What Do You Really Want To Do?

That is the question.

It is a question I grapple with a lot.

It sounds simple at first. Of course you know what you want to do. But do you, really? Can you separate what you really want from what you think you should want? Or more to the point, what other people think you should want and since you want other people to approve of you, you adopt that as your wish? Yes, you might have to read that through one more time.

My backyard Hammock

Complicated as it is, I would say that what most people want is for other people to approve of them. And there lies the problem. This is often something people are not consciously aware of. It’s so ingrained to want approval that we often make choices based on what we think others’ reaction will be, without questioning whether it’s something we deeply desire.

I haven’t written a blog post in months. I’ve thought about it often. Various topics have run through my mind. But I’ve been too busy. The nagging feeling that I “should” write a blog post has continued to bother me. Why? Because when you begin engaging with people online you “should” keep it up on a regular basis. And I admit, I have let things slip. The truth is, I’ve been trying to do too many things. I know I have to cut some things out and I’ve been at a loss.

So this question: What do you really want to do? This has been hanging over my head. Every day. For months.

The underlying topic of pretty much all my blog posts has been self-care. I love this topic. The importance of self-care never goes away. You never get finished with self-care, just like you never get finished eating or sleeping. It’s an essential part of life. There are so many layers to it. It comes up in big and small ways around everything we do.

It fascinates me because I am always craving more self-care. I fantasize about taking myself to the coast, going for a walk in the woods, lying in my hammock reading a book. But all too often, I put these things off because I’m trying to get other stuff done. And I’ll tell you, there is an endless amount of other stuff to get done. When I am exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, even burned out, the question always comes up. What can I do to take care of myself? What do I really want to do?

The quiet spot in my driveway

One of my projects is writing a book on self-care. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t had time to write blog posts. My previous posts inspired the book. There’s a lot to this topic. It’s important for our health, for our well-being, our sanity. It’s so important to take care of ourselves because it’s so easy to get worn out and have nothing left to give. You are no good to anyone when you are burned out, including yourself. Especially yourself.

My favorite books are about people’s journeys. I love memoirs and self-help books. These books help me feel less alone when I realize how other people have struggled and how they coped. They give me ideas and inspiration. And they inspire me to write my own stories. It is why I am writing a book on self-care, as I spend every day and every week exploring the issues around this. I am also writing a memoir about two very difficult years of my life when I attempted a career change that was not right for me. It was the ultimate in doing something that everyone approved of but was not a good match. There were some big realizations I had that I want to write about as I tell the story. It was quite a journey and I will someday finish that book. But I have put it aside for the time being to focus on the self-care book. This is how I end up with too many projects.

Relaxing on my patio

The more I write about self-care, I keep seeing an underlying issue. And that is, we get very strong messages about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to want, what our families should look like, what the progression of our careers should be. These messages affect our choices. Whether the messages come from our parents, our teachers or even our close friends, everyone has an opinion on this. Whether the message is to conform or to be a rebel, people have very strong opinions. One only needs to take a quick look at social media, to the abundance of selfies to see how important it is for most people, to have approval. “Look at me! And for God’s sake, like this post!”

So, what happens when you want to do something that perhaps no one understands?

First off, it’s not necessary to tell people everything you’re doing. It’s perfectly okay to keep parts of your life private. In fact, it’s a good idea to have privacy around some of the things you do, just so you don’t have to think in terms of how you will be judged.

Here’s the thing. You are totally okay exactly the way you are. No matter where you are in your process, it’s okay. Whether you are on your way to developing a new skill, a new career, creating something, or choosing to take it easy and not do anything new, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your right as a human being to be however you want to be.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have a right to living the way you want to live.

I have a lot of difficulty allowing myself unproductive time. Wherever I got those messages that I should be getting things done, they are very deeply ingrained. One of my biggest self-care practices is to allow myself to do nothing. To simply rest. I have set up a number of resting areas around my house because this is so essential to me. Yet, I struggle to take advantage of them. I have a hammock strung up in my backyard, a chaise lounge on my porch and another chaise lounge under a tree, down my driveway. These are all very attractive places to relax. I am embarrassed to admit how rarely I take advantage of them. My goal is to spend some time relaxing in one of these spots every day, but honestly, I am doing well if I do so once or twice a week. Everywhere I look, I see things that need to get done. The garden always needs weeding. I’m always behind on my writing projects. There are too many papers on my desk than need sorting and discarding. My closets need to be cleaned out. My emails have not all been read. On and on it goes. I cannot wait until everything is done to relax. Otherwise I will wait forever.

