Letting life unfold

My body has been sending me a lot of messages lately about allowing for rest and play in addition to work. It is quite interesting. I sometimes find when I am planning or stressing about something, there is this uncomfortable pit in my stomach.

When I notice that slight pain, and I come back to the present and just breathe, typically it releases. I know that people talk a lot about making detailed plans for their future endeavors. And normally I subscribe to at least having a loose plan, and a vision for the future.

Something in me is telling me not to make super concrete plans just yet, and to play a little looser for now. I typically start with a “shape of the week” plan and then time block in 2-3 hour increments.

I start with a healthy dose of time for writing, reading and thinking from 6-9 a.m. That is when my mind is clearest, after I have meditated and had my coffee. Then from 9-12 I either go to a yoga class, a dance class, or sometimes a coffee meeting with a colleague.

Noon to 2 p.m. is blocked off for my lunch break and any small errands I may have to do, or sometimes just a little nap break or a podcast. Then 2-5 I work on things that do not require as much focus, sending email correspondence or doing smaller projects.  I do not work in the evening, unless I am very inspired to write something in particular.

life unfolding
Photo credit link

I find that keeping a very regular routine helps me sleep better and also I can produce “on demand” when the time is scheduled for me to do so. Right now I am taking it one week (and sometimes one day) at a time.

When I get very excited about an idea, I follow that path. When I feel a sense of dread, I avoid that path. Right now, that seems to be where I need to be, just letting life unfold, not getting too caught up in doing all the right things.

I recognize the privilege of allowing this time. I also remind myself that I planned for it. I trust that using this “body meter” intuition to follow what is right for me will lead me where I am called.

How is your life unfolding? Do you ever doubt the process of finding your path? What helps you nurture that trust in yourself?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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Wellness Wednesday – What is essential?

How often do you ask yourself the question in your life:  What is essential? Or a variation: what is essential for me right now? 

I just listened to the audio book (and am re-listening, because it resonated so much) that many of you minimalists out there probably already know, called “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It is resonating with me on so many levels. essentialism.JPG

We can find a life of greater meaning, purpose and satisfaction with the mantra “less but better.” McKeown echoes many of the concepts of mindfulness as well as other wisdom I have discovered in other books like Deep Work by Cal Newport and The One Thing by Gary Keller. I find many applications here in how I am thinking about designing my new life and work for the future. The principle of essentialism is deeply connected to our personal wellness so I will focus on that aspect.

We face a plethora of choices every day about what to do and how to spend our time. There are many more options for what we can do in any given day and so many more decisions we are thus privileged (some would say forced) to make. Each hour, each minute, even in one breath, we choose. Do I meditate? Do I listen to a favorite podcast? Read a book? Finish that article I’m working on? Join that online webinar? Attend a yoga class?

And yet choose we must. Decisions are a part of life. We want to “have it all” and indeed many advertisers try to convince us that we can. But this is folly, because by attempting to do everything, we focus on nothing. It all becomes noise, and it is insignificant. It produces no real results, and we become frustrated at a lack of progress.

When we think we *have* to do it all, we are lying to ourselves. When we choose only what is essential to us, and pare down what is extraneous, we are rapidly able to better discern what is important. There are applications in terms of possessions, commitments, activities, memberships, or even new habits we are trying to implement. When we are spread too thin, we devote less attention to what is important. The problem is that many of us believe the illusion that everything is important. It is simply not true.

So to answer the question of what is essential for me, I would boil it down this way: sleep, play/creativity, rest, relationships and work. I was going to put work before play. But I realized I am not technically working (for money) now, and I am doing just fine.  Sleep, play and rest have been essential to my sabbatical. Since I worked and saved, I am able to rest and play now for a period. I know that reflects some privilege. But it also reflects choices I have made in my life about what is essential.

