Meditation, Take 1

© Martinan

© Martinan

I’ve had the privilege recently of working with a group of moms on a study led by The Joyful Mother, Sigrid Stover Kjeldsen.  Her work is all about getting moms into a mindset of joy, love, and peace in their parenting day-to-day.  Who couldn’t use more of that, right?  Even though I don’t have time now and no hope of finding more time when I have a third child to care for in a matter of weeks, I figured this investment in self-exploration and hopefully improvement could pay dividends in the stressful months, life, ahead.  Moreover, it’s inspiring me to write about the experience and the journey, and writing is a passion I’ve discovered I just can’t neglect.  One of the huge benefits to my leaving work over a year ago has been getting to know myself a bit better, and what makes me happy, and doesn’t.

This week our study challenge was meditation.  I’ve pretty much never meditated.  I lived in San Francisco for two years in my twenties, the age of self-exploration, so it’s damn-near impressive that I managed not to learn this art form before now.  And my mind is still not primed, so it’s safe to say I have a long way to go before reaching guru status like my girl Sigrid.

This is a somewhat stressful time of year for our family business, and that coupled with 3rd trimester stress, made concentrating on my work for week 2 of the study difficult.  On last week’s group discussion, I multitasked through most of it.  I didn’t dedicate even the tiny amount of time necessary to try the meditation exercise.  My mind, heart, every cell in my body, was closed off.  I checked in on our Facebook study forum throughout the week but found myself feeling agitated by the comments rather than inspired.  I didn’t get it and started to feel it was a waste of my time.  At least I noted that for the most part I felt it was me who wasn’t ready or open, rather than criticizing the study, the forum, or the women on it.

By Friday, my husband and I realized we needed a break, and more than that, our children did, from our yelling and constantly saying no.  One woman posted on the forum that “our children aren’t giving us a hard time, they’re having a hard time.”  That resonated with me.  Our stress isn’t their problem, yet we were making it theirs.  My mother offered to keep the kids for the weekend.  My husband and I spent the day together doing nothing in particular.  It rained all day. I made brownies, we watched crappy tv, we talked out the stress we were both feeling and agreed we’d let it interfere with our parenting too much in the last few weeks.  We worked on a game plan to clear out and organize our garage the following day.  We fell asleep cuddled up on the sofa.  The kids meanwhile made Halloween treats and decorations with their grandmother.  They were getting a much needed break too.

The next day we got up and went to the DIY store to look at shelving for the garage, then went home and started our project.  The sun had come out and there was a crisp autumn breeze.  While my husband cleared out boxes and junk from the garage, I faux-finished a table someone had given us to use as office furniture when we started our business, and a bench my husband had made using the footboard from the first bed we owned as a married couple.  Those pieces of furniture had sat in the garage taking up space for months.  Once finished, both items would go in the kids’ playroom as an art table and reading bench.  I envisioned the space, and them in it.  I felt inspired.

Reflecting on the weekend, I realized that meditation doesn’t come easily for me because I’m a creative soul trapped in an intellect’s brain.  Of the doctors, chemists, and researchers in my family, I stick out as a writer and marketer. My soul (Brain? Heart?) craves active creativity, catharsis, and visual, tangible progress toward goals.  Through those activities, I become fully in the present moment; even if my mind wanders, it does so in a state of calm acceptance rather than active problem-solving.  Ideas flow and dissipate without me feeling the compulsion to list-make or reach for an electronic device to send an email or look something up.  Everything I need is right there, and it’s Right there.

I spent hours sanding, painting, staining, white-washing, with the sun warming my back.  My husband and I moved around each other as we worked, the space between us becoming less and less congested by stress.  We shared the occasional laugh, a smile, a joke, a glance.  We became in sync again without any effort.  We spent another night vegging on the sofa watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory.  My body, a week into my 3rd trimester with my 3rd baby, ached pleasantly for a change, from a satisfying day’s work rather than the oppressive stress.  I felt grounded and sturdy rather than heavy and burdened.

Finally, faced with a next-day homework deadline for the study, I listened to the meditation exercise.  I didn’t try to force it, and I was still reluctant. It was after all another task on a long list.  With the kids still at my mom’s until lunch time and my husband on the way to the office, I did the meditation in bed with a cup of coffee on the nightstand next to me, as a prerequisite to writing this entry.

