Friday, June 28, 2013

Open Spaces, Distractions, Confusion, Inactions

Tara Brach's latest post over at Wildmind contains a few lines from a really awesome poem by Judy Brown, called "Fire."

What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between
as much as the wood...

I haven't read the rest of her post yet, but wanted to zip over here quickly this morning and write a few things out that have been on my mind. I want to insert a little breathing space into my week, because while I've had some, I've also had lots of things, too.

I've been feeling disconnected from my own fire. I'm so spread out right now. I'm getting home before my husband each evening, which is a reversal from how things were before his promotion and my furlough. I get home and aim to do at least two or three things around the house to keep it clean, then start on dinner. I feel so whiny admitting this, but I freakin' hate being a grownup and all the responsibilities that come with it. I want to eat whole foods, so I have to prepare them. I feel more peaceful in a clean house, so I have to maintain that cleanliness. I don't even have any kids and I feel like I'm constantly falling behind. I'm really not. It's hard to remember that sometimes.

My spare time is flaky, bouncing back and forth between studying the incredibly interesting materials I bought to prepare for a group exercise certification, dabbling with my sewing machine and trying to figure out what project I actually want to begin, lifting weights and hopping around in the living room, meditating in brief spurts, and reading. I've been feeling that my lack of focus on any particular thing has been hindering my future. If I don't throw everything into my group ex certification, am I just wasting the money I spent on the study materials? If I keep getting scared to try working with a zipper, will I ever become the expert seamstress that I want to become? Is my mental health suffering because of my lack of consistency with formal meditation? How will I ever become a master at all these things if I can't spend more than an hour at a time working on a single one?!?

I prepared for my day off this week by creating a "Self-Compassion Tuesday To-Do" list, because I freaking love lists and have slowly become okay with the idea that not everything needs to be checked off of them. I created some breathing space between the logs of my fire. I spent a little bit of time studying in the morning, and again in the afternoon. I spent two hours at the library reading and fiddling with a new toy that I can't access wifi with at home. I went to a new yoga studio because the first class is free, and despite my preference for a home practice, it's good to get into a class sometimes and accept a little challenge. I mowed the grass and enjoyed it, because I get to wear my garden tube top and get sun on my shoulders, and because a shower after mowing the grass is always the best shower ever.

I've remained distracted since Self-Compassion Tuesday, but things are feeling a little different. Because I infused the compassion. I have been trying to remind myself that there's no finish line for my fire, aside from the finish line that meets us all in the end. I want my fire to blaze brightly, keep my loved ones warm, and light my life in tons of ways. I don't need to be afraid of it burning for only one passion, because too much of anything will smother. The ways that I skip around from thing to thing are the spaces between my logs.

So with these feelings this morning, I am turning down a few offers for excitement and bustling this evening. I had a friend offer to take me to see Brad Paisley because she doesn't want to go alone and already has a ticket, and yes I will regret passing up on this. I've heard so many good things about Brad Paisley live. Another new friend that hung out with my sister and I last night and engaged in incredible conversations with me wants me to stop by on my way home for some more talking. I want to sew and read and finish a study guide and bend and stretch and sit and dance, but stronger than anything, I feel a pull to just sit and veg out with my husband tonight. Maybe nap a few times before actually going to bed. The space between my logs in this moment is inaction and acceptance, and taking some time to be with myself before getting back into anything else later this weekend.

I hope it's a great weekend for all and that others are able to figure out ways to make spaces between their logs!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The word was CELEBRATE!

I first heard this joke on a podcast from Tara Brach, who has become one of my favorite spiritual teachers since a very dear friend lent me her book Radical Acceptance in 2010. I still have not returned that book, which I am not proud of. I am sometimes a bad borrower. Anyways, the joke:

A young monk arrives at a monastery to begin studying with a well-known elder monk. Upon his arrival, the elder monk put the young monk to work with the other residents, copying the ancient Buddhist texts to dispense to the laymen of their community. The young monk noticed that the books they were copying were actually copies of the original texts, and with concern, approached the elder monk to assert that the monastery should actually copy from the original sutras. The elder monk paused, thought, and agreed, "Yes! We have been copying from copies for years, so many important messages could have been lost in translation along the way. I shall go to the basement to read the original texts and be sure that we've been teaching the correct messages."

