Obligations vs. Opportunities

I have noticed myself rushing lately, pushing myself to complete more and more tasks. Accomplish goals, meet deadlines, and rush ahead. I also notice that this pressure does not help me to move any faster. It only leaves me feeling burdened and as if I have let myself or someone else down. Instead of doing that right now I am making a practice of taking my time. I am only expecting myself to accomplish those items that must be accomplished today. I am not putting off work or leaving those things that I can do until later. I am simply trying to do my best not to start and stop.

This means that I often open up projects or leave larger items on my “to do,” list for an extended period of time. This places undue burdens on my current and future self to complete a task. The thing about these items is that they are rarely necessary. And I know they are not necessary because I clearly did not make the time to do them the first week they were on my list. I still did not find the time to do them the following month. Leaving these items on my list does not serve me as I very clearly do not want to do them and there is no urgency to get them done. Instead I will make time for those things that do nourish and fill me. 

Instead of begrudging myself the incomplete task I will remove it from the list and feel a million times better. Because if it needed to be done or there was any motivating force to accomplishing this task, it would have shown up already. And if a task does not need to be done why am I holding it over my own head? Why am I beating up on myself or feeling unaccomplished because of it? Clearly my time has been filled with other things and clearly those things were either more urgent or more important. 

This weekend I did not find the time to make a dentist appointment. This is a long range task because I only see the dentist every six months. Does it need to be done immediately? No. Are my teeth healthy and well? Yes. So why would I feel angry or disappointed in myself for not accomplishing this task when I did have enough time to cuddle with my children and watch a movie. I had enough time to go through old family albums and listen to my grandmother’s stories. These are the real and important tasks that never make my list but always fill my cup and my heart. 

I don’t need to be petty with myself or with others and point out that one item that was not finished, when the larger picture, the big bold and beautiful works that make life worth living, that enhance our connections to other people and help us get to know ourselves better – those tasks get done. Those items are my priorities. I will not be sad or disappointed any more that basic tasks go unaccomplished because when they need to be done, they will be. And whatever I need to take away from the experience will be taken away. 

Instead of feeling less than because I did not make a dentist appointment – I am going to rejoice that I followed my inner knowing. I spent time with my grandmother and I focused on my children. I gave my full attention where it was needed and important. I did not waste my time on small tasks – there will be time for those tasks in the future. The work of now is to be attentive to my priorities and proud of myself for having myself so aligned that I did not ignore the magic in the moment to complete some obligation that brought me no joy but satisfied my desire to scratch something off a list. Because I’ll tell you, movie night with kiddos is never on the list but it happens every week. And quality time with Grandma was not on the list but when I saw that she would be in town and i could inspire her to share some of what she knows with me and listen to stories of our family history that I have never heard or known. I am proud of myself for jumping on that opportunity and for building connections to my past with her as my guide. I know more about who I am by knowing where my family came from. I know more about myself, about her, and about our history because my Grandmother is willing to tell her stories and because I am willing to listen. This does not happen every visit and I am grateful to myself for recognizing the moment and jumping on it. 

Routine and rudimentary tasks will always be there and some days are for making dental and doctors appointments. Some days are for errands and tasks and some days are for magic. Some days are for all of the things that are not on your list but belong at the top because they are worthy and wonderful – just like you are, just like I am. I am grateful to myself for doing this work and for showing up for myself and my family. I am grateful, pleased, and proud.

How to Meditate

I realized today that I talk a lot about my meditation practice on this blog without really going into what that looks like for me. Therefore today I wanted to share that with all of you so that maybe, if you’d like, you could join me in the practice.

First and foremost I would like to share that I do my best to meditate daily. This does not always happen. On weekends, when I travel, or on busy days where I suddenly look up and it’s already 5:30 and dinner isn’t made I do not always meditate. I want to make sure that I am clear about this and as honest and transparent as possible because there were many years I didn’t meditate because the commitment seemed too daunting. I felt that the practitioners claiming to meditate daily had teams of staff to do their bidding and that was how they were still productive despite taking a huge chunk of their days to be still. Let me be clear, I do not have a staff. I do not have a team of people ready to do my bidding while I lie in repose for hours on end. I’m a typical parent, I get interrupted, I have days I don’t practice at the same time and days that I just can’t get into it and that’s ok. The purpose of meditation is to practice. The showing up is the most important part. 

The benefits of meditation are many including a lower heart rate, stress management, and increasing imagination and creativity. I meditate because it helps me to stay calm and keeps me in the present. Meditation is one of the tools I use to show up in the world as the version of myself I most admire and like. When I meditate I feel calm, peaceful, and productive. I most often write this blog promptly after meditating because it is the time when I feel most attune and aligned externally and internally. 

That said, the purpose of this post is to tell you how I do it. First, full disclosure, I have yet to graduate to complete silence and serenity. I do not quietly sit in a private yoga studio. Instead, I make my bed – it usually doesn’t get made until I come to lay down to meditate. I take a quick potty break just so I’m not distracted while in the middle of my meditation. Then I take my eye mask to the microwave. I kiss my kids who are distracted and watching television – otherwise they pop in approximately every 10 seconds to ask for something unnecessary. I bring the dog with me so he is not tempted to panic bark at the Prime truck delivery across the street. I grab the mask from the microwave and head up to my room where I close the door, pull a blanket over myself and plug in earbuds to listen to a guided meditation. 

I find guided mediations to be a personal pursuit of preference. I enjoy Calm’s introductory 20 minute mediation. I like soft music, I don’t prefer nature sounds in the background. I find women’s voices more soothing and I really enjoy the Mindful Movement on YouTube. I typically only listen to the same, 5 or less, meditations regularly. But that can shift with my mood. I will seek out different meditations if I’m feeling the need to listen more to my inner voice, find more peace in the chaos, or just to be more present in my daily life. You can use any framework to make your choice but pay attention to your preferences and honor them so you don’t come away from your meditation more annoyed or frustrated than you were when you started. The goal is to be more peaceful and satisfied, not to add to the grievances of the day.

I listen to the guided meditation for 20 minutes with the eye mask on. Some days I can push past 20 and go longer but most days I meditate for 20 minutes, it just seems to work the best for me and my schedule. Occasionally, I put lotion on my feet or essential oils where I can smell them to pamper myself and feel more tended to while I’m at rest. It takes a little more prep-work but it feels super delicious to stretch post-meditation and smell good things and feel balanced, whole, and generously cared for. It takes the practice up a notch and turns it into a delightful gift you’re giving yourself.

When the mediation is done I stretch and put away my mask. I fold the blanket I use to cover myself and sit down to write. I feel like I do my best work when I write, slightly bleary eyed and fully present. That is when I feel I produce my most authentic work. When I first got started – read the first year to year and a half – I would have a little chocolate almond treat when I wrote. A little pavlovian trick to help encourage myself to keep going. It seems to have worked, I have been doing this meditation thing for nearly two years and I really feel like I am a better person, and certainly a more productive artist, for it.

What strategies do you use to meditate? Are there tools that help you to get into the zone? Or what additional self-care treats do you give yourself when you meditate? Have you been able to sit in total silence yet? What has that experience felt like for you?