A Word for 2017

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This morning as I browsed some favourite bloggers, I noticed that Lindseay Mead of A Design So Vast had written a post about her word for 2017.. She writes that sometimes, if a particular word presents itself in the days and weeks leading up to the new year, she’ll choose it as something to guide her in the coming year. I like this idea because it seems simpler and more general than listing resolutions and trying to stick to them all. I like to think of choosing a word as a touchstone, something to come back to again and again. A way of checking in with yourself.

Last year, I chose the word “connect”. I’m not sure how I did at connecting, overall. It was meant to encompass my self, my children, my partner, the present moment. In looking back through my blog, I see there were days where I absolutely chose to connect with those around me, and also days when I made a very concious choice to disconnect. I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded or failed. Rather, I set an intention and came back to it when I needed to.

In the final weeks of 2016, there was a word that popped into my mind over and over. An idea that intrigued me. I wrote about it here and here: daily practice. Or, for the purpose of this exercise, just “practice” will do.

This has to do with my writing, first of all. I’ve wondered how a daily writing practice would change me. I’ve been inspired by Sarah Bousquet of One Blue Sail and her daily blogging, as well as blogger Elan Morgan and their daily poetry practice. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing either of those things, but in the end, I feel like life with three kids is a little too hectic for me to commit to any one specific form. So instead I would like to practice my craft, somehow, every day for the next year. Just practice coming to the page every day, even if it’s just a 10 minute freewrite in my journal.

I’d also like to practice showing up for myself. Practice coming back to the present moment as many times as I have to in a day. Practice self-care. There are so many things that I wish I just had perfect right out of the gate, and it’s my nature to give up when they’re not. So I’d like to let this word remind me to be gentle with myself and to keep at it, whatever it may be, doggedly, even when it feels messy or lame.

What about you? Have you ever chosen a word for your year? What word would you choose for 2017?

P.S. I had to Google how to spell “practice”. The internet says that as a Canadian, should be using “practice” for the noun and “practise” for the verb. It also notes that Americans use “practice” for both noun and verb and so I’m going to stick with that for ease!

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Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Running Towards Fear

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I don’t want to write today, so I’m doing it. I didn’t want to take the kids outside to play, so I did. I’ve spent a few days now running from the present moment, from my reality. Although I suppose my awareness of the fact that I’m doing that: “now I’m going to eat this whole bag of chips; now I’m going to pick up my phone again; now I’m putting the television on to distract the kids;” is something in itself. I’m not sure it counts as true awareness, true mindfulness, but it’s a start. It’s a moment of space around the unconcious acts that take me out of my self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about daily practice, as I’ve written about a few times now in the past month or two. My thought process goes like this: I’ll write a poem every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll write a blog post every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll just write something every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll meditate every day for a year. No. Then the inner critic gets real loud and I tell myself the only thing I’m capable of doing every day for a year (or 5) is surviving. But there is some hopeful little part of me that whispers: you’re worth it. You matter. Your voice matters, if only to you. I am enough.

So, like I’m doing right now, like I did this morning when I suited the kids up to go out in the snow, I am going to do the hard thing I don’t want to do. It feels a bit grim, truth be told. Like running as fast as I can down a slippery dock towards a cold lake. And I’ll launch myself headlong into that lake, I’ll plunge into the icy water and be reborn as I break through the surface for air. Each moment is a chance to be reborn. I can only stay stuck for so long. And that’s what the binge eating, the screen time, really are for me. I think of them as escapes, as I’m indulging in them, if I think of them at all. But they aren’t escapes. They’re not things that move me forward. They’re things that keep me stuck and the present moment just keeps battering against me like waves against a sea wall. What if I let the water do its work? How would it reshape me? I’m drawn by the thought that instead of just surviving, just numbly stumbling through each day, I could be awake and alive to it all.

I think of mindfulness as meaning peaceful and content and calm. But I’m learning that I can be mindful of the turmoil in my brain. I can be mindful through the worst parts, I can be present through the confusion or anger or fear or sadness. And it’s uncomfortable. Being present doesn’t mean it’s going to be more pleasant. It just means I’ll be there for it, whatever it may be. I’m going to run straight at my fears and discomforts, because that’s when the growth happens. I can’t grow if I keep checking out. So I come home to my breath. Come home to the present moment, ever changing moment, ever changing me.

