One of my biggest goals for 2012 is to increase my awareness. I believe in the value of mindfulness and paying attention to what comes up. I had this goal last year, too, and besides the gratitude part, I don’t think I did enough to progress on my goal. This year, one of the things I did was to sign up for a class called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. I originally signed up for the class at a local hospital but then, at the last minute, a new session opened up at work, so I got lucky enough to get in.
This class was also highly recommended by my TMJ doctor so I was excited to begin. It started last Thursday and I’ve only been to one session so far. We also had an all-day silent meditation as part of the class this past Sunday. (as I mentioned briefly here.)
I haven’t read any of the materials yet but I have begun the homework which is doing 20-40 minute body-scans (links to PDF) every day. I’ve also been listening to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance each morning as I sketch. I don’t know if it’s coincidental or not but I’ve been feeling a lot better emotionally and psychologically.
I love the idea of bringing awareness to your judging. The idea of stepping back and looking at your judgement from a third-person point of view and then being able to stop yourself so you don’t judge but you’re just aware. It’s amazing how often things come up to the surface and we attack them with judgement immediately. Being ashamed of sadness, or being angry or frustrated. There’s so much judgment involved that it’s hard to see the truths beneath it. The ability to separate yourself from judgement gives you the ability see yourself truly and to dig deeper and wider and understand what’s at the core of your feelings/thoughts so you can truly understand them. You’re not slapping them away or burying them in the sand.
This piece of the article really summed it up for me:
If you stay with it, this process of self-inquiry can give you practical solutions to situations in your life. It can also shift your inner state quite radically. Real discernment, I’ve always found, starts with the willingness to ask questions. If you keep asking those questions, you will often get to the place where there are no answers at all, the place where you are just…present. Judgments dissolve in that place. Then you don’t have to strive for discernment; discernment is as natural as the breath.
Removing the striving is such a huge deal. Not trying to be but just being. Just looking at what is and not putting judgement on it. Even just being aware of how much I judge has been eye-opening for me. It allows me to pay attention. To notice what went unnoticed before.
I know these ideas are hard to integrate. Like most things of value, they require consistent practice. They require persistence and not giving up. But, if the last few days are any indication, they come bearing immense gifts for my soul.
And, for that reason alone, they are worth pursuing.
Let’s see what the next few weeks bring; I know there are quite a few more gems on the path.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for Ali’s Big Picture class called 31 Things. I wrote about it a bit before. The class is almost over (two more days) and I’ve been able to keep up with it partly cause I did a big chunk of prep work at the very beginning. I’ve loved the fifteen or twenty minutes I spent on the writing each day. It was nice to get to look back, record the now and think a little bit about how and if I might like to change things.
In fact, the latter ended up having the biggest impact on me.
As I wrote each of the prompts, small things bubbled to the surface. Changes that I would like to make in my life. And while most of them are easy, I think they might have a significant impact in my life.
Here are some things that came out of the writing (they’re not in any order of significance):
Nature fills me with peace. Specifically the ocean (or even just water) and tall trees. I need to make an effort to be in nature more frequently.
I still really want to be able to drive on the freeway and learn how to ride a bike. These were planned focuses for 2012 for me but I haven’t spent enough quality time on them. I need to put both into my schedule.
I am grateful that Jake is good at investing and takes care of our savings. This is not a change for me to make but I don’t think I pay attention to it enough. It’s not a small thing.
The 3-5pm slot is challenging for me all year round. I need to find a way to get through that time period and find some activity to engage the kids in so they can be happy but quiet and I can do my work.
Food continues to be a challenge. I need to come up with more options of healthy/unprocessed food that I can have at home and eat throughout the day. This is an area that needs much more planning.
I like watching my kids play. Especially when they don’t realize I am watching. It brings me so much joy. I need to take more pauses in my day just to watch them.
I love having schedules and routines. I need to remember this. When I am tried or overwhelmed, I tend to let the schedules go but the routine is the very thing that helps me stop feeling overwhelmed. I also am very grateful that I don’t have many chores that I really dislike. This is no small thing.
I would like to learn how to paint my nails. Both hands and toes.
I would like to find a unique style of dressing. Something simple, elegant and comfortable. But also something that’s mine.
