Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fear