What do I really want? Honestly, it’s to feel less pressure. And that pressure comes primarily from within me.

When I realized I didn’t feel like writing a blog post I gave myself permission not to write posts for a while. The world would not come to an end if I did not write a blog post. Instead I focused on the book when I had time to write. I have a great critique group where I get wonderful feedback. The process of crafting a good book fascinates me so this is clearly a project I want to keep.

All the books I have about writing say that you need to have a writing routine, so you can get so many thousands of words written every day. I do not have a writing routine. I don’t want one. I just want to write when I feel moved to. So that’s what I do. Maybe I will never finish my book. It’s okay. I am not depending on my writing to support me, so these things really don’t matter. Even though I can see the ghosts of writers shaking their fingers at me, telling me I won’t amount to anything if I don’t get my writing done, I know ultimately it doesn’t matter. I am not living to gain their approval. They are, in fact, my own spooky creation. I am not living to gain anyone’s approval. How freeing it is to say that! I am not living to gain anyone’s approval! I needed to say it again!

Each day that blooms is fresh. Each day is an opportunity to do what I really want. Or to not do things I don’t want. Regardless of the expectations.

My work schedule provides a little structure for which I am grateful. I am someone who needs a little structure. But beyond that structure I get overwhelmed trying to do way too much. My biggest challenge with time is narrowing the list down so I can spend more time lying on the chaise lounges, and rocking in the hammock.

What is your challenge? What do you really want to do that you have not yet made room for?

Advertisements

Staying Sane During Insane Times

You can’t go crazy right now, tempting as that may be. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant about our emotional state. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling torn into pieces as I am watching events in our country unfold. I find myself going through a wild cycle of feelings, none of them good. Fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, despair all take turns occupying my psyche.

Take the sane road

Take the sane road

It’s been hard to go about the usual activities in my life without talking about it all the time. But, honestly, I can’t talk about it all the time. When I do bring up the state of the world, because that’s what’s on my mind, people nod and I see that same stressed out look on their faces that I see in the mirror. They are reading the same articles I’m reading, the same news stories. They are feeling much of what I’m feeling.

This gets exhausting very quickly. After the big Women’s March I said, somewhat flippantly, “We should March every Saturday!” Now I realize that wasn’t just a random remark. We probably WILL march or protest every Saturday. The Saturday after the Women’s March people were protesting at airports around the country because of the outrageous and chaotic ban on immigrants that was suddenly imposed out of the blue. I saw people’s rights being violated. I saw the Constitution being violated. I wondered about our system of checks and balances. I wondered if this was still the United States of America.

So, given that the assault on our rights and way of life is not going to stop, and aware that being in this debilitating state of mind is not any way to live, I had to figure out how to get a grip if I was to be of any use at all. One of the strategies of the people who are currently in power is to wear us out, so after a while we have no energy to fight back. Here’s how NOT to let that happen.

I am always telling people, “In order to have the energy to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself, first.”

That has never been more true than right now.

All things considered, these are my thoughts regarding the best way to manage right now. Although a great deal is happening beyond our control, make the most of situations where you are in charge. Start by being present in your own life. Often, we can get so wrapped up with anxiety about the future or about things happening beyond our reach that we lose sight of beneficial things that exist right here, right now. We tend to focus on the things that need fixing, rather than on what’s working. And even though we are watching our democracy getting smashed like a beautiful piece of pottery, we mustn’t lose sight of those things we do have that make our lives worthwhile.