I need to clean out my closet and remove the clothes and shoes I don’t wear. I have a lot of clothes that are too big and shoes that are too uncomfortable. I always worry I might “need” them one day. I will pack them up and put them away. If the boxes sit untouched for a year, they get donated.
I would love to live by the water. (Ok this is not a small thing and likely won’t happen soon, but it’s something I can keep in mind for planning any/all vacations.)
I need to find a way to step back and reset some important things in my life. Mostly in my mind and soul. But I need work and I shouldn’t ignore it. (also not a small thing.)
I need to find a new “getaway” spot in my neighborhood for going out when I need some alone time. Starbucks means coffee and bad food. I would prefer somewhere else where I am not tempted to eat badly.
I think maybe I am thinking about writing fiction again. I can’t decide if this is something I should listen to.
I want my relationship with my husband and kids to be front and center in my life. I want to make sure I give them the best of myself. I want to be more positive, calmer and more present. This is not a small thing but I think I can make small daily changes to make sure these feelings are more visible to them.
I want to spend more time outdoors. I will take daily walks with my kids and, once a month, take a family vacation that’s outdoors: hiking, camping, etc.
I want to figure out what I love to do. This is not a small thing but here’s my small plan for it: for a week (or maybe even a month) I will write down how I felt after every activity. So I can try to see trends in what I get the most joy out of and what I get the least joy out of.
I want to learn to drink hot water with lemon. Ideally, I’d like this to be my warm drink of choice instead of tea or coffee.
I’d like to add a nice smell to our house. Something subtle. Maybe a little vanilla or fresh flowers. Not sure what I want here but I think I’d like to explore a bit.
There you go. Not bad for 15-minutes of writing a day, is it?
Amazing how much can come up by just taking a little bit of time to pause, reflect and write. I am deeply grateful I took this class and I plan to spend time over the next few weeks/months working on each of these things. This is one of the reasons I like taking classes. For me, it’s scheduled reflection, growth, and play time.
Two more things: Thank you for your kind words about my good day and thank you for the feedback on the posts over email. I will leave them as full.
About fifteen years ago, I was really interested in writing. I had joined a few online communities and wrote short stories regularly. I took classes, I even wrote classes. I started multiple novels. I worked on this dream for a few years, relatively consistently.
I didn’t really get better.
And eventually I just walked away from it.
I don’t remember making the conscious decision (though I must have somewhere along the line.) And I did have a few isolated instances in the last ten years where I tried to get back into it. But it never stuck. I walked away before I even gave it a shot.
Back when I was doing it regularly, there was a girl in my group that was writing very actively. She had already been writing daily for a long time but she was persistent. She submitted to magazines, went to writer’s conferences, wrote, wrote, and wrote, and edited and then wrote more. Over the years, I’d go back to visit and be amazed to see that she was still there, still writing.
And last year, she published her first novel.
I cannot tell you how happy I am for her. I’ve always wanted to see her name in print. Always. Because I was always so amazed at how persistently she tried. How she just never gave up. How this was clearly something she was determined to do. How she obviously loved writing. She didn’t just write. She did the editing, the critiquing, the submitting, the proposals. All the hard work, the boring work, and everything in between.
And she stuck with it.
She stuck with it for years and years. Long after all others gave up. It takes a lot to stick with something for over fifteen years. To just keep trying and trying and trying. That’s something most people don’t seem to appreciate, in my opinion. When we look at others’ success, we often don’t realize the exorbitant amount of work it took to get there. The sheer volume of output, effort, and time.
Sure, there are exceptions. But, they are few and far between compared to those who just do it with a lot of hard work and sweat. I’ve experienced the value of “sticking with it” first hand. I know that when you try and try and try, you do get better. More importantly, you get more comfortable with it.
It’s like a new pair of shoes. When you first get them, they are so pretty but so so uncomfortable. You have to wear them again and again before they get to that wonderful place of feeling like they were made for your feet. It takes time and perseverance to mold them. I think the same thing applies to art forms. To writing, drawing, scrapbooking, photography, or whatever else you’re trying to learn to do.
You have to stick with it.
Long after you want to give up. Long after everyone else thinks you should give up. Past that feeling of “I might never get this right.” And the “I have no idea why I keep trying.” You just do it. You stick with it. And eventually it clicks. And then it’s fun. And then you want to stick with it. Now it’s not even so much about the goal anymore. (maybe a little bit still but nothing like the beginning.) It’s become your norm. What you do. No one is even questioning it anymore because it’s what you do.
