even in fifth grade, I understood that I was probably safe enough in the constructs they had provided for this solo walk. After all, plenty of middle schoolers before me had done it and none of them had been hurt or sold into human trafficking, so I’d probably be okay.

I tried to walk slowly but my normal pace is pretty fast. So I made a point to breathe and go way slower than felt normal just to enjoy the beautiful fall surroundings. I remember thinking how cool it was that it was so quiet and that the leaves were so bright. I remember thinking the crunch of the leaves below my feet into the muddy ground combined with the gorgeous views off the side of the mountain made me feel pretty lucky to have the experience.

All that lasted probably just a few minutes before the damn grizzly bear made his first appearance.

Let me be clear, I never actually saw the bear. But I knew he was there. All of a sudden, in my anxiety, I realized that I was alone and anything could happen and that I didn’t trust myself to know what to do if something out-of-the-ordinary happened and what if I’m going to slow or too fast and they leave me behind and I’m stuck out here lost forever and it turns to winter and I’m still out here and I freeze to death? All of those terrified, insecure thoughts rushed through me. And, though I am grateful for my imagination, I didn’t yet understand that sometimes an active imagination can work against you when combined with primal fear.

So as those thoughts began ringing through my head, replacing the gratitude and enjoyment I had been previously feeling in nature. And they manifested themselves in the form of an unseen grizzly bear I was absolutely convinced was stalking me. I knew for sure that I wasn’t safe, I shouldn’t be alone, how dare I enjoy nature on my own when there are so many dangers out to get me, and I’d better speed up so I can make sure I’m not on this journey anymore by myself or at least so someone can hear me if that grizzly decides to pounce.

I picked up my pace. My heart rate and brain terrors picked up with it. No matter what I did, that damn invisible grizzly continued to watch me from the forest above, waiting for his chance to come attack me.

Eventually, I saw John and became comforted by the fact that another human was nearby.

The immediately realized that I was no longer experiencing this immaculate nature alone and now I had to share what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience with someone else when I could have had it alone.

I may have been young, but I always held some regret about how quickly I let my anxiety take over my brain that day and how I squandered what could have been a transformative experience. And all because of being convinced of my own pending doom in the form of a stupid grizzly bear I never even saw.

Okay, now fast forward again.

Maybe the bear showing up makes a little more sense to you now. I didn’t see it again. But I felt it. I felt my anxiety start to bubble up. I became convinced – absolutely convinced – that if I didn’t get out of the chamber right then, it would attack me. It had waited all these years for the perfect moment when I was completely alone and vulnerable again. And it would finish the job it started back in the day.

But I was older now. I knew that the stupid bear only had the power I gave him. I knew that I technically could get out of the chamber at any time. I could end the experience quickly and just wait around for my husband to finish his time while I continued to be distracted by my phone or any other external distraction my brain knew and loved.

Instead, I stared that bear back in its invisible face – or maybe it’s butt? Again, I had no sense of direction in there – and I told it to back off. I told it that this time, I was going to finish this experience. I wasn’t going to rush it. And I wasn’t going to let its fear keep me from being present and breathing calmly. Eventually, it went away.

I have no idea what the end ratio was of monkey mind wild thoughts to eventual calm brain after my chamber experience. It could be that my brain was insane for an hour and 50 minutes, and crazy calm for the last 10. Or maybe it was insane for 10 and crazy calm for the rest of it. I do know that after I stared down the bear, it started a quick chain reaction that eventually led to me being so in a calm zone, I was shocked to hear the eventual knocks to let me know my time had passed. I know that when the knocks eventually came, they brought me back from somewhere between awake and sleeping that helped me better understand the nature of myself and of reality as I know it.

I loved my depravation chamber experience despite the safety failings that allowed a bear to join me for a short – or was it long? – time. I also know that the bear will be back again. He shows up whenever I’m out of my comfort zone and getting in deep touch with myself. He remind me that danger could be around every corner. But now that I beat him in the chamber using only my mind (seriously, I couldn’t find my body, I had temporarily misplaced it), I know that I can handle him whenever and wherever he shows up next. Maybe it’ll be next week, maybe it’ll be next decade. But I beat him once, I can beat him again.

