Going from type-A to, um, type-A 1/2?

Afraid of the lightLots of activity this past month!! We have transitioned into summer, spending time at the pool and camp and lots of fun art projects, movies, etc.  My daughter and I are making friendship bracelets for each other.  I’m surprised that she’s gotten to the friendship bracelet-making age already!

You are one finalThere’s something developing within and I don’t even know if it’s something I can describe, but I’ll try.  It began with a feeling or intuition that we are all connected, meaning there is no separation between one person and another.  Probably this grew out of my study of Mussar, my increased faith, and my idealistic tendencies.  I started a bit of a reading binge… I can’t get enough information on consciousness, mysticism, spirituality, and the intersection (or impasse really) between materialist science and the spiritual world. As the neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles wrote, “we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.”

So that reading has led me to pay much more attention to my emotions, my dreams, and to pause more often to check in with myself, something I really don’t do much.  Full steam ahead, I usually say.  Type A for sure.

A conversation changed what I think of as my direction.  Maybe I will share more later, but I’ll just say that I’m not going to bow to fear any longer.  By that, I mean fear of success just as much, if not more, than fear of failure.  Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it isn’t meant to unfold, right? I want to combine all the inspiration I’m absorbing into mixed-media art.

Time to fly full sizeSo yes, I’m back in full swing ART mode! Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t been creating much art lately.  It’s been about 10 months actually.  And that has bothered me and affected me more than I realized.  I feel pulled toward it more than ever and I have pages of ideas jotted down in a notebook.  I’ve been having a blast and it’s only been a few days so far.  The one above is my first canvas I’ve completed.

PermissionA major gift in all of this is that the inspiration only comes when I’m not in the driver’s seat.  I have to make an effort to sit still, to read or reflect or write or let art unfold.  It’s hard to sit still but I’m doing ok so far.  Taking other things off my plate has helped a great deal, the biggest of which was my own expectations of myself.

One thing I will do is take the month of July and part of August away from blogging, just as I’ve done in past years.  I may pop in every once in a while to say hello.  I plan to try to take myself off the rigid habit of scheduling every single task, and blogging takes up a lot of that.   Though I would say it’s my favorite of all the things I do, I still think a break is a good thing.

Many of you have decided to take social media breaks, something I admire.  I probably won’t do that.  In fact, I’ve gone the opposite direction and gotten on Periscope (the latest social media tool) and back on Instagram.  I found two classes through these: one is Kelly Rae Roberts’ mixed media class (which I kept saying I wasn’t going to take!) and the other is a 10-day photography course with Henry Lohmeyer called “wide open: photography and vulnerability” and it begins July 6.  “Each photo that I take is about what I’m processing, what I’m feeling, what I’m being. If you can concede to this notion and completely believe that each photo you take is about your own personal journey, what’s in you, then anything you see becomes a photo worth taking, a feeling worth expressing.” I’m looking forward to learning from Henry.

I’m reorganizing all my craft space.  There may be another tour coming soon.  Maybe I’ll do a Periscope video?

craft shelves

What are you up to? Enjoy your summer!

Posted in Creativity, E-courses, Mindfulness, Mussar, Photography, Spirituality | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Life in the fast lane – change is possible

I have really enjoyed our conversation this month about various themes in Bridget Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.  I know many of you will enjoy this book for the personal stories she shares and the examples of companies (and other countries) that have changed things for the better.  For me, the best aspect of this book is the realization that we are not stuck.  Perhaps our society or culture is fast-paced, but we have the ability to shape our personal experience.

In the introduction to the series, you kindly listened to me ramble on about my social “overwhelm” while I was traveling in Europe.  And your excitement for the series made me even more excited!

The next post, which was about work/life balance, or lack thereof, was our most controversial.  Even though our work ethic encourages 24/7 connectivity, we can make our schedule a little more sane.  Much of the discussion here was about how having children complicates the issue.  It all boils down to choices, right? I’ve been looking at my own actions to make sure they reflect my values.

Heart leaf

In the post about relationship equity and balancing our roles, you taught me that fairness is a matter of perception. Communication is by far the most important aspect of a household relationship.  I remembered that one part of the book says that it isn’t enough for each half of a couple to plan to give 50% and expect it to add up to everything being taken care of.  Rather, each should plan on giving 100%.  It’s not important who does what.  Working as a team to be successful (however you define that) is what matters.

