Yoga

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

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Focus on your breath.

It seems so simple.

So why is it so hard?

I learned to breathe back in the late 90’s in Takoma Park.  I was rebuilding my life after a debilitating health crisis and needed tools to help me move forward. After a period of personal and professional dysfunction, my skills were shaky and my confidence was at an all-time low. I was looking for building blocks, bits of accomplishment that could provide a new foundation.

I ended up in Takoma Park on Sunday nights through a friend.  He had been attending a meditation class was sponsored by the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW).

The class met in a yoga studio.  We brought cushions to sit on while we were guided through a inspiring talk and then a period of sitting.  Maybe it was twenty minutes of sitting.  Maybe it was more.

My friend and I both struggled with the task of emptying our minds. My friend had something called monkey mind, where thoughts bounce around in the head like monkeys swinging from tree branch to tree branch. His head was filled with constant chatter and he couldn’t quiet it down.

I had a different problem.  My mind would focus on a subject, but any subject was filled with doom and negativity.  I was hard wired to think the worst and couldn’t point my mind in a different direction.

We went to those Sunday night classes for some time. And then we added a popular Wednesday night meditation where a few hundred people gathered to hear Tara Brach talk and then guide us through a shared time sitting quietly.

I was relieved, over time, to realize that quieting the mind was a challenge for many people. It gave me hope that many had eventually discovered ways of emptying the mind that had worked for them.  Instead of focusing on my own negative, I decided to do the simplest thing the instructor suggested: I focused on my breath.

Focusing on one’s breath is really simple.

You feel yourself breathe in. You feel yourself breathe out.

Then you feel yourself breathe in and breathe out again.

It’s really easy because the breathing pretty much happens without much effort.

The key is to just keep focusing on your breath.

But it’s a bit tricky since the mind tends to wander.

My mind wandered all over the place. My mind left no topic unpondered.

So I ended up getting strict about focusing on my breath. And eventually, I learned what it feels like to think about nothing. While breathing. And sitting.

Eventually, I also learned how to use my breath outside of the formal medication class. I learned how to use my breath when I needed to refocus or calm down or shift my thinking.

The good news about the breath is that it’s alway there, available for you to use as a tool.

Little by little, I added to my breathing experience. I found soothing music that I could listen to whenever I felt my mind going to dark or disconcerting places.  Sometimes I added a comforting mantra that helped me to distract my focus from a bad place.

And I listened to so many of Tara Brach’s talks, available for free on her website.  Some I listened to over and over, memorizing the words of comfort and reassurance. I ended up being able to hear her voice.  And I ended up believing that I could learn to laugh again after going through such a hard time. I heard Tara Brach laughing genuinely, without taking anything away from the depth of her advice.

And years later I started writing cartoons about sitting quietly. Because no matter how good I got at focusing on my breath, my mind was constantly trying to outsmart me and drift to anything and everything else.  And eventually it was comical.

Seriously, though. Try focusing on your breath. It’s really helpful.

And if you’re into it, listen to Thich Nhat Hanh whose stories of sitting quietly and breathing purposefully are delightful and addictive.

My favorite story of his is about apple juice.

Hope you read about apple juice and enjoy.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

In the meantime, remember to breathe.

xoxo, d

The Problem with Depression: Again. And again.

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I was on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional from DC  to Baltimore when I got the alert that Kate Spade had ended her life.  I couldn’t believe it and I desperately searched the internet for posts that proved the news a hoax.

But it wasn’t a hoax and the horrible news was confirmed immediately by credible sources.

I texted my sister-in-law.

Kate Spade killed herself.”

Knowing she would be pressed for the best way to respond, I added “I can’t un-know that.”

Kakki, the sister I had always wanted, texted back.

oh no,” she said.

(more…)

Freedom lies in being bold.

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Freedom lies in being bold.
~Robert Frost~

BUGS AND JOYS

Last night (Saturday night), when it was way too late to be doing homework, two of my favorite people came up with homework.

