Taking my time–easier said than done!

Ah. Remember that taking my time intention? Yeah, about that. It feels like I own almost none of my own time. Lately, I’ve been living in this electric fog of anxiety and overwhelm. I abandoned my daily mandala meditation. I wake up in the middle of the night with low-grade  anxiety or sweaty moments of panic.  I swear that I am a little cognitively impaired for it all (I’m not even being flippant). I teach coping skills to teenagers but am not all that sure that I am even using them (that is hyperbole, probably. I think?).  I’m just trying not to fall off the edge of everything.

Automatic thought roll call: I can’t do this? (Here!) I should be doing more? (Yo, teach!) This is too much? (Hey!)  I am going to fail? (Present and accounted for!) It’s tough because the minimal requirements of finishing my degree are real and substantial. But there’s a lot of core-belief and low self-esteem action at work there, and when I’m not in full-blown emotion mind (can you tell that I think a lot about cognitive & dialectical behavior therapy?) I’m really trying to figure out how to give myself a break.

green thingsIt hasn’t been a total wash. Over the weekend, I connected with a couple of friends to share seeds and grilled cheese sandwiches with. It was good for the soul to take my time for that. It reminded me that I really miss my community and that, in spite of my introversion, I really love to gather a community.  I love to be together and do stuff. And on top of it all, it was this wonderful chance to attend to and share my garden dreams. With a huge pile of work to do, the two hours had seemed almost impossible to take–but I’m glad I did. I am exhausted, but it was a boost of delightful anticipation and a nice distraction from the grind that demands so much of my focus.

And the seeds I planted are coming up.  Ah, hope.  I look at them every day. It does help.

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What I’ve Been Doing (Right)

Like many people, I struggle with a very critical inner voice, one who never hesitates to point out all of the ways I fail to meet my own goals.  I meant to take some time off of my internship this week in order to relax and give myself a little time to do some pre-job search tasks before jumping back into the fray–but I ended up going each day.  I had my reasons, and I think I made the right decision (and in any case, it was the decision I made), but my inner critic made sure to remind me that I really fall short at work-life balance.

While I appreciate that I have this voice–she is wise in many ways and reminds me of my values–I am also trying to work on cultivating a more moderate, kind, nonjudgmental voice.  That voice will validate some of my impulses–like, it’s okay that I chose to take advantage of learning opportunities that presented  themselves last week. This is the time that I have for that. It is possible to both work hard and take care of myself.  That voice will also point out ways that I actually was successful at self-care as well.

And I did take my time for self care!  Let me tell you about it.

garlandI drew many mandalas (at least once a day!) as a mindfulness practice.  I have some work to do to make this activity more mindful (doing it away from my computer, for example), but I’ve really loved losing myself in the short moments of drawing these little designs.  When I can, I will write a post that walks you through the process that I take, inasmuch as there is a prescribable process.  Since I’ve been able to take the time to make a lot of these, I fashioned them into a garland to send to my sister for her birthday.  She loves mandalas and colors them a lot as part of her own self-care routine, and I have enjoyed thinking about her while doing these.  I’ve learned a lot about gentleness from her.

I saved one of the mandalas to send to a student of mine who I’ve been emailing with recently. She’s a special kid (but not a kid anymore) and I’m glad to be connected to her again. I wrote her a little note and included a star-shaped blossom. Being back in touch with this young person has given me the opportunity to re-articulate to myself some pretty important beliefs.  Chief among them is that we deserve, fundamentally, to be fulfilled, to find joy, to live well.

I’ve also been cooking.  I made this great Thai chicken soup (essentially Tom Kha, but without the lemongrass). I needed to make chicken broth because I finally ran out of the broth I made months ago and froze, so it made sense to make a chicken soup with the meat left over. I was pretty pleased with my version of “Thai seasoning,” which this recipe called for but which I could neither find nor really wanted to purchase.  It included fish sauce, sesame oil, cayenne, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, red pepper flakes, and lemon pepper, along with the lime juice.  I think it was a good deal spicier than the recipe called for, which meant that it was exactly how I like it.  And now we have a ton of leftovers between this and the black-eyed peas and collards soup I made for New Year’s Day.

okraAnd I’ve been reading.  I haven’t been reading what I’d planned to read (The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom or Swamplandia by Karen Russell), but I’ve really enjoyed two books on gardening.  The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour has a wealth of information about gardening in general and especially interplanting and succession planting.  Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail is incredibly accessible and inspiring and has a ton of practical advice for people like me who have limited space for food gardening.  I am really excited to start seedlings and watch life happen.  Between dreaming about my garden and cooking more mindfully, I’ve started to think about what it might mean to eat with an abiding respect and promotion for full and exuberant life.

So while I have continued to work hard, I have been taking my time and committing to the slower, deeper life I want to have.  And in all of that was quiet presence with my partner and snuggling with my pets.  Take that, inner critic.

How have you been taking your time lately? What do you do to take care of yourself?

Taking My Time

I have always loved New Year’s.  I remember my father grumbling once about this “pagan, arbitrary celebration” and interjecting my appreciation for celebration of an end of one thing and a beginning of another, for a sense of accomplishment and promise.  Sometimes the accomplishment is just surviving; sometimes the promise is that the next year won’t be quite as miserable.  Be that as it may, I like the ritual.

I am, however, a New Year’s Resolution agnostic. Oh, I’ve made them. I’ve been that person at your gym.  I lasted ’til April or so, then fell off the wagon, then tried again in August.  I love the idea of setting an intention, of making promises to myself–but I am in the skeptical camp on account of my own failure at the gym.  Change–real change–takes a fair amount of studied analysis of what’s working and what’s not working, what motivations are competing, and so forth.  I wish to lose weight, save money, and simplify my schedule; but those goals, thus articulated, are not that useful. I could make them smarter–and I will–but that’s not what I’d like New Year’s to be about.

I was spending time with a cluster of sweet girl friends today, and one of them brought up this other way of thinking about New Year’s resolutions, wherein one considers the whole of her life and chooses a theme word or phrase.  While the social worker in me wants my goals to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound, the poet in me–arguably the dominant voice, let’s be honest–loves the notion of the theme that permeates everything, the guiding metaphor.  So that is what I’m going to do.

When I start thinking about my obstacles to change for losing weight, saving money, or simplifying my schedule, I notice that I breathe a little faster, raise my shoulders to my ears, and feel almost claustrophobic. I immediately start thinking about the next thing on my list, how I don’t have enough time to do everything that I want to do. I eat unmindfully because my head is crammed with deadlines; I spend money for convenience for the same reason. I rarely slow down. That’s why I think this year’s theme will be Taking My Time.

One small mandala each day, mindfully.

One small mandala each day, mindfully.

I like the language of Taking My Time for a few reasons.  It obviously invokes slowing down, which could apply to my propensity to jump to conclusions as much as it does to hurrying from Point A to Point B. It also suggests that my time is mine. I often feel guilty for taking time for myself or saying no to something that will overwhelm my schedule; consequently, I don’t do much of either.  I also like how it is reminiscent of taking it a day at a time and living in the moment.

To that end (and not contradictorily!), I have chosen a very small, very doable 365 project of drawing one mandala each day as a mindfulness practice.  And I have other goals (SMART ones, even!) that I think I’ll take a month at a time.  January’s goals focus on food routines in our home–something I’ll talk about another time.

Happy New Year.