Allowing space

On the holiday yesterday I was reflecting a bit on the notion of space.

I learned through some reading (and probably a podcast as well) about a Japanese concept called “Yutori” and it caught my attention. It describes a notion of spaciousness. It’s leaving time between appointments so you can get there early and look around. It is allowing time for meditation or mindfully and slowly engaging in a quiet practice of some kind.

I really love this notion. The more I learn about this concept, the more I realize I have been actively trying to embody this notion in my daily life. From the desire for a more minimalist space to my conscious efforts to increase my meditative practices, I am pursuing this desire for Yutori. 

Photo taken from the Coastal walk between Cremyll and Kingsand (Cornwall) in England

As I allow for more spaciousness in my life, my creativity seems to open to ideas I might not have considered before. My days “resist” too much scheduling, but invite just the right amount of activity and rest to feel more integrated. 

Though I am far from perfecting this notion, the concept and its appeal for me is driving me toward my next venture. I can feel that, as much as I occasionally feel I must accelerate things. Somehow I firmly trust that giving the spaciousness enough soil, air and water, I cultivate an amazing garden of inner richness. 

Where and when do you find spaciousness in your life? 

Wellness Wednesday – healthy boundaries

It is Wellness Wednesday! The question for the day is this:

Do you consciously set healthy boundaries in your life and work?

I only recently started understanding what good boundaries are for me, and how to say a courteous “no” to certain requests when appropriate. We are wired for connection, and this means we often strive to please other people, not out of any weakness on our part. This is part of the human condition, and how we survived as a species, through relationships and connections.

The problem comes in when we do not see how the multiplying complexity of our social platforms and our networks creates an ever larger amount of choices and opportunities. That can be a blessing. But it can also have a cost, in terms of our overall productivity and focus on the things are the most relevant to us. Do less, but better (as Greg McKeown would say).

Wellness Wednesday

My need for regular solitude and time to think and reflect sometimes comes into conflict with my desire for input and learning, for example. Often I must put some constraints around the input, whether through books, podcasts or audio books.

I have learned that adding some constraints to my schedule, such as when I will meet with people or how many calendar items I will schedule in a given week, helps me be more productive with my time. In my previous position, when I was working in a corporate environment, it helped to block off some time for planning and thinking. Otherwise, I was at the mercy of others dictating my calendar.

It was harder in the days when I was traveling to put constraints on my hours because I often wanted to take advantage of the time to meet with people locally. But at the same time, I learned that running myself ragged did not increase my productivity at all. In fact, it usually led to consequences such as less quality sleep and less creativity about problem-solving.

It can be a tricky balance. Some people have an easier time with boundaries at work but home is the place where the requests can feel mandatory. I am interested in your experience with this idea, and where you find it most challenging.

What can you do to set healthy boundaries to fulfill your needs for rest, creativity and play outside of work and family obligations?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

What if you sat down for 5 minutes?

What would happen if you sat down to breathe for 5 minutes?

Nothing else, just focus on the breath. For only 5 minutes, or even 3.

Even though the groceries are not yet put away.

Even though you feel like it’s a waste of time.

Even though your brain feels like you are driven like a motor.

Even though you have a list a mile long and you are a very busy and important person.

Even though your parents may have told you that idle time was wasted time. 

Even though there is disaster in the world. Even if you really want to check your facebook feed.

Even though you have a conference call in half an hour and you really *should* prepare for that.

Even though your boss may think you are inefficient because you did not respond to his email within 10 minutes.

Watch your breath for 5 min

***

Would the world fall apart? If you paused?

Or would you listen to yourself, hear your thoughts, hear your breathing, feel your body?

Would you be able to start grounding yourself?

Would you access the wisdom that you already have inside you?

***

Don’t take my word for it.

If you stop, breathe for 3-5 minutes, give yourself a pause, and notice, and it does not make you feel any better, no need to repeat.

But if you are finding that you stay busy to shut out those voices in your head, or to deny the wisdom in your body, I believe you are missing the point of life.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Christine and Anita

Reader Warning: the following blog contains profanity and may not be suitable for young audiences. I will try to keep it to a minimum. Or maybe I am just not able to do that. So f*ck it.

My first response to reading Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement (from a post at NPR News) to the Senate is: WHAT THE F*CK?!?

Kavanaugh
Judge Kavanaugh, photo credit New York Daily News

I have a strong sense of deja-vu in learning her story. This is a reputable woman who has much to lose by coming forward. I admire her courage deeply. She reminds me so much of Anita Hill, and of course the story echoes in all consciousness of women everywhere.

The #MeToo movement happened because way too many women have suffered either sexual assault and some point in their lives or sexual harassment in the workplace.

No more!

This has got to STOP.

Apparently Americans are divided along gender lines about whether they believe Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh, based on polls conducted Sept 22 to 24. But I am pretty convinced that when her public statement is read, and people learn her story, that attitude may shift.

Christine
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Photo credit: sky news

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has two Master’s degrees and a PhD. From her background and the context of her story, it is clear she has absolutely nothing to gain from coming forward with her story. The reason she came forward (and did so anonymously at first) was she felt like it was her civic duty.

Indeed, we must expect exemplary behavior from our Supreme Court Justices, or anyone in a position of such importance. Character is clearly an important part of the selection process, or one would hope the Senate would have that opinion.

