Signs of Life Day Seven

I had final interviews this afternoon for the piece I’m writing about death according to five major religions.

I know what you’re thinking —

JENNIE, You said Signs of LIFE, not Laments of DEATH. Please stop. 

I hear you, I do. But it’s all connected, and that’s something I just can’t shake.

This last conversation was the most helpful to me personally, so I wanted to share the best bits with you. I spoke to Dr. Mark Webb at Texas Tech University, professor and chairman of the philosophy department. Though he isn’t a practicing Buddhist religion-wise, he values the ethics and meditation practices associated with it, similar to Thomas Merton and the Christians mystics regarding contemplative prayer. Meditation is a helpful life practice, he says, it is beneficial to everyone – particularly those who dwell in the past and worry about the future.

People just like me. 

Dr. Webb went on to me about the time he was robbed – when valuable things were stolen from him and it sent him into a place of despair.

“My father and mother were gone, and now their matched rings were stolen. I wanted to give those to my grandchildren, you know? I searched flea markets looking for my things. I gave those robbers an apartment in my head. It took a good month to realize it. You just have to decide to do better. Don’t keep renting space in your head to past things. It’s just good psychology.”

I’ve never been robbed, but his story hit me like a two-by-four to the head. I have a MANSION of past and future worries living rent-free in my brain. They take up ALL THE SPACE and leave no air for good thoughts. I’ve taken medication to help with my anxieties, to chemically temper my worries. I am THE QUEEN OF ALL THE OVERTHINKING.

Even while doing yoga, my brain is everywhere.

Practicing mindfulness is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy. To live fully present in the moment, one must set aside the things that cannot be fixed or changed. What’s in the past is in the past, and the future is yet to be seen. 

In the last week I’ve been told and retold that acknowledging my own mortality makes for a better life. Decisions are easier, priorities are clearer. Life has greater purpose. Like Dr. Webb said, “To frame your life as an impermanent thing is motivation to make the most of what you have.”

I need more time to dwell in these ideas.

Until I have more answers, I’ll table the death talk.

In the meantime, the sky was magnificent today.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Three

When I was 15 years old, I was easily 70 lbs. heavier than I am right now. I was unhealthy and insecure, but when I started Rollerblading on the weekends in an attempt to lose weight (hey, it was the 1990s!), I never thought it would lead to a lifetime of enjoying exercise.

Fast forward TWO DECADES and I’m still at it. Though my Rollerblades have long since been retired and replaced with running shoes, a gym membership, and a yoga mat, I still enjoy the mental and physical release exercise gives me. It is for my brain first and my body second.

It’s a curious thing, then, to still struggle with body image, self-esteem, and all that emotional garbage I’ve been carrying around for most of my life. It makes no sense whatsoever, but that is the nature of the beast. It is my lot. But I continue to exercise – and continue to love it – because this is the one body I have. There’s no swapping it out for another.

So today, after my workout was complete, I did the thing that I never do: I snapped a photo of myself at the gym. I felt silly doing it, but in that moment I wanted evidence that I am alive and healthy and able to do many things. 

One day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Favorite Thing: Gaiam Yoga Mat

In early December, I purchased my very first yoga mat. This was after doing a year of yoga on the bedroom or living room carpet watching Yoga with Adriene videos. Not once did I think I needed a mat because 1) why spend the money when 2) the carpet is soft enough.

And then I signed up for a Yoga for Advent class at church and actually needed a mat so I wouldn’t be on the linoleum floor.

With Kohl’s cash and coupons in hand, I perused the modest exercise section of the store and found this beautiful gem:

The original retail price was $35, which is what you’d pay on the Gaiam website. While that isn’t the price I paid in Kohls, I would have no problem paying full price for this mat.

This particular mat, I just learned, is called the Serenity Reversible Yoga Mat and I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better name. As soon as I roll it out, I feel calm, eager to stretch, ready to slow down. Yoga has become a mainstay in my exercise routine and the addition of a yoga mat upped my game.

Honestly, I didn’t realize the grip feature was important, but it is! So much better than carpet! No slipping and sliding, which are counter-productive to proper yoga practice.

