Home Ground

December 13, 2009

In dwelling, live close to the ground. ~Tao Te Ching

In the end, the final refuge is sustained practice. ~Dogen Zenji

Perhaps I am learning how to practice at long last. I spent all of last week traveling to, sitting in, and traveling home from meetings. But unlike on most of my business trips, this time I ate well and I exercised. ūüôā Instead of being exhausted and depleted when I got home, I was energetic and relaxed.

What made the difference? I believe it was a combination of greater self-awareness and mindfulness, the ability to stay present in my experience moment to moment. More and more, I feel at home with myself, regardless of where I am, who I am with, what I am doing. More and more, I live close to the ground of my being.

How about you?


Routine

August 24, 2009

That is the crux of what makes habits difficult to change: They are not so much a function of your attitudes, preferences, and beliefs, but instead they tend to be cued pretty directly by the environment you are in. ~Wendy Wood, cognitive psychologist at Duke University, in Rabiya S. Tuma’s “How to Take Control of Your Habits,” Yoga+ Joyful Living, Jan-Feb. 2008.

Taking control of habits is a recurring theme for me (Challenge to Myself), so I am always alert to new ways to think about establishing better habits, particularly around eating and exercise.

This weekend I was traveling, and so found myself eating out, choosing junk food, not exercising, and sleeping too much when I got home. This occurs more often than I would like, and I have said for a while now that I need to establish more of a routine so that I don’t find myself having to make decisions on the fly when I am tired, hungry, stressed, or otherwise vulnerable.

Habits are useful ways of preserving energy. Tuma writes, “Investigators have found that constant vigilance or attention to our goals, and the need to repeatedly inhibit ingrained responses to the cues around us, can be exhausting.”

Tactics that work to build new habits, according to Tuma, include changing the context (I’ve stopped driving by the DQ on my way home!), keeping goals realistic, and paying attention. Creating a new situation (for example, exercising regularly with a friend) and linking two activities together can also help. “After you brush your teeth, head straight for the meditation cushion. After a few weeks of this, the very act of brushing your teeth will prime you for sitting.”

Now I understand better why I have been craving more routine in my life. It is exhausting having to make conscious choices too much of the time. I have started attending yoga twice a week on my way home from work, so that is definitely a start. I think I will make a list of a few more healthy habits I can build in, using some of the tactics recommended in this article.

How do you stay on track with healthy habits?


Challenge to Myself

November 7, 2008

It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges…intent has to be translated into action…Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Commitment to healthy living has been a theme in several previous posts (Commitment, Focus, Healthy Habits, Health, Healthy Habits Redux), and I am returning to it today. I am so good at planning, but so often fall down in the follow-through. I’m banking on the fact that posting my intention here–once again–will help, as it gets more embarrassing each time I proclaim an intention and fail to live up to it!

There have been times in my life when healthy routines were habitual and I couldn’t imagine going a day without them, so I know I can get there again. This morning I discovered Growing Stronger, an online book that I hope will help me get motivated and stay with a fitness program long enough to get back into a positive cycle.¬† It is incremental, gentle¬†(for older adults, after all!), and includes a 12-week workbook to chart progress.

So I hereby congratulate myself for being willing to get up, recommit, and start over. I know exactly what I should do, and the time has come to muster enough energy to do it! I ask for your expressions of support for my efforts–whether you wish to just whisper your¬†encouragement to the universe, leave comments on this blog, or join me in my challenge.

Namaste, and with gratitude.


Senior

October 26, 2008

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~Satchel Paige

Today I turned 55. Officially senior by many definitions. I’ve always welcomed getting older, because it has brought equanimity and a better understanding of myself and others. But somehow this birthday makes me feel as though time is running out. For one thing, I still don’t have a consistent exercise and meditation practice after decades of trying. If not now, when?

When I contemplate Satchel Paige’s profound question, I’m concerned that I would feel older than I am in years! Yikes!!! Maybe it’s just been a hard year, or maybe my bad habits are just catching up with me. I want to think of 55 as my health watershed, to get younger by taking better care of myself.

So I am promising myself during the upcoming year to do these ten things:
1. slow down and pay attention
2. remember to take deep breaths
3. remain curious
4. practice gratitude
5. observe my experiences rather than trying to control or judge them
6. minimize sugar, alcohol and bad fats in my diet
7. do yoga as much as I can
8. get outside more
9. notice what feeds me, find flow
10. be gentle with myself

Learning has always been important to me also, and I believe it’s an age-busting practice. I didn’t list it, because it is already so much a part of me that I would have to try NOT to learn!

What are the things that make you younger?


Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using¬†different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.¬† Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me¬†your suggestions for wording¬†for my sign…


Healthy Habits Redux

August 25, 2008

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do. ~Confucius

I had such good intentions of practicing healthy habits, losing weight, getting fitter, in my post of May 17. Things have not worked out the way I envisioned them then, but today I am again eating well, doing yoga, meditating, and loving what is. For I know that these practices are a series of choices, moment by moment. I am starting a tiny journal (a Moleskine Cahier to be exact) to record my motivation, resistance, and success. I can’t imagine what life would be like for me without the ability to chart, to write, to record!

On another topic entirely, our Night-Blooming Cereus bloomed last night! I always feel like I am witnessing a miracle when that happens. There are more buds, and I hope to take a picture tonight for tomorrow’s blog entry. Meanwhile, here’s another blog devoted entirely to this extraordinary member of the cactus family, including some beautiful digital photos by Professor Robert Fovell.