Hey, but if you see a grizzly bear for real, please don’t try the stare down technique. It only works for metaphorical bears.

Ayurveda Schedule

training_the_mind_healing_the_body_16360dpI recently listened to this fantastic audiobook called Training the Mind, Healing the Body. It’s dense and hefty, but totally worth it.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started listening, but the title was catchy so I was 0pen.

It turned out to be a great audio course in holistic healing, specifically through using Ayurvedic methods.

That sentence felt really zen and really nerdy. And I loved it.

One of the ideas that stuck with me most was the argument that our body, like the seasons, has it’s own schedule. Which means more than just whether or not you’re a “night owl” or an “early bird.” Theses guys basically make the argument that all bodies respond to certain stimulus at certain times better than others. You’ll have to do your own research to learn the details, but I thought it was a really cool concept. And, since I’m all about trying out different schedules that work with my life, I’m gonna try this one on for size.

It makes a lot of sense. Even if I can’t implement all of it, there are small things that I can. Like, the idea that your body is more responsive to exercise and energy in the morning than late at night. And that you genuinely need to wind down and sleep at reasonable hours and your sleep will be better than if you sleep too early in the morning.

I don’t exactly have the most holistic schedule at the moment and I don’t always have a lot of control over the windows of opportunity I have for healthy habits I enjoy like meditation and exercise. But I’m slowly but surely carving out a more reasonable and doable schedule for myself and a generally more balanced life. So as I continue to get closer to that balance, I’m going to do my best to implement all these small changes as well.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

Emerging from the Cocoon

butterflyFor my consistent readers, you may recall that I recently posted about “Going in.” I was entering a phase of intense work on both my productivity and myself.

I thought I would come out in early December. Turns out, I’ve got more work to do.

While I already feel like I’ve made some progress, and I’m certainly working on some issues I knew I needed to work on while going in, I’m not in any big hurry to reenter society yet. Of course I’m still going out and working as usual in many ways, but it’s a mental attitude shift that I’m going through right now. I’m being extra aware of my emotions and mind and spending huge chunks of free time filling my brain with information. I’m taking extra time to work on me and reshaping my own foundation. And it turns out, it feels pretty good to take the time to do this. And there’s more work here than I anticipated. So I’m gonna stay in for a little while longer.

It’s like when you take your car in and get an estimate on some obvious damage, then when they actually open the car up they realize there’s a lot more damage than they anticipated and it’s gonna take longer than you thought. That’s what’s happening with me right now. At least that’s how I feel.

And that’s ok. We’re all damaged. I’m going through some serious physical and mental makeovers at the moment. We’re upgrading and prepping for the craziness ahead and I wanna make sure the car is in perfect working order before we go test the limits.

I’ll probably be here throughout the rest of the year. Don’t worry about me. In fact, maybe take some time for you. It’s not terrible here in the cave. Sure, emotions run rampant and there’s intense fear you’ve got to face head-on daily… but it’s kind of exhilarating, too.

New Years Prep

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundIt’s coming. Just a few short weeks away. It’s coming.

And if you’re anything like me, you not only plan your New Year’s Resolutions weeks in advance, but you constantly recommit to goals throughout the year. The holidays are alright but New Years is when the type A planners like myself who love goals and productivity really feel like giddy little kids.

As excited as I am, I’m already anxious. I’m anxious at the number of people who will be at the gym again. I’m anxious about how many people will be setting themselves up for unachievable goals without action plans associated with them and how I will have to see them slowly get frustrated as the months wear on. I’m anxious I’m going to overshoot my own goals and be thrown off when life has obvious other plans for me.

But I know that the anxiety means I need to be realistic about what I want to accomplish and how to achieve it. And it means I need to make sure I keep up my meditation so I can keep my wandering mind in check. So if you haven’t yet thought about New Years, start thinking about it. Because it’s never too early to plan and it’s never to late to start!

I just made that up. Just now. I kinda like it. I’ll probably hate it by the time I actually publish this post because I ‘ll realize how silly it sounds, but whatever. I like it for now so I’m keepin’ it.