Play is the highest form of researchIn the most recent post, women don’t play, I learned that so many of you already do incorporate play into your day in some pretty original ways.  It’s definitely a balance when there’s so much to be done around the house! Still, the luckiest of us consider our work to be play.

I’m definitely guilty of saying I’m overwhelmed sometimes.  And I agree with Schulte that it’s a self-imposed emotion based on stress, fear, and idealism.  We need to consciously shift our perspective.  Let’s try to give our brains a rest, try something new, count our blessings, banish busyness, and live an authentic life.

“Doing good work, having quality time for family and meaningful relationships, and the space to refresh the soul is about having a good life… It’s about so much more than getting the hang of the latest time management system.  It’s about equity.  It’s about quality of life. It’s about state of mind.  It’s about human rights.”   ~ Bridget Schulte

Thank you for following along and participating! Let me know if you’d like to see more of these book discussions here.  Have a wonderful week, friends! Be well.

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An empath seeks equanimity

heart tree“Your spiritual practice will give you many gifts, but don’t expect it to relieve you of your human nature.” So writes Alan Morinis in Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar.  In my Mussar learning, I’m now studying “Equanimity,” seeking “an inner balance that coexists with a world and an experience that accepts turbulence and even turmoil, because that’s just the way life is.” Aka, rise above the good and the bad.

In the Jewish view, the goal of spiritual life is not to reach an enlightened state in which all the questions and conundrums of life are finally solved, but rather to become much more skilled at the processes of living and to cultivate peace of mind.  The Mussar teachers want us to be a calm soul, much like a surfer riding the waves on an even inner keel, regardless of what is happening within and around him.  We should be balanced, at peace within, no matter what external whirlwinds we find ourselves in.  You acknowledge the ups and downs, but you are calm and aware.

Good.  OK.  I get that and will strive for that.  But I really think some people will have a much more difficult time with this than others might.  I came across this list of empath traits, “22 Signs You Are A Highly Sensitive Person,” on live bold & bloom and want to share it with you because I know many of you share these qualities.

I usually know that I’m on a good path when I find synchronicities and coincidences.  This article happens to mention Dr. Judith Orloff.  I’m currently reading one of her books right now! I’d never even heard of her until Liv Lane mentioned her in one of her newsletters.  This list of HSP traits aren’t anything new, but they came up at a time when I’m focusing on Equanimity, which seems to be very tricky when you’re so sensitive to other people’s moods.  The book I just finished is Second Sight: An Intuitive Psychiatrist Tells Her Extraordinary Story and Shows You How to Tap Your Own Inner Wisdom.  However, it just so happens that she’s also written Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.  The book description actually mentions being calm while surrounded with chaotic situations.  So yes, I’ll be reading that for sure.

Are you highly creative? Close to animals? Especially vulnerable to sounds? Can you walk into a room and feel the energy right away? Do you avoid crowded places? Require a certain amount of alone time? Are you very sensitive to caffeine/alcohol?

Are you overwhelmed by negativity? Can’t stand the news? I know some people who can have emotional, screaming arguments and then just forget about it and go out to dinner.  I don’t understand how!

It’s going to be a real challenge for me to cultivate an inner calm and awareness given these traits.  I’m particularly vulnerable here.  If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

Maybe I will envision a bubble around me during times of stress.  Maybe these are tests to help me develop stronger boundaries? How do we balance these disturbing external stimuli with an internal calm?

In this same chapter, Morinis writes that “there is a way of perceiving that includes a kind of shimmering meta-reality that isn’t an aspect of any single thing in sight but encompasses all of it. I can shift into and out of that level of perception.”  I’ve got to learn more about that!

Morinis writes about being a witness to your thoughts and emotions, separating yourself from them.  That reminds me of what Michael Singer advises in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, one of my favorite books ever.  (OMG did you know he just released a NEW one??? The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection
is sitting right here waiting for me to open it. Eeek!!) Anyway, Morinis describes “an intangible and luminous presence that radiates into all.   It is the job of the witness to keep an eye out for that light. When you realize that, and assign this task to your inner witness, and strengthen this practice, then over time the witness will make you more aware of the radiance that is a constant in the ever-shifting contexts in which you live.”

