Entry 55: Dualities in Daily Life

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Like most people, the activities of daily life have been completely altered by the arrival of #COVID-19.  At times, it feels turbulent, as if I’m inside of a bowling ball, hurtling towards an unknown destination.  My mindfulness practice has helped me recognize the moments when I am feeling out of control, overwhelmed, anxious, and also those moments of connection, joy, and stillness.

Through my reflection and meditation, I am discovering an awareness of certain dualities in my daily life.  While I cannot claim to have done extensive learning on this concept, what I understand is that there are opposite or contrary ideas that actually coexist in nature.  This concept is often represented by the #Yin-Yang symbol from ancient Chinese culture, with Yin representing the receptive, female, dark and Yang representing the active, male, light.  These opposing forces not only co-exist, but live in complement and can transform into each other. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a strong recognition that certain prevailing beliefs are now being met with an opposite belief, and somehow coexisting in this moment.  I’m curious to hear if anyone else has noticed anything like this?  

The first set of opposites relates to the cultural belief about #self-care.  Prioritizing one’s self-care is usually thought of as indulgent, selfish, weakness and a detraction from being productive.  Now, sequestered in our homes, self-care – which includes illness prevention, personal care, rest, mental health and stress management – is turning out to be a selfless act.  I find it surprising and energizing to see an alignment between actions that benefits others while also benefiting ourselves. (I do acknowledge this is not true for our friends and neighbors who are serving in essential roles to keep our society healthy and functioning.  But by staying home, we are doing what we can to keep them safer.)

Another set of opposites relates to our #physicallydistancing.  It surprises me that in this time, I have felt as close as ever to some of my friends.  Friends who live across town or across the country, friends I haven’t connected with in months or years, are connecting through texts, phone calls, #zoomconferencecalls, Instagram or Facebook, gift deliveries…  When I think of someone, instead of saying, “oh i should call them sometime…”, I reach out. And in so doing, the relationship seems more palpable. The content of the connections also feels rich – we’re saying to each other the things we may sometimes hold back – deep appreciation and gratitude for each other, and the offer of patience, compassion, a listening ear or practical help… it feels vibrant and has been a gift.

A third opposite is one that challenges my own limiting belief about my capabilities to set boundaries.  I was worried that setting boundaries would be impossible given the proximity of the family being together all the time,  My kids would say, it’s a regular occurrence for me to resort to yelling (often when I haven’t set up an expectation in advance).  Somehow, in these unusual circumstances, I am making it a priority to ask for what I will be needing throughout the day – quiet space for my meetings, time to attend my virtual dance class or meditation.  I wouldn’t say it has become a habit yet, but what is surprising is that I feel less guilty about asking for what I need. I know I need to sustain myself and that this is an investment in my health. #boundaries

Have you noticed any opposing beliefs that coexist in your life at this moment? 

Entry 54: A Difficult Mother

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
By many counts i am a 
Difficult mother.
With a tight jawed glare
i scold without a word.
Loving order and tidiness
A chore is always available for you.
i do not have stamina for
Endless playing,
Or the patience for 
Fantastical stories.
i am adept at extracting fun 
from nearly any adventure.
i repeat myself until i, too, 
become bored of my sage advice.
With fears grooved into my brain, 
my power unseized and 
dreams unfulfilled,
i pass these on as a blueprint for living.
i cannot imagine how it would be to 
be my child.

When you laugh unfettered and carefree, 
i may loosen into a smile, or 
Shudder and crave an underground cave.
Your patterns are familiar, 
until they become unknowable.
We build a routine, 
until it crumbles.

Mothering, for me, encompasses all of these things, and 
that is why i find it difficult.
But, i suppose, without the 
peaks and valleys of the EKG, 
we would be pronounced dead.

But sometimes, 
i can’t bear to feel 
incompetent 
one single minute more, 
then
i speak the right words, 
at an appropriate moment, 
with the right intonation, 
it is met with understanding, and
i loosen into a smile,
until
...

