Archives for posts with tag: building better practices

The barking began at dawn. It continues even now. It’s not unusual; I have a neighbor with a dog that barks any time it is left outside, which is… often. It is frustrating and annoying, and incessant. The neighbor has received many complaints about the dog and the barking, and the reply is generally the same, “Well, I’ve tried to teach him to stop barking, but it doesn’t work. Dogs bark.” I gave that some thought, at the time, and even during the six months that I was home every day, I don’t recall ever seeing that neighbor working with their dog, at all. I wondered then, and this morning, what exactly my neighbor “tried”. I don’t see anything going on that looks like practice or training.

Dogs can indeed be trained not to bark (at the moon, at shadows, at strangers, because they are lonely…), it requires practice. Do the thing. Do it again. And again another time, and again after that. Then repeat all the practicing. Begin again, again. There are verbs involved, and a practice is not a noun, however much it may seem to be based on its function in a sentence. It requires consideration. Awareness. Intention. Will. Did I mention the practicing?

I’m sure my neighbor would be irked with me to hear me suggest that she isn’t actually making any particular effort to train her dog not to bark every hour of the day it is left outside. No doubt she believes her internal narrative that she “tried everything” and “nothing worked”. Haven’t we all said as much to ourselves – and our friends and loved ones – about something? Is it really the true literal truth in fact? Have I indeed “tried everything”? Have I truly practiced the needed practices with the necessary constancy? Have I tried, failed, and begun again sufficiently often? Or… did I try, fail, and then tell myself that I tried and failed and therefore “it didn’t work”? I see a difference there. Once I noticed that difference, it became more difficult to allow a negative experience to be who I am; we become what we practice.

Yes, there are verbs involved. No, change doesn’t happen solely because I’ve accepted that change would have value, or even because I am desperate to experience change. One evening in the yard training my chronically barking dog isn’t going to change that dog’s behavior long-term (or maybe at all) – practice is an ongoing thing.  So it also is with anxiety, with depression, with anger, with emotional volatility, with disorder, with sloth, with overeating, with nail biting… Hell, any number of troubling or challenging human experiences can be eased with one practice or another – if change is actually practiced. Fail. Begin again. Practice. We become what we practice. (Not one word of that implies “easy” or suggests effort would not be required.)

It works in a subtle way; even practicing ignoring that barking dog has an outcome rooted in incremental change over time.

Is your dog barking? What will you do about it? Endure it? Change it? There are verbs involved, and the choices are yours. So is the requirement to practice.

About that barking...? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

About that barking…? (photo by Emma Harris, used with permission)

A very long time ago, I “tried meditation” and “it didn’t work for me”. I went forward in life for many years (decades) quite convinced by that experience that “meditation doesn’t work”, and gave it no further thought. My PTSD symptoms worsened over time, rather than improving. After all, dogs bark. We become what we practice. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting any better… hadn’t I “tried everything”?

In 2012, I stopped trying. I wasn’t sure what I would do instead, hell, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to live any more. I mention it because that seems a long time ago now, although it has been only 4 years since February 2013, when I started actually practicing meditation (and some other things) – and I do mean really practicing. Daily. Reliably. Even when I “don’t have time”. Even when “it isn’t convenient”. Even though I “wasn’t sure I was doing it right”. Even though I “wasn’t sure it would work”. Even when I found myself certain “it isn’t working”. Even when I thought “my life was falling completely to pieces”. Even when I thought “love might be lost” over my chaos and damage. Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live at all. I kept practicing, and failing, and beginning again.

We become what we practice. By practicing calm, I have become calmer. By practicing perspective and sufficiency, I have gained perspective, and learned what is “enough” for me. By practicing non-violence, I have become more peaceful. By practicing feeling content, I have become more able (and likely) to experience contentment. By practicing being awake and aware in this moment, I have become more present in my life, and in my relationships. By practicing listening, I become more likely to hear what is being shared. By practicing kindness, I have become kinder.

Today is a good day to practice being the human being I most want to be. Isn’t every day? 😉

I woke last night abruptly, sometime in the wee hours. My brain was working overtime on something that was on my mind; my weight. I find managing my weight difficult. It’s a common enough challenge, and I won’t bore you with bitching and fussing, we’ve all got our own Tale of Awful with regard to beauty challenges of one sort or another, and other writers write well and powerfully about how our self-image is affected by culture, advertising, internet trolls, our upbringing… all that. I won’t bother to re-hash it.

I had gone to bed irked because I gained some weight that I’d fought hard to lose. Again. I woke up because my busy brain continued to contrast, compare, filter, collate, and sort information from a number of areas of life where I have (or have not) progressed and how I understand things to have worked in that instance. I woke because my brain got finished with that project and urgently needed to get my attention back on it asap. lol Peculiarly (encouragingly) I woke feeling hopeful and aware – aware of how I affect my progress (or lack of it) – and how I can get control of it (and myself) and make more powerful gains toward my goals. Nice.