What is essential to you? How can you focus more deeply on that today? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

State Fair – time to play

The Minnesota State Fair has begun. Around here it is known as the “great Minnesota get-together.” Typically the fair attracts over 120 thousand visitors per day. Last year’s records showed a couple of days of nearly a quarter of a million people in attendance for a total of nearly 2 million over the 12-day event.

MN State Fair.JPG
Photo credit link

We do love our State Fair, or at least those extroverts among us. Actually, I really like seeing animal barns and some of the exhibits. Oh, and I love the fried green tomatoes, the cheese curds, and the roasted corn. Almost nobody can escape without a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies.

sweet martha's
Sweet Martha’s Cookies

The last gasp of summer for us, or at least how it seems, is upon us. Typically public schools do not open again until after Labor Day, so this Fair marks the end of the school vacation period.

It is time to grab the family and head down to the Fair. Best to use the Park & Ride system if possible, since parking can be a nightmare if you try to get to close to the fairgrounds.

It reminds me of that feeling at the end of the summer before the weather changes, and when we used to shop for school supplies. I love school supplies. Ah, the smell of new notebooks, freshly-sharpened pencils, and new erasers! I was a classic geek in school – loved it, and was always ready to back.

By the end of the summer I had usually gotten a little bored and was ready to go back to class. This year, I am having such a blast and enjoying my sabbatical so much, that it is really hard for me to imagine getting bored.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy the State Fair. It’s certainly not cheap, but there is a lot of fun to be had if you attend. I am reminded how grateful I am for the resources in this state, and for the ability to enjoy them.

As a slight introvert, my maximum endurance is typically 4-5 hours. Beyond that, I get a little peopled-out. But as an annual event, it can be well worth the time to get out to play, and enjoy a final day of summer as it winds down for 2018. Make time to play this month, friends. It is good for your soul.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

Unstructured time

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.

clem in boat
My hubby, captain of the fishing boat

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.

pelicans on big wolf lake
Pelicans out on Big Wolf Lake. Taken August 6, 2018.

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.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

sabbatical
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Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – move toward Joy

What brings you joy? 

This question can strike fear into the hearts of some people. If it has been some time since you experienced either spontaneous or cultivated joy, you may feel scarcity or grief.

If you have been living someone else’s idea of a “good life” but not your own, you probably feel a lack of joy. Or if things seem to be not going as planned in your life, and you feel a sense of numbness or sadness, joy seems far away. You may be like a poor kid looking through the windows of the candy store, knowing that joy exists (not in the form of candy, actually) but believing you cannot have it.

However, joy can be a daily practice as much as a feeling or an experience. I first learned about this from Martha Beck in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I pulled out her book from my shelves last summer and started cultivating joy more intentionally when I realized my work life was no longer bringing me joy. For years, it had provided me with growth, challenge and satisfaction.

Then it seemed the minor annoyances I was tolerating started to grow into major annoyances. The bureaucrazy (yes, this is Freudian slip, and also deliberate) felt more overwhelming. On balance, the joy did not outweigh the suffering anymore. I no longer felt I belonged in that place, in that position.

joy disney
Photo credit link – Disney’s Joy character

I started finding joy in doing art projects at home, meditating, writing, doing yoga, reading books, and listening to podcasts that fed my brain new ideas. I started taking more joy in my relationship, planning my wedding (which took place last September). Instead of working late, I left the office early, enjoyed evenings on the patio, which is quite lovely in Minnesota this time of year.

My focus on finding and appreciating joy daily led me to the place where I am now. I feel healthy and more balanced than I have in years. My sleep has improved considerably, with much less insomnia than before. My eating habits have improved, and I struggle less with fighting cravings for sugar and junk food. Those things had been a “buffer” to my feelings and did not allow for me to sit with the reality of the change my soul was calling forth.

Joy is always not in the big, bright moments of happiness. These can be a part of a joyful life. However, it is often in the small, quiet moments of gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. Joy exists in moments of internal peace and in finding our center. Sometimes there is suffering embedded in joy, and it is an almost bittersweet experience. I would not trade it for any material thing.

What brings you joy? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com