An Exercise in Meditation

Tonight was my first time truly meditating on my own. I’ve spent some time getting into the groove of things prior to the start of yoga class, but I’ve never set out to sit with myself and my thoughts for 20 minutes alone until tonight. Lately, I feel like I’ve been on this precipice: Between all these markers of adulthood – working toward our own business, this fly-by-night urge to procreate, putting 10% of our income into a savings account – I’ve started to wonder, who am I? Is this me? Are these my rules or am I falling into some sort of prescribed lifestyle? It’s been sort of a harrowing ride. Tonight, though, I felt compelled to sit alone with my thoughts. I think they would have come to me whether I liked it or not. So, after about 20 minutes on a pillow in my bedroom, my transcript with my thoughts, as follows…

Me: “So…”

Self: “So…”

Me: “Um, Where do we go from here?”

Self: Minute’s worth of shuffling through thoughts, repeating the question. Then, a direct bee-line to my MIL’s door. “Take it easy.”

Me: “Yeah?” I nod my head. “Yeah, huh.”

Self: Same warm line to her door. “Yeah. Giver her some slack.”

Me: Lump in throat, welling up. “Yeah. You’re right.” Images of money and bills and who pays for what suddenly seem so silly and inconsequential. Sigh. “But what about me?”

Self: “What about you?”

Me: “I want to feel…. productive… Fulfilled.”

Self: Shuffling through warm images of my friend James, my friend Jess, my friend Erin, my friend Ashley. “Fulfilled?”

Me: Tears rolling down my cheeks. “Ok, ok. You’re right.”

Self: Shuffles through images of James & Jess again. “Fulfilled? What if your job right now is to learn how to be a friend? These friendships are fulfilling, right?”

Me: It’s so fucking clear. Jesus, I’m an idiot. “I get it. No, you’re right. I do, I get it… but… what about at home?” I practically subconsciously nod my head toward my husband sitting on the couch, unhappy, watching the Lakers game in the other room. I want more than anything to fix things for him, to have this new life, to start this new business, to make our dreams a reality.

Self: Empty space, but warm all the same.

Suddenly, I know.

Me: “This is really only about me, isn’t it.”

Warmer, emptier space.

Self: “This is about you. The time you spend learning to be a friend and fulfilling yourself with these close friendships is indeterminate. But this is where we are going.”

I picture these friends, where they are going, the accomplishments they’re achieving, their forward motion and all the spirit fingers I’ve promised them on their journeys.

Me: “So, what… a year? This is the year of friendships?”

Self: “There’s no timeline. But it is most important now.”

Me: “Ok. Ok. No, I get it. Ok.” I take a second to wipe the snot pouring from my nose. I decide at that instance that as a meditation novice I can break free of my sitting position to wipe my nose. I don’t open my eyes, I just lean over and use the corner of the duvet that’s hanging at nose-level. Maybe, in the future, meditating won’t turn on the waterworks so quickly.

Suddenly things get warmer. I forgot to mention that my palms get warm every time my Self responds. But now my whole body is experiencing this warmth. My back straightens all on its own. The crown of my head is reaching toward the stars. There’s a smile on my face that I have not consciously initiated, nor can I control (nor do I want to!). The same voice that came over me at last week’s yoga class is repeating the same mantra: “It’s ok to be here. It’s ok to be here.” Suddenly, the dark behind my eyes isn’t so dark. It’s changing shades of light I’ve never seen with my eyes closed. I’m rising up, lifting my head, grinning like an idiot but never once stopping to think about that or even care. Is this the blue light I’ve read about in texts? Mine’s more of a mauve hue, maybe a peach, but it just keeps getting lighter. There’s no one outside of me to watch, to judge, to gaze, to say that if anyone were watching right now they’d totally laugh their asses off, watching me inch upward like a trained snake. No, it’s ok to be here. To be right here. To follow this feeling wherever it takes me. To…

To reach for my BlackBerry when my alarm marking 20 minutes pipes up. To break down into silent sobs with this breakthrough. To watch the wisps of that connection drift away with a final, “ok. No, ok. You’re right.”

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Procrastination Station

I am, at this very moment, procrastinating. I have a huge project to do for my side job, one that was supposed to go out last weekend, and I haven’t even started. The kicker is, I’m not even worried that I haven’t started. I’ll get there. I won’t let it get too far out. I just… ran out of time this week.

First it was the damn lasagna that took hours on Saturday. Then the brooding that started during lasagna prep and continued through the day when I learned via text that my siblings can’t see me unless I make the first move to repair the relationship with my parents (a really incredible manipulative move that I just can’t seem to wrap my brain around). Sunday was the epic 4-hour girl time followed by hazy brain and a little work on another side project. Monday was dinner at our favorite pub followed by our first live show in a long time – followed by a rousing game of Liar’s Dice back at the pub that neither one of us can admit was a good idea. Last night and the night before were meetings with people who (we think) can help us with our new venture.