What I am hearing from some of the Senators during the questioning process really disturbs me. One of them seemed to imply that a little “innocent” fun when men are teenagers is nothing that should derail someone’s career.

No!
Photo credit link

When will the “boys will be boys” excuse going away? And what is the impact if we dismiss this type of behavior, to someone who denies it and never apologized nor saw it as wrong?T hat is when I lost it and started screaming at my radio! What happened to Dr. Ford is was not innocent fun. It was a near rape. It was sexual assault. What will it say to teenage boys in the world and world if we call that a little “innocent fun?” Wow. No. Just NO! On so many levels.

Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of the Senator who asked that particular question. I would cite it here. Shame on him. What is clear to me is the role of male privilege in our power structures. Women are done with this. An unprecedented number of women have filed to run for office in 2018, 390 for the House of Representatives. This is not unrelated to the election of a “harasser in chief” who does not even deserve the title of President.

Anita
Anita Hill, AP photo credit: NPR

Anita Hill suffered and fortunately recovered and was able to go on to become a professor of sociology, law and gender studies at Brandeis. Hill believes that the current hearing cannot be “fair and thorough” and she told NPR that the hearing cannot provide enough information to reach a conclusion.

Where will we end up in the process of these hearings?

This remains to be seen.

What I know is that we need to denounce this kind of behavior. Unequivocally, and no matter what the result is of any investigation. We cannot say or even imply that this behavior is acceptable. Ever.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

 

A dedicated journalist

I was sitting in a cafe yesterday writing in my handwritten journal, having dumped coffee on it 10 minutes earlier in my haste to start eating my breakfast.

The older man asked me, “are you a dedicated journalist?”

I responded, “I do enjoy writing. And I do it every day, or nearly so.”

“Wow,” he said, “I write often but sometimes not for months.”

Then he told me a story of some notes he’d taken last November while his wife was sick and in the hospital for 2 weeks with a mysterious illness. She asked him to record some of the things that happened, and the symptoms. He said it was hard to go back and write that up, even though he had a lot of notes.

I commented on writing about times that are difficult in our lives. It can be difficult, when the event or period was emotionally charged in some way. It requires us to relive that time, and sometimes we re-experience those emotions. But at the same time the writing is therapeutic, and it releases something, like therapy when the story is told and “witnessed” by ourselves or a compassionate person.

We talked for a couple minutes and he apologized for the interruption but I went back to think about his question, “are you a dedicated journalist?”

Yes.

I love the act of writing, so much so that I lose myself in it at times.

It occurs to me that Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert have written about this concept at times, the sad fact that we only value things that we get paid for in this society.

But some of us create art, writing, music, poetry because we must. Not because we expect to get paid. I mean, certainly making a living is important. In fact, I need to dig up some consulting work in the next couple of months or I’ll be looking for a “regular” job again. But sometimes we must release something in us onto a page. Brene Brown said once in the Magic Lessons podcast “unused creativity metastasizes.” I believe it.

Maybe I’ll add “dedicated journalist” to my Linked In profile and see what comes of it.

Cheers & happy weekend,

Cristy

art-from-yoshi-airbnb.jpg
Art from a London Airbnb, taken September 16, 2018

 

 

 

Plummeting views – was it something I said?

Hiya WordPress peeps,

It seems a bit strange but I noticed last week that my overall views of my blog plummeted rather precipitously and suddenly around August 11th after some steady climbing in the last few weeks. At first I did not take it too hard – people are on summer vacations, after all. They have important things to do, and since I write for myself, I did not worry about it.

Then I thought: is this related to the policy change on Facebook, where there is no longer auto-posting enabled for our blog posts?

Being the stats-oriented person that I am and curious about this change, I opted to do a little research on this issue. I looked as the “referrers” to the page and realized that the number coming from FB is actually quite a bit smaller than from WordPress.

plummeting
Page stats for readership of meximinnesota blog

I also realize that when I am around more (and not traveling) I like to engage in more reading and commenting on others’ blogs. This is great for connecting with others with whom we share interests and passions. It also helps us discover new sources of knowledge and writers we respect.

I discovered that when I write short and concise pieces (less than 500 words), I get more views and likes. This is obviously related to our short attention spans and our expectation that blogs are short and to the point. It is part of this medium that we do not want to spend large amounts of time on any one “read.” I get that.

I know there are algorithms used by various sites in order to “serve up” content based on search terms and other sophisticated uses of SEO. So I am patiently deciding whether to put any thought into this, or just to let go. It may be that I discontinued the WordAds for a few weeks as an experiment. Maybe that affects view stats as well.

Seasons change, and priorities change. I love this medium for helping me hone the discipline to produce writing regularly, quickly and efficiently. And I love the connections I have made here and the community I have found. I shall let go of any “ego trip” around this blog and let it be what it is.

To those of you who comment regularly, thanks so much! You keep me motivated, and I am grateful for your support of my work.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Noticing

This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.

***

I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.

Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.

people on phones
Photo credit link

I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.

This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.

What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.

I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young.  It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.

airport travelers
Photo credit link

As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.

During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.

After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people  find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.

It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us? 

I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Muscle memory

I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.

  1. Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
  2. Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
  3. Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.

What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.

muscle memory
Photo credit link – Snowmie (Stop Your Tricks)

I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).

I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.

When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.

There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.

As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.

What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com