It’s the way of Mussar to practice.  Practice, practice, practice until something becomes a way of life.  I’ve got a lot of work to do!  I’m much better at it now that I’m a parent, but I still have a ways to go.

Tell me how you cope with external chaos and remain calm.

Posted in Mindfulness, Mussar, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Life in the fast lane: women don’t play

Play is the highest form of research

“I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life.  It certainly has salvaged mine.  Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival.  Play is the stick that stirs the drink.  It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder — in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization.”  ~ Dr. Stuart Brown, founder, National Institute for Play

We’re continuing our discussion of Bridget Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Catch up on the first 3 posts in this series here.  I’ve enjoyed reading your insightful comments! One final summary post coming next week to wrap it all up.

Every time I spend time doing anything fun (creative projects, spending time with a girlfriend, roller skating),  I say some version of “why don’t I do this more?” 

“Research is finding that play is what enables humans to create, improvise, imagine, innovate, learn, solve problems, be smart, open, curious, resilient, and happy.” 

That must be the idea behind those cool Google offices.

I don’t know how you feel, but I usually feel that I have to justify play.

When I am creating art or involved in anything creative, I feel like a better version of myself.  I feel happily contemplative, in the flow, and peaceful.  Why should I have to defend that, even to myself???

“Different activities feel different to different people at different times in their lives.  A  carefree day at the beach with friends in your twenties can feel a whole lot different from a day with two toddlers prone to sunburn, who can’t swim, need naps….  Just as the overwhelm is the result of unpredictability and a lack of control, true leisure, researchers say, is the result of feeling both a measure of control over the experience and also choice, free from obligation.

“Leisure time for women, studies have shown, often just means more work.  Women are typically the ones who plan, organize, pack, execute, delegate, and clean up after outings, holidays, vacations, and family events.  And in addition to being physically taxing, leisure for women can be mentally and emotionally draining… because women tend to feel responsible for making sure everyone else is enjoying the leisure activity and so are constantly taking the emotional temperatures of all involved.  That strong, self-sacrificing “ethic of care”… is also the reason women tend to have the ongoing tape loop of tasks yet to get done, responsibilities, and worries that play in the head like an annoying and hard-to-shake jingle, which contaminates the experience of any kind of time.”

I agree.  Find me a (straight) guy who does these things and I’ll get in line to marry him.  

Before reading this book, I didn’t realize how crucial play is to our actual survival and human evolution.  Neuroscience is showing how play “builds complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept, and flexible brains.” When we don’t make it a priority, there are “huge consequences, emotionally spiritually, and physically.” 

I’d guess that for most women juggling career and family, it’s difficult to set aside time specifically to play.  But what if we simply shift our way of thinking? Add a sense of playfulness to your day.  Turn on some music while you get dressed.  Choose to sit by the window.  Imagine you have a magic wand to make something unpleasant disappear.  

So let’s give ourselves permission to daydream for 5 minutes, to tell or write stories, explore new experiences, or doing anything just for the fun of it.

The to-dos of life will never end.  But we will.  So we must decide what is most important and make time for it.  Start with what’s most important and schedule it in.  If a million things are coming at us at once, it can be hard to know what to do first.  If we remember our priorities, it will be easier to  let some unimportant items slide.  I should sort the mail later and play with my daughter now.  I should talk with people I care about on the phone and shop later.  There are always going to be compromises… 

One person says that rather than seek perfect balance, it’s better to ask herself if she’s trying her best, doing things for the right reasons, making people feel loved?

Here are some suggestions from Schulte:

  • Remind yourself that play is useful and that all humans need it.
  • Give yourself permission.
  • Be curious.  Find time to wonder.
  • Before a vacation or any unstructured time, PLAN how you want the time to feel. Put it on your calendar to make sure it happens.
  • Light a candle.
  • Be silent a little.
  • Try something new.
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Find a role model or mentor.
  • Write down your ideas and inspirations.
  • Listen to positive encouragement.
  • Get out of your head and into your body.
  • Cultivate a growth mindset.
  • Believe in yourself.