All great excuses reasons, no? I think the hardest part is knowing that my plate is so full, the days I had scheduled to work on this project have passed. These coming days are booked solid with other projects, even this weekend! I’ve totally screwed myself and that makes me more overwhelmed, which makes me more tired, which makes me procrastinate more. My husband’s going to tell me that’s what our summit was for – to avoid these times that I go totally apeshit and lock myself in the office latenight to finish something I’ve put off.

I thought, at 29, that I was over this bullshit routine, but apparently I’m a master in life’s buffet line, piling everything in sight onto my tiny little plate. At least I don’t fill up on salad – I hear that’s where they get you.

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Is This the Beginning of the End?

After a glorious Sunday afternoon of girl time that included a walk in the park and window shopping… wait, did I just say that? Who am I? Where am I? Window shopping? Girl time? But no, it’s true, my dear comrade-in-non-girly-things and I took advantage of the beautiful day and walked among the blossoms and cruised in and out of shops, seemingly oblivious to our grubby gym clothes as we waded through throngs of barely dressed sorority girls.

Afterward, I found myself exhausted and lazy, so I tugged my hoodie over my head, read for about 20 minutes, and took a quick doze into the late afternoon, waking up just in time for my husband to start bottling his first batch of home-brewed beer.

This task, obviously, required beer-drinking in order to be mastered. MIL had a rough & backbreaking day turning our backyard into a livable space again (lest you think I’m a chore-shirker, I’ll explain our “chore duties” in another post) so she requested a bottle of gin. I, having done nothing but solve the world’s problems during a brisk walk with my girlfriend, offered to throw on some pants and shoes and drive to the neighborhood market.

Those blossoms, whose beauty and vigor we’d so admired earlier in the day, really did a number on my headspace, so as I headed into the store, I cruised in a semi-haze toward the big easel-backed dry-erase board advertising RAVIOLI DINNERs on sale for Valentine’s Day. Knowing I may very well run into clients or my boss or future investors, I quickly removed the hood I still had over my head from my nap. As I hazily meandered to the booze aisle, I noticed a few sideways glances, but didn’t put much thought into them. I chose a good six-pack of New Belgium’s Ranger and debated for way too long on the merits of a small vs. large bottle of gin (choosing the smaller because $7 is quite a difference when I think about it, and one of our goals from our summit was to “watch less TV and drink less”), then headed to the aisle of my favorite checker.

He wasn’t as friendly as most visits, and I wasn’t as chatty – it was almost as if he didn’t recognize me at first. We discussed the new rules involving bagging booze (it’s not required anymore), and he sent me on my way, six-pack and bottle of gin in hand. I still had the feeling of concerned eyes on me, but I didn’t pay much attention, even after I realized the pants I’d rushed on weren’t exactly clean and still had the reminders of a good dirty soccer-ball tug-of-war with the dog.

The woman leaving the store ahead of me seemed to be in the same fog I was; strolling ever so slowly with her cart and letting her small child dance about. I couldn’t seem to get around her, so we ended up uncomfortably sharing the same personal space bubble for a minute too long. Finally, I made it to my car and paused to hit the automatic lock button. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of myself in the tinted windows. After hurriedly removing my sweatshirt hood on the way into the store, I hadn’t thought twice about what my pixie cut could possibly be up to. You know, a little product, some walk-sweat and a nap couldn’t possibly equate anything other than a red-carpet masterpiece. I gasped as I realized a large section of hair on the right side of my head, inching its way to the heavens as if it were tied to a string. My cowlick was in full force, falling all over itself to get to the front of my head. The hair on the left side of my head was making its way to the right, obviously wanting to join in the fun that footloose and fancy-free hair was experiencing.

I hurriedly raked my fingers through my tufts of short hair and tried to smooth the escaping tendrils. “This is how it begins,” I thought, imagining my favorite checker explaining to his comrades or the gentleman behind me buying a six pack and a dozen roses that the last time he saw me I walked out with a six-pack of Ranger and a bottle of gin, my hair all a mess and no light in my eyes. “This must be the beginning of the end.”

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The Mom Filter

Oftentimes, especially during a tiff with my husband, I’ll catch myself asking, “what would she do in this situation?” or, worse yet, “Oh man, did I just do what my mom would have done?”