Say a silent prayer of gratitude for everything you love about your life, throughout the day, as often as possible. For instance, I love the beautiful Northern California community where I live. I love the work I do for a living, being a massage therapist, helping people feel better in their bodies and their hearts. I love the people in my life and hug them as often as possible. I love watching the patterns that are made with light when the sun casts shadows on everything. I love when the sun comes out and warms everything up. I love when it rains and the cool water soaks into the earth and cleanses the air. I love watching the clouds move. I love eating squares of dark chocolate and almonds. I love eating apple slices with cheddar cheese. I love my new writing class, Creative Unbootcamp 2017. I love cuddling with my whippet, Spencer. I love taking all three of my dogs for a walk. I love going for walks while listening to my latest audiobook. Throughout the day, whatever else I’m doing, I give thanks for everything about my life that I treasure. I suggest you start doing that as a regular practice. Focus on everything you can be grateful for.

Take time to disconnect from the world every so often, to give yourself a break from the constant bombardment of information. News sites, social media sites, TV, email. There is so much info coming at us all the time it gets overwhelming very fast. The other day someone was saying, “What did we do with our time before there was Facebook and Twitter and Instagram?” We lived, that’s what. We had time to ourselves to quietly relax and enjoy life in the moment. We got together and talked face to face. We did more in person. We relaxed more. Try giving up your connection to electronic devices for brief periods. Or not such brief periods. Not permanently, but for sufficient chunks of time. Maybe only check-in a couple of times each day. Notice the difference. It’s called breathing space.

I stopped checking Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, as had been my habit. It makes a big difference to start my day without immediately reacting to the latest news. And at night, switching from the media to reading a book before bed helps me sleep a lot better. I have begun limiting my attention there to just a couple of times a day. I’m not missing much, and I’m not in an emotional state of constant reaction. That reaction button? That was my heart that kept getting pushed.

Make a point of scheduling quality time every week (or every day) to do things that make you feel good. Whether it’s getting together with a friend, going for a walk in nature, finding a quiet place to read a good book, give yourself some respite from engagement. Because only when you leave the constant madness, to recharge your soul, can you come back to it and be effective in whatever you’re trying to do. We will figure this thing out as we feel the growing pains of shaping a new world. We are smart, capable people and there are huge numbers of us. But this is going to be a long haul, so we need to maintain our energy wisely.

We all need reminders of how to maintain our balance. Me, too, which is why I wrote this.

Self Care During Times of Uncertainty

It has been months since I’ve written a blog post. After publishing my book “Successful Strokes – A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business” last March and spending energy promoting it, I needed to take a break. I have three other books partially written but haven’t decided where to focus my attention. So, taking my own advice, I decided to take time off and just do nothing for a while. For me, doing nothing means taking lots of walks, spending time in my garden and getting lost in a book.

I was starting to feel relaxed. Allowing that void to be empty, knowing that creative ideas would soon form.

Then the election happenedYoung beautiful woman with reddish hair sitting home by the window with cup of hot coffee wearing knitted warm sweater. Christmas tree with decorations and lights in the room, snowy winter outside and I was totally unprepared for the result. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Really? How could this be possible? There must be some mistake. Is this really going to happen?

My adrenaline, which had settled into a nice, quiet tide pool was suddenly churning in tsunami waves. Suddenly all I saw in my Facebook feed were articles that scared me to death. I felt sick. My stomach was in knots. I no longer needed to watch my diet as I had no appetite. It was immobilizing. All I could feel was panic and a sense of dread.

I want to live in a world that works for everyone. Unrealistic? Maybe, but truly, that is what I want. I know we are a very long way from that ideal, but I have seen over time that the quality of life has improved in countries around the world and slowly things have been getting better. The thing that blindsides us is that technology and communication have made information so much more accessible than it ever was, so we hear about more terrible things happening than we ever did. But, in general, people have more freedom and a higher quality of life than they did, say, 50 years ago.

Things were getting better in our country, too. The economy was better, there was more advancement on human rights and equality.

Then I woke up to an election that favored a man who wants to set us back 70 years, back to times of terror and struggle, who wants to undo so much progress we have made over hard fought battles.

I have been seriously distraught, unable to write or make anything. I even thought maybe I’d start working on a sewing project but realized my creative juice is zapped.

Anyone else feeling like this?

As I sat with this, I knew that it is not healthy to allow oneself to turn into a tight little ball of fear and that I had to keep going somehow, so I tried to analyze what was going on.

I feel like I just woke up in the middle of a dystopian novel. And it’s a cliff hanger.

