It’s on. Bring it.

Today is April fool’s day. The first day of the Yoga Challenge. A rainy, cold, and crappy day.

I had to get up and get going. I had to be “on.”  Lots of “on.” First-day- of-Yoga-Challenge “on.”

Class started slow, then amped up.  With lots of breathing.

Breathing is hard. Harder than it should be, given that we do it all day long and should be experts at it by now.

But we’re not. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

After class I sat at my table in the window at Night and Day and played with my Feelings and Needs cards. From the Feelings Deck I picked: Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, Relaxed, and Open.

From the Needs deck I picked: Authenticity, To Be Seen for Who I Am, Freedom, Balance and Power in My World. Those were the needs that were met, resulting in Calm, Comfortable, Hopeful, etc.

I have a pretty good life. I know it. I appreciate it. I designed it this way. I protect it.

It’s not like it just fell in my lap. It comes fairly easily now, and I get a lot of support to sustain it, but at the same time, I designed it this way. I made certain choices: Partner (huge), and friends, primarily. But also the choice to care, to give a shit, and to support the people around me who are doing good things in the world.

So I sat at my table and felt mellow. And grateful.

And then went home and took a nap.

Because of all the “on.”

The Yoga Teacher As Skunk

Skunk in Backyard Patio

I walk around the yoga room and everyone I come close to kinda freezes, like they’d do if a skunk walked by them unexpectedly.

Breaths and bodies become refined as I patrol the room. They are either happy or relieved if I touch them. But they are always keenly aware that the skunk is watching them.

When I practice by myself or with a video, I miss having a skunk in the room.  The screen teacher is too predictable, and when it’s just me, I won’t spray myself so there’s no risk, no danger. I have no skin in the game. 

When there’s no skunk ominously parading by to snap me to attention, my mind logs off. With no one watching me I become a test pattern: steady but boring. I have no incentive to make subtle refinements in breath or body, and therefore I have no shot at flow.

And getting into flow is the reason I  practice.  

For me, yoga doesn’t mean “to yoke,” it means “to get into flow.” Flow is a mental state so focused, so grounded in the present moment, so locked and loaded into reality, that nothing else matters, nothing else really exists. 

It’s super-hard to pull off. Mostly impossible, unless you’re into extreme sports.  

But if you ever get a taste of it, you want it. All. The. Time.

You want the “yoga” of running, the “yoga” of skiing, the “yoga” of biking, the “yoga” of mountain climbing, the “yoga” of doing the dishes, the “yoga” of folding the laundry, the “yoga” of doing the taxes, walking the dog, changing the litter. 

 That’s why you come into the room with the skunk.  You come because you want to learn how to make the “secret sauce,” the “yoga,” so that you can stir it into everything else you do.

The skunk in the room may not know a single thing about skiing or mountain climbing or federal tax laws, but the skunk knows the recipe for flow. She’ll scare you a little, make you take a risk, and then goad you to stay in that scary place and wallow in it. She’ll encourage you to watch your never ending brain/ biofeedback loop. She’ll cue this “watching” over and over and over.

She’ll tell you, “Stay still, right there, and let yourself marinate in this a while.”

She’ll say,“Breathe fast.” And then she’ll say, “Breathe slowly.” 

She’ll tell you to breathe long, and then tell you to breathe short. She’ll tell you to hold your breath until you practically pass out.  And then, at the last moment, she’ll say, “Breeeeathe.” 

And you will. 

And you’ll start to notice stuff you never saw before: Mental movies will play out in epic grandiosity in your crazy brain; you’re bodily systems will cook, then braise, then saute, and then transform. 

And if you persist at this long enough and eventually learn this exquisite art of attention; if you don’t flake out,….

Flow will show up.

 Right there. 

In the next breath.

  The room will suddenly drop away. And so will the skunk. 

You’ll find yourself there. Calm and focused. Locked and loaded. In the only place you ever wanted to be:

Here.

A Cure For The Curated Life

Children with toy ship

Edie and I have both been wallowing in the news and social media cesspool lately. We are up to our eyeballs in it. It’s all we talk about.

We had yet another talk in the kitchen this morning about the importance of bringing our best selves out into this angry, terrified, RESIST world.

We know how important it is to ask ourselves every time we open our mouths: Is this the right time to speak? Is this true? Does this speech act promote harmony? Does it bring people together? Is it kind?

But even though we both know that being our best selves out in the world is critical, we both also know that these “best selves” of ours are highly curated and edited constructs. They are our sanded, stained and polished personae. No rough edges. No splinters.

Our raw, splintery, unedited selves, –those we only show to each other. In the privacy of our home. Behind closed doors.

And we need this cathartic primal screaming; we need to yell the vulgar words, vent our outrage at what certain people we know do, and think, and say. After extremely long days of pausing, and listening, and trying to understand, of trying to be patient, and role-model empathy, we are DONE with you idiots.

So we scream and rage to each other about you. It’s how we stay sane. It’s how we manage to show up sanely another day. It’s how we can keep our tongues civil.