Entry 53: Strike, Then Flow: How dance taught me to let go of a grudge

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Feel the ground underneath your feet, keep your knees soft, says Maria.  Hold, but don’t clench, the abdominal muscles. Then twist from the core, rotate shoulders, and strike with the heel of the right hand.  Keep the left arm and hand close to the side body. And vocalize!  

I strike with my right hand, and let out a satisfying grunt. Huh!  

Next, breathe in, swivel the core, and strike with the left.  Huh!

We march forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and strike: Right! Left! Right! Left!

March back, with feet stomping, and repeat Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh!  Four precise strikes, while a rock song with a heavy downbeat plays over the speaker.  

I am in a Nia class, a style which draws upon jazz and modern dance, tai chi, yoga, as well as tae kwon doe, and regularly incorporates punches, blocks and kicks into dance routines set to inspiring music.  

I sense my brow getting furrowed, and my focus zeroing in on the mental image of someone I am angry with – someone at work who had lied about me and was ruining my reputation.  This is one of the worst things someone can do to me. I channel my heated energy at an image of their face, then strike: Right! Left! Huh! Huh! I imagine the strikes land on their stomach.  It’s violent, I know, but I figure it is a safer way than most to channel my aggressions.

While we dance, Maria demonstrates a new pattern:  She marches forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and does two strikes – Right! Left!  Then she adds two freestyle moves – freeflowing arms with her hips jiving to the beat and legs loose.   

Our turn. 

March forward – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! Then, I freeze. My body refuses to do freestyle moves.  I stand with fists clenched and arms rigid.  

March back – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! I try again. I manage some herky jerky moves, probably resembling the ‘robot’.  I get angry at what Maria is asking me to do – I was in the zone and wanted to stay aggressive.  

I could not loosen up my core and arms, in order to pull off any moves other than the strikes.   

Next time, I know it’s coming, so I try to prepare.  I do my strikes, and then try to loosen up, but my body doesn’t acquiesce.  My mind is almost dizzy at the attempt, and can’t find the rhythm in order to time my freestyle…  

After one song, we move on from the martial arts movements to other dance steps, and I am relieved.

After class, I wondered, why was this so challenging?  I tend to pick up dance moves pretty easily, but this one – firm attacks, interspersed with flowing, loose movements – was a struggle, for both my body, and my mind. 

I observed that these sensations – aggression and flow – had associated emotions – anger and forgiveness – which were also hard for me to balance in my real life.

When I feel hurt, threatened or angry, it is difficult for me to come out of that to feel relaxed, joyful, or happy.  Once I am physically tense, my body is not able to easily relax. And once I am angry, my mind tells me that if I let go of the emotion, I will be condoning whatever made me upset in the first place. 

I don’t know which comes first, the mind’s stubbornness or the body’s rigidity. In either case, the mind and body reinforce the tension and prevent its release.   

I reflected that this pattern has shown up over the course of my life in the form of holding grudges.  

The most extreme example of this occurred many years ago.  After college, my sister and I had moved back home. After a painful and dramatic incident, we did not speak to each other for several months.   It started with screaming and crying, and evolved to sidestepping each other with tension and awkwardness. I soon escaped by moving into my own apartment.

This habit seemed to run in my family.  My mother had a couple of years when she didn’t speak to her brother.  My father didn’t speak to his sisters for a couple of decades.  

Thankfully, all of those rifts had been resolved, but I felt there was more to discover.  

At the time, I had also noticed that I had a very hard time cooling off after an argument with my then 7-year-old son.  Even after he had moved on, and approached me lovingly, I couldn’t fully open to him, because I retained the tension of the interaction in my physical body.  Once I was aware of the pattern, it seemed absurd. I made a cognitive resolution to change my behavior, my plan complete with self-flagellation and harsh critique.  

Meanwhile, in dance class, I continued to follow Maria’s instruction.  In every class, we had strikes, punches, blocks and other martial arts movements integrated into the dance.  I would mimic to the best of my ability, focusing on the strike moves, and then releasing to allow organic dance movements.  It remained the hardest part of the dance for me to follow. 