That’s when the good stuff happens.
When you’ve stopped caring about the end and started enjoying the journey. When those new, beautiful shoes are feeling like slippers made specifically for you. So much so that you don’t even notice you’re wearing them anymore.
That’s when the rewards come in. And, sometimes, they’re not even as sweet as they would have been in the beginning because, by this point, you’ve realized that you already got the bigger reward: the internal joy and satisfaction that comes from spending time doing something you love.
Very soon after I started dating Jake, he gave me a book by the amazing Richard Feynman. I fell in love immediately. I have since read just about everything he wrote (except the hard-core physics lectures) and even some books written about him. His approach to life and science is magnificent. It makes me want to wish I knew more science.
I feel tired and worn out tonight so I thought I would share this beautiful video with you:
A little glimpse into the extraordinary human that he was. I am grateful for people like this. For people with passion. Any kind of passion. It lifts my spirit.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. And, thank you, Jake for bringing this gift, any many others, into my life.
ps: I have some articles coming up for write.click.scrapbook, is there a subject you might want to see me write about?
I’ve had a lot of managers in my life. Let me rephrase that: I’ve had a lot of bad managers in my life. But I’ve also been lucky enough to have a few good ones.
And here’s one of the biggest differences between the two: the good ones believe in you and give you opportunities that they know you can rise to. They push you and encourage you at the same time.
And you know what?
It works like a charm.
When I worked with a good manager, I rose to the occasion each time. I conquered problems I never thought I could. I blasted through what I believed were my limits. They showed me that I can be more. That I already am more and I just needed to see it. There’s so much magic in having someone believe in you.
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to do this for myself. I can see a huge difference in my abilities when I change my mental state. This is not just about being positive (though that’s a big part of it, too.) This is about thinking you can. Thinking that you have what it takes to conquer your next challenge. You have what it takes to achieve that goal. What it takes to operate on the level you want to be.
The trick is that once you think you can, you can.
I know it sounds simple and I also know that it isn’t simple. I go through bouts of insecurity in my life. Over work, over my art, over my ability to be a good wife or mother. Over everything that actually matters to me. And I’ve noticed that when I am in that state, I end up being sub-par. I actually make more mistakes. So then my view of how I am actually comes true. Which is a vicious cycle, of course. I think I am mediocre, so I perform mediocre and then end up actually being mediocre.
See how that works?
But then there are times when I feel good. I feel like I can. I am excited and powerful and confident. Which also makes me kind, helpful, and uplifting. And, man, nothing can get in my way during those times. I am a powerhouse. I know things. I learn things. I am always surprised by how much and how well I can get things done when I am in that place. I am a star.
And you know what? They are both me. The mediocre girl and the star. They are both me. I have the capacity to be either. And while it’s nice to have managers who can activate the go-getter in me, there’s no reason I should wait for that.
There’s no reason I can’t do it for myself.
I know for a fact that thinking you can means you can. It gives you the energy, optimism, and drive to get things done. So you rise to the challenges. You work harder. You work more intelligently. And you reach the goal. Whether it be programming or drawing or learning to write more beautifully. The trick is to think you can.
David has this habit where instead of asking for something, he’ll just say “you won’t say yes anyway.” I will admit, this always gets me annoyed. I feel like saying no just out of spite. But, that aside, I am a big fan of asking for what you want. I’ve noticed that people tend to make a lot of assumptions about what they can and cannot have.
I’m not sure what it is that stops people from asking for things. I’ve found that when you ask for something straight up without being conniving and passive aggressive or annoying, you’re more likely to get what you want than not get it. I’ve asked for things in so many different areas of my life. In school, at work, in my personal life. My husband jokes that I am good at getting my way, but I find that, more often than not, I ask when others don’t. And people have a hard time saying no to your face. Especially when they have no reason to do so.
When I was in college, I did this often with the random class limits. I used to walk up to my advisor and ask him to let me take more classes than the limit. I figured if I kept my grades high and fulfilled my requirements, why shouldn’t I just be able to take whatever class I wanted. If the rules seemed arbitrary to me, I always questioned them. That’s how I ended up getting my Masters at the same time as my Bachelors Degree. It’s also how I ended up working three days a week on Wall Street and still getting promoted. It’s how I got to work at home now. There was no big trick to getting what I wanted.