The feeling that inevitably entered my mind as the exercise called for a predominant emotion was worry, and I instantly knew it would take a lot of practice to release that emotion effectively.   However, after only one cycle of the exercise, I was surprised at how effectively, if not completely, I was able to release it, if only for a moment.  I was also surprised at how pure and uncomplicated my image of joy came to me.  When I visualized worry, it appeared only as a word in my mind.  After several breaths, the word started to dissipate like sand, and I started to naturally envision waves washing it away, so I went with that imagery and didn’t try to influence it with my mind.  Then the exercise called for an image of joy.  Instead of a word like love or joy, I experienced very complete imagery:  My children running to me on the beach.  I could see my oldest son’s thoughtful blue eyes and the flecks of copper in them, and the sun bouncing wildly off of my younger son’s bright blonde hair.  I could actually hear my oldest laughing and my youngest saying ‘mommy’ over and over, feel the warmth of the sun and the sand on my skin as they tackled me, and the wet kisses on my face.    I was pleased that I didn’t have to think, even for a second, about what gave me joy.  That image came to me without searching.  And I was surprised that what came to me wasn’t even related to my stress and worry.  I expected to envision life without money worries, like the lottery win my husband I often half-joke about.  And yet that feeling, that moment, was more real than my worry had been.  That made me start to understand how my negative thoughts, fears, worries aren’t real, but love and joy are very real.

I think we’re taught as early as childhood that our day to day is what is most tangible and that’s where we should direct most of our energy and attention.  And of course we have to focus on our basic needs and survival.  But if we can prioritize  what gives us joy, maybe it makes us more capable of tackling obstacles, guilt, fear, and even the mundane day to day. Here’s hoping, instead of doubting.

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Why I No Longer Have Facebook Friends. At All.

© Pekchar - Fotolia.com

© Pekchar – Fotolia.com

Have you ever tried deleting your Facebook page?

I don’t mean deactivating for Lent, or a weekend-long digital detox, both of which are great ideas. But if you’ve ever tried to permanently delete your personal Facebook page, you know it’s as tricky as trying to permanently give up chocolate.  Here’s how it usually goes:  First you have to deactivate. Easy enough, click the button.  Facebook will prompt you to download any data you might not have stored anywhere else, stuff you might miss later and that if you don’t back up, you may never get back. I didn’t have anything stored there that I didn’t have someplace more secure, unless you count some useless status updates but I’m okay with not saving those for my children to someday read aloud at my funeral.  So you’ve deactivated.  Then there’s the 2 week wait.  This is where willpower comes in.  You have to refrain from logging in, even once, even a little bit, until the deletion is in full effect.  This is what got me. Every. Time. If anyone on my friends list had a baby due or an on-again-off-again relationship, I couldn’t stand it.  I had to check in. Deactivation deactivated.  Another reason I can’t delete my page is that  I run the marketing for our small business, so I actually need to keep a Facebook page so I can be an admin for the business page.  So then I tried converting to a Facebook Page, you know like for businesses, famous people, and causes. Facebook didn’t like me using my name, but it wouldn’t let me change to a business name like “Folding a Fitted Sheet.”  I didn’t care to go back and forth with Facebook support on this, because I was on a mission to stop using Facebook socially and I didn’t want to lose momentum.  I realized the only way to really cut the cord wasn’t to delete my page and cause myself more hassle, and risk a relapse.  I had to delete my friend list.  That’s a difficult thing to undo because failure requires a lot more explanation and weirdness.  It’s scary but liberating.  So why wouldn’t I want to use Facebook socially? Isn’t that kind of the point?  Here are my reasons:

1.  I’m responsible for my children’s digital fingerprint until they’re mature enough to handle that responsibility on their own.  I’ve started to cringe every time I see photos of people’s kids on Facebook.  It feels very radical to say something like that, and it usually meets with strange looks at birthday parties.  I really try not to tune into the news too much because it can be overwhelming and depressing, but even as I’m writing this, in the background I hear the report of a 12 year old who committed suicide after being bullied on Facebook.  This is something we can’t ignore.  It’s our job as parents to educate and prepare our children for this crazy world, and protect them from it as best we can.  James P. Steyer, author of Talking Back to Facebook and founder of Common Sense Media, has written, spoken, and acted on the subject of digital media in our children’s lives in a way that has really gotten my attention in the last year or so. It’s even become a long-term career ambition of mine to put my digital media background to use in this growing field of advocacy.  Based on what I know so far, and what I have yet to learn, I decided that, in the absence of certainty that my children’s information is safe on social media, I’ll keep it off altogether.

2.  I want quality relationships, not quantity.  So did I lose some friends in reality because I deleted them digitally?  Yes, I did.  And probably more than I’m aware.  I posted a notification on my page that I’m only using Facebook for business purposes, and told my friends with whom I’ve always communicated regularly off of Facebook what I was doing.  They all get it.  Not everyone does and that was something I accepted easily.  I realized too many times that I was having superficial relationships with people on Facebook.  I started thinking, what is the point of a friendship that doesn’t require either party to inconvenience themselves in order to make a real connection?  Am I really your friend if I don’t call you or write you from time to time or if I’m only interested enough in your new job to click “like.” There’s a lot of room to debate this.  Some would argue that to keep in touch with distant or old friends at all is better than losing touch forever.  Some would also argue that thanks to social media, we have degrees of closeness with people that were never available to us before; we’re no longer forced to be ‘all or nothing’ friends with someone.  And if you’re good at managing your friends list, you can carefully categorize your friends by how close you want to be with them – work peers vs. close friends vs. old friends vs. people from high school you want to cyberstalk without looking creepy.  Personally, I felt as though I became distanced from some real, once-close friends because of Facebook.  I think it makes us lazy.  I know I got that way, and I’m challenging myself to do better.