Yeah. There are gonna be verbs involved. 🙂 I can even sum it up pretty briefly; I need to eat mindfully. No kidding. It could be literally that simple – and will likely be every bit that difficult. I know the quantity of calories I must limit myself to, daily, in order to lose weight. I have a decent understanding of my nutritional needs, and what the content of those calories must be. I want very much to be both healthier and more attractive, and I like it when my feet don’t hurt just from hiking a couple miles. I have the means to ensure my pantry has the type/quantity of basic ingredients needed to meet my needs day-to-day. I miss my goals when I fail to approach food and meals mindfully. It’s so easy to take my eye off good portion control simply by being casual about it, eye-balling something I’m ‘sure of’ now and then… which quickly becomes ‘so much easier  than’ measuring things all the time… which ends up with portions easily three times what I need to be healthy. The small mistakes add up in pounds. Damn it.

I dislike constant oversight, and living alone I don’t have any… but oversight is something that has value, if I am not willing or able to manage my life with that level of detail… so… can I do this, or do I need help? My brain says I can do this – and what woke me is how similar what needs to be done is to all the other tasks and processes I’ve worked to improve on over the last couple years. Mindfulness matters. It’s not even fancy or complicated – be here. Now. Show up. Be attentive. Be present. Enjoy the thing I am doing, in this moment I am doing it, awake and aware. Mindful. It’s the opposite of ‘mindless’ – it’s the opposite of ‘auto pilot’, and the opposite of ‘eye-balling something I’m sure of’. Mindfulness requires that I step through each routine, and handle each task, so entirely committed to it that those ‘I didn’t realize I…’ moments are minimized.  Before I go to far down this exciting garden path of feeling encouraged… It’s clearly not ‘easy’, or no one at all would need to have it pointed out, or would need to learn mindfulness, or practice it – we’d just do it!

I woke up realizing that a lot of what I struggle with in life would perhaps less difficult, less trying, less awkward, less painful, less embarrassing, less regrettable, less aggravating altogether if I were more mindful. It seems a given simply because at each opportunity to be more mindful on which I have been indeed more mindful, there has been a lot less struggle. Case in point; shortly after the new year, my new physician was fairly blunt that I need to take off some weight to overcome some of my pain management challenges. That’s pretty motivational… if that’s all it takes… right? Well, and for about 8 weeks I reliably lost 2-4 pounds a week, seemingly without real effort, by being very mindful about all matters related to food. Then… I got distracted, took my attention off the details, and gained some of that weight back. Again. Damn it. Fuck this gets frustrating. I went to bed last night being pretty hard on myself about it. I woke remembering very specifically that the emotions that surface through ‘being hard on myself’ about my weight quickly undermine my progress; depression wants calories, fancy soothing dessert-y calories. So does loneliness. So does yearning. Shit.

Practicing mindfulness with regard to food and eating allows me, as an emotional human primate, to feel what I am feeling, and continue to practice good practices. There are, as it happens, verbs involved. Yep – and my results vary. It’s why I’m still practicing – and probably always will be. It’s why I have to begin again. Again. 🙂

This? This is not a tale of failure – it’s just a few words over coffee about a common source of frustration in a very human experience, and what I will do about it, myself. It’s the doing that’s the real challenge, and it can be done. I’ve done it before. I’m eager to begin again, and I’m feeling fairly fearless about approaching the matter. I take a moment to appreciate that I know what needs to be done, and what works for me – that’s an excellent starting point on any journey.

An obstacle - or something to see along the way?

An obstacle – or something to see along the way?

The sun is up… Time to begin again. 🙂

 

I’m still sick. I’m taking advantage of the weekend to take care of my health. I have no other plans today. I am still hopeful that I’ll be over this in time for my camping trip in a few days…if not, I’ll have to decide whether to cancel or just go and tough it out – maybe find out just exactly what I’m made of under even more trying conditions.

I giggle at myself thinking about my middle-aged, suburbanite, white-collar self considering a few days of camping in a state park very near to home to anything like ‘trying conditions’ or a test of endurance of any sort. Somewhere in the distance of time long past, a much younger, more rugged me looks on with some measure of friendly disdain – not meaning to be mean, but me then was just not that patient with people’s notions. lol

Not quite wilderness close to home.

Not quite wilderness close to home.

