Mindfulness Mondays 5/18: Spring Awakening from Blogging Hiatus

1 week…since I’ve stopped taking my medication for fibromyalgia (not intentional).

1 week…since I arrived in NYC and had the best time I’ve had in a while.

2 weeks…since finals ended.

2 weeks…since I saw my mom and finished my first year of graduate school.

3 weeks…since finals began.

3 weeks…since my boyfriend arrived back home from a long trip away.

4 weeks…since my last blog post.

4 weeks…and here goes nothing!

Friends, it’s been a while. I can’t lie- it’s been nice to take a break and honestly it hasn’t been easy to willingly neglect my blog but still has just been a breath of fresh air to just take a break amidst the business.  I was even putting off writing a post until later today though all day I knew I was going to accomplish my first post in 4 weeks, but like always, it’s hard to get back into rhythms. It’s not that I’ve been dreading to write or not necessarily wanting to write, but more so that I’ve been enjoying other things that have been occurring, or also just caught up in the many responsibilities that have fizzled out as the semester has closed. The first week I didn’t post I’m going to admit, I was feeling guilt and sadness, and also extreme stress. I hadn’t realized it was even Monday until it was late that night- talk about unmindful. As the weeks went on I grew more willing to take the break and let other things come my way. I feel like I’ve let my readers down, and have been wrestling with the feeling of responsibility to my blog and the act of simply writing for it. But even thinking at this very moment, maybe taking this break was needed and my resistance towards writing a post is trying to tell me something? I’m unsure.

“Writer’s block” is common but there are many reasons for why it occurs. For some it’s simply a part of procrastination. Others base it out of fear or anxiety, which can also stem from procrastination or fuel it further. Some people say they can’t write when they just simply don’t want to do it, and honestly I think there’s some good reasoning behind not doing something when you simply don’t want to. I also believe there’s great merit behind recognizing your resistance and then working with it by attempting to write regardless of your feelings that may be hindering you in the first place. Simply “showing up” which I wrote about in an earlier blog post and is advocated by Seth Godin, is vital when it comes to writing or any activity that requires your best efforts. Moral of the story here is that if you ever find yourself either avoiding doing something (doesn’t matter the reason), or you’re giving yourself a reason to not do what you had set out to do, it’s worth exploring those emotions/reasons to see what’s really causing the behavior. See, one simply does not have “writer’s block,” there’s lots of reasons behind it as we’ve already explored. But if you never take the time to explore what’s behind you not writing or doing your work, well that’s not really mindful is it?

Through this post, I keep thinking, wow I’ve got something good here. It’s like my entire four weeks of “writer’s block” was pointless because I thought I didn’t have much to contribute so just didn’t bother. But clearly as this post shows, I’m making progress just by putting my words to a screen. As I’m putting these words to screen, I’m considering more of the reasons that contributed to my hiatus of writing. I know that I’ve been under more stress than usual with moving to a new apartment and then moving to DC for the summer, along with finishing up my first year of graduate school. With more stress comes (usually) less prioritization of other things (typically the things that we enjoy). It’s the same repeated merry-go-round that many of us face daily, weekly, sometimes throughout our entire lives. But stop and think for 30 seconds, what is it that keeps bringing you to that merry-go-round, and then for another 30 seconds think what brings you out of that lifestyle?

Sometimes when we’re doing the same thing for so long, it can almost be mindless rather than mindful. Sometimes we grow to resent or resist things we once enjoyed because it just seems stale or we have this idea that we need something newer. Well maybe you do need something different and maybe you don’t. The point here is to take that time to stop, think, and explore what those feelings or urges mean to you and what can be done about them. Maybe you do need to take a well-deserved break (and in these days, we rarely give ourselves enough credit to be break-deserving). Maybe you need to go on a mini-adventure or a large adventure, or pick up a new hobby just to say you tried something different. You’ll never know what you really want until you stop to really listen to yourself and then go do it! And don’t ignore those emotions that come with those choices, you’ve got to be able to accept the good and the bad feelings. That’s being mindful.

Maybe I was just burnt-out, or maybe I felt like I really had tired out my thoughts? Honestly, I’m still not quite sure and will continue to work through these feelings. Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced a lot of exciting things since being done with school, and I’ve simply been trying to live more in the moment. I’ve done a lot of things I wouldn’t normally in my routine, but I’ve enjoyed every moment because I did my best to live it with intention. Being out of school has dramatically changed up my schedule and really my entire life. In two weeks I’ll be starting my internship in DC, which will be my first professional experience since when I was a teacher (and even that experience was a lot different than working in a national office of a not-for-profit organization). My schedule will thus change again, and I’m sure so will some of my priorities. Every summer I have these great intentions and they may be a bit far-fetched and then things shift. But what I’ll actually accomplish, and every intention behind that effort and if I’ve lived in that moment with ease and acceptance- that’s what matters.