I just asked.
This is not to say sometimes the answer is not “no” but you will never know the answer if you don’t ask. Trust me. Even when you think you know the answer, you often will be surprised. I find that if you do your part and are a reliable student, employee, spouse, friend, you often find the other party is happy to help accomodate you when they can.
The other side of asking for what you want is accepting what you get. Once you ask, you need to be ok with getting yes or no as answer. But here’s what I think about that: if you don’t ask, you’re guaranteed a “no” so if you ask and get a “no” you’re no worse off than if you hadn’t asked. But if you get a “yes,” you’re much better off. So, by asking, you can only end up same or better off. So why not ask?
That’s what I told David yesterday when he, once again, made some passive aggressive comment instead of just asking for what he wanted. I said that if he didn’t ask, he would never know what the answer is. And if he did this trick where he said “oh you will never say yes anyway,” he would end up being right because I would never say yes to that. So his best option was to ask straight out and take what he got as an answer with dignity. Sometimes I might say yes and other times he’s right that the answer might be no.
A few months ago, I posted a list of classes I took in 2011. I thought it would be useful to share classes I’m signed up for, so far, in 2012 as well. So here’s what I have so far:
I Heart Drawing: I actually started this class at the end of 2011. I am a huge fan of Jane Davenport and a class on learning how to draw full figures (as opposed to just portraits) seemed very alluring. A class specifically designed for drawing and not mixed media was also something I really wanted. So even though it was the end of the year (and a really busy time) I just went for it. And I am so so glad I did. Jane is not only an excellent teacher but she’s kind, patient, sweet, and funny. And talented. She’s amazingly talented. Her videos are detailed, step-by-step and extremely well done. If you’re interested in drawing figures at all, I cannot recommend her class enough. I am still working my way through the very comprehensive lessons and enjoying every single minute of it.
One Little Word: I took Ali’s class last year but didn’t really do the work each month. This year, I am taking the class again and doing the work. My word this year (savor) is really important to me and I love how this class ensures that I keep it front and center all year round. In my opinion, a class with Ali never disappoints.
Move More Eat Well: Cathy’s journey and blog posts were the biggest reason I started my own health journey. Even though I did the work, I don’t know if I would be here without her and I will forever be grateful to her for it. At first I wasn’t going to take this class but as I thought about it, I decided I could use some encouragement and active attention as I maintain the weight loss, work on nutrition and strength this year. I’ve taken classes with Cathy before and I know she’s an attentive and dedicated teacher.
Body Restoration: This is Melody and Kathy’s new class. Last year, I took Soul Restoration 1 and 2 and they were two of the best classes I took all year. So when this class was posted, I didn’t even hesitate for a second. Even though I’ve lost a lot of weight and many of my body issues have improved a lot in the last year, I knew this class would be powerful and useful and one I was glad I took. And I was right. We’re three weeks into it and I already love every second of it. As it always works with Melody’s classes, I am discovering thoughts I didn’t know I had. I am learning, growing and doing art. What more can you ask from a class?
The Science of Willpower: This is a local class I am taking so I linked to the book that my teacher published that’s based on the class content. This year, I wanted make an effort to take more classes locally. When I looked at the Winter offerings, this class stood out to me. As someone who works on being organized and has a lot of daily tasks, willpower is a fascinating subject to me and I figured I’d love to learn more about it. So far, I’ve only had two sessions and it’s proven to be incredibly interesting and wildly useful. I really look forward to the rest of the classes. And I love leaving the house and going to a class at a university.
grafting happiness: I’ve taken several of Stephanie’s journaling courses and have found each of them to be profoundly moving. I have loved every minute of her lessons and when she announced (today) her new one, I didn’t even hesitate for a second. Stephanie is an amazing artist and an incredible soul. Her journaling classes are some of the best I’ve ever taken. I can’t wait for this one to start.
