Friday, February 26, 2016

What Meditation Looks Like in My Life These Days

The 40/40 is complete.  Much as I expected, it's taking some time to settle into a new year without the list looming over my daily and or monthly schedule. I am growing more and more comfortable with the quiet, low tech life I have carved out for myself.

True to my 2016 goals, I am reading more, resting, and writing my book's second draft. (Book stats: 54 pages double-spaced; word count is at nearly 19,000 words.)

I have read a lot about meditation and always felt inadequate at my attempts. In the spirit of being gentle and not worrying about outcome, I've begun to meditate several mornings a week before I leave for work. I set my phone alarm for 10 or 11 minutes, sit quietly in a chair in my office, and close my eyes.

The mantra that helps me quiet my mental chatter the most is: dwell <inhale>, here <exhale>. I notice these two words help me to watch my thoughts pass across my mind's eye like a cloud.

I can't explain it really, but I am experiencing what I have read would happen as a result of meditation: I move more purposefully through my day. I feel calmer. I feel more in touch with my emotions and more aware of the sensations I experience in my body. I am better able to handle the ups and downs of every day life. Yes, all of this in just ten minutes' time.

I wondered what Cadence would make of this new practice. I have been pleasantly surprised. This morning she set the alarm for me. She continued her personal morning routine without my needing to coax her. She walks quietly past my open office door.

When I hear her approach, I stick out my hand and offer to hold it.  I do this with my eyes closed and with no words.  She takes my hand, holds it for a moment, and then moves along.

This morning after the hand holding, I heard her walk to her room and begin reciting her Girl Scout pledge, several lines of text that her troop leaders have asked the girls to memorize in preparation for their bridging ceremony to Junior Girl Scouts this spring.

She took this upon herself, and has nearly the entire passage memorized.

I smiled to myself as I heard her practice.

I am so pleased that the new life I am creating for myself is making space for my daughter to explore, think, and create in her own life. I love that we've reached a stage where she honors my time and choices without a fuss. It's quite an experience to be encouraged in your own pursuits by your child.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentine Reflection

Cadence was eight months old on her first Valentine's Day.  I decided to take her photo holding the same homemade sign each year on our staircase and send it as a Valentine to friends and family near and far.

It's fun to look at all the pictures at once. The photos say so much about this child: that she is happy; that she stopped wearing jeans after kindergarten; that she would prefer to be shoe-free and sock-less all the time; that she is expressive; that she has a ready smile.  More than anything, these photos remind me that this girl has a big heart and knows her own very strong mind.

I am proudest of those two qualities of hers and do everything, as her mother, to foster, cultivate, and encourage those attributes to grow with her.

This year's photo is particularly poignant for me.  I feel blessed beyond words that we live in this house, a year after our transition. I knew we would continue this important family tradition wherever we landed, but I am deeply grateful that we get to keep taking the photos in this staircase for years to come.

This Valentine's Day is different from others.  My daughter isn't with me this weekend, so her goody bag was waiting for her to open before school on Friday morning. More often than not, Valentine's Day has not been a day of romance for me, but a celebration of love and friendship. It remains the case this year. I am so grateful for the love showered on me by my friends in myriad ways year round.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Author Meet-and-Greet: Ruta Sepetys

Three years ago, I listened to a haunting, beautifully written story about a little known tragedy during World War II.  The book was Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.  After finishing it, I hand wrote her a letter of appreciation, and she wrote back!

In my letter I shared that I felt I had a story to write, but didn't know what it was, and that I would keep reading and being inspired and writing until the story came to me.

Tonight at a local library event, I had the pleasure of introducing myself and my daughter to Ruta. I said, "I hand wrote you a letter..." and she said, "And I wrote you back!"

I told her that what she had written to me had meant so much, "It will be wonderful to read your work one day."

I love these author meet-and-greets. I love including my daughter. I love envisioning myself in a similar situation.

Ruta gave interesting background on her newest book Salt of the Sea and discussed her research process.

At one point she looked at her writing friend and said, "Some days writing sucks, doesn't it?" I laughed out loud and watched as a writing friend who sat in the row ahead of us wrote it in his journal.

What a comfort to know that this writing life is hard for even the published authors!

Someone asked if I'd like our photo taken with Ruta and I handed my phone to a woman on the library staff. I was touched when Ruta said, "Will you take one with my phone?" We discussed my plan to publish under my maiden name. "We'll be close to each other on the shelves!" Ruta enthused.

This last comment impressed Cadence and we talked about our impressions of the event and meeting an author on our drive home. I keep wondering what influence these kinds of evenings will have on Cadence as she grows up. I know how important they are to my development as a writer.