For me, play is more of a mindset, a way to carry out my day.  When I’m in a playful frame of mind, I seek out other people, I smile more, and there’s a lift in my step.  I do everything I need to do, but it’s infused with a completely different feel.

Those times tend to be in the first two weeks of my cycle, when I’m most alert and energetic.  However, it’s helpful that I keep more subtle ideas in mind for the rest of the month, like allowing quiet time for reflection or giving myself permission to take a nap.   We don’t have to be peppy all the time, right?

Canvas in progressMy art time is all play.  It’s when I turn off my mind and let my senses and intuition call the shots.  I let my heart guide me and I always get lost in the flow.

What do you think about the importance of play? What do you like to do?

Posted in Books, Creativity | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

You are brave, strong, and smart!

Coloring inspirationI’m having a great time coloring with my Pitt pens and this book: Creative Coloring Inspirations: Art Activity Pages to Relax and Enjoy!  It’s something that leads to an inner calm… I highly recommend it! Even just doodling for a few minutes mindlessly can slow your heart rate and bring feelings of peace.

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Life in the fast lane: relationship equity

Home painted“In my world of crashing work deadlines, , teacher phone calls, late Girl Scout forms, forgotten water bills, kids’ stomachaches, and empty cupboards, all I could think was this: Man, all he has to do every day is go to work.

“But today, this Thanksgiving takes the lopsided division of labor in our house to a whole new level.  As Tom walks out the door, I am both livid and, deep in my bones, flattened by a crushing disappointment.  When we got married, we promised to be partners.  But … our division of labor had become laughably, ridiculously, irrationally, frustratingly unfair.”

We’re continuing our discussion of Bridget Schulte’s new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Catch up on previous posts in this series here. Now, I do not wish to start a gender equality war.  Many of these statements I acknowledge are generalizations.  I encourage you to read the book to learn of the research studies and statistics Schulte cites.  (Seriously, maybe 1/5 of the book is footnotes!)

“Before I stepped away from the spinning top of my life and began researching this book, I was simply too busy to think much about it.  But I always had company.  Grousing about how little husbands do at home is a regular and tiresomely predictable social exchange.  ‘When I work at home, I do all the kid and household stuff,’ one friend told me ‘When he works at home, he doesn’t even think to.’ ‘We get the balance okay, they he’ll go through an intense period at work, or travel, and I pick up the slack,’ said another.  ‘And we never seem to recalibrate.’ There is a reason that time studies have found that married women in the United States sill do about 70 to 80 percent of the housework, though most of them work for pay, and that once a woman has children, her share of housework increases three times as much as her husband’s.”

You probably would like to know what that reason is.  Before we get to that…

Rest“International surveys have found that majorities of men and women in most Westernized countries say marriages in which both partners share work, child care, and household duties are the most satisfying.  Research has found that when men and women share the housework, they have more sex, and that the more equitably they share duties, the happier they both are.  Still, the gaping domestic divide, what social scientists call ‘the gendered division of labor,’ persists… and no one is very happy about it.” 

Mr. B knows that if one of us feels something is wrong with our relationship, no matter how much he insists that person is wrong and all is fine, there’s still something wrong because one partner feels there is.  I should state that this post is not a reflection of our relationship at all.

There are powerful cultural expectations of who we are and how we’re supposed to act.  Are we the self-sacrificing ideal mother? the ideal worker? “Both men and women instinctively know that he would be far more punished in the workplace for flexible work than she would.  And for so many people living on the edges of their budgets, the fear of taking a big financial hit stops all conversation right there.”

mixed media housesWith help, Schulte found the path she wanted.  There are often no role models.  “For both men and women to have time for work, love, and play, … the way most people work, their relationships and their attitudes… would have to change.”  “What if not just women, but both men and women, worked smart, more flexible schedules? What if the workplace itself was more fluid than the rigid and narrow ladder to success? What if a performance-based instead of an hour-measuring work culture could more easily absorb both men and women taking time to care for children or families or have lives? … And what if both men and women became responsible for raising children and managing the home, sharing work, love and play? Could everyone then live whole lives?”

“Sharing fairly also meant clearing mental clutter…” There are certain tasks you simply don’t have to think about, like what to have for dinner, if the other person has it handled.   Sharing equitably gives you a strong relationship, date nights, and is good for work too.