The friend who loves exercises, was talking about writing a daily journal. The friend who loves inspired ideas and trying new things said he wanted to try it.

There was some cool twist on the daily journal but I can’t recall what it was since it was too damn late for the conversation we were having.

But we decided to journal together.

Well, not together, but on our own and together in spirit.

The friend who loves inspired ideas came up with the format: three things that are bugging you today and three joys of the day.

My joys are easy today so I’ll get them over with.

(1) I evened out my self-inflicted haircut and took off a bit more from the length.

This is a follow up to a joy from yesterday in which I was glad I got around to cutting my hair.

I knew my haircut had not been implemented quite evenly last night, but I needed for my hair to calm down a bit after being washed. Then, this morning, I woke up with more relaxed hair and just went at it.

I’m not sure if it’s a universal feeling, but I always feel reborn when I cut my hair.

And yes, people ask me why I don’t just go to a salon.

The answers are that I am (1) too lazy, (2) too cheap, and (3) too antsy to sit in a chair and pay for conversation I don’t feel like having.

I’ll post a pic of the cut later.  It’s fresh.

A bit choppy, perhaps, but worth every dime.

(2) The second Joy is too easy since I went to hear my niece’s band play in a Battle of the Bands.

Kids being passionate. Kids rocking out. Kids following dreams.

Joys don’t get much better than that.

I won’t ruin it with words.

(3) The third Joy is too easy too.

While listening to the Battle of the Bands, I got to watch the other niece drawing on my iPad (using Art Studio)

My niece doesn’t realize it, but I could sit next to her watching her draw forever.

It’s heaven, at least for me.

She also doesn’t realize that she draws in my style.

Pure joy.

Okay…..sooooooo…..

The Bugs, or the Ughs, as we came to call them, are also easy.

(1) I got very little work done.

I generally have a certain large amount of work I need to do on the weekend to be ready for the week and to avoid starting Monday behind.

But friends came over to talk about business and life and passion and I stayed up too late on Saturday and woke up too early on Sunday for Battle of the Bands.  So my brain was fried mushy mush today.

(2) I didn’t get to run or bike with Bella (Chief Dog-in-Chief).

Sunday is usually a triple header for us – a hike through the woods, a bike ride to Georgetown and a run or scoot to National Cathedral.

But I was busy listening to middle school rock bands impress me, so no bike or run.

Boo hoo.

(3) The third ugh is embarrassing for me as a supposably evolved female.

I was outside with Bella and my best friends, two seven-year old twin boys and their four-year old brother.

We were playing and I was teaching them how to get a workout with a band.

So we’re working out with the band and talking about serious topics like why Bella wants to be picked up and carried like a baby.

One seven-year old told me he weighed 60 pounds. Or 59. Or something.

We talked about his weight for a while

I’m not sure what the focus was.

Then the seven-year old brother informed me he weighed 100 pounds, which of course he doesn’t since he’s seven.

I dramatically refused to accept his information in that dramatic way kids love for adults to talk.

So he said he weighed 99 pounds.

And I dramatically rejected the new number.

And on it went.

He weighed 98 pounds. No!

97 pounds. No! 96 pounds. No! No! No!

At some point, one of the boys asked me how much I weigh and I did something very bad.

I began to tell them it’s not polite to ask a women her weight.  I was honestly and lovingly thinking I could save them from a future of getting slapped or otherwise reprimanded.

But then I realized I was perpetuating a stupid gender distinction. I was helping these boys to think the weight of a girl matters…or that when girls obsess about their weight it’s a normal, healthy thing.

And then I got flustered because I was trying to figure out a gender political position with minor children who belong to other people.

So I did what I always do in such situations.

I told them to ask their mom about asking women their weight.

Ugh all over that one. Stupid me.

Hope your bugs or ughs weren’t too awful.

Hope your joys were joyful.

It helped me to see the cartoon I had drawn for posting today.