Break’s Over

I had an epic day yesterday. I performed on The Groundlings stage in the early afternoon then a few hours later on the UCB stage. It was delightful.double day

A lot of time, energy, and effort went into both shows and I had a blast.

I also went without working out for two weeks because of the amount of time, energy, and effort that went into those shows.

I have to watch myself because I have a tendency to put too much on my plate. When I do that, I let the important me-things like exercise, meditation and journaling fall by the wayside.

Now that my big day yesterday is done (and was a ton of fun), it’s time to start reevaluating and re-grounding. I let myself sleep in but still worked out in my apartment as best I could for 20 minutes this morning. I’m gonna make sure I get in a quick meditation this afternoon. I’m gonna try and get some rest tonight so I can get up tomorrow and start getting back on track.

Of course there are lots of things I always have on the docket, but I gave myself a break to focus on getting through yesterday. Now that yesterday is done…break’s over. Back to work.

Episode 59: Meditation – Show Notes

The latest episode of Femoir: The Podcast is available online streaming or on iTunes for free!meditation I talk about meditation- which is a subject I’ve written about before. I throw out some different kinds of meditation including Tibetan, guided, zen and TM. I talk about some meditation apps you can get at the App Store. All in all, I basically make the case for meditation. And I’m not the first person to do so. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPLn1ZgGxos Catch ya next episode, friends.

Podcast Episode 51 – Show Notes

This episode of Femoir: The Podcast was all about Quiet Time. What it means to you and me.

It was a quick podcast. Not much to report.

This was the quote I referenced

In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.

Take a listen. Catch up on the other episodes on iTunes for free.

Tell me what you think and what you want me to ramble on about in the future.

It’s a Workout For Your Brain

meditationWhen I was in high school, a classmate of mine was really into Buddhism and meditation. Like, really into it. Especially for a high schooler. He practiced for hours daily, led meditation and discussion groups, and quietly ate healthy, vegetarian lunches by himself most days. He was a delightful and fun guy to be around and I always enjoyed asking him about his practice. Especially since I enjoyed meditation and spirituality as well, but didn’t have the discipline he did to follow through with the hours of practice.

One day after school, I was talking to him about his meditation specifically. I asked him how much time he takes out of his day to meditate. He responded, “It actually puts more time into my day.”

If that were a basketball game, that answer was the equivalent of a badass alley-oop. Except the person setting up the alley-oop had no idea they had set the dunker up perfectly.

I immediately understood his point. And he’s right. Every time I’m disciplined in my own meditation practice, I never notice how much time it takes “out of” my day. I always notice how much more it puts in. I’m much more present. I’m able to cultivate more compassion more easily because I’m in touch with my breath. I notice how much more efficiently I work. I notice that my brain feels sharper and I’m more in touch with my own emotions and those around me. And I also notice that I’m more at peace with whatever external things happen around me. I’m not always in response to them, letting my emotions fly off the handle no matter what’s happening. I’m more centered. Every day is more productive and positive.

I approach meditation like a workout for my brain. When you go to the gym, you can just wander around and do barely anything helpful. Or you can go, be very concentrated in your movements, aware of your surroundings and your body, and be really efficient. If you’re more present and aware, it adds time to your day. So better to do ten minutes of meditation before 45 good minutes at the gym than spend 2 hours sitting on the bike pretending you’re helping yourself while having an excuse to watch Sex in the City marathons.

Like my own workouts, I’m not always perfect in my practice. I don’t make time to meditate every day. The funny part is, the more I meditate, the more I’m OK with the days I don’t get to practice. Because I’m more OK with everything in general. So it makes me want to meditate even more. It’s a great cycle to be caught up in.

I have a couple apps I use right now. Mindfulness and Simply Being. I also have a Pocket Zen app that sends me reminders to be more aware of different elements of life throughout my day. It sounds annoying, but is actually wonderful.

Do you meditate? Does it help you? Do you have a specific time or style you use? I’d love to hear about it.

And if you don’t yet make time to meditate, try it. I always think about what my friend said to me when I was 16. It doesn’t take time out of your day- it actually adds to it.