The Art of Wild Abandonment: I’ve already talked about how much Christy has affected my art journaling journey. So I tend to take all of her classes. I’m also a huge fan of Junelle as a person and as an artist, so when Christy announced that she’d be hosting Junelle’s first class, there was no way I was missing it. I would have taken this class just to support Junelle and Christy as the wonderful people they are, but I also happen to adore, admire, and am awed by Junelle’s art. So I have no doubt this class will be truly amazing.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: I’m not actually taking this class until the summer but I am already signed up for it. It’s another local course offered at a nearby Medical Foundation. So I linked to the wikipedia page that explains the idea behind the class. One of my major goals this year is to learn to slow down and meditate and breathe. Here’s the short blurb about the class: These benefits include an increase in the body’s immune system’s ability to ward off disease, a shift from a disposition towards right prefrontal cortex, associated with anxiety, depression, and aversion, to the left prefrontal cortex, associated with happiness, flow, and enjoyment. Other benefits include a different and less invasive way of healing patients with chronic pain related illnesses, a reduction in debilitating stress and the hormones that come along with it,(such as cortisol,) and an improvement in one’s overall happiness and well-being in life. Doesn’t it sound worthwhile? I figure it might help with my TMJ. Or help me finally create a meditation practice. And if neither, well I certainly always welcome even more improvements in my overall happiness.
There we go. This is the list of classes I have for 2012 so far. I know it looks long, but, this year, I’m being a bit more mindful about the classes I am taking. Keeping in consideration cost, time commitment, and alignment with my goals. This allows me to make sure I give each class my full attention.
Added after this post:
Letter Love 101: Art Journaling: If you read here at all, you know that I am trying to get better at lettering so this class was absolutely perfect for me.
Towards the end of 1999, I spent six months in Tokyo for work. I lived in a corporate apartment in Roppongi and walked to work each day. Every weekday I started my day with an hour-long Japanese class. By the time I came back from Tokyo, I could speak Japanese relatively well. I even took some proficiency tests. (Nothing too amazing, mind you, but just enough to get by.)
I was twenty-five.
There are several areas where people seem to think that you either have an inherent ability or you don’t. Learning languages is one of them. So are most artistic abilities. Computers, too. People often tell me that they’re just not built that way. They’re not “good” at languages or good at drawing or technical stuff. Etc.
What they really mean is: I’m too lazy to put in the work.
(I know it’s harsh. I’m sorry if I made some of you mad. Bear with me.)
The things is, yes I am good with languages maybe. I had the good fortune of growing up in a multi-lingual household. I also was required to learn languages at school. My life was surrounded by people who cared and valued language-learning skills. So they prioritized it and so did I. Maybe the early infusion helped and maybe it didn’t. But here’s the real truth about what I did to learn Japanese so late in my life.
For hours and hours and hours.
I spent hours memorizing the alphabets. The way to write those difficult Kanji letters. All those foreign words that meant nothing to me. I worked and worked and worked to remember them. You can make up a million reasons why it was possible for me to learn this difficult language but I know it would have never happened without all that hard work. And maybe if you didn’t study languages a lot like I had, you would need more hours than I did but the trick to making it work wasn’t my wealth of knowledge. It was mostly hard work.
The one major area my past experience did help me was in showing me that I could do it. I’d managed to learn six languages before I learned Japanese. I had proof that I could do this. Even if none of the languages correlated to Japanese in any way, I’d proven to myself that I was capable of putting the work in and getting results.
So I’ll admit that the past results gave me some confidence but the rest was all hard work. And without the hard work I would have never ever learned it.
Because of this, when people tell me “oh you’re clearly good at languages, I just don’t have that skill,” I get mad. It discounts the hundreds of hours I put in to make it work. It writes it all off with “you’re good at this.”
Same goes for art. In everything I’ve tried to do in the last few years whether it be scrapping, drawing, art journaling, painting, or photography, I’ve learned that what sets the successful people apart is the AMOUNT and KIND of WORK they put in. Maybe it’s less painful for them because they feel passionate but it’s still hours and hours and hours of practice. Same for writing. Same for programming. People only get good by working hard. (The exceptions here are super-rare. Rare enough to not be statistically significant.)
Two things happened this week to remind me of how much hard work it takes to achieve things: One, Jake sent me this video today which reminded me that the athletes work so much more than we do to keep their body in shape. They work. Because to them it’s not about losing a few pounds. It’s about getting to do their passion. So they do what it takes.