At times, I found myself taking my strikes, huffing an inhale, and then moving into the flowing dance move.  It was a jilted move, and I was behind the beat, but I kept trying. Other times, I was so determined on making the flowing move, that my last strike would be wimpy and unfocused.  

After some amount of time (months, or maybe even a year?), one day I noticed that I moved from my strikes, focused and sharp, to my arms flowing, and core swaying gracefully.  I couldn’t pinpoint how I had developed the ability, and it didn’t even require the hyperfocus or trying that I had put in before. The ease was just there. I was ecstatic!  

Upon later reflection, I wondered whether this physical capability had any impact on my family or social interactions, so I made an intention to notice if there were any changes.  One day, during an intense interaction with my kids, my emotions flared up and I yelled. I felt my body and jaw tense up. I told the kids I needed to take a timeout and went to my room and closed the door.  After a few minutes, I emerged physically calmer, and emotionally cooler. When my son came to me, I was able to open to his embrace. We then discussed the situation, and I apologized for not communicating calmly.  

I have since realized that my physical tension stems from the sympathetic nervous system.  My mind and body believe I am in danger and trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. While I had known about this physiological response cognitively, it was only through my body’s practice that I was able to shift the pattern. 

The change happened in the safe space of my dance studio, with the compassionate support of my teacher, and without the harsh self-critique that I typically subject myself to. (A recipe to remember!)

I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I learn from my body are improving the quality of my life.  I am so very grateful for my body and all that it allows me to discover, endure, and experience. It is one of my most important teachers.

Entry 52: Reverent Care

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

grey light drifts humbly through the window

my ears alert for early morning whispers,

breath quiet and steady

i hear the purposeful whoosh of

heated milk landing in the bottle

my palms blanketed by the warmth

i make my way towards the 

bedroom where you sleep, and

hold out the doodh

all ingredients melted into this 

moment of reverent care,

stillness

i plucked the guitar string from my essence

the vibrations echoed through the air

finding their way towards your heart 

know that it is an offer, only, 

you may resonate or be discordant

still, i stand here, 

arm stretched and heart open.

i offered simply because my deepest self wanted to.

Entry 51: The Path

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

We may think of choosing a career path like choosing a train to ride.  

We arrive at the station when we graduate from college, 

We study the train map and schedule, to decide which is the ‘right’ train to get on.  

This decision is agonizing, we strive to absorb as much information as possible and figure out ‘where we want to go’.  

We decide, then wait on the platform for the train – the one that is destined for greatness – to arrive. 

When it arrives, we board it optimistically, feeling certain that the train and tracks will conspire to carry us to the exact destination we selected, at the time that was promised on the schedule.  

Our responsibility is to evaluate the train, and then choose to stay on the this one, or to get off and board another.  

But a career path is not a train we board to enjoy a ride. Imagine a career path like going hiking.   

When we graduate from college, we carry with us a backpack full of book knowledge and street smarts, warm blankets and extra socks.  

We approach the uncharted woods, and consider what direction to head in.  

To the right is a patch of evergreen trees, to the left a rocky downhill with a rushing river at the base. In the center, is flat land, with a mountain in the distance.  

We choose an initial direction, and then take a step, and another and another.  

Within each path, there are opportunities to shape your journey. 

After walking for a bit, perhaps we come upon a new clearing, a smaller hill, a field of flowers, or a lookout point.  

I suggest we pause to reflect and adjust based on our learnings and new visions.  

We walk not in straight lines, but in zig zags and pivots, climbing at times and descending at other times.  

We walk, hopefully enjoying the path as much as where we’re headed, and preserving our health and energy for what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey.