Health

July 27, 2008

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B. K. S. Iyengar

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. ~Leon Eldred

When I was very young (no older than 5, I’m sure), I spent one afternoon learning to ride a bicycle–under conditions that were hardly ideal. At that time, I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I learned on a 26″ model that belonged to my older sister. Luckily, I was a long-legged kid, so I could (just barely) reach the pedals. But I had no access to pavement, only a grassy slope on which to practice. Over and over, I fell, I got up, I walked to the top of the gentle hill, got back on, and tried again. I wanted to ride that bicycle more than I wanted anything that day.

An alarming thing happened at Pilates class last Thursday. I began sweating and shaking, turned pale as a ghost, and thought I would either throw up or faint, I wasn’t sure which. I know blood sugar dips, since I have had to pay attention to those for many years, and it wasn’t that. I attributed it to overdoing when I was depleted already, possible mild dehydration, and forgetting I was out of shape and no longer 18 years old. But the more disturbing thing was that it happened again Friday night, when I awoke from sleep in that condition. I am feeling much sturdier today, but am resolved to see my doctor.

There is a rash of health-related problems in my family at the moment. Stroke, dementia, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few. And it makes sense that illness in those close to us (and especially those close to our own age) can make us feel vulnerable and anxious about our own well-being. It feels impossible to separate the effects of the mental state, the worry about health, from those of the physical condition itself.

I have practiced healthy living only sporadically at best, and it is not for lack of information. I know what eating plan works for me, what things I should avoid (sugar, alcohol, the high-fat foods I love so much), what exercise I enjoy and am most likely to stick with (yoga), and what helps in controlling stress (mindfulness, connection to others). Yet I have fallen down on this grassy slope over and over, and I have to think it is because of some inability to fully commit, to want health more than anything. Though what could be more important in this life than what opens the gates of the soul?


The Case Against Will

June 1, 2008

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it.¬†

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.¬† ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not¬†agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People¬†who try to¬†boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.”¬†(God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts.¬†

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.


Healthy Habits

May 17, 2008

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.  ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the weekend of the public declaration of my¬†recommitment to taking good care of myself. Starting over. Again. I have just returned from a public library directors’ meeting, where I ate a pecan-studded brownie chock full of chocolate chips the size of Manhattan. Not to mention the wine, lasagna, key lime pie, and other assorted deadly comestibles I consumed during the trip. And of course¬†no exercise beyond bending my elbow to eat all this great stuff.

Although I have started over many times in this attempt to take better care of myself, I now believe I can succeed in sustaining this effort. I have a better understanding of the reasons I indulge, I have more resources than ever to draw on, and I know firsthand the benefits of being fit. In addition, I understand–with my whole being, not just my brain–that health and fitness (like life) is the result of a series of moment-by-moment choices.

So, in order to hold myself accountable, I have set some goals. By the next public library directors’ meeting in September (seems as good a target as any), I will have lost 15 pounds, will be practicing yoga and meditation, and will be habitually exercising (at least 4 times a week).

How do you maintain healthy habits? Let’s support each other!


Focus

March 16, 2008

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. ~Buddha

I am inspired today by the March 12 post on zen habits, one of the few blogs to which I subscribe by e-mail, entitled The Magical Power of Focus. In the last few days, I have noticed a backsliding from my healthy habits of the last several months. So I am renewing my commitment to focus on health. 

My frequent job-related travel presents a challenge, as does my too-full schedule, so an important health practice for me is to create buffers of space and downtime around those activities. In particular, as an introvert, when I have periods involving intense interaction with others, I need times of quiet reflection to replenish my energy. Another important practice is mindful attention to the task at hand, being in the flow, and avoiding the temptation to multitask. 

Having tried in the past to focus on more than one goal at a time, I can testify that it only made me feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Although it may seem as though I am trying to focus on several things at once (healthy eating, increased exercise, stress reduction techniques, etc.), I will really be focusing on one aim of health and well-being, with individual practices subordinate to that goal. Evaluating each activity against that overarching objective will, I believe, result in my becoming healthier.

What are you becoming as a result of your thoughts or focus?


Slowing Down?

January 15, 2008

You ask me how I can remain calm and not become upset when those around me are all bustling about. What can I say to you? I did not come into the world to agitate it. Is it not sufficiently agitated already?  ~St. Francois de Sales

My day yesterday started out to be relatively peaceful (one 3-hour meeting in a town 2 hours away), even though I forgot my intention to slow down for Slow Down Week.  Then I remembered (around 7:30 p.m.) that I had a weekly online chat from 8 to 10 p.m. for the class I am taking from FSU. My normal bedtime is between 9 and 9:30, since on the days I commute to Atlanta (like today), I get up at 4. And of course, at 10 p.m., following my class, I was wound up and had to spend at least a half hour unwinding before sleep.  Incidentally, my favorite way to do that is New York Times Sunday Crosswords.

Today consisted of one meeting after another–after my 1.5-hour commute, I did manage to have 7 to 8:30 a.m. to unpack my bag, clean out my inbox, and check my e-mail, but then the meetings began: one from 8:30 to 9, one from 9 to 10, one from 10:30 to 11, one from 11 to 2 (which went until 2:30) and one from 2:30 to 3:00 (my normal quitting time). Only at the end of the day did I remember it is Slow Down Week!

Now I am sipping red wine in honor of the week (a good excuse, don’t you think?) instead of walking on the treadmill (isn’t there something¬†weird about that¬†activity?) I used to go to a gym, where at some point I was really struck by all the simulations of natural activity–pretending to row, pretending to walk, pretending to bicycle. How bizarre.

I have another chance to observe this special week tomorrow–I am working from home, which means I can sleep an extra two hours. I’ll bet¬†I can be more mindful, not cause much ‘agitation,’ and actually be more productive and centered.¬† So, tell me, friends…have you done anything differently for Slow Down Week?