Additionally, the extra cushion does a make a difference, particularly as I try new positions and poses, as I attempt new practices that I finally feel confident enough to try.

That mat is reversible, but the chevron pattern isn’t as serene as the peacock feather.

Three things I love:
1. The grip of the mat was a feature I didn’t realize I needed, and not just in comparison to the carpet. As I’ve examined other mats in other stores, I’m glad I bought the Gaiam 5mm mat, as the grip bubbles and cushion depth are high quality.
2. The graphic print is a pleaser. This could be a petty perk, but I enjoy seeing the colorful feather every time I roll out the mat. Every single time.
3. Bringing out the mat readies my mind for the practice. It’s a feeling I didn’t have when I practiced on the carpet, when I’d pull up a video and begin. Now, when I place my bare feet on the mat, with the video set up in front of me, my body is signaled.  I’m in a specific zone. The air is different, and since yoga is a practice I value for not only for my physical health but also for my mental health, the air needs to be different.

 

Jennie Creates an Attitude Adjustment

We’re a month into summer and something is wrong. I’m moody, irritated, and wishing electronics didn’t exist. I’ve been moping around the house disappointed, watching trash TV and eating chips from the bag, even though I couldn’t nail down exactly what I’ve been disappointed about.

Only this morning did I realize what’s been bothering me, and I’m ashamed to say it’s nothing new: Simply, expectation met reality. 

This basic equation sums up every level of disappointment one can have. You expect something to be one way, then it turns out another.

For example:

Expectation: By June, I thought I would’ve spent more time working on my novel.
Reality: In the month of May, I only worked on it twice.

Expectation: I thought the boys would spend most of the day outside with neighborhood friends.
Reality: One set of kids is out of town for several weeks, the second set of kids has a series of sports commitments, and the third set of kids spends most days with their grandparents. That leaves Jeremy and Jackson with only each other.  And what happens when two siblings have been around each other so much that they are on each other’s last nerve? Mom becomes a hostage negotiator.

DSC_0103 low res

Expectation: With more free time, I thought I’d be back to running five or six miles, maybe more, by mid-June.
Reality: It’s too damn hot. I ran four miles on the treadmill the other night. It was fine, I guess…

Expectation: Lots of photo sessions, lots of fun!
Reality: My 2009 iMac is starting to run slow and it makes me panic. Uploading and editing photos gives me physical and emotional anxiety. I have no backup plan to replace hardware or programs if this computer chokes and dies tomorrow. Now that I’ve released this negativity into the Internet, I’ve jinxed myself and the computer will for sure die.

Expectation: Lots of freelance work, extra money!
Reality: Writing doesn’t pay well. It will never pay well. And if I’m working on freelance, I’m not working on the novel. Catch 22.

Expectation: Without school work to worry about, the boys will be footloose and fancy free with all the time in the world to play.
Reality: Their default setting is video games. I hate it. Two hours a day still feels like too much time with the screen. It is my least favorite conversation to have with them and we have it every single day. 

See, none of this is innately bad. No one is sick, no one hurt. We are blessed with opportunity, freedom, and choice. ALL GOOD. And yet, I’ve let high expectations override common sense and stir me into discontent.

Which brings me to this morning. I checked myself at the bedside: Life is good, but dang, girl, lower your expectations. Brothers will fight, freelance work will always be tedious, and it will be hot until mid-September. Playing extra video games in the summer will not kill the children. If the computer dies, you cancel photo sessions. Will you be upset? Yes. Will you cry? Probably. Will it be the end of things? No. You aren’t the breadwinner here.

And by God, do the yoga. You always feel better after the yoga.

deepen flow yoga

Which is what I did. I made some phone calls and then did half an hour of yoga (click on the photo above to watch the sequence). Refreshed, I washed my face and emerged from the bedroom ready to start the day with a different attitude. As I type, I am actively trying to push aside the disappointment and focus on the good. THERE IS MUCH GOOD TO FOCUS ON, and if I can continue to dwell in this space, then summer won’t be so bad after all.

Also, more of this please. #PubNight

Night at the pub