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Entries in what I learned (3)


What I Learned From Sitting Around

In December I was increasingly frantic and disconnected from any sense of well-being when a friend challenged me to meditate.  30 minutes for 30 days.  I was sort of desperate for any way to stem the feeling of walls closing in around me so I took her up on it.  I wrote here about the immediate experience I had of holding space for myself in a life that often feels like it's about doing my duty towards my child, my marriage, my family, and my job first. 

It's been about 45 days now and the strangling claustrophobia has largely lifted.  I'm not sure if this is due entirely to the practice of sitting in the mornings, but I think it's a positive element in a regime of self-care I'm trying to faithfully implement.  Some things I've noticed:

  • I'm not really good at meditation, at least what I imagine capital-M Meditation is like.  In a single sit I consider it a win if I have a couple of breaths where my mind is focused only on that moment.
  • My mind is like an unruly toddler, constantly flitting from one trivial thing to the next.  I don't tend to notice that in my daily life so much, since I'm constantly being bombarded by stimuli and expected to get things done.  But when I'm sitting silently in the dark, the speed with which my mind alights from one thing to the next is staggering.  I write whole blog posts in a single exhale.  And forget them on the inhale while I imagine something else.  It can be exhausting.  And sometimes, when I'm in the mood to judge myself, disheartening.
  • The Present must be just awful.  I mean I know with certainty, now that I've tried for a month-and-a-half to be in it, that it's not really awful.  But somehow my mind (all our minds, I think) does not want to be there.  Wants to avoid it like the plague.  I wonder what that's about.
  • Breathing is hard.  Maybe it's because I fell off the yoga-wagon shortly after Ezra was born, and so haven't had any kind of pranayama practice in three years, but damn if I can sustain any kind of deep, intentional breathing.  Even after 6 weeks.  
  • Thirty minutes is a long time.  Well, not really.  But it is when you need to do it - and your morning pages and your run - before your child wakes up.  I did 30 minutes every morning for the first 30 days, but in an effort to make the practice sustainable and in a belief that even a little bit of meditation is better than none, I've scaled it back to 15 minutes every morning.
  • Even if I'm doing it wrong, it's the right thing to do.  Mostly I just give myself permission to be a bad meditator.  Some mornings I beat myself up about it, and then I try to remind myself that it's okay if I'm not really in whatever peaceful state I imagine meditation is supposed to bring.  In a life chock full of somuchtodorightnowrightnowrightnownomakethatyesterday I am pretty sure there's medicine in forcing myself to sit alone and do nothing for a few minutes, while the sun comes up.

Internal Weather


When last weekend rolled around I made a list of all my intentions, which basically revolved around having a fun and relaxing time with Ezra and some other friends, and trying to find a sunny spot to curl up in for a little while. Seemed like a recipe for happy.

So I did everything on that list, and then I promptly fell into a deep, black hole on Sunday morning from which I am only now crawling out. The specific trigger was trivial and uninteresting, except to say that it put me in touch with a feeling of lack and a deep fear that this supposed lack would pin me in place, unable to move into this new space I've been dreaming up.

First of all, let me note here that I've been in a ridiculously good mood - a pinch-me kind of good mood - for at least two straight months now.  That may be a world record.  Who is happy for that long in a row?

But Sunday I felt kind of desperate, and completely unable to access the optimism or gratitude that has been fueling this happy little bubble where I've been living.  I really wanted to nap, but Ezra wouldn't play along. I took a hot bath while Ezra played with glitter glue on the bathroom floor.  Lots of deep breaths.  No relief.

Day 20: Struggling to access gratitude today. #needtoreboot #gratitudeprojectBut I've been trying to understand what this black hole can show me, and it loses its grip as I notice these two deep realizations:

1.  Nothing good or creative or abundant will come from being stuck in an emotional space ruled by obsession with scarcity.

2.  I used to be afraid to do something... Stopped by fear that I'm not good enough, or that I will fail, or, worse perhaps, that other people would see me fail. But now I'm noticing that what gets to me more is fear of not doing something, fear of being stuck in one place, fear of not being able to actualize some of the ideas in my head.

So while I'm busy measuring progress, I'll add these new learnings to the list.


Five Things I Learned From My 365 Project

 Photo courtesy of Rainy Kolar

No, apparently I am not done talking about my 365 project yet.   I am still processing what this exercise meant in my life over the past year and what changes or knowledge it brought to my world.  The headline is that it has been an intensely positive experience that I would recommend to anyone  looking to get more in touch with their essential selves.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. Choose something and do it.   I chose photography because I wanted to learn to do it better.  Some days the photo gods smiled on me and everything in my path was bathed in golden light.  Some days I didn’t see a single thing that looked worthy of composing into a shot.  But the practice of doing something every day, whether I felt like it or not, became the important part. 

My creative mind was the muscle that needed exercise, and my intention was the fuel.  And some days, when I didn’t think I had an ounce of inspiration in me, I surprised myself.

You could choose anything.  It could be a sketch, a haiku, a home-cooked recipe, a series of sun salutations.  Carve 30 minutes out of your day – every day – and do this for yourself. 

2. Put it out there.  Honestly.  This one is hard, because obviously I want to release into the world only the highest quality work.  The rest can be stuffed into a shoebox and buried at the back of a closet.  Or better yet, burned.  That way no one will know that I’m less than perfect.

But instead I allowed this to be a project, an exploration, a journal of my experience of growing myself in my 37th year.  A very kind community that I value so much grew up around the effort.  Which means that authenticity attracts connection.  I like that.

The key here - to borrow a phrase from the writers - is to not be afraid of shooting badly.  Also, if I had waited until I produced only the highest quality work, I would be trembling in the corner and wouldn’t have posted anything yet.  (There’s something in here about the perfect being the enemy of the blog.)

3. Selective focus makes me happy.  It has become clear to me that this is true in photography and in life.  As the year went on I learned not only how to control the depth of field in my photos using the lens aperture, but I practiced focusing my attention and energy mostly on the parts of my life that give me satisfaction.

Yeah, I still have to do laundry and pay the mortgage on time.  Dirty diapers still invade my ideal world.  But that doesn’t get my focus.  And I’m happier for blurring out the blah stuff.

4. Look at everything in 360°.   I pulled over on the side of the road and worked these cloud sculptures, not entirely satisfied with the composition I was coming up with.  I got back in the car, figuring if worse came to worse I could crop one of the images and come up with something usable.  But as I was pulling away I noticed the other side of the sculptures in my rear-view mirror and I pulled right back off the road.  This time, shooting from the other side, the composition just clicked.  So I made myself a new rule:  when possible, walk all the way around my subject and look at it from all angles.

This is another one of those Best Practices for life too.

5. Do it now.  I am the world’s worst procrastinator.  Also, I am almost always rushing.   There were many times over the past year that I passed something on the street or noticed something between here and there and thought, oh that’s cool.  I bet that would make a good picture.  I’ll shoot that later/on my way back/next week. 

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t work.

That thing that would make such a good photo is inevitably animate, or if it’s not the sun on it is and when you come back the light isn’t right and the moment is gone.  I missed a lot of good pictures this way.  I had to learn to check in with myself:  This is life, and it’s now or never.  It’s okay to choose never but at least I learned to understand it as a choice.


I'm still thinking about this.  It's a good list, but just a start.  Tomorrow, five more things I learned from my 365 project.  Then I'll move on.  Probably.  I promise.