 

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It was a good reminder that most of life is outside of your control and therefore not worth too much worry.

Here it is….. enjoy and have a great week. Or a good one.

xoxo, d

 

 

 

 

 

Just Be Helpful.

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I’ve been thinking lately about being helpful.

I like to think I’m a mostly helpful person.  I have limitations, like any normal person.  And sometimes, when I’m not feeling that well, I have some extra limitations, but generally I like to think I’m pretty helpful.

That’s not to say I help everyone.

I don’t help everyone.

Some people I don’t help because they’re too hard for me to help.  I’m only good at certain things.  I’m good at giving rides or listening or sitting in hospital rooms.  I’m good at bringing food and dropping off magazines.  And I’m good at helping with legal matters, which is often helpful.

But I can’t really help people who need much more than that.

And I can’t really help people who need too much or ask too much or turn help around into an annoyance. You know, the person you bring groceries to and then they complain about what you brought?

I assume we all have one or two of those folks in our world.

There are other people I don’t help because I know they already have their helpers in place. So I take my help elsewhere…to people I think have less of an accessible support network available to them.

On a scale of one to ten, I would say I average out at a 6 or so on the helpfulness scale.

I could definitely be more helpful if I didn’t have to work so much, but, well, you know how that goes.

What trips me up is when other people aren’t helpful.  I never know what to do.

This past week, I pondered three particularly unhelpful situations and my role in managing those situations.

In the first situation, someone who I am sure thinks of himself or herself as helpful, did something that happened to be really unhelpful for me.  This person, who I believe is a good person generally, sent me information regarding a criticism of my work on social media.

Now, I should say, I have a pretty strict rule about haters:  I don’t engage.

I learned when I first became syndicated that there are lots of haters out there.  And they seem to have more time on their hands than non-haters.  And they want to engage.

But engaging with a hater just means you’re taking time away from everything that enables you to be creative.  It’s bad energy.

So I just don’t do haters. I almost never respond to them and I almost always block them immediately.  Perhaps they go on hating for hours or days or months.  I don’t know and I don’t need to care.

More importantly, I’m not built in a way that I can engage in negativity and then move forward in life positively.

Negativity affects me.  And not in a positive way.  Negativity just takes from me.  It doesn’t give anything of value to me.

So, when the person I know to be a generally good person sent me a link to social media hate directed against me, I had a problem.  I instantly felt like I had to at least check out the hate to see if it was something to be dealt with.  Because once in a while a hater has a point.

In this case, the hate was low level hate.  It wasn’t anything substantial enough to spend too much time thinking about, much less worrying about.

But I wondered why someone good would have taken time to send me something negative. I wondered if it was on purpose, or whether they were trying to rile me up or get my attention.

Maybe they were just bored.  Or maybe they wanted to interact.

Who knows.

I only know that the episode taught me I need to be clear with the people in my world.

I don’t do negativity.

I don’t want to know who hates me and I don’t want to spend time thinking about anyone I might hate.  It’s distracting and upsetting and contrary to the constant goal of moving forward.

And that brings us to the second situation.

Later in the week, a lovely group of kindred spirits got together to talk and bond and laugh while eating and drinking.  As always, we welcomed new potentially kindred spirits to our group with open arms and the hopeful curiosity that comes from hearing certain stories from certain group members too many times already.

One new member was particularly dynamic, engaged and, for lack of a better word, not shy.  This new member took the initiative to meet everyone and talk about topics that were truly interesting.  I was pleased to see someone new engaging so energetically and passionately.

The next day, that new member dismissed us all rather rudely on social media.  The new member dismissed us as being many bad things, from closed-minded and intellectually lazy to just plain stupid.

Yeah.

That happened.

I would have been shocked had I not been so tired from a week of snow blizzard challenges.

In my too-tired-to-give-a-shit state, I deleted all of the social media remarks this person had made and sent a sweet email saying “sorry we didn’t hit it off and have a nice life.”