But even though we need to vent that raw primal rage, it makes for a rather unpleasant home life. It doesn’t make either of us happy. Relieved, yes. Heard, yes. But not happy.

So the question in the kitchen this morning was this: How can we allow ourselves to vent, to beat the pillows and scream, but also make some space for genuine, primal happiness with each other? At least for a small segment of each day?

We both have our daily meditation practices, and that certainly helps. A lot. But I think we need something to do as a couple.

I think we need some daily ritual. A time where we set aside our world stress and look at the  things we’ve collected throughout the day that gave us primal joy.

Something along the lines of a kid emptying his pockets after a long, hard day of playing outside:  a smooth rock, a marble, a bird feather, a piece of gum, a dime.

A car let us in to the line of traffic. A person held the door. The barista made us laugh. A hug from a person we hadn’t seen in a while. An oak tree frosted with snow. The cardinal at the feeder. Sun through the clouds for that brief moment, and we noticed it.

Maybe we need to start collecting this stuff throughout the day, noting it down on little scraps of paper, or taking a photo of it with our phone, or talking a moment into a voice memo. Just so we don’t forget.

Then, before bed, saying to each other: “Okay, time to empty our pockets, darling! Let’s see what you got. Let’s see what joys you found today.”

And, of course, the one with the most joys, wins.

How I Spent my Self-Designed Summer

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I freakin’ nailed it. Best summer in a very long time. When I heard the drums of Autumn (the marching band practicing), I was not the slightest bit queasy.
So, if you’ll remember, my problem going into summer was this: Since time seems to speed up in the summer (and I love summer so much and never want it to end) how could I slow it down?
My strategy consisted of:
Mindful Mondays (which included:)
*Intermittent fast
*Severe limits on screen time
*Double meditation time
Plus:
Champagne Thursdays
Photo-A-Day
and
Read fiction
And it worked. It totally worked. I am astonished that it took so little to make me so happy. I noticed the wildflowers (and took pictures of many of them).
I paid attention to my rhythms, especially hunger and satiety (intermittent fasting was great for that). I scheduled time for self-indulgence (Champagne on the deck every  Thursday after yoga, and long afternoons spent reading novels in the hammock).
Now all my needs for relaxation and rejuvenation and fun have been met in spades and I am going into this next season feeling generous and ready to take on new projects and challenges.
Now, what to do about Fall and Winter? Could I do the same thing? Could I design those seasons too, and make it so they don’t seem to drag and feel so dreary? Is there anything I could do, any rituals I could perform to prevent Fall and Winter from killing this nice summer fire?
I do know that all my deepest thinking and reading and creating happen in the fall and winter, and I do love and appreciate the deep interiority of winter, but I also hate not feeling sparkly and energetic a lot of the time, particularly in January and February. If there were only more daylight hours to play in, or at least more bright sunlight in those days, that would help a lot.
But the reality is that I’m not going to move from the cloud belt of northern PA this winter, so I need a…I almost said “survival plan” but what I actually need is a “sur-thrival plan.” Survival isn’t the issue. The issue is how to thrive, and flourish, and appreciate, and get important work done, and nurture relationships, and have a whole lot of fun doing it?
I’m wondering if there’s a way to blend fun and sparkle into introspection and interiority?
I’m challenging myself to come up with a plan. Stay tuned.
Do YOU do anything specific to ease the transition from summer to fall?  Do you have any habits or rituals or ways of motivating yourself? Tell me in the comments. I’d really, really appreciate it.

The Novelty of Reading Novels Has Worn Off

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First novel: Depressed woman locks herself up with hawk. (H is for Hawk)

Second novel: Blind girl and her father flee Nazis carrying a diamond. (All The Light We Cannot See)

Third novel: Fat boy tries to lose his virginity during the bloody reign of Trujillo in Dominican Republic. (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

Fourth (and current) novel: 2 guys try to defeat Hitler and get rich writing comic books. (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)

Literature-wise, it’s been quite the summer. I went into this novel-reading project in an effort to escape time, and it’s worked.  But..

I’m not happy.

Of all my strategies to slow down time this summer, this has been the hardest and, psychologically, the most uncomfortable.

It’s not been hard to read. Hell no. It’s been easy to dive in and and become immersed. It’s been easy to succumb to the captivating artistry of first-class storytellers, to live for long stretches in their  virtual worlds. It’s been easy to while away weeks of afternoons in the hammock, swaying to the mind-music of literary virtuosos. It’s been pure heaven in a lot of ways. It’s reminded me of the Nancy Drew summers of my youth..

And it’s not been hard psychologically because all these novels have been a bit on the gloomy side. No. It’s really not that.

It’s totally because of me, and the the way I am.

I can’t seem to drown out the voice in my head that says that this novel-reading time might be better spent reading about neurobiology, and about what motivates people, and how to achieve mastery, and how to get into flow, and how (maybe) technology can take us there, or (maybe) not.