Image via Flickr user Tracy

Learning to Stay

It’s been a little while, friends. Since my last post, I’ve managed to pull myself out of my tailspin. It’s taken time, and I would say I’m still in the early days of really feeling 100% in control of myself again. Things are in constant flux; there’s no guarantee that this stability will last. In fact, the only sure thing is that it won’t. Things will change again. There’s comfort in that, I suppose. The highs don’t last, but neither do the lows, not forever.

We’re in Ontario visiting family right now, trying to tie up some loose ends since our move in the spring. Having extra hands to help has certainly contributed to my most recent recovery. I’ve been seeing my therapist weekly since we got here, and that little “top up” has been so important for me to sort through my shit and reaffirm some things.  I know I’ve got this; I know what needs to be done. It’s the doing it that’s hard. I’m working on not numbing out: no more wine, trying not to overeat, not to check out mentally with my phone. I’ve been running, or meditating, or reading, whenever I find a spare moment in the day. I’m trying to let go of the absolutes: the “I have to do this thing at this time every day or else I do nothing.” I’m trying to embrace the fact that, with three kids ages five and under, I’m never going to have that kind of regularity. I’m embracing the chaos of it, embracing the flux. The writing has been missing, and so here I am. And here I will try to come more often. If I can’t have my therapist in Dawson, maybe this can stand in to help me stay accountable to myself.

Something I’ve realized in the past two weeks is my intense discomfort with myself, with the present moment, with being still and staying with whatever is happening. More and more, I notice myself constantly looking for an exit. Yesterday, I took the kids to the beach. We had some fries and Orangeade; the sun was shining, it was windy but warm. A gorgeous day. As the kids ran across the sand towards the lake, shorebirds taking flight in their wake, it started: that nagging voice in my mind asking “so when do we leave? What’s next?”

What the hell?

The kids are happy. They’re not fighting, they’re not throwing toys around my parents house or nagging me for a snack. We’re fed, we’re rested, we’re outside and there is so much to see and smell and feel. Why can’t I just enjoy this? So, I brought myself back to the moment I was in. Acknowledged that restlessness, and sat through it, there in the sand and sun. It passed, and we played for another hour or so.

It’s this restlessness that drives so many of my habits. Bored? Pick up the smartphone: exit. Frustrated? Start yelling at everybody: exit. Overwhelmed? Open that bottle of wine: exit. Sad? Eat another huge helping of dinner: exit. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, I’ve got an exit strategy. And I’m finally starting to see them play out, time and again. And I’m ready to stop and stick around with my shit, because I’m beginning to learn that it always passes, eventually. That the discomfort doesn’t kill me. But the exit strategies are.

Last week I got a new tattoo. It was about three and a half hours of tattooing, and of course it hurts. I breathed through much of it, chatting off and on with the artist, looking around the room, listening to the music, but at times I was overwhelmed with this creeping-up-my-spine feeling of “get me the fuck outta here!” But of course that’s not an option. I can’t leave with a half finished tattoo. I don’t want to do that. I chose this, and at the end, I’ll have this beautiful piece of art on my body. So I came back to my breath. I got through it. And it occurred to me that choosing to be present through whatever is going on isn’t a choice you make one time and then you’re set. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again, a million times a day if necessary.

That creeping feeling shows up in meditation, it shows up when I’m conciously trying not to pick up my smartphone: basically any time I’m trying to keep myself from running for the exit. It is so uncomfortable to just be present with myself. To be present in my life, this life that I’ve got. These three kids who exhaust and overwhelm me daily. But if I’m not there for the overwhelm, chances are I won’t be there for the (often rare and fleeting) bits of beauty.

In her book ““Taking the Leap”, Pema Chodron says we only have to do three things when we feel ourselves about to run for the exit:

1. Acknowledge it (with kindness, if possible)

2. Take three concious breaths. Be curious about how you’re feeling (have a sense of humour about it, if you’re able)

3. Relax. Get on with your life.

I love that she doesn’t specify what “getting on with it” might be. She leaves the possibility that we’ll still run for the exit. But the more frequently we practice creating this space around our exit strategies, the easier it will become, over time, to choose to stay present.

I’m going to practise this today and every day. I’m going to be kind with myself even when I do run for the door. My hope is to eventually stay, like a faithful dog, through all of it.

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