Need I say more?
Happy weekend, friends. Go do something creative. Your soul will thank you.
I found myself with a little extra time yesterday between commitments. I took advantage of the time to meditate for a bit. It got me wondering about “thought cascades” and the way in which our minds work.
Thoughts appear during meditation, like bubbles. Jon Kabat-Zinn called them in one of his meditations “secretions of the mind.” They just float or bubble up. We don’t need to get rid of them or feel frustrated that they keep coming. We just need to notice them.
One thought leads to another…and another…and another. Really the mind can be quite tedious when we observe it. “Why can’t it take a damn rest?” I wonder, but this is typically when I am trying to get to sleep. I am a lot more compassionate with myself during my daytime meditations, apparently.
Thought cascades tend to produce certain emotional states as well. If we find ourselves ruminating on a problem, or a stressful situation, we bring ourselves back to the breath and the sensations in our bodies. I often notice my shoulders have tightened up or my jaw is clenched. I did not used to notice that. It took pairing yoga with meditation for me to understand it.
On Monday I had an interview for a new contract that excites me. I tried to notice my thought cascades during the interview and afterward. I realized my mind creates a trail of expectations, assumptions and details, making up stories freely as it tumbles along. At least I know from Dr. Brené Brown’s work that this is perfectly normal. In fact, our brains reward us with dopamine as soon as we “tell” an internal story, whether or not it is actually true.
This is why meditation has become such an important daily practice for me. For over two years, I have spent at least 5 minutes a day on this practice. Actually for the past year, it was much more than that, but I started small to make it do-able.
Thought cascades for someone with particular neuro-diverse conditions can be especially problematic. Most people seem to have “brakes” for ruminative thought loops. Not everyone’s neuro-chemistry supports this easy compartmentalization. What is amazing is that focus can be built and nurtured, even for people like me! Meditation is a tool for doing that.
Now the cascades are quiet and flowing. Sometimes they are turbulent and rushing. Every time I bring myself back INTO my body, feel the aliveness in my hands, my feet or my heart, thoughts slow down and the volume descends. There is no greater gift than being able to dial it all down when needed.
I used to strive mightily to keep my personal and professional identities separate and somewhat walled off from each other. I realize now I did that out of fear, and related to a memory of a former boss using my personal life against me in my professional world.
It caused me to contract and curl up, to hide, to protect myself, and to lose trust. To be fair, I had been using some passive aggressive tactics to communicate my distress about my workload. Lesson learned, thank you EAP counselor who helped me become more proactive about that.
These days I have less desire to hide and protect myself, because I focus on how I can be of service to my clients, in my little corner of the world. That requires courage and a willingness to fail, to feel embarrassed, to try again.
I am the person I am. I have strengths, I have flaws. I never do everything (or anything) perfectly. And yet: I still believe I have gifts to offer. Brené Brown advises us to step into the arena anyway, knowing that we are going to get knocked down a few times.
As a result of stepping forward, and getting pummeled a bit, we build our resilience over time. We learn that each and every action will teach us. Each attempt builds our resilience, even if it does not turn out as we anticipated. Failing is only truly devastating if we do not learn from our experiences, our missteps and our decisions.
My new conviction, which feels much more deep and embodied, is to integrate my life, not to divide it. Sometimes this is really scary, and I do not like that “bottom dropping out of my stomach” feeling, like a roller-coaster the first time we ride it.
It is unfamiliar, this risk of revealing more of who I truly am. But in service to the goal of also inviting others to fully show up as who they are, it is worth it.
I am a sucker for a good self-development book, especially one that is meant to help you “find your purpose” and live the life you truly want.
Sounds like a cliche, eh?
But that is probably because the “life I want” seems to change from decade to decade. When I was in my teens, I wanted to grow up and get away from my small town where I felt confined. When I was in my 20’s after college I just wanted to earn my own money and not have to live with my parents.
When I was 30 I got divorced because what I wanted was very different from want my ex wanted. (I tried to explain I’d never wanted children when we married. He was pretty sure I would change my mind. At age 44, I am still grateful I was not “talked into that.”) I finished my graduate degree with a Master of Liberal studies focusing on Nonprofit Management, but I still did not really know what I wanted to do.
I kept reading self development books to try to figure it out. But while I read a lot, I did not often do the exercises recommended in the books.
In my 30’s I disintegrated some networks, I jettisoned a great job and burned bridges without a plan or a safety net. Probably not the best move. But I am resilient, and I knew I’d find *something* to earn a living Fortunately found a job I enjoyed at a very large medical device company. This path allowed me to travel to Latin America regularly, which got me to reconnect with my roots in important ways, and re-discover my enjoyment of travel.
One of my mentors told me a year ago that I needed to figure out what my definition of success is. But I told him I have already succeeded. I was making more than twice the money I thought I could earn at my age. Materially, even though we still do not own our home, I have everything I need every day. That is more wealth than most people on the planet. He said “then you have to give back.” I agree.
A nagging voice inside me says I am not working “up to my potential.” I used to hate it when my middle school teachers told me that. I graduated salutatorian of my high school class. What more did they want from me?
In retrospect, I can can see that my ability to focus on many things at once is not a detriment. Lack of focus means I had a LOT of interests. Choosing just one, or even just two, has always felt like Sophie’s Choice to me.
I am working with a coach right now who is helping me whittle this down. But I may just have to accept that I am a multi-potentialite (a term coined by Emilie Wapnick). Please watch her Ted Talk if you can relate.
For now, I am doing the exercises that my coach (and most of the self-help books I have read) have recommended. The habit of devouring books is not something I will get over any time soon. Now, I have to stop using that as a diversion and do the work, finish the exercises, and see what they reveal. Scary, no?
Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.
It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).
Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.
I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.
I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.
There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.
Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.
I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully. I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.