And that, dear friends, is what’s driving me crazy.

Right now we don’t know what to do because we aren’t sure what’s going to happen. And so we read the scary headlines and we panic and despair.

Uncertainty is hard. When there is a crisis, we figure out what we need to do and we get to work. The surge of adrenaline gets channeled into action. If we see a vicious storm coming, we batten down the hatches and lay in a supply of food. Right now it’s unclear what to do and yet we want to do something.

It is emotionally overwhelming to focus too much on things over which we have little or no control. The key to mental health, is to take action on things where we do have some control and that’s what I’m doing now.

I have taken some steps to cope, and I’m sharing them in case you’d like ideas of how to get through these times as well.

  1. Take breaks from the news and social media. This has become a major habit of mine, since I’m constantly checking to see what my friends have to share. New rule: no news or Facebook after dinner. I do not need to see upsetting articles as I’m winding down from my day and preparing for sleep.
  2. Do small, simple tasks that make you feel better about your life. For me, that amounts to tidying up my house, cleaning out drawers and going through piles of accumulated papers to make my environment clean and orderly. I have been getting my garden ready for winter, pulling weeds and mulching the beds. It gives me peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment to see messy things get tidier.
  3. Connect with friends. During stressful times it helps to channel more love. I’ve been calling people I haven’t spoken to in a while and making dates to get together and that makes all of us feel better.
  4. Do random acts of kindness. Hug people. Smile and chat with strangers. Help whenever you can. As much as possible.
  5. Donate to organizations and causes you believe in. I started a few recurring monthly donations to human rights organizations and other places I want to support. Even tiny donations add up and feel good to do.
  6. Do simple tasks you enjoy. Cooking has always been a way for me to express myself and I especially love to cook during the cold winter months. A couple of times a week I whip up something hearty and satisfying for my family. It’s productive, its fun, and it’s appreciated by others.
  7. Focus on things you can control. Back in August I started a fitness program that combined healthy eating with exercise and I have religiously kept that up, sticking to a healthy eating plan, doing frequent brief workouts and walking eight thousand steps each day. So far I’ve lost 9 pounds and am almost at my goal. The walks are especially helping as I love walking among the trees and enjoy the patterns of fallen leaves as I go down my neighborhood streets.
  8. Read good books. Just finished “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes. She’s the writer for the TV shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” It’s hilariously funny and very uplifting.
  9. Participate in things that uplift you spiritually. I occasionally attend Center For Spiritual Living, a non-denominational church that recognizes all religions and spiritual paths as having value. I’ve been going more often.

All of this is helping. And hey, I just wrote a blog post.

Radical Self-Care Step Eight – Balance

Finding the Balance or Managing the Feel-Good Meter

On one of my trips out of town, I was overcome with the feeling that helping others is what life’s all about. In big ways. In small ways. Offering to give a hand to a friend whom you know is struggling. Tipping the person who prepares your coffee. Helping a confused person find their way. Being friendly to strangers when you’re out running your errands. Being helpful whenever you can. Meeting a person’s eye and smiling. Or just holding their gaze for a moment so they know they have been seen. There are a thousand ways big and small to help other people.

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Thinking about things like gratitude practices, I wanted to promote the practice of kindness and helping others. Whether it’s doing something practical like helping someone get something done or doing something that lifts a person’s spirits, spreading helpfulness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can do.

Giving doesn’t only make the other person feel good but it makes your own heart feel good.

I went to Portland a few months ago for a writing retreat and every place I went I encountered helpful, friendly people who made me feel good to be alive and happy about humanity. I met many strangers who were extremely kind to me and helped me with directions, when I was walking through the city, because I’m terrible at finding my way in new places. I’m famous among my friends for getting lost or taking the wrong turn. They took the time to explain to me where things were, and how the city was laid out (numerically and alphabetically) so I could figure out how to find the address I was looking for.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

The women at the writing workshop shared their fears and vulnerabilities in words and tears and exquisite pieces of writing that made me feel less alone and not so different. I went to this writing retreat hoping to become a better writer but really, what it did was open my heart. I saw so many ways that people were doing what they could to help other people. The presenters gave us all books from writers they knew, whom they were supporting by sharing their books. They said they take a percentage of what they bring in from the workshop to help upcoming writers. A beautiful practice of Helping.

