Mindfulness Monday 4/20: You live, you learn, and you still live

Folks, I am determined to not let you down. Today I have been wrapped up in many projects that are all coming to the wondrous head of finals in under two weeks! Throughout that time I would pause and think, “Okay, time to write my post.” And then I would get started on something else completely different. Well here it is, I will not let down a “Mindfulness Monday” post.

This past week has been a whirlwind. On Monday I had a phone interview with the American Planning Association for an internship that I knew I was perfect for and seriously wanted with everything in me. On Wednesday just before my next class, I received the call- I was chosen for this national internship position! This internship will be in D.C. for the entire summer and though there are many things swirling around my head when I think about leaving Amherst for D.C., that I will save for another post. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, and know that this internship will open many doors to my education in the planning field and also direct experience in policy and planning related to community health. Well of course then my initial reaction was to find housing (on top of the many things I needed to do for school). Since Wednesday I’ve also secured my housing, and even bought a few second-hand clothes to fit my new body measurements (I’ve made so much progress since the New Year began!)

So now this gets into the “living” part of the post. Recently the feelings of “life” and it being “full” or lacking this sense of “full” have been more and more present with me as the days go on. This past weekend I decided to relax and go against everything I said I would do- work. From Friday evening until Sunday night, I literally didn’t do anything except hangout with friends, sleep, and I even went out dancing for the first time since I can’t remember! I mean for me, this was a lot and on Sunday I really had to have some deep reflection about my “living” over the weekend, along with a few naps. Like I said, finals are in full swing and so honestly this may not have been the best use of my time. However, I’ve come to terms with my actions of this past weekend through acceptance, and that has helped to relieve the almost instantaneous guilt that I’m very used to feeling when I give myself time away from working. Maybe I went overboard on the “living” part of my life, or maybe it was just what I needed to jumpstart my energy to sustain me to the finish-line.

What I’m saying here is that life goes on- even if you decide to put work on hold, stay up late to dance until exhaustion, sleep a lot, and even go to bed early for a few days afterward. I lived my past weekend with no regrets (well those regrets are still trying to pop up but I’m able to accept them with a few deep breaths and then let them go). Regardless, I lived and that’s what matters here. I could have kept trudging through in my efforts to “make it” to the end of finals like some “champion” that I’ve envisioned, who can work all day with no play, no time to step outside of what’s “comfortable”. I wouldn’t say graduate school is comfortable, but it definitely is what I’m used to and so doing anything outside of the graduate school bubble is a bit “uncomfortable”. Did I question my actions? Yes. Did I feel not-so-great physically? Yes. Did I have fun? Heck yes. I lived this past weekend to the fullest happiness levels I could, and though I learned from some of my actions afterward, I’m still here- alive and mostly well. And I’ll keep living, riding the ebb and flow of life’s waves. Balance and unbalance. Full and incomplete. Still trying to live each moment mindfully- no matter what life brings.

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Mindfulness Mondays 4/13: Feeling “Full” of Life

Remember last week when I told you I was working on a new habit of waking up earlier- I’ve made progress! Today I was woken up at 5:45 am, though finally got out of bed at 6am. My sleep app showed that I did not enter into deep sleep at all, and so I could feel throughout my body the soreness and indigestion that comes with inadequate sleep. Though I’ve been trying to get right out of bed, it’s been difficult since I’ve been suffering from tendinitis of both shoulders which is making it harder to lift the blankets and bring myself up. Despite all of this I have made huge progress with when I awake and actually get up (I’ve gained a whole 25 minutes since last week)!

I’ve also re-invigorated my practice of some yoga and stretching in the morning, as well as a prioritizing just being alone with my cat before my partner rises. This has been really amazing, since normally I reject alone-time though lately I have been finding I crave it the more I’ve been giving myself that “practice” alone-time in the morning. Today, I was able to watch the sun rise as it peaked through the trees of my wooded backyard while holding my cat calmly- after 5 minutes of me cradling him, we both were still in awe. It was a beautiful moment of peace and I reminded myself out-loud of my intentions for the day and that I was going to let myself shine no matter what. After reflecting on recent events and being mindful of the opportunities I’ve been taking part in, I keep coming back to this feeling of “being full”. What I mean is that I’m actively checking in with my thoughts and emotions on situations in my life more regularly. In this, I’ve noticed there are areas of my life that I feel could improve, and so something is missing and I’m not completely satisfied or “full”. There are other areas where my satisfaction is almost overflowing, and so I have much thanks for the “fullness” that is present, but also recognize that there needs to be a balance.