The elder monk went to the basement and was gone for several hours. The young monk, concerned for the elder monk's safety, went to the basement to see what had been taking so long. There he found the elder monk banging his head against the wall over and over. "Elder monk! What is wrong?"

The elder monk turned to look at the young monk and stated exasperatedly, "The word was celebrate!"

Hahahaha. I love that. Tara Brach, I believe, was using this story as an example of how we must seek truth and wisdom from our own experiences or direct sources, rather than listening to every interpretation of teachings we come across. I think. But this morning, as I became slightly frustrated with myself for picking up a third cigarette on my drive to work after promising myself I'd only have two, the story came to mind.

I know that smoking is bad for me and those around me. Though I do get a bit of enjoyment at gasping and exclaiming, "Oh no! A wizard gave these to me and said they were health sticks!" when a stranger gives me a reminder. I shouldn't; I know that most people are just trying to be helpful. But mayyyybe some of them just enjoy pointing out others' stupidity (to make themselves feel smart). Anyways, so I know smoking is bad. And I will quit someday. "Someday" is much better than my previous blanket statement on smoking, "Suck my toe; I can smoke if I want, and I enjoy it, so I'm never quitting." I am getting some wisdom as I get deeper into adulthood.

For now, I am trying to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoke in a day. I had great success with this in college, when having a monthly income of $38 forced me to limit my daily cigarettes to ten or less. I'd write out my schedule for the following day and plan my cigarettes for the most stressful or relaxing times, which are the times when I most enjoy puffing on a stick of death. I smoke about a pack a day as a moneymaking adult, though. That's twenty. Sometimes more if I'm more stressed, like during a particularly shitty workday, or more relaxed, like during a particularly fun night out with my girlfriends. And beer.

So to improve my lung capacity, reduce the guilt I encounter for adding my daily vice into our monthly budget planning, and increase the chances of successfully quitting someday, I am trying to cut back again. I like to break my long-term goals into smaller attainable goals. My commute is a major trigger for chain-smoking. It's an hour at minimum, and I have little landmarks where I'd usually light one up. I usually smoked three on the way into work, and four on the way home. I'm working on two cigarettes in each direction now. Monday and Tuesday this week were a great triumph! I'm pretty sure I only smoked fourteen cigarettes all day yesterday. That's like 30% less than usual. Boom. I felt so great about it when I woke up.

So while driving into work, I hit my fourth landmark (and had only smoked two cigarettes). I started justifying all the reasons it would be "smart" to smoke a cigarette then rather than waiting until I got to work, when I inevitably smoke a good-morning cigarette with the boss. I told myself that I deserved that extra commute cigarette, dammit. I lit it up. It wasn't easy. I actually spilled coffee during my inner argument - all over the car and my pants - and then dropped my lighter on the floorboard and had to pull over, get out of the car, and retrieve it. A more superstitious Lisa might have thought the universe was trying to tell me something. But this morning's Lisa was like, "JUST GET IN MY MOUTH AND BE LIT, NEWPORT!" Then I smoked it and felt incredible guilty. I almost let the wave of guilt taint my mood as I entered work. Then I remembered the story.

I have so much to celebrate. I made it through two whole days smoking half the cigarettes I would normally smoke on my way to work. I have cut down on drinking and a ton of other things that negatively affected my health for many years. I'm using mindfulness to pay attention when someone tells me that I'm doing something unhealthy. I'm using mindfulness to be fully present in each uncomfortable moment, when my chest is tight and my throat is sore, when before I'd easily brush these indicators off and tell myself that I'm too badass to care about the future of my body and relationships.