In the last two years, a lot of my growth has stemmed from recognizing some of the glaring personality traits my mom has and trying to apply the exact opposite to myself. Not out of spite or some need to make sure I’m “NOTHING LIKE HER,” more out of recognizing the hurtful things she habitually did that I never want to mimic. Minimizing others’ hurt feelings, for example. Demanding unwavering respect without offering any in return. Using emotional jabs to “win” an argument. Those kinds of things.

Granted, I know there are some personality traits I inevitably picked up from her – who hasn’t noticed that as they’ve aged they cock their head to one side just like their mom or chortle in amusement just like their dad? I have her height, her nose and her forehead. I catch myself fake-laughing like her. I say “Oh, uh-huh?” just like her when people say something I’m supposed to find interesting but I’m not sure how to respond.

But I’m talking the big stuff. The courage to admit fault. Keeping a cool head while discussing emotionally heavy subjects. Abstaining from a quick emotional jab and working toward a long-term solution instead. Those things I can affect. I can apply them to the loving relationship I have with my husband. Or anyone, for that matter. And I can teach them and so much more, including unconditional love and support, to my children.

I often wonder when she had me at 21 if she thought the same… and if so, what changed?

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Our Corporate Retreat Disguised as a Romantic Getaway

When we took off last week to our ‘romantic artist’s bungalow’ in the mountains, of course one reason was to get some alone mini-vacay time together. But the main reason we escaped is to begin what we hope will become our annual summit, where we can talk openly about our goals – for the house, our careers, our relationship, even just for ourselves.

Living with roommates can be difficult if you’re an independent-minded, quirky individual. When you marry a similarly independent-minded, quirky individual with anal retentive particular tendencies, and you each bring along your insane pet (him: three-legged moody Rottweiler; me: raddest cat in the world), roommates are pretty much out of the question. Until a perfect storm of events leads you to share alllllll of that (yes, even your secret of reading in the bathroom) with his mom.

To be fair, given the circumstances, our living arrangement is pretty ideal. I lucked out in scoring my MIL; she’s truly an incredible lady. The three of us have regular team meetings and an understanding that being open and honest with each other is going to be what makes our temporary cohabitation successful.

As great as all this is, though, we couldn’t help but notice how stagnant we felt in 2010. Our roommate is also reeeally good at being, well, a mom, often insisting we work too hard, that we need to relax with a glass of wine and just watch TV. Which, you know, is true. We do work hard. I technically have five jobs. But I think we thrive on that kind of busy-ness, too, which is something we drifted away from last year. We’ve all sort of adapted to the most comfortable elements of the situation; we drink more wine, we chat more about our days, we watch a terrific amount of TV. Until we completely lose our shit when we’re face-to-face with a (usually self-imposed) deadline.

As you might guess, our biggest meltdowns stem from a feeling of not being in control of our situation, or not having a chance to really hash things out when we start to feel underwater. Because no matter how much she insists she’s not listening (“I’m just a ghost floating through,” she says), and no matter how much we believe her, we naturally edit those big, heavy conversations to keep the household energy at a minimum level.

So we scheduled Summit 2011, a three-night, three-day escape with the computer, pads of paper, pens, ideas and dreams. And we spent all day Friday (with a break for sandos and beers in between) dissecting important aspects of our lives and how we’d like to develop them over the year. For example, I’d like to incorporate regular dental & car care into our budget, while he’d like to figure out a way to ride his bike to work. We’d both like to go camping (in a tent! I’ve never done that before!) twice this year and transform our office into more of a yoga / music / hangout place. I thought I wanted to bring in backyard chickens. He’d like me to make dinner on the days he spends on the road for work and we’d both prefer to have regular time scheduled to do things together. Outside, even.

They’re not monumental changes (other than starting our business, which is a really big part of the equation that took up another big chunk of our retreat), but they’re little things we feel we can have control over so we don’t watch another year go by and think, “what exactly did I accomplish this year?”

He and I now have weekly morning tea meetings where we check in on the progress of these goals and set benchmarks for the following week. We even brought our goals to MIL, who gave us the green light to say to her, “can’t chat politics tonight, have xyz to do.” I’ve already been so much more productive, I even hauled my cookies to the gym last night for a turn on the treadmill. The backyard chicken thing, though. That was a bust. More on that later.

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Beating Around the Bush

My ruminations are really almost always centered around one thing – make that two things – the dissolution of my relationship with my mom and stepdad and the future my husband and I dream about and work toward every day. Kind of a sad middle ground, now that I’m looking at that in writing, finding myself brooding over the past or the future, but not the present. Then again, I guess there isn’t much to mull over in the present; it’s just continually happening.

But this looking behind or ahead isn’t a constant rumination – it’s mostly when I’m tired or overworked or have a little downtime, or something sparks my memory and I look into it again.