At the hostel-like Society Hotel, where I was staying, the staff were very friendly and chatty. They greeted me with smiles every time I entered the lobby/lounge/café area. They had a little take-out bar where they made healthy breakfasts and lunches and they remembered each day that I wanted yogurt with their homemade granola and a fresh orange for breakfast.

The people at the front desk were patient in explaining how to find places in town and how to navigate the neighborhood. And in order to get a good night’s sleep they gave me a quiet room on a top floor away from the street noise.

I was so overcome by the openness and friendliness of the people I was meeting in this city, where I arrived alone, discovering the fresh, artistic nature of Portland. My heart was blasted open.

On the flight home, as I reflected on my four-day excursion I thought about how delightful it was to go to a place where the people were so forthcoming and inviting. Life is all about helping each other and being good to one another, I decided.

But then I had another thought. Being an open, giving person is all very well, but we need to take care of ourselves, too. We need to have a balance between giving and receiving. When we talk about balance between giving and receiving, how much is too much?

One of the reasons we are here – or if I want to get all pompous about it – one of the meanings of life, is to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves. When people go too far to the extreme in either direction, devastating things can happen.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

When taking care of oneself obliterates everything else it turns to greed, which can become meanness or even war, at the extreme level. And giving too much of oneself, without taking time to recharge, can result in a state of severe depletion, or become an addiction to being needed at its worst.

Finding that balance between helping others and helping oneself is a tricky dance. Like any balancing act it is easy to tip to one side or the other. It feels so good to do something for someone else where you can immediately see that your action is making a difference. It also feels good to unplug, slow down, and indulge in some self-care. When tackling anything big, the best thing to do is take small bites. Go back and forth. Find the comfort zone between manageable acts of kindness and bite sized treats of self-care.

Radical Self-Care Step Five – Rest

Is It Nap Time Yet?

This is the hardest self-care step for me because it means that I have to stop my usual frenzy of activity and really slow down. I talk a good game but in reality I am always in motion. Between all the things I have to do and the things I want to do it’s really quite a challenge for me to stop and just be still.

But, oh my goodness, it is so necessary.

Watercolor Molly & Grace

We are like bees buzzing around an endless array of flowers, getting caught up in the colors and aromas and we can get lost there, always buzzing, never resting.

And yet, magical things come from rest.

To do nothing is a powerful act. To be, to rest, to let go. Letting the swirl of energy that is constantly driving us come to a halt. Taking some time to stop and evaluate what we’re doing gives us a chance to prioritize what’s really important. It also gives us time to recharge our batteries and it strengthens our immune systems.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to take one day a week just for rest. No goals. No chores. Not even scheduling a fun activity with a friend. A day for true rest. Reading, gardening, taking a nice long walk, even curling up on the couch and watching a movie. For me, rest requires not engaging, which is why I don’t make plans with anyone on my rest day. But your mileage may vary. The important thing is to give yourself a true break, where you aren’t “on” and nothing at all is needed from you. It’s quite a luxury.

A day of rest gives you a chance to just be yourself. You aren’t playing a role (parent, spouse, friend or whatever you do for a living). You aren’t responding to anyone. It’s a day to truly nurture yourself, to allow yourself to be 100% okay just as you are. Nothing else required.

When I was in my 20’s I went on a long trip for several months to Southeast Asia. I happened to arrive in Bali the day before what they call “quiet day.” On that day everything on the island is shut down. No cars or buses run. No restaurants are open. No fires are lit. It’s a day where the entire island hits the “off” switch. All food has been prepared in advance because no cooking is done. A local person explained to me that they do this so malevolent spirits will think everyone has left the island and they will move on. I thought it was wonderful that this whole culture observed a day when absolutely everything and everyone came to a halt and rested.

Even the bible talks about having a day of rest each week. Many spiritual traditions honor a day of rest. Clearly, there is something to this.

Think of it as a way to re-boot. You know that when you re-boot things they work better. As the deeply down-to-earth writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

This is what I’m talking about. We all need some time to unplug. When we can’t screw up because nothing is required of us. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds delicious.