Subtly, we slide into traditional gender roles.  Often gender inequality isn’t noticed until that first baby is born…when couples come to see that the balance of labor, power, and time has shifted. “That one event, as I had discovered in all the time-use research around the world, changes a woman’s life profoundly and, until very recently, a man’s life hardly at all.”  One expert is asking couples “at the moment they are most exhausted, to think differently.  To ignore all their neighbors, colleagues, family members, and these cultural norms.  To start to imagine their own way.” 

stamp artMen and women not only do different things with their time but experience time itself differently.  In our particular case, Mr. B works maybe 80 hours a week.  He can fall asleep within 10 seconds because he’s not getting enough at night.  He is a very involved father, though during the week, he has only a few minutes of family time to try to get the most of those family connections.  He is under intense pressure to close deals and always be on his toes.  He’s a working father and that’s what he’s supposed to be doing.  Home is a refuge, a break from the constant stress. Granted, Mr. B does his share of childcare and house work, yet he seems to have a choice about it.  I know I don’t ask for much help because of how hard he works.  For me (sometimes), and Schulte would say for most women, “home, no matter how filled with love and happiness, is just another workplace.” During dinner, Mr. B is proud of himself for being there at all and I am jumping up to get one thing or another out of the oven, grab someone a glass of water, and generally feeling exhausted from all the “mental labor of keeping in mind at all times all the moving parts of kids, house, errands, and family calendar.” I remember those work days sans kids and I miss them.  It was way easier than being a stay-at-home mother.

I think most people have it in the back of their mind that mothers are “supposed to” fill out the permission slips, make school lunches, plan the activities and summer camps, plan “extravaganza” birthday parties, go to the dentist and those parent/teacher conferences, take care of sick kids, and figure out what this “new math” is all about.  I certainly did.  And I enjoy doing it.  I actively chose this life.  I’m available to volunteer in many capacities.  I’m flexible if my daughter gets sick.  Yet… I don’t often ask for help because I think I’m supposed to be able to handle all this all the time.   I make frozen chicken fingers for my daughter for dinner and think how I should be doing much more.  I constantly feel that I’m forgetting to do something.

On the home front, it was gradual that I assumed most responsibilities.  I pay all the bills, handle donations and taxes, and balance the budget because I’m good at that and I weirdly enjoy it.  We used to discuss it every Sunday, but now we don’t.  I take care of the car registrations because otherwise, his expires.  I shop for groceries and make our dinners.  I straighten and do laundry and straighten some more.  I’m often juggling many tasks at once: listening to my daughter tell me something while folding laundry while texting a babysitter to see if I can attend that board meeting after all while boiling spaghetti.  I enjoy doing these things too.  Part of it’s my personality.  And yet, I don’t ask for help because I think I’m supposed to be able to do this.  (I draw the line at growing organic veggies in our back yard or homeschooling my daughter.) And I do forget things.  This year, our property tax bill didn’t come in the mail and so it didn’t get paid until two months later, when I realized it when preparing our taxes.  Don’t even get me started on late fees…

For families where both parents work full-time, you have to challenge the expectations and figure out what works best for you.  You have to communicate openly and honestly.  You have to agree on common standards and priorities.  These few chapters of Schulte’s book discuss “perfect motherhood” myths and how intense and perfectionistic we’ve gotten in the last 50 years.  Even stay-at-home dads feel unaccepted in most settings.

So to get to the reason.  Why are we spending our precious time trying to be self-sacrificing ideal mothers? Guilt (for so many things…).  Fear of the future.  Safety of the world around us.  Social pressure.

I loved reading that women are not naturally or instinctively “wired” to be the primary caretaker.  Men, too, instinctively bond with and nurture babies.  Both have innate nurturing instincts that await “activation.”  Our lives are shaped by life experiences.  We no longer live with extended family or in large support networks, for the most part.  Social programming and expectations take care of the rest.

I just have to mention that there’s a fascinating part of the book that details what relationship equity looks like in Denmark, where equality is governmentally supported and is culturally the norm.  It is actually amazing.

Share your thoughts on this! I have several women friends who chose to work and have kids.  And I know a few stay-at-home dads.  What do you think?

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Posted in Home, Motherhood | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments