Archives for posts with tag: incremental change over time

My coffee this morning is exceptional. No idea why, exactly, but it’s a damned good cup of coffee, and I am enjoying it. I’m tired, even groggy. (I didn’t sleep well.) It doesn’t matter; this cup of coffee is just that good. The espresso shots were quite lovely when I pulled them, with rich even crema. The steamed almond milk was dense, smooth, and even, and quite perfectly lovely as it swirled into the espresso, as if poured directly from my state of contentment into my coffee mug. Yep. Damned good cup of coffee. It’s a delicious moment on a pleasant morning.

It’s enough. One pleasant moment of leisure, enjoyed on my own terms, something pleasant over which to linger, to savor in the moment and in later recollection…definitely enough; I get a lot of mileage out of moments. I get a lot of enjoyment out of a simple cup of coffee.

Although a great many other mornings led to this one, and a great many other cups of coffee were involved in how well this particular one turned out, it’s not obvious how large the investment over time has been, in creating this one moment. It’s just a moment.Β Only a moment over coffee on a work day, early in the morning. It’s not fancier than that. I didn’t bring any special equipment or gain any particular epiphany. I didn’t work overly hard at this moment; I showed up. I made coffee. I am enjoying it.

There’s a point to pointing this out. I’ll leave that to you. I’m just going to enjoy this cup of coffee right here, now. πŸ™‚

…If your coffee isn’t exactly as you’d like it… Begin again. Practice. πŸ˜‰

 

What a week. Glad it’s behind me. Relieved to feel satisfied, pleased, and accomplished, instead of terrified, anxious and regretful. It could have gone differently. I am content with the outcome.

Stress is a weird thing, though, right? I mean… once I’m stressed about A, then it’s far more likely that unrelated experiences B, C, or D may also feel more stressful, or seem to be cause for concern. I crashed out last night feeling terribly blue, struggling in a sticky web of anxiety-lies and insecurities being launched at me from within, by an anxious, stressed, fatigued brain. I wept. For the world? It seemed so at moments. Other moments, I just felt “cracked open” and unable to hold anything back however small, however simple – even some lovely tender moments felt like pure heartbreak, and I cried, merely because there was too much emotion to hold back any longer. My executive function limitations hit me in my emotional life pretty hard. This week that was more obvious than most weeks in recent months. It’s been a peculiarly emotionally stable year.

I went to bed worried, even, about my relationship with my Traveling Partner. No reason for it, really. At least, nothing I could easily identify. I woke this morning without that insecurity or doubt, feeling rested, anxiety gone; I’m excited about the road trip ahead of me. 3 day weekend with my lover? Yes, please! Sign me up. πŸ™‚Β 

Fuck, I am so glad my “default setting” is no longer despair. I feel fortunate to have survived the first 50 years of my lifetime. Emotions come and go. Like weather. “Who we are” is less volatile, less mutable, and sometimes feels rather… permanent. It isn’t. It’s more like climate; tends to be what it is, but still changeable over time. We become what we practice. No kidding. It’s a slow thing to change the climate – but it can be done. Choose wisely. πŸ™‚

Are you unhappy? Make changes. There’s no map on this journey… it’s rather like setting off on a road trip to see someone you love, unclear of specifically where they are, but with a direction in mind… generally. lol This may help. πŸ™‚ It’s a favorite of mine for reinforcing healthy basics; do the opposite of everything it suggests. lol (Here’s a follow-up on that…)

Maybe something simple this morning? One thing that could be easily improved by one little change in your decision-making, habits, or actions? Start small – committing to a marathon, while breathless from walking across the street may be a bit unmanageable. It’s so easy to become discouraged. I’ve been there…

After years of frustration, despair, and inactivity, I decided to go to the Farmer’s Market, one year. My feet hurt all the time, stupefying medication and unmanaged pain had pretty much nailed me to my couch between work shifts. Doing so would mean a two block walk uphill (barely) from the light rail station. I look back astonished (because I regularly go to the Farmer’s Market quite easily and comfortably, now, and often walk miles, not just blocks) – it seemed hard then. It required effort. Commitment. Patience with myself.