And the other one was during my I Heart Drawing class. This class is on drawing fashion figures and I am really struggling. My girls look funny. My lines don’t flow. Things just never work out the way I wish they did. When I whined about it, here’s what the amazing Jane said:
“Of course you need to practice Karenika, we all do. Of course your drawing isn’t exactly as you want it – you are learning. You are meant to be making mistakes remember?! Can I flick a switch and just transmit what I know after years and years of joyful practice?”
See what she says “YEARS AND YEARS OF JOYFUL PRACTICE.” The fact is, the frustration causes me to practice less which, of course, means I don’t improve. She’s been doing this for years. She’s been doing it diligently, joyfully and putting in her hours.
And I haven’t.
So it’s no surprise that I am not “good at this.”
As upsetting as it might be to acknowledge, I’ve come to accept that the only thing standing between me and the thing I want to learn (master, be good at, whatever.) is my willingness to practice.
2011 has been a good year for me in forward-progress. I’ve spent a lot of time doing some of the things I wanted to do. I’ve focused on sketching, art journaling, exercise, and journaling. More time with my family. More productivity at work. I feel like I’ve moved forward in all those areas. I have visible, tangible proof for most of the changes.
But I still find myself struggling.
I have specific wishes in all these areas that evolve, grow, change as I work on them. For example, this past week, I decided I wanted to be able to draw my own characters in a simple, illustrative style. Like Abigail Halpin whose style just speaks to me. The thing is, I have no desire to be a children’s illustrator and I lack the years of practice (and I am guessing a lot of formal education) she has. As I’ve learned in the last two days, it doesn’t come naturally to me and I have absolutely no idea where to begin learning.
I want to work on my lettering. Even though I’ve signed up for Lori’s amazing class, guess what? It won’t work unless I practice. A lot. So what’s lacking is not my ability to write beautifully but my willingness to put the time in to practice again and again until I can do it.
I want to build firmer muscles. Not bulky ones but I’d rather exchange my flabby tummy for a firmer, stronger one. This means weights, pilates, sit-ups…Something to work on those muscles. Same goes for the rest of my body. I want to eat healthier. This means committing to learning more about food, finding things that work with my lifestyle.
I want to focus more on self-growth. This means journaling more intentionally. Finding classes, books, resources to help me more.
I’m learning something really obvious: the work is never finished. There’s always more ways in which to grow. There’s always more to learn. And everything requires time. Everything.
That’s the most difficult decision to make: where do I dedicate my precious time? What do i want to do with it? Am I doing what I want to do or what I think I should do? What I liked back then but don’t like anymore (but won’t stop?) Am I spending my time in the way that makes me happiest (most fulfilled)?
My attempts at learning to do “illustrative” sketching are abysmal enough that I wanted to walk away immediately. Just pick something else to do. Anything else. But I told myself that I will give it a month. Even if it’s a month of terrible sketches, I want to see if I can find a way to make it work. After a month of legitimate effort, if I still hate what I produce, I can walk away. I am willing to dedicate 15-30 precious minutes to this every day for a month. In exchange for possibly opening a joyful door for myself. Or maybe just proving to myself that I can.
As for the other things on my list, they will get their due, too.
But as I look forward to 2012 and plan my projects, the biggest thing on my mind is Time. Answering the most difficult question of how I want to spend my minutes.
I am learning more and more that the key to a happy and fulfilled life is knowing yourself.
On the good side, the more I know about what I like, the more I can fill my life with it. Colors, shapes, people. If I know what clothes suit me best, I can buy more of them and always feel at my best when I am dressed. If I know what foods make me feel the best, I can focus on eating those. If I know what songs, what TV, what conversations I prefer. I can bring them into my life.
Same goes with books, hobbies, places to go. Focusing a lot on my actual likes and taking a step back and thinking really hard about whether I like something because *I* like it (and not because someone else encouraged me or cause it looks good or sounds important, etc.) is a very valuable way to spend my time.
I wrote about this in a newsletter a few months ago but I’ve been thinking more and more about it everyday.
Today Brené and Jen were talking about shame triggers in the Ordinary Courage class and, to me, it was another reminder that how well you know yourself can be crucial in recognizing situations and being able to step away from them instead of getting upset, frustrated, or even worse falling into a shame spiral, again and again. Noticing how your body behaves when you feel ashamed allows you the opportunity to pay attention, take a moment, step back and take the next step accordingly.