3. I got sick of being a thumbnail.  When my friends list got big enough that I questioned whether I was actually friends with most of the people on it, I realized those “friends” probably thought the same thing about me, if they thought about me at all.  My litmus test became If we don’t talk outside of Facebook, we probably shouldn’t be friends, digitally or otherwise. If we’re only friends because of Facebook, that’s not a good enough reason for me.  After all, is Facebook’s real mission to make people better friends, or to capitalize on connections to help Zulily sell furry boots?  Facebook gives us a skewed view of who, and what, is important to us.  For example, by some strange Facebook privacy-setting fluke, my own husband didn’t show up in my news feed half the time, yet next to my children, he’s the most important person in my life.  By contrast, I found myself checking for updates from people I haven’t spoken to for years, out of curiosity rather than genuine concern.

4. The lines got too blurry.  What happened to not mixing business with pleasure?  There’s a reason our parents and grandparents and college-job bosses cautioned us about this.  So why do we think we should be commenting on our manager’s kid’s graduation photos on Facebook?  When I accepted my first management job, half the team immediately sent me a friend request on Facebook.  Not seeing the harm in it, I accepted, only to see pictures of one of my direct reports sipping beer on a patio after ‘going home sick’ for the afternoon.  I won’t get off on a tangent about how this illustrates what’s wrong with society because it will make me sound old, and we just don’t have that kind of time [partly because I’m getting older].  But that experience taught me the second most important management lesson I learned:  Your boss isn’t your friend, she’s your boss [the first was that I don’t like managing people].  I decided I shouldn’t be friends with people I might someday ask for a job or offer a job.

5. Facebook virtually became reality.  For something that purports to provide a real look into a person’s life, I don’t think a lot of people would argue that it couldn’t be easier or more tempting to project a somewhat prettier version.  I noticed I was starting to experience negative feelings whenever I scrolled through my news feed: Jealousy, guilt, judgment, agitation.  Not that these feelings are exclusive to digital stimuli.  Who doesn’t get slightly jealous seeing a mom of two with a perfect body at the playground, only to feel relieved to find out she’s actually the twenty-something nanny? But the difference is, what we’re seeing online may be a manipulation of the truth or at least an allowed misinterpretation of it. In other words, we’re seeing what people want us to see and nothing more.  A great example of this is also a timely one.  This is the time of year that a lot of my friends would post their family’s fall portraits.  I did it last year before I stopped posting personal content.  Everyone looks beautiful, some exceptionally so.  Ours looked pretty good too if I do say so.  But nowhere on my page did I let on that I had quietly asked our photographer to pose me so that my c-section pooch didn’t show, or that in the shots where I was playfully wrestling my boys, I was actually trying to position them between the camera and my less-than-favorite features, like my overinflated still-breastfeeding boobs.  I got Facebook comments on how great I looked and how beautiful our family is, which is exactly what I wanted. I started to realize that I wasn’t projecting complete reality online, and chances were, plenty of others were guilty of the same. And my negative feelings as a result were pointless and a little pathetic.

6. The time suck was starting to suck.  Now that I’m a stay-at-home-freelancing-mom-blogger, my complete presence is required every second of my day.  Life is distracting enough without a digital addiction to feed, especially when more important, living things need feeding.  Admittedly I’ve at times felt like Facebook was my only connection to the world, and maybe even a substitute for a social life at times.  But I had to face facts, there were much better uses of my time.  I figured if I added up the times I lingered an extra minute in the laundry room to check my news feed or write a status, I could use that time to call a friend and say hi, brainstorm for the blog, or sit down and breathe for a minute.  So now I do.  When I’m less distracted, I feel more productive, less overwhelmed, and not so crunched for time.

Am I glad I decided to jettison my friend list?  Totally.  Were there some complications as a result?  A couple, but they were worth it. I didn’t lose any meaningful friendships, and not a whole lot changed really. I’ve talked to nearly all of my core group of friends since I made the change, and I still use my account to admin a business page and keep up with posts by other bloggers.  It’s actually useful as a sort of news reader, only without the depressing stuff.  I should confess I do still have one friend on there: My hubby.  He posts some funny stuff and says nice things about me on his timeline, and sometimes it shows up in my news feed.  And if anyone should need to get in touch with me, here’s a handy little cheat sheet:

To hire me or work for me, Link In with me.

To check on my pretty ordinary personal life, call me.

To invite me to a party or offer me a discount on furry boots, email me.

To get advice from me on everything from saving money at the grocery store to how to get off Facebook, you’re already here. Thanks for stopping by!