I don’t look at it the same way now, at all. My perspective has changed with my experience over time. Incremental change over time; it wasn’t easy the first time, the second or third times, the fourth time… but eventually, it sure didn’t seem hard, and then… at some point… almost unnoticed, it became quite the natural thing to easily and comfortably do. (For my less physically able readers out there, I’m using an example familiar to me, only, and part of my personal experience, no intention of falling short of being inclusive, but I see where my example could be. I regret any aggravation, or sense of being left out of my consideration that this may cause. Start small, is all I’m saying. πŸ™‚ )

It’s a good reminder for me, too. There is further to go. There is more to do. I still struggle with my weight, health, and fitness. There are changes to make. There is future progress out there on the horizon to be experienced. Incremental change over time takes both time – and verbs. A lot of fucking verbs.

Oh hey, look at the time! It’s definitely time to begin again. This journey won’t make itself. πŸ˜‰

I woke up early. It makes sense. I went to bed early, too. I woke during the night. No surprise there, I often do. There’s no stress over any of that. My head is a jumble of random beginnings of thoughts seeking a narrative in which to play a role. My morning is a strange sequence of broken routines and randomness. I’m not concerned about that, either. Again and again, I pull myself back to this moment, here, now.

I sit down with my coffee, eventually, some two hours after waking (which is only one of many odd random bits of altered behavior that seems without cause or purpose).

The first track on my playlist right now is an old favorite. I want very much to play the bass line; I am not yet sufficiently skilled (and realistically, there is chance I never will be). I can try to play it, and fail. I could do that repeatedly. I could do that repeatedly until I am frustrated to the point of disliking what I am doing, although I am doing it because I enjoy it… a lot of people approaching learning something challenging in just that fashion.

I take another approach, instead of “trying”… I practice. That’s it. My approach to a lot of stuff I’m not good at, don’t yet know, haven’t yet found my way around, through, over, or into, or need to do and don’t quite “get”, yet. I practice. I practice the basic skills that would be required to do the thing. Too complicated? I break those things down further, to more elemental basics, until I can begin assembling simpler behavior or actions (or understandings) into more and more complex combinations, and – if all goes well – have learned to do the thing, have gained a new understanding, have completed some complicated task… whatever it is. Most things seem to work out pretty well this way, although it is not the fastest process by which to achieve success. It’s a bit like… a through hike on an unmarked trail, while all the way along observing what appears to be a freeway almost within reach, on the other side of a fence. I could waste time trying to reach that freeway, or I can walk on.

I still get where I’m going. That’s enough.

It may be an uphill climb, some days. I still practice taking time to enjoy the journey, and to look for beauty.

I enjoyed a strangely intimate and emotionally nurturing yesterday. I hung out with a dear friend of many years. We haven’t made time to hang out in about 4 years, and it was overdue, welcome, and comfortably intimate. She is someone I love, though we’ve never been lovers. We’re at very different places in life, and that has been an interesting characteristic of our friendship all along. She was the friend who said to me, so many years ago, “have you heard of ACT?”. Words that would later prove to be another piece to the puzzle of healing and learning to care for the woman in the mirror, because they would still be lingering in my consciousness on that grim December day when I began checking off my list of things to do before I would end my own life. That last item? Try therapy one more time. Her words were a hint at a new direction; “third wave cognitive behavior therapy”. There are several, some very rigid and formal, others less so.

Have we covered this before? Sure. It’s buried in the details, in much older posts. The eagerness of this new way to experience life, more authentically, with greater self-compassion, erupts in my words post after post after post. Life happens. I write about that too. Now and then I add something to The Reading List; my journey is paved with stepping-stones made of books, and practices, and the words of dear friends.