So sure, today I am putting me first, but that’s not the point of the title at all. “Me First” is a practice, and it’s one that I am currently turning over in my head to add to my SuperBetter  game; I haven’t decided if it serves best as a ‘Quest’ or a ‘Power Up’. Over my morning coffee, I answer some basic questions for myself, such as ‘is this something I do for a course correction, or an emotional boost, or is it something I need to practice, reach for as a goal, and strive to achieve?’ and ‘is this an experience?’ and ‘can I put a face to it?’ Most of my ‘Bad Guys’ are issues and challenges (personal demons) that I can easily ‘face’ more effectively if they wear actual faces. lol

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

My “Me First” practice is a cognitive tool to improve emotional resilience by building a sense of perspective, improving my ability to respond to others with compassion, and to foster quick recognition of shared human experience, when I may be inclined to react in a judgmental way, or feeling resentful. “Me First” is simply the practice of observing the judgment or resentment with a high level of honesty and acceptance, and mindful awareness of how I, myself, experience a similar circumstance ‘if the shoe were on the other foot’. I put myself in the other person’s experience very deliberately, and challenge myself to understand how it may be something we have in common, and how human it is. Before I start emotionally or intellectually ‘stoning’ someone, I practice looking to myself – is there really room to criticize? (There rarely is.) Is there room for compassion, encouragement, a moment of humor or Schadenfreude? (There usually is.) Instead of being critical – and understanding that criticism is generally a poorly worded request for change – is there something I can do meet my own needs more simply (like making a clear and gentle request for change)? Can I apply that understanding and perspective to this other human being and possibly do something to meet their needs? That’s the lovely thing about my “Me First” practice – it’s not ‘me first over and above whatever you need, and go fuck yourself for your trouble’, not at all; it’s ‘let me take care of me first, work out some of these issues I’ve obviously got, get my head right and see what we can do together, to meet shared needs, and understand each other’.  Before I criticize someone else, I launch this practice and I check myself – and use the object lesson to work on me, first – because realistically, I don’t actually get to work on anyone else. None of us do. Not really – and attempting to take that power of self management, and autonomy away from someone with criticism, judgmental remarks, or intimidation and controlling behaviors is in a category of ‘bad acts’ I consider emotionally abusive. I definitely don’t want to be doing something to other people that I consider abuse.

What a wonderful thing – you get to make all your own choices about these things, yourself, and my notions of what is or is not abusive doesn’t dictate your choices! Fantastic! Ideally, it’s all sort of self-adjusting, isn’t it? If we treat someone poorly, or abuse them (physically or emotionally), surely they don’t stick around for that, and we find ourselves bereft and alone, as we would surely deserve for our bad acts…right? Well, not always, and sometimes tragically so. Learning not to stick around for more abuse is one of the things I work on, myself. It’s not always easy. My sense of loyalty is far more well-developed than my sense of when I may be over-compromising my values, or allowing myself to be mistreated emotionally. As a younger woman, some portion of my identity was wrapped up in whether my relationships ‘succeeded’, but the definition of success wasn’t my own, and I stuck around for some heinous shit. We are each having our own experience, too. What injures me, or hits damaged bits related to my PTSD, or may be of more concern because of my TBI, may not at all be what hurts you as an individual. (Clearly there are some experiences that could universally be recognized as abuse, but this is not about that.)

Learning good self-care, for me, also means learning to recognize when I am treated well, when I am treated poorly – and what amount of poor treatment is unacceptable, rather than an incidental and unintended by product of someone’s humanity. So I practice treating myself well, and I also practice treating others well; because I am not a blameless victim in my experience of life – I am living it, and I too make poor choices, or fall short of ideals, or ‘drop the ball in the big game’. I’m very human. I honestly don’t find it acceptable to criticize someone for issues I have myself, things I am also prone to do, or stuff that’s just shared human experience needing to be managed or learned from; so I am practicing doing something differently, and walking my own path to be the woman I most want to be, myself, on my own terms.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

I’m also not smug about this stuff, and I struggle. These are my challenges, more than my triumphs, and I have more questions than answers. You’re welcome to take whatever value you find in my words; your results may vary. There are verbs involved. 🙂

I tried learning to treat others well, without taking care of me, without addressing my own needs first, without really putting in the time to learn what treating others well really meant. It was not an effective effort.  I don’t find attempting to care for me to the exclusion of treating others well to be a good fit; it nearly always feels like I am treating people poorly as a default decision. Balance wins again, and perspective; treating myself well matters a lot, and treating others well isn’t even truly possible to do with skill if I don’t start with me…but putting myself first by taking good treatment away from others turns out not to be very good self-care at all. It’s quite an interesting puzzle.  I found the realization that ‘good treatment’ is defined by the person experiencing it, rather than the person taking the action being experienced, very valuable; it’s not about the intention of the person delivering the words or behaviors at all, and that’s important to understand.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

I am sick today, and it’s raining; today is a good day for puzzles. Today is a good day for first-rate self-care. Today is a good day to treat the hearts of others just as well as I treat my own – knowing that I treat my own heart very well indeed, well… practicing the practices, at least. There’s still a journey ahead. 🙂