The ongoing saga with my family is why I started the blog (semi-anonymously, remember), because 1) I don’t think I’m alone; 2) sometimes I just need to hash things out instead of wasting all the hot water while I contemplate every angle of the situation in the shower (that’s my thinking place).

But I’ve noticed that my post ideas have sort of danced around the subject but not really delved into it. Where to start? The Beginning (past)? The subject of my rumination at the moment (the present)? What I see / think / fear can happen in this family saga (the future)? Should I just delve in? Maybe I should just delve in. Ok, here I go, delving.

My husband (boyfriend-slash-fiance at the time) and I had a falling out with my parents after working for them for a couple of years. What followed, and still endures, was a harrowing emotional battle where (for them), no blow was too low, and any person not willing to accept their version of events at face value (my grandma, her sister, many of their customers) became an enemy. But what’s grown from that has been a formidable strengthening awareness of who I am and who I’m meant to be.

I’ve spent the last two years in yoga-therapy and deep rumination, discovering amazing truths about myself and my mother. The former are mind-blowing; the latter as well, but for different reasons.

These thoughts, the ones that come up when I start to really examine everyone involved as humans, these are what I ruminate on. The idea of forgiveness. The quest to become my best self. The wondering what could possibly have made someone so loathe to admit fault or take responsibility for their actions. My constant comparisons between the two of us that I hold up to the light for deep, three-dimensional observation. The tailspin I go into when someone says, ‘I can’t understand how a mother can do this to her child,’ is a heavy reminder that I’d never looked at it that way, a testament to my programming, no doubt.

A rather new outcome of all of this introspection has been a return to the center of my own best self. There’s no more self-loathing, no more brushing off of my feelings as petty or overblown, no more digging extra hard to convince myself that I am the root cause of this familial strife. My strength and integrity combine to form my shield; and those emotional quivers in her bow sail right past me, never hitting their mark (I just finished Ken Follett’s World Without End, can you tell?). The absolute best part of that is, when she shifts focus to train those same arrows onto her own mother or sister, inflicting half-truths and character assassination along the way, my truth and strength join with theirs to create a force field of love and respect, and the arrows don’t even hit. Don’t even come close. In fact, in an almost regretful imagining, I see them hover before their intended targets, then turn right around and make way for their point of inception. I’m rubber and you’re glue, don’tchaknow.

I guess after this post there is no more beating around the bush. It’s out there. I won’t talk about my boring weekend plans instead of getting this all out because, well, who wants to read about chicken coop plans and lazy Saturdays in front of the computer? BORING. Now, the story of our raucous bourbon-fueled night in the mountains during mini vacay is one to tell. Go the World!

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After the Challenge: Gaining Control

I’m not sure if I expected that silly 21-day challenge to wake up at 6 AM or earlier to affect me in more ways than just getting myself out of bed, but it turns out it taught me a lot about my habit of giving in to indulgences.

See, I was even going to indulge and start off this paragraph with a toot of the horn to say the challenge was a success – even though I did take one day off while we were on our mini retreat. In my indulgent defense, though, I still woke up at 8 AM to make it to our massage appointment the day after a rousing adventure in a small town that started with a bottle of zinfandel and ended 4 bourbons apiece later with everyone in the karaoke bar (including the 70-year-old waitress) hugging us goodbye at 1 am.

But still, that wasn’t 21 days in a row, even though I woke up at 5:30 the 3 days after the challenge was up to make it to yoga. So do I consider the challenge conquered, even after the 8 AM vacation hiccup? I do, and only because I’ve regained a sense of control and balance. Twenty days of early rising and only one bourbon bender – and even then, up at 8 AM? Yeah, I’m taking it.

Because here’s what I learned: When it comes to my habits, my brain is a whiny 7-year-old that constantly needs coaxing, maybe even some bribes, and a strict regimen. I can often hear it clear as day: “I don’t wanna get up!” I. WANT. MORE. WINE!” “Unnnh, I don’t want to DO that!” And on and on until I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas at 10 AM, watching The Dish on DVR and eating chocolate pie and spiked coffee for breakfast because for some reason I deserve it, dammit!

But that 21-day challenge thing was a wakeup call that I can whip that little fucker into shape and not just give in to every whim. I just have to tell it no. No, you may have one glass of wine tonight and only if you drink a glass of water first. Nobody’s died from lack of wine. Or bourbon, for that matter. No, you may not go buy a cheeseburger for lunch because you forgot to make lunch at home. Eat some of that oatmeal you have stashed away. You won’t die of hunger. Waking up at 6 AM won’t kill you. Neither will yoga. You’re a grown-ass woman, please behave like one.

And when that doesn’t work, it’ll be back to some new 21-day challenge. Maybe I should start a one-drink-only-per-night challenge…

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