Entry 50: Richness

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
The spoon 
Tings against the ceramic in 
Cadence like a small church bell
Warmth emanates to my hands
Smells of roasted oat and cardboard permeate my nostrils
Ribbons of honey and chamomile bathe my taste buds
The mug is ordinary, green, 
A cricket orchestra, a soundtrack to this 
Harmonious moment.
i committed to stay in silence,  
And should not be writing, but my 
Lips curled up in 
Joy and i had to 
Share it with you.
You do not need fixing, she said,
You are not broken
i believed her for that moment, my
Heart’s vision stretched to encompass every One
Richness
Opened towards Love
Compassionate threads in the 
Wholeness of Life

Entry 49: Bit By Bit

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

A lump, gray, nondescript

But in my vision it is glorious

i lay my simple tool

On the gripping surface

Scrape away one sliver

Then another 

And a third

The lump changes only imperceptibly

i aim the tool to remove the excesses

Bit by bit

To reveal the form 

Enveloped within the clay

There is no short cut to its birth

Each bit removed 

One by one

By 

One

No use to celebrate after each

Or look forward to promised success

There is none

i can only 

Be here now.

Then, a feature is unearthed

From what remains

i stop to admire what became clear

Only with the loss of what was unnecessary

i do not own its intricate glory

i am the instrument

i welcome the pause

And raise my tool again

Entry 48: Are longer meditations better?

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

In most areas of our life, we follow the American cultural norm that more is better.  A vacation lasting 7 days is better than one lasting 3 days. Winning a $5 lottery ticket is not as good as winning the jackpot.  Even in the realm of the arts, writing a haiku poem of 17 syllables does not garner as much social acclaim as publishing a novel.  And in my discussions with people who are building a meditation practice, we believe that 1 hour of meditation is more beneficial than 1 minute.

However, this is not how things are valued in meditation.  Meditation is about acceptance, and so if you meditate for one minute, that just is.  If you meditate for one hour, that just is. There is no purpose in comparing the relative value of the two meditation sessions.

But in our culture, we are trained to evaluate nearly everything we do.  We push ourselves to climb the imaginary ladder to receive the higher salary, to buy the larger home, and even to have a greater number of Instagram followers…  Similarly, with meditation, many of us may push ourselves to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but there is no governing body of meditation to define success. Absent a set of defined criteria, many of us look to the duration of a session to be a concrete way to judge the value of our meditation.

The meditation app Insight Timer has a feature called “detailed charts and stats”. A user can click into it to review metrics including minutes per day, average session duration, longest session duration and several others.  I believe they included these because statistics can be strong motivators for many of us to set and track towards a goal, and to challenge ourselves to do more.

However, what I found interesting is that on the main profile page, the most visible statistic displayed is number of consecutive days with at least one session of meditation.  It seems that if we need a measurable statistic to keep us focused on building a practice, this would be one to pay attention to.  Choosing to meditate each day of the month, even for a 1 minute session, will have greater benefit than doing a 30 day session on one day and doing nothing for the rest of the month.  Returning to meditation day after day builds a habit, and that is the power of a meditation practice.

Periodically I relapse to judging the duration of my practice. When I notice that I am holding that judgment, I loosen my grip on it, and gently tell myself that at least I made the time to sit on my mat, despite the fullness of my work, family and community activities.  When I consider this new thought, my jaw tends to relax, and I can take a smoother breath. My body loosens and settles to the here and now, even if just for a few moments until the next thought arrives in my mind.

So, the lesson for me has been this-  whether my practice is 5 minutes or an hour, I am more present just by letting go of the thought that a longer meditation would be better.  And being present is indeed the point.

Entry 46: Creation

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
Sting
Pierces my eyelids
My nose runs, then my eyes
I pause the rhythmic chop of onion
To avoid sliced finger tips
On to the celery
Thinly sliced so it will
meld into the soup, with its essence in tact
Smashing garlic fulfills an
Urgent need in me
Awakens me
Potatoes peeled, chopped,
½ inch cubes
Placed in warm broth
Simmering and softening
I have never prepared this dish before
I am aware I cannot know how it will turn out,
All I know - I need to create,
Put myself at the mercy of larger
Forces -  thermodynamics, flavor, spirit and luck
I play my humble role
Greet each ingredient,  
Recognize its uniqueness
Then invite it to be changed
By its environment and neighbors
Into a new form
Recognizable yet altered
I contemplate:
Do I open to the reality of our
Connected existence
And allow myself to be changed
By my environment and neighbors?