This past weekend I was able to spend some time with friends I have not seen in a while, as well as meet complete strangers and have lovely conversations. Over the last week I’ve also had times where I have been by myself throughout the day and even at home overnight while my partner was traveling. I’ve realized that I do thrive off of being around others and the engagement that can occur. I also am working through my natural inclination to avoid loneliness at all costs, by giving myself opportunities in the morning and throughout the weekend to be by myself. Though this has not been easy it has been a joy to see my progression, and is my own way of practicing self-care. Yes, I have found joy throughout this process because despite life’s less-than-satisfactory moments, they’re only still moments, moments then that can turn around. This feeling of fullness is more of an appreciation for all of those moments that I’m able to be a part of, as well as the turn-around process. I’m full because I’m experiencing all of what life has to offer: the loneliness and the community, the scary and the fun, and that is truly a fulfilling experience.

Mindfulness Mondays 4/6: Rising Early and Greeting the Day with Gratitude

So this past weekend was a bit jarring in that it definitely was not my typical weekend in how I would normally spend my time, which is working on school. I spent a lot more time with friends and family, shopping, and eating than I normally would even in a regular week! My typical reaction would be to begin stressing on my Sunday evening, or even all throughout Sunday, thinking about the many “things” I needed to get done before the week even began. However, I made a few small efforts that dramatically changed my typical response, which has positively impacted my approach for this week. I realize it’s Monday, however Monday is almost over and my enthusiasm has not deflated yet despite I’m starting to get tired.

Last week I came across a blog called zenhabits, and I checked out a bit about the writer and what the blog was about. Everyone should read this blog. You feel that you’re talking with someone who is so kind but also down to Earth, which makes their expectations/suggestions sound reasonable. One title intrigued me: The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early. Lately I’ve been struggling with getting out of bed early like I had started in January, when I would meditate or practice yoga in the morning and have much more time to just process my day before it actually began. After reading this article, I was motivated to give it a try. My main takeaways in practice were to start gradually, along with following the 3 steps on actually getting up. Since reading the article, the next morning I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than usual and then increased that everyday since (yes, even on the weekend). I also have been putting my alarm across the room and jumping up to it. Something that was hard was not going back to bed (I’m still working on this but today successfully only snoozed it twice at 5-minutes each). The biggest piece for me was having a reason to be excited, which was that I planned to run 2 miles! (I hadn’t run since early December).

Today, I officially got out of bed at 6:25am, and completed some light stretches. I put the coffee on, and did a few light things around until my boyfriend finally rose.  Then I did something I haven’t done in a while in the morning- I meditated! This entire weekend, though different than my usuals, was calming overall and just a nice experience. Nothing was too chaotic and time was well spent with good people doing fun things. This left me feeling very thankful for the people around me, the time I’ve spent with them either in person or talking on the phone, and with how at peace I’m feeling rather than noticeably stressed. I went back to the Stop, Breathe, Think app and did a quick check-in, and then chose the recommended meditation “Gratitude”. Though it was a five-minute meditation, it was all I needed to get me in a grounded state where I felt good about the things happening around me, and it was an excellent way to start my day!

Since this morning, I’ve been so productive in my amount of readings accomplished and my overall demeanor. I wore a bright yellow cardigan and was excited for the pleasantly warmer weather and sun. I actually did an assignment that I had already done 2 months ago, but hadn’t realized it. Instead of being upset or feeling that I wasted my time, my initial reaction was satisfaction in that I had re-read the material and was able to synthesize it better than the first time. Stepping outside of myself for a minute here- it was really great to watch myself respond so pleasantly! Then I finally did it, I stuck to my exciting goal of running 2 miles. I didn’t just have a 2-mile run however, because that would be too plain. Nope, instead my excitement and motions kicked up my acid reflux and at mile 1.7 I vomited on the side of the road as I had just reached the top of the hill. I guess there’s a first time for everything?

After a quick check in with my body and decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I still had another tenth of a mile back at least to my house, and so I knew one way or another I had to get there and I was going to attempt at finishing my run. What do you think happened? I took those last 3 tenths on with a smile to some great motivating music, and relished in my accomplishment and sticking to my goals. I reminded myself of this morning’s earlier meditation, and how grateful I was for my experiences- even the not-so-pleasant. I knew that my vomiting was not a sign of sickness or weakness, just more a reaction to one of my ailments that I could come back from without much effort. I knew I’d be okay, it wasn’t worth reacting over with stress, and I was happy that I had given myself the time to go out and run in the first place in the pleasant weather.

All in all, today has been a good day. It’s still nice out. I’ve had some good conversations and gotten a lot accomplished. I’ve even gotten my blog post done earlier than usual. Yes there’s more to be done and it will get done. I’m liking this “soaking up the good vibes” feeling, and just taking the time to appreciate the things happening around me and how I’m reacting to them. I’m going to keep rising early and meditating on gratitude for the rest of the week, and see just how I do. I don’t see it ending badly 😉 .

If you’re thinking about ways to try and get up earlier, here’s another short and sweet article that is pretty blunt about how to get started and why it can make a difference. Remember to stop and ask yourself at least once this week, if not once a day- What are you grateful for?

