Casual Promises

July 15, 2010

I seek…the richness of a gathered and deliberate life, which comes from letting one’s belongings and commitments be few in number and high in quality. ~Scott Russell Sanders

Commitments that are few in number, high in quality…there’s the challenge! Lately, I’ve been reading posts from Jennifer Louden’s “Self-Trust Inspiration E-Course.” Jen posts at Comfort Queen (hey, another queen!). Not only does she warn us about making “casual promises” to ourselves, but she talks in her blog about “freedom from self-improvement.” Just love that!

What prompted this post was realizing that I had made a casual promise here a few days ago to leave my computer off until noon. That lasted about one day. Louden contends that when we do that kind of thing often, it erodes our self-trust. Just think about it–if you made a promise to someone else (e.g., “I’ll meet you at 4:00”) and then didn’t do it, you wouldn’t feel very trustworthy, would you? But rather than chastise ourselves for not keeping promises, it is more productive to be intentional about the promises we make to ourselves, and avoid those of the casual sort. Thanks to Jen for this idea, and to Scott Russell Sanders for his lovely prose. The entire quote is this:

Returning from a back country trip, I vow to purchase nothing that I don’t really need, give away everything that is excess, refuse all chores that don’t arise from central concerns. The simplicity I seek is not the forced austerity of the poor. I seek instead the richness of a gathered and deliberate life, which comes from letting one’s belongings and commitments be few in number and high in quality.

What promises have you made to yourself lately?


Monday Morning Motivator

June 7, 2010

YOU’RE REALLY, REALLY GOOD, YA KNOW IT?
Actually, you don’t know it. Not really. The fact is we’re so much better, so much stronger, so much more talented – and necessary to the world – than we know. We’re so obsessed with our shortcomings, the times we missed the mark, the time someone slapped a “C” on what we thought was our best work – that we doubt ourselves and play small. So what’s the cure? Actually, it’s pretty simple: Keep a running list of the good stuff – the times you knocked it out of the park, the times you made the sale, got the vote, or just got back up after you fell down. Forget the other stuff. Hey, remember what the MGM casting director wrote about Fred Astaire? “Can’t sing; dances a little.” Thank God he didn’t stop doing either. So don’t you. Not this week; not any week.

~Gail Blanke

I first encountered Gail Blanke when I read her wonderful book, In My Wildest Dreams, which she followed up with Between Trapezes. (Come to think of it, I probably need to reread that one, since I am in an in-between space in my life at the moment!) Her most recent is Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. It has an accompanying Web site, where you, too, can subscribe to her “Monday Morning Motivator.”

I really like getting this short, inspirational message every Monday. It reminds me to be grateful, to love myself so that I can love others, and to live life mindfully. Today’s MMM validated a practice I’ve had for a while now, and that I frivolously call my “smiley book.” Each day (as I remember to do it), I make a list of the good things I have done for myself or others: yoga, mindful eating, connections with others, meditation, appreciating nature, and so on. A focus on these positive things really seems to reinforce the behavior.

How do you motivate yourself to be the best you can be?


Semi-Retired and Loving It

April 7, 2010

Devote six years to your work but in the seventh go into solitude or among strangers so that your friends, by remembering what you were, do not prevent you from being what you have become. ~Leo Szilard

Everyone should have a sabbatical every so often. I have been working practically non-stop since I graduated from college in 1975. It has been next to impossible to separate my self from my work. Yet in recent years, I have longed to be reacquainted with who I am outside of my vocation. Not that there are radical differences, just that work (as I engaged it) has taken vital energy, energy that I now crave for learning how to be (as opposed to do) in the world. Perhaps others are able to do both at once, but I have always found it difficult, as I chose a vocation about which I was truly passionate. My colleagues were my friends; my friends were my colleagues, for the most part.

And now I am working only half-time in preparation for retirement. There is time for rest, for reflection, for getting reacquainted with my soul.

I think the concept of sabbatical is brilliant. According to Wikipedia (could be true!), 20% of British companies have a career break policy. In the U. S., it seems that only academic and spiritual work environments offer sabbaticals. And those sabbaticals can feel like just more work. I believe enlightened workplaces could offer sabbaticals that give the employee great latitude for self-exploration, with few “products” expected. Life is process. Can businesses honor the process, the individual quest for self-understanding, spiritual enlightenment if you will, and still be profitable? I believe so. And certainly the social services should give inherently underpaid and overstressed employees a periodic break from their labors.

What do you think?


Self-Compassion

March 6, 2010

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

Today, I am exploring a wonderful book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, by Christopher K. Germer. It has led me to an interesting website, Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff, a psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin. According to Neff, self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem. She draws distinctions at the site. There’s also a revealing test there to help you determine how self-compassionate you are.

Germer recommends taking the test, practicing some of the techniques from his book, and then taking the test again.He offers five pathways to self-compassion: (1) softening into your body, (2) allowing your thoughts, (3) befriending your feelings, (4) relating to others, and (5) nourishing your spirit. As someone who has dealt with a lot of emotional “stuff” over the past several years and who has learned at least a modicum of self-compassion as a result, these practices seem spot-on to me.

If you have even a slight tendency to berate yourself for shortcomings, to feel isolated by your emotional lows, or judge yourself a little too harshly when you fail, go now and take the test. Get the book. I’m looking forward to developing even greater compassion for myself, taking better care of myself emotionally, and feeling more connected to and compassionate toward others as a result of finding this clearly-written, useful work. I just love the way books (and teachers) come to me when I need them!


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. 🙂 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?


Watch the thought

November 28, 2007

The thought manifests as the word;
the word manifests as the deed;
the deed develops into habit;
and habit hardens into character.

So watch the thought and its way with care,
and let it spring from love
born out of concern for all beings.
~the Buddha

Again, we are talking about mindfulness I believe. To what thoughts are we giving energy? I used to have this poem on my bulletin board at work. What better management meditation? A reminder to focus on others’ well-being, to give attention to where an organization or relationship is going rather than where it’s been.

What are the habits that by definition I take for granted? Are they habits I want or habits I would rather not have? Increasingly, I am able to develop habits of kindness toward myself–love and concern for myself as well as others (“all beings” after all–not just you, but also me). And that frees my energy to be present for others.