It has been a month since I last sat down to reflect on my analogue life and life in general for Baum-kuchen. In that time, I have worked daily on the task, rather, I have worked on the art of being, rather than on productivity, action lists, and anything task driven. I call it an art because it is a beautiful way of crafting the life that I want, rather than letting life mold me. I’ve been doing all of this in the midst of the three of us, returning to the classroom, the boys as students and me as a writing instructor at Montclair State University. This in the midst of life continuing to pile much onto my proverbial plate.
This intention to somehow find a way to become more mindful in my chaotic and purpose-driven life has been no easy change to make because change, real and deep change, is never easy. Even being as motivated and inspired as I am, I find that it is easy to wake up each morning and do quite the same thing as I did yesterday because I, like many others, am a creature of habit. And even when I catch myself, because I do catch myself returning to those same old habits, I am challenged with the question, What then? Well, then comes the task of determining what exactly I will do differently to change the tempo and flavor of my whole life, while all of that which I mentioned moments ago, continues to march on, with its expectations, making demands of me. And me making demands of me. And I stop and think of Sean and the demands that life made of him. It all got reduced to the “stuff” that people have to sort through, tangible and intangible, after we are gone.
And after only four weeks of attempting this, this is what I have learned - This process is both exhilarating and frightening. I have placed a great deal of value on “getting things done” and so little value on being. Shifting the paradigm requires, not just a thought or intention, but real change. Each morning, I wake up having to remember that I am trying to change. In the past, I would get up, write, exercise, and panic, as I looked over an intense and long list of things that I had to do throughout the day. The list was always insanely and impossibly long, such that I would never have any chance of completing it before the end of the day. And this busy-ness creates a sort of rushing in my house, people moving fast or being told to move faster.
“Hustle hustle, we have to go” I can hear myself saying. What if I were to die tomorrow, suddenly, as their dad did? What would I want them to remember of me? Would I want them to remember that I could check things off a list like nobody’s business? That I could and would work my fingers to the bone daily? That I never had time to sit down? That I never had time to just “be” with them? No! No! No! I want them to remember a different kind of energy altogether. I want them to remember me being with them.
And so, this has been a month of soul-searching, searching and defining what is of value to me, and learning how to be slower.
Meditation | Quieting the mind is no easy task for someone like myself. But having a mind that is always revved up, always thinking, always being productive, is stressful. Learning to quiet my mind is absolutely necessary for this new way of being. In fact, it may be the most important thing that I will learn. Writing has always been my go-to for all things, and as much as I advocate writing for creativity, self-improvement and awareness, and healing, writing does the opposite of quieting the mind. It awakens my mind. I’m skillful with awakening the mind through writing and not so skillful at quieting the mind through meditation. Both are important for a balanced mind. To learn more about meditation, I have turned to the Calm meditation app. You can read more about it at https://www.calm.com.
Nurturing Relationships | Being more present and aware has enhanced the relationships in my life, in just this period of time. Stopping to look people in the eye during conversations. Even sitting and taking a call rather than trying to do other things during a phone call has changed the way that I see the time that I spend with the people in my life. I exchange conversation with the cashier at the supermarket. I stop to give compliments to strangers. I smile at strangers. I stop and ask people if they are okay when they don’t look okay, because I’ve been that person on the receiving end of that question, and sometimes it can be the question that changes everything.
Value-Based Action List | Everything that I was doing did not reflect my values. Everything that I was doing did not connect me to my dreams and my bigger objectives. I was just writing lists and doing things without even giving serious consideration to how I was spending the precious time that I had throughout the course of the day, some of which needed to be spent having conversations with my children, petting my dog and rabbit, finding ways to express love to those I love, and nurturing myself.
Intentionally Reducing Anxiety | It causes me anxiety to not know where things are, to not know when bills are due, to be caught off guard by an expense or an important date, to be surrounded by clutter, and to try to juggle too many things at once. By slowing down, I find that I can create systems that manage all of these things. I can see decluttering my inbox, as a good use of time, rather than a waste of time. Slowing down gives me more of an opportunity to put things into my calendar and into their respective places, keeping things neat and on track, which reduces my anxiety.
Embracing Beauty + Aesthetics | Simple, beautiful, calming things seem to make me happier than too busy, cutesy, or zany things, but for some reasons stuff that I don’t necessarily find beautiful or calming finds its way into my home and life, either as gifts or poorly made purchases that I then feel guilty about not using, or at least saving. Money spent on things like new curtains or new dishes when we already have dishes, though chipped and not to my liking, seemed wasteful. But now I am finding that creating and “being” in a space that feels good is important, and I think that has its own value. To that end, we're making some changes to our surroundings to make them more comfortable for us, understanding that that, in and of itself, has value.
Letting Go | Letting go of stuff and stories can be challenging. Sometimes things don’t need to be rewritten or archived or stored. Sometimes we can just let go all together and lighten our burden completely. It can be difficult to let go of both things and the things we tell ourselves because they become part of our history, and in that way, our identity. But do we really want everything we are carrying with us to define us? I don’t. We can learn lessons from things, keeping the lessons, and still let go of that which no longer defines us. We can enjoy things, but not keep them in our space forever. Often less is so much more.
Exercise | I began exercising some years ago to lose my baby weight long after my babies could no longer be called babies, but I quickly realized that the benefits went far beyond weight loss. I was stronger, I looked younger, I slept better, and rarely was I ever sad or blue. I benefitted from exercise on multiple levels and realized that it is an important and integral part of a meaningful and mindful life for me.
Rest | I used to think of sleeping as a mini-death, ending a day I could never, ever get back. So, as a reaction to this perception, this fear, I would try to cram as much as I could into a day, leaving myself exhausted and fatigued. Rest was a waste of precious time. Now, more and more, I can relate to the toddler, who falls face first to the floor, kicking feet and thrashing arms, in an absolute fit of fatigue. Being tired makes me anxious, and sometimes near tears. It makes me impatient, something I hate to be, towards my children. If anything, I want them to remember me as being patient. And so, to that end, I’ve come to value sleep more and more.
What I realize, in addition to the things that are important for me to “do,” is how it feels to “be” while doing them. In the past, it was about getting them done, but this past month I have focused on what it feels like to be present while doing them. For instance, the other day while folding clothes, as a task that I hate, I started to notice how good it felt to focus on the way the edges of the clothes met, and how I could smooth the fabric just so, and how well and carefully I could fold each item. It felt good to fold the clothes well, instead of folding the clothes quickly. And so, each thing that I spend my precious time doing these days, I try to do well or deeply and always with love and care.
This shift in focusing on doing the things that add value to my life in loving and slower ways has truly made a difference in my perspective, attitude, and energy. I can feel the changes in all areas of self - the physical self, the emotional self, and the psychological self. But this kind of change isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really challenging to stay on track. It requires commitment to the change and to the various opportunities to be. As I become more aware, I have come to value that awareness, that feeling of being present and in the now. I am encouraged by the sense of calming energy that this way of life seems to bring with it.