Tuesday, May 31, 2016

100 Days of Meditation

I’ve meditated every day for the last 55 days.  My muse just threw out a thought the other day.  “Mom, do you think you could meditate for 100 days in a row?”  She didn’t challenge me to do so, but it sure sounded like a challenge to me.

I am one for a challenge.  I love them.  They motivate me, stretch me and just plain give me things to do.  From the time I was a little girl, the way to get me to do something was to tell me I couldn’t.  When a friend suggested that I wouldn’t get a job because I had no experience and no degree, I went all out and got the job.  When someone told me there’d be no way to run a marathon with the responsibilities of a husband, two children and a full time job?  Nailed it!!  Even if I had to get up at 4:30 am some mornings to get my training runs in.  Complete a 100-days of happy challenge—one that only 71% of people who start, don’t complete?  Game on!!

I’ve been focused on meditation lately.  I took a mindfulness meditation class in New York last summer and it really resonated with me.  Mindfulness meditation is a meditation practice that encourages you to pay attention to things that are happening in the moment—right now.  No small feat for a person who prides herself on her ability to multi-task. 

The mindfulness practice was good for me.  Though I couldn’t necessarily measure the difference on a daily basis, over time I felt myself slowing down, doing things more deliberately, not immediately responding to stressors thereby allowing myself to come up with a thoughtful response.  I caught myself appreciating a cloud-filled sky more often, rather than rushing around trying to dodge the ever-growing traffic. 

Things were going along swimmingly, as they say.  That is, until I hit a bump.  In the middle of a screaming match I realized that I was not even remotely using any of the skills I had learned in my meditation practice.  In this instance I was right, and I knew it, but there was no way my message could possibly be received at the decibel level I was delivering it!  For emphasis, I was banging my fist on my granite counter top.  I couldn’t believe it.  I never reacted like that.  As I watched this drama play out, I was ashamed of my behavior.  I had just proverbially lost my s**t!

Fast forward—conversation over—nothing accomplished except that I had made my point.  I stewed over what had just happened for several hours with the end result being that I felt I needed to apologize for my behavior—not for the message but for the mess I’d made of delivering it.

I called the family member involved and apologized.  She told me that I didn’t need to and that she was all right with everything that had happened.  I told her that I was not all right with it—that I was on a spiritual walk and expected better of myself.  In a calm tone, I delivered the message I wish I’d delivered to her the first time.  No yelling, no screaming, no hurting my hand on my counter top.

When our conversation was over, I felt better.  When I behave in a way that is unacceptable to me, my load gets heavier.  I made a promise to myself after Ted and Lateef died.  The promise was that I would live each day as if it were my last.  Something happens when you know that you’re dying.  It’s time to fix things—it’s time to make amends.  Something also happens when you lose someone you love.  For me, that something equates to living the best, most authentic life that I can—a life that my loved ones would be proud of—a life of no regrets.  No regrets might be thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it or it might mean cleaning up after myself after a messy interaction.   Acting like a Tasmanian Devil or a screaming banshee is not authentic—it is not who I am.  So I cleaned up my mess and moved on.

One of the skills I learned in my mindfulness meditation was how to react to stressors. It’s really easy to react to stressors without even thinking—it takes control and awareness to take a moment, breathe and respond appropriately.   Eventually I’ll catch myself before I go over the cliff—but if I don’t, as I didn’t in my screaming match with my family member, I can clean it up, move on, and learn from the experience.  Perhaps I’ll catch myself next time, respond appropriately and have nothing to clean up.

Yes, this life is really a journey and with each day I get an opportunity to behave better, do better, be better. 

I’ll be checking in with you all periodically on this challenge of 100 days of meditation that might turn into 365 days, who knows?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What Makes You Happy?

On many mornings, Ted and I would sit on our screened-in back porch, sipping coffee and reading to each other from The Geography of Bliss—a great book written by Eric Weiner, a foreign correspondent for NPR.

What makes people happy?  Is it truly an inside job?  Do some places support happiness better than others? 

We didn’t read from this book every day but whenever we had some downtime, one or the other of us would pick the book up on our way out to the porch.  Sometimes he’d read, sometimes I’d read.

We read about the author’s travels and thoughts.  He’d traveled to India, where he found happiness and misery living side by side.  Bhutan, where the king made Gross National Happiness a national priority.  Switzerland, where residents believe envy is the great enemy of happiness.  During his tenure at NPR he visited over 30 countries.

The book ends with the author talking to a bartender whose name is?  Wait for it…Happy.  The bartender related that his father was so happy when his son was born that he named him Happy.  When asked the secret to being Happy, the bartender said, “Just keep on smiling.  Even when you’re sad.  Keep on smiling.”  Pretty simple, huh?  Simple but not always easy.  It reminds me of something I learned in my mindfulness meditation study.  “When you’re hungry, eat.  When you’re tired, sleep.”  A simple reminder to us that we are many times so unaware of what our body needs that we just keep barreling on, not noticing something that is so very simple.

He ends with this quote:  “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends.  Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”  I like that.