If you enjoy historical fiction or are looking for a new author's work to dive into, I highly recommend Ruta Sepetys. Her stories cover difficult, little-known times in history, but they demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit. You won't be disappointed.  Her newest book is Salt to the Sea.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nourish - Addendum to the Word of 2016

An interaction in the hallway at work with a colleague inspired me to add another word to my Word of 2016 list: nourish.  The interaction sounded like this.

B: Hi, Julie. <in hushed tones> Have you lost weight?

Me: <nod of my head> Yes. Yes I have. I'm just not ever hungry. And since I'm alone a lot, I just skip meals. I know I don't have any weight to lose.

B: Julie, it's not about being hungry. It's about being healthy and NOURISHING your body. I don't want you to get sick. You need to be strong and healthy for your daughter.

Me: Yes, you are right.

B: Revisit the food pyramid and look at the foods you need to NOURISH your body.

Me: Yes, I will. Thank you.

B did not say the word nourish in bold letters, but that's how I heard them. Since I'm a word nerd, that word stood out to me. NOURISH was the flashlight I needed to illuminate a darkened path. I'd stopped wearing most of my trousers because they were too loose. I'd stopped running because I knew I wasn't fueling my body well enough to support that extra effort. These were subconscious clues that I my stress non-eating was taking a toll.  I knew deep down I needed to pay attention to this, but until B initiated this conversation, I didn't know what to do.

I am proud of how I responded. In the past, I would have obsessed and worried over this conversation, and been paralyzed by fear. That day, I decided to let nourishing myself be my guide. I bought supplement drinks to add more calories, asked a friend to cook for me on occasion on evenings when I am on my own, and asked a couple friends to pray for an increased appetite and for weight gain.

Since that hallway conversation, I have taken care to make three meals a day a habit again regardless of whether I feel hunger or not. I am not overwhelmed by the situation. I know I can improve it one meal at a time. So far I have gained back about four pounds, and have my sights on gaining another five. When I hit that weight, I will aim for another five pounds.

TRUST and NOURISH really do seem to be the most appropriate words for me to meditate on in this season of my life. They offer the next steps in self-care that were initiated when I chose the word gentle in 2015. I am in a season of rest, healing, and becoming my best self. Those goals will be achieved as I trust God, myself, and others and as I nourish my body, mind, and spirit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Latest Classroom

This ice rink where I've been taking lessons for the past few months has become my newest classroom for the "Advanced Life Degree" I'm pursuing.

Part of the curriculum covers Facing Fears and Being Gentle with Oneself.  If you read 300 Rejections with any regularity, you'll know that these items are frequently repeated on the syllabus.  This degree I'm getting is heavy in the "the lessons will be presented repeatedly until it seems you've finally gotten it." It could take a semester or in the case of fear and gentleness decades.

I've started doing harder stuff on the ice and in these hard moments, I am reintroduced to my constant companion, Fear. The past few classes I could tell that my fears of falling and not doing the techniques correctly were getting in the way of enjoying the class. Tonight's lesson presented itself when I fell on the ice. I prided myself on the fact that I hadn't fallen in previous classes. I wore it like a gold medal around my neck. 

I'm not going to say I made myself fall because I didn't. It wasn't a dramatic fall either. In fact, my teacher skated up to me and said, "That was a very graceful fall. I just heard a little thud." I don't know exactly what caused me to fall technique-wise, but I can say that even as I was going down, I heard myself say, "This needed to happen." I fell without hitting my head and landed on my back. I laid still for a second to access if I'd hurt anything and then regroup before standing up. I brushed off the ice from my leggings and smiled at my teacher. 

"Well, that's over." I went back to skating.

It's the same lesson I learned on the stand-up paddle board yoga class a few summers back. The first class I took I prided myself on staying on the board and dry the entire class. The next class I realized that falling in the water was not a form of failure, and when I allowed myself to slip into the water it was powerful moment of surrender and letting go of unimportant expectations to which I hold myself.

See, I create arbitrary rules for myself like, You'll be more successful at skating if you don't fall down. Says who? Who the hell cares if I fall? (I might have cared more had I hurt myself, but thankfully I did not hurt one bit.)

I skated better after the fall. The undo, unnecessary, and unrealistic expectation that I didn't fall became pressure that kept me from enjoying the lessons. With a fall under my belt, I was free to move with more ease.  Falling on the ice was no longer something to avoid or a fear of something unknown.

By the end of class, I was doing back crossovers quite well--a skill that has taken me weeks to get the hang of. In some cases, I'm a slow learner. It is taking repeated lessons to teach me that it's isn't a big deal to fall--or fail--it's just important that I keep getting back on my feet.

It is no coincidence that it was at the end of THIS class--the one where the fall occurred, where I finally relaxed and enjoyed myself--that my teacher said, "You're a skater. You are getting the hang of it!"