Being aware is always the key.
I notice this helps when I go into arguments with people who are close to me like my family. I’ve known them for so long that I can recognize patterns, I can see my buttons as they are being pressed, I can see when an argument isn’t really about what it appears. I can understand that when the other person is just frustrated about something totally unrelated and is picking a fight. Knowing myself, knowing how I trigger, how my anger, shame, frustration, pride, etc. triggers is really really valuable in these situations. It stops me from escalating an issue unnecessarily and getting into a bad place.
One of the exercises we did for Karen’s Pathfinder class was writing down what matters to us. What our values are. What we strive for them to be. I think this awareness also brings so much light into our lives. It allows me to live my day to day life true to my priorities. If I spend time thinking about exactly the kind of mother I want to be, not what i think I should be or what others think I should be but what truly matters to me, I can make sure that the time I spend with my kids is focused on exercising those values and priorities. Same for my career or marriage.
It even applies to art. If I believe that preserving my family’s memories is crucial to me, I can spend more of my energy writing journaling on my pages. If I believe it’s more important to do play and experiment and use art to just relax and unwind, then I can worry less about the theme of my pages and focus more on the fun. For example, for me, having my art be meaningful is crucial so I focus on titles and journaling in my scrap pages and put themes and titles on my art journal pages. For me, a page isn’t complete until I have meaning. Ever since I figured this out, I always think of my “sentence” on my art journal first. And then even if the page doesn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, if it is meaningful, I am content. Knowing my preferences allows me to get to a more peaceful (or happy) place with my art.
To this end, I will spend the next few weeks spending extra attention on this. On how I think I want to be perceived (and not be perceived) and how that affects me. On what I truly want for myself. On my values and the kind of person I want to be in the world. On how I would truly like to spend my time. I plan to reserve my journaling time to note these observations daily and see if I can make some progress on getting to know myself better.
I believe it will some of the most rewarding time I spend.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned how David’s school has a regular Monday morning assembly where they talk about topics that change each time. David told me last week that he was going to be the class reporter for this week’s meeting so I decided both Jake and I should go be there to support him.
Despite some early morning chaos, we both made it there and it was clear that David was very happy to have us there. Before the class reporters, the main topic was presented. This morning’s topic was about the migration of the Monarch butterflies. And she talked about several amazing aspects of the butterfly and their migration across very large distances and how the great-grandchildren know exactly where to go and when by instinct even though the original family member butterflies are no longer around the guide them.
But the story that stuck with me the most was this one:
I am going to reword but it was about a man who found a butterfly right as it was coming out of its cocoon. He watched for a while as the butterfly struggled to come out and then it looked like the butterfly was stuck. He took a pair of scissors and gently cut the opening so the butterfly could come out. And it did. It had this big body and tiny wings. After a short while the butterfly died.
The man didn’t understand that the struggle of emerging is nature’s way of forcing blood out of the butterfly’s body and into the wings. The struggle is essential for the butterfly to live. If it does not struggle to emerge from the cocoon, fluid stays in the body, and the butterfly cannot survive.
And then when I came home, I read my daily email from the Ordinary Courage class and at the end was this one question:
What would happen if you tried on the perspective that your dark places are actually strange lights waiting to help you find a new way?
What if struggle is an essential part of survival? What if you have to go through the dark to live a full and extraordinary life? What if the darkness is what you need to travel through to get to the light on the other side and to be exactly who you’re meant to be? Without the struggle the butterfly didn’t even get to live. It never developed to what it needed to be to survive. What if this is also true for us? What if by avoiding the light we’re never growing the wings we need to have?
The homework email also has this quote:
The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows. — Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I am a firm believer that we need to face the dark. But I didn’t think too hard about going through the struggle before. I know there’s maturity in knowing when to walk away (this is very hard for me) and I do work hard despite struggles but I don’t always think that struggle is actually transforming me so I can be exactly who I need to be. I like that perspective.
I like idea that the struggles that seem inevitable in my life come with the gifts of making me the person I am meant to be.
After the wonderful talk, David did get to get up and represent his class and he was wonderful. He wasn’t nervous. He read clearly and enunciated well. We were both very proud of him and walked away grateful to live the kind of life that allowed us to share this experience with him.