I hope that if you’re reading this and you’re simultaneously thinking about that “thing” you’ve been avoiding or just taking a break from, you’re a bit more at ease. It happens to everyone and we shouldn’t feel guilty, feeling guilt is when you haven’t accepted your actions and their outcomes. Acceptance is the first step, just accept your action and what it may entail, then move on. I know it sounds easier said than done but trust me it gets easier the more you do it. Go do that thing you’ve been thinking about but not trying because you’ve been trying to be content with the merry-go-round of life. Stop pretending and go try something different. You may find your passion again (or may not) but at least you listened to yourself and got off the merry-go-round and out of the “comfort-zone”. Oh look, productive discomfort. 🙂

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.

Mindfulness Check-In 1/26: Migraines and Joy

“Better late than never.”

So I know it’s in the evening, but posting late is better than not posting at all, and this is an important update! I want to tell you about my migraine, my pain, my progress, and how at the end of the day I overlooked the pain and saw the joy, all while watching a hockey game. First off, I am horrible at getting into watching most sports. Though I love to play many sports, watching them is a completely different experience, and usually I find myself in “squirrel! mode” where I simply cannot pay attention. During my undergrad times, all my friends would become ecstatic for the football and hockey games. I would go for the “experience” of friendship and raw excitement, but I often found myself just dazing off and completely missing every goal or touch-down- I just wasn’t interested. So by late Sophomore year, I told myself I would never attend another game. Sure, I take part in the Super Bowl festivities, but only for the food and people.

Now let me tell you a key piece of information. My significant other and his family love hockey. I was luck my family never stressed about watching sports in a crazed fashion but I also respect that for some families, it’s what they do. For Christmas I had the genius idea of buying hockey tickets at my University for myself, my significant other, and his parents. They live 2 hours away so we thought it would be a good idea for them to come out, experience the school pride and hockey, and get some awesome local pizza! What a great idea, except for the migraine.

Since I was 6, I’ve experienced chronic headaches and migraines. I go through waves of time where it seems my life just consists of tension headaches, spasms, and then the migraines. Then I have times where it’s just peace and quiet, and yes, NO MIGRAINES. Well since the new semester began last Tuesday, my sleep has been completely off and my stress levels higher than usual. That’s a great equation for, yep, a migraine that lingers for almost a week. In fact, I can feel it still here now, but luckily only as a headache. Yesterday I felt the dull pain encasing my entire skull, like a heavy crown just pressing on my head. I went through my mental checklist and took the precautions I normally take to avoid medicine and thought, “Maybe I’m just really hungry but will be okay after some pizza?”. (This pizza is from Antonio’s and I had been waiting for it for 2 weeks as my indulgent meal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a hunger headache or a craving headache- though I was mindful in trying to discern the source of my hunger and headache.) I took my time eating the pizza, to really enjoy it and experience what was happening around me in the process: the packed restaurant, the people skirting around outside, the bright sun coming in through the windows, the different pizza slices around me, and the pure blissful silence of our family eating pizza happily amongst the buzzing restaurant chatter. I didn’t finish one slice because I really was trying to see if I was truly full by scanning how I felt! Well right after I finished eating and left for the arena, that’s when it came- the migraine came. 

All I will indulge in the experience of the migraine’s pain is that I actually had to visit the EMT to ask for ice packs, and kept them on my head during the game while borrowing some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright lights. What’s more important here is how I still had a great time. Remember how I said I would never attend another hockey game? I knew this one was either going to be 2 hours of horror (migraine) and boredom (hockey), or 2 hours of joy with family. As soon as the puck was in play I made sure to keep my eyes focused on the general picture of what was in front of me. In the past I tried to just focus on the puck, or certain players, or even just the goals. But through my yoga and meditation practice, I’m learning to let my gaze just look out, and not necessarily focus on one image but just take in what it notices naturally. I also kept reminding myself to breathe long breaths in and out, since I knew I would be there for a while with a migraine, and wanted to have a good time. This reminder to breathe and just take time in that moment despite the pain I felt, just be there amongst the lights, loud noises, and distractions, was extremely challenging but also gratifying. By the end of the game though my head still hurt, I was so excited at my progress- I had seen every goal shot, and actually enjoyed my time there!! I laughed, allowed myself to eat a bit of candy, cheered for my team, bonded with the family, and barely thought about anything on my to-do list. I was “in the moment”.

I wanted to write about this today because I know I had a choice. I had a choice to be honest about my feelings and experiences, and how I was going to explain my mindfulness progress while having a migraine. The best part about my mindfulness challenge is being able to just “be” with whatever my experience is at that moment and the feelings it stirs within me and decide how I want to engage with them. I don’t have to feel bad that I had a migraine and then have that stir up more emotions and pain for me if I don’t want to. I’m not saying that I felt glorious during that game, and that I didn’t think about asking to leave or crying. But what I am saying is that I was able to accept what was going on and just sit with it, and not let the migraine ruin my time by choosing not to engage with it in a way to endure more suffering. I definitely want to get to the bottom of these headaches/migraines, but also would like to go to another hockey game again. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have learned that I could in fact stay at a hockey game and watch its entirety. I wouldn’t have learned that even though I had a migraine, one of the worst I’ve had in a few years, I could still have a good time. I definitely would not have known I had the power to take this into my own hands and ground myself in the pain through acceptance, and then letting it go instead of resenting it. I don’t resent my migraines, and if anything I feel much stronger and more equipped to handle them in the future after this past Sunday. This is what is gratifying and empowering, and this is why I will continue to practice.