I keep staring at this pile of books that’s been accumulating on my shelf for the last 6 months or so.

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These are the kinds of books that I attack with a pen in a my hand and an open notebook at my elbow.

These are the books that I scribble in, underline, and argue with. These are the books whose ideas I try to articulate and practice in my notebook to see if I’ve really understood them. These are the books that help me with the stuff I wonder about in the shower, and when I’m driving, or planning a yoga class. These are the books that completely jazz me.

In comparison, novel reading feels like polishing off a pint of gelato with a spoon while binge-watching Orange is the The New Black. So,so gooooood. So deliciously fun.

But now?

Now I feel it’s time to steam up some broccoli and brown rice.

So today I made a decision. I am going to finish Kavalier and Clay, and for the remainder of July, dig into this non-fiction pile. I’ll return to novels when I go to the beach later this summer, and then again when I have to fly to the West Coast.

It was a good plan, this reading project. Time has definitely slowed down in a very good way.

 

Slow Down, Summer!

Lazy summer days

Here’s how summer usually goes.

“Oh, the phlox are in bloom! Summer, finally! Yay.”

Next comes a flurry of manic activity:

Clean the garage.

Mow the grass.

Have a yard sale? Yes? No?

Have visitors.

Go visiting.

Go to Farmer’s Market.

Plant stuff.

Eat outside.

Beer.

Wine.

4th of July.

Then suddenly…drums. And trumpets. The marching band is back and practicing up on the hill.

The sumacs are burgundy already. Asters, vervain and goldenrod are blooming in the roadside ditches.

What happened to the daisies? And the cornflowers? Did I miss them? (I totally missed them.)

Where was I? What happened? Where did summer go? How the hell is it Labor Day already?

Every year, this same nausea. Every year summer flies and I hardly see it. So this year, 3 weeks ago, to be exact, I sat down and drew up a 3-Pronged Strategy for Slowing Down Summer. I do not ever want to get to Labor Day again and feel that autumn nausea.

Because summer doesn’t have to fly. It really doesn’t. Summers didn’t always fly. I remember childhood summers that were almost too long. And even as an adult I remember draggy hot days spent arranging lettuce leaves on platters, watching bird life, and listening to gravel crunch under my sneakers, waiting for the inexorable day to end.

And it’s not like I don’t I know how to slow down time. I do.Sit on a meditation cushion and set a timer for 20 minutes. That’ll do it. And, on the flip side? To vaporize time? Jump on the computer “just for a sec to check FB and email.” There you go. 2 hours. Poof. Vanished.

When I notice everything as it happens?  Time slows down. Live like a mindless robot? Miss the daisies.

So this year I needed a strategy. I couldn’t just tell myself, “I’m going to notice things as they happen this year.” That doesn’t work for me. I’m weak.  I slip into old patterns and habits too easily.

So, after a lot of thought, here’s the plan:

  1. Mindful Mondays
  2. Read fiction
  3. Take a photo a day.

Let me explain.

Mindful Mondays start Sunday night when I stop eating at 8PM and don’t eat again until 2 PM Monday except for a cup of Bulletproof coffee. Nothing slows down time quite as effectively as being hungry when there’s still 3 more hours before food time. On Mondays I also double my meditation time from 20 to 40 minutes and severely limit screen time to 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night and no screens while eating.

Read Fiction. I am a non-fiction reader by choice and inclination. However, this summer I am reading novels exclusively because novels take me out of time. It’s not just that they slow it down, novels remove me from time entirely. Reading a novel in a hammock seems to give the ultimate middle finger to time.

Take a Photo a Day. To take a photo is to pay attention to something. I have to stop, get still, breathe, and really look at something. I’m not that concerned with the artistic quality of the picture. What’s important is the moment of stopping and paying attention. I’m using the Photo 365 app on my iphone to keep track of my daily photo.

And that’s it.

I’m 3 weeks in and I think it’s working.  I plan to post here every Wednesday for the rest of the summer  and report on how this is all playing out in my life. Follow this blog to get my weekly updates via email.

What do you think? Do you have a strategy for slowing down time? I am really interested in this topic if you care to share.

 

Doing the April Yoga Challenge as a Project or a Streak

Empty studio

You can do he April Yoga Challenge as a Project or a Streak.
I make the distinction between the two in my book, The Project-Driven Life.
A “Project” is persistence toward a goal.

A project requires a commitment.
You’re excited about it, yes, but you also know there’ll be hard parts where you’ll just need to suck it up.
The payoff for completing a project is an intense feeling of self-mastery which inevitably catapults you into your next project.

A “Streak” is just a game you play with yourself. Commitment is minimal to none. You streak because you just want to see,

How long can I go before I bonk?

When you do the April Yoga Challenge as a streak, you’re telling yourself that you’re not sure, but you’d be willing to bet you can’t do it for 30 days.

But who knows??

Maybe….

So on April 1st, you start the Streak.

So what’s it going to be: Project or Streak?

Something to think about…