Good luck this week y’all and happy Monday!

The Northwest Forest Region- Unfinished Business but Room for Improvement

This is a written piece that I submitted in my Geography and Policy class, as we’ve been learning about the expansion Westward and the management of federal resources. I thought I would repost since it’s relevant to sustainable resources and critiques of models and resources out there. If you’re unfamiliar about the forest issues in the Northwest region, their is a great timeline from High Country News. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Nathan Rice’s article, “Seeking Balance in Oregon’s Timber Country” (2013), provides a clear summary of the interwoven issues present throughout the Northwest region. While reading a majority of the articles on High Country News, I kept having the same reoccurring thought: “Why does the government have to separate and deal with issues and solutions in such compartmentalized ways?” By reviewing the Northwest’s history in land use decision-making, political intervention, and economic strife, it’s clear to see that regional efforts have not been as successful as hoped but still leaves room for improvement.

Wilkinson discusses the five “Lords of Yesterday”, which were five political-economical decisions made by the U.S. government, and are all still in existence today in some form or another. These five lords treated land and water management all as separate entities with no relation. Mutual benefits and consequences of these five lords and where they overlap were only considered after problems became too apparent through environmental and political pressures. Even after science could prove that land use affected water use and vice versa, approaches to mitigate problems were often kept separate, which only exacerbated problems.

Though the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan (NFWP) in the 1990s was a critical attempt towards greater regional resource management, “it has proven more successful in stopping actions harmful to conservation of old-growth forests and aquatic systems than in achieving restoration goals and economic and social goals” (Thomas et al., 2005). In other words, it has made progress but has stopped short at improving the interconnected and mutually interdependent relations amongst the many geographical regions involved. This has left these regions’ economies and socio-political beliefs in a state of turmoil which has reinforced negative relationships with the federal government and private enterprises, as well as how to approach environmental conservation.

Platt gives the history from 1970 to 1998, where 26 separate acts and amendments were passed in the name of environmental protection. Many of these acts have been hugely successful, while some have clearly been defeated and are practically nonexistent due to their inability to work within already existing laws in a functional manner. This is more common that not; especially in land use planning laws. For example, comprehensive plans are made often to delegate land use approaches, but usually require zoning ordinances to be changed in order to reflect these appropriate uses. If the zoning cannot be changed, then the comprehensive plan loses its luster and validity overtime.

In “Landscapes of Conflict: The Oregon Story 1940-2000”, Robbins gave examples of the “new” environmental laws throughout the 70s and 80s along with their lawsuits that often resulted in long circular arguments. The use of pesticides and management of old growth forests in Oregon, though seen as separate issues at the time, were ultimately related. After the clear-cutting of old growth trees, pesticide usage prohibited the natural growth of forests, which in turn prevented adequate re-growth of tree varieties that supported the spotted owl. Today after years of protecting old growth forests through the NWFP initiatives, the barred owl has moved into the areas where spotted owls were meant to repopulate. Could it be the forest conservation practices over the last 20 years have allowed for a barred owl population boom? Furthermore, could heavy use of pesticides throughout the 70s have left the spotted owl populations in such a state of genetic vulnerability that their offspring could not possibly make a comeback?

Why has the U.S. continued this approach of separating and compartmentalizing issues and responses of natural resource conservation and sustainable use? It’s generally accepted through science and past political interventions that sustainable use requires looking at the larger scale and accepting its many components as interrelated and dependent on each other. Why is it that solutions are drawn up as separate policy proposals and picked apart so much until they are only minor stand-alone Band-Aid approaches? This is why I am in my dual degree of regional planning and public policy. This country cannot continue making policies that are decided and implemented in a vacuum-sealed fashion.

With the world’s current state in climate change, this compartmentalization approach is also apparent in our international policies in how we mitigate and adapt our resource use and future development. If stakeholders only consider some of the facts and decide which are relevant, rather than looking at the entire picture (the good and the bad) and all of the interconnections, then we will continue to over-use and under-protect natural resources and further degrade the planet. Thomas et al. suggest that focusing on activities that “contribute to all facets of sustainability” is imperative and must be met with “a better balance of short-term and long-term risk” (2005). I agree in that future management must consider social implications of surrounding communities and their reliance on these resources not just for physical consumption, but also economic viability, ecological resilience and political strength.

The ability to consider all of the dynamic facets involved in current management and future sustainability of the Northwest forests region is critical and imperative. Accountability and evaluation should also be strived for to further the NWFP, in order to measure how effectively goals are being met, review strategies and allow for changes if necessary. I believe that as a sustainable planner, decisions cannot be made without considering all of the small parts of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, there is a careful balance that is hard to strike between humans and the environment. Nonetheless, we should always strive for balance at every opportunity we have in sustaining both ecology and the human experience.