The word is celebrate, not celibate.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Acceptance of Furlough

I'm not in the Civil Service. I work as a contractor through a private company that manages distribution and material acquisition for several military bases and other institutions across the United States. I was informed around two months ago that I would be taking unpaid leave, one day per pay period. This was upsetting, but I immediately thought of all the ways it could be worse. We are our company's only branch with only two employees. Every other branch lost at least one employee, so if we had a third worker here, I would have likely been let go completely. Our home office could have made the decision to lay me off and hire someone else at less pay. My husband and I have done a great job at merging our finances and planning some serious debt repayment, and as far as I'm concerned, if I'm not going farther into debt, I'm doing well.

The outcome of The Budget Control Act of 2011 and its effects on civilian employees has been up in the air for some time. A lot of my friends here on base have received their furlough notices in the past week, though, and there's a noticeable air of disappointment and anxiety in the air. These folks are going to have to deal with a larger cut in pay than I'm dealing with, and most of them have children or other family to support. Most are concerned about how they'll get by with basic necessities. I'm really just pissed off that I won't be able to go to as many wine festivals this summer.

However, today a notice showed up to our branch informing my boss and myself that beginning in July, employees will be paying an additional $50 per pay period towards health insurance. The company explained a "substantial decline" in sales revenue due to the Sequestration as the reasoning behind this action. So my pay will be cut - again - and it's becoming a lot harder not to take things personally.

Don't they see that my boss and I are busting ass to bring in more sales than some of the other branches with more employees? Don't they know how hard we worked and the relationships we built with folks down here to secure our new, five-year contract? Don't they realize how devastated our branch would be if my boss and I both decided to leave the company? Even if just one of us decided to leave. We have a great system going here, and for a long time I was able to feel pride in helping save the government money on material acquisitions while continuing to practice excellent customer service with customers who aren't always happy with how quickly some materials can be delivered. This was important to me. I went to school for social work and truly want to help individuals. Even though I left the profession because of my fears relating to my abilities seven years ago, I was still able to feel helpful here. Doesn't my company know how lucky they are to have me? Why aren't they making cuts elsewhere before deciding to take my earnings?

It's so easy to take it personally. Our company is classified as a small business, and I expect the attention and care from management that one might receive in a small business. However, classification as a small business doesn't mean that employees will be made to feel important. Anywhere. Companies stay afloat because they prioritize making money. I really don't understand much about capitalism or economics, but I know that I'm just a name on a roster at our home office.

Here are some things that are helping me accept the recent changes in my earnings here at work:

  • Gratitude - Again, the company could just as easily find someone to replace me and pay them less - probably much less - than I am being paid, even with my cuts. We could be in a worse financial situation at home in various ways. My boss is completely supportive of my efforts to look for a new job. These are all things that I can be grateful for in each moment. All these things make the sting a little less sharp.
  • Impermanence - Every situation in life passes, whether we want it to or not. During rough times in my life, times that seem unbearable, I can remember that I'll look back on this as another period of time in my overall existence. Impermanence sucks when I want joyful, happy situations to last forever - but it's helpful to acknowledge when I need a reminder that this will pass.
  • Connectedness - There are dozens of people that I know personally and have love for up and down this hall, and they're going through this too. Sometimes the strongest surges of anger and resentment come when I focus on, "me, me, me, MY pain, MY struggle." We are all suffering creatures in similar and different forms.
  • Trust - I fully trust that life will move forward. The earth will keep spinning, there will be more struggles throughout my life, but there will be victories and moments of joy as well. Letting go of what I can't control comes when I trust that things will work out in one way or another. It's easy to think that things have to go the way I anticipate them, but that's a fallacy I tell myself and only leads to more suffering. Sometimes not getting what we want means that something better is coming along.
  • Strength - I don't feel very strong right now. But through experience, I have learned that my biggest gains in mental and emotional strength only come through struggle and pain. I've been jamming out to Kacey Musgraves' album this morning, and the first song reminds me that we can only see a silver lining if we're willing to experience a cloudy day.