A current favorite track on my playlist feels timed for the moment. My heart fills with tenderness, and gratitude. I’m glad I stayed. Warm tears splash my glasses, and my shoulders shake with sobbing, and I’m just fucking crying now… I’m not unhappy. I’m relieved. I might have missed this precious moment right now. I might have missed yesterday… the lovely color work I got done on my hair… the phone call with my Traveling Partner later in the day… the conversations with friends. Fuck I am so glad I stayed around awhile longer… My heart aches with a powerful need to say “thank you” or.. “I’m sorry”… or… something. Β There are literally no words for this strange strong emotion of thankfulness I feel that I chose to live. I’m okay with that too. I’m not afraid to feel.

Another good morning on which to begin again. I don’t know that I’ve done anything that changes the world, but so much as changed about the woman in the mirror. πŸ™‚

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? πŸ˜‰

It’s evening, and rather late. A strange time for me to be writing. I’m okay with that. There’s a warm fire crackling in the fireplace. I’m home, safe, warm, and contented. It’s definitely enough… It’s strange that I’m here, now, tonight.

I went to bed last night with a plan for the work day. I’d be up very early, with the intention of getting into the office by 6:00 am, fully expecting to commit to 12 hours to catch up what had gotten pushed to the side while I worked from home on these recent snowy days. It was a good plan, realistic and carefully considered. I set my alarm. I checked it again, as I got into bed. I had a back up alarm set on my phone. I made sure my alarms were not muted, even though my phone was on Do Not Disturb. Sleep came easily.

…There may have been a moment during the wee hours when I opened my eyes briefly, and only enough to see the time on my fitness tracker, assuring myself it was not yet morning, and returning to sleep, I don’t really know for sure whether the vague recollection is actually from last night…

I woke at 6:19 am. It was much later than I planned to be up. Later than the alarm was set for. Later than I commonly sleep even when I don’t turn on an alarm. Waking was difficult. I was groggy, struggling to understand the beeping. I turned off the alarm. It didn’t go off. I shook it, as though that would do anything. I got up, aware that I was late, and began to dress hurriedly, still not awake, clumsy, awkward, stiff, stupid. I picked up my phone – the alarm was still chiming. I shut it off. I opened my work laptop and typed words intending to communicate I was on my way. Irked at myself. Shit! How could I be late, today?? I had that crazed “everything relies on right now!” angry surging roaring panic running through my bloodstream, filling my thoughts. I slowed myself down, again and again, facing the panic, facing the inwardly-turned fury. I admitted to myself that I felt disappointed in myself. Angry that maybe – just maybe – it could be self-sabotaging behavior. I stopped for breath. I inhaled deeply. Gave myself time to accept my own humanity. Gave myself a moment of compassion, sympathy, understanding – how human am I? Very. Always have been – and it’s totally okay. I got my things together, and left for work. Feeling humble. Feeling human.

Some journeys are easier than others.

Some journeys are easier than others.

I was waiting for the bus (not my original plan, either), when my Traveling Partner messaged me a good morning, and his supportive reminder that I am enough. It’s just a moment. A small thing. All totally true, and I slowly continued the commute, eventually making it in to the office at about the same time I always do.

Wait, or walk? Today I wait.

Wait, or walk? Today I wait.

The day passed quickly and wasn’t at all what I expected. I’m glad I hadn’t built those expectations up in my head, instead choosing to let go and let the day unfold, doing my best in each moment. The day came and went quickly, and ended more or less the time it generally does. Generally speaking, a good work day. I returned home feeling mostly pretty good.

Now, I’m just relaxing here, in this quiet place, wrapped in comfort, a fire crackling away merrily, and a tasty glass of sherry that I’ve mostly overlooked, just sipping on it now and then, as the hours pass. If I’d stopped to write in that moment this morning, I would not have been able to look ahead to this delicious heady calm.

Right now, right here, it doesn’t matter at all whichΒ of the many practices I practice got me from where I was years ago, to where I am now. Yep. It’s taken years. Literal years, many practices, and a lot of verbs, and the journey stretches farther on, and beyond anything I can imagine. Years of practicing. Years of beginning again. So many verbs. Incremental change over time – it happens in increments. It takes time. I’ll keep practicing.