Even now, as I write this, I am trying not to give this person even one extra second of my time or attention.  But seriously,…. really?

Really?

I know. I know. This person has a problem.  Or this person is an A-hole.

I know.

But, really?

Okay, let’s just all agree on one thing: that person was not helpful.

You weren’t helpful, you  )(*&^%$ idiot person!

Whew. That felt good.

So, to recap:

(1) please don’t send me negativity in an email; and

(2) please don’t disrespect members of any group I belong to on social media after socializing with them for five hours with the assistance of alcohol.

Now, Number (3) unhelpful scenario really deserves its own essay, but I’m too tired to write two separate essays so I’ll sum it up quickly.

Number (3) happened today.

While walking my dog, I ran into a local who felt obligated to remark on my physical appearance.  This person had noticed a change in my physical appearance and just had to let me know it had been noticed.

I was floored.

And I was tired from explaining satire to a nine-year old (more on that later).

Basically, I forgot how to handle someone who is really just being nosy.

I am in no way proud of this conversation, but this is how it went:

Nosy Nellie says “I notice you’ve lost weight.”

Me says “Uh, well, um, yeah, well, no, not really.”

Nosy Nellie says “Well, you look like you did.

Me says (after rolling my eyes, I believe) “I was on medication for a condition. It makes me very bloated.  Now I’m off of it.  So now I’m not bloated. I hate it. But it happens. And it is what it is.  And thanks for making me feel self-conscious.

Okay, I didn’t say “thanks for making me feel self-conscious.

I’m not quite that bold yet.

But I felt like saying it.

And I felt like saying “You know what? Just be quiet. You can never go wrong by just keeping your mouth shut. Believe me.”

But I didn’t.

But typing that sentence just now felt really good.

So lesson number three is don’t comment on anyone’s physical appearance unless it’s a really basic good thing you’re saying.

Tell them you like their outfit or jewelry or makeup.  Tell them they look pretty or healthy or alive with the joy of the moment.  Tell them you’re glad to see them or that their smile lights up a room.

But don’t comment on a person’s appearance just to get information about how or why they look different to you.

It’s not your business. It’s just not.

And it might not be their favorite topic.

And that’s not your business either.

Which brings me back to just being helpful.

I wouldn’t have minded if the person had asked me nicely if I was doing well and offered to help me if I ever need a little extra help.

I wouldn’t have minded that.

I’ve said similar things to neighbors and colleagues and friends in the past.  I’ve let them know that I’m here for them if they ever need me for anything.  I’ve let them know subtly that, if they’re going through something, I’m available to help.

I think that’s helpful.

So please, just be helpful.

Don’t create scabs or pick at scabs.

We don’t need more scabs.

Ugh. That’s a horrible note to end an essay on, huh?

Okay, let’s turn this around and talk about the power of the brain.

I am always fighting my broken brain and so I’m always excited at any sign the brain can be changed.

And today I got my sign.

My niece came over to discuss satire and civil rights and political correctness.

And to watch Nickelodeon with me.

And we made Rice Krispies Treats.

We looked up recipes on the internet to see how we might make them interesting and decided to add the caramel Hershey’s Kisses left over from holiday baking.

So we (i.e., me) starting melting the butter and marshmallows.

And then we (i.e., me) realized we were actually out of the caramel kisses.  So the Rice Krispies Treats were just the regular kind, which is fine.

I told the nine year old about the missing caramels at least two or three or seventy five times.

But Nickelodeon was on.

And apparently Nickelodeon trumps anything that comes out of my mouth.

Cut to a few hours later when the sister-in-law picks up the niece and her share (four bags) of Rice Krispies Treats.

The niece comments that the Rice Krispies Treats are especially delicious because they have caramel in them.

Yes, she tasted caramel.

And yes, we’ll never let her forget the missing caramel.

So, apparently the power of persuasion is significant.

Now we just need to persuade regular people to just be helpful.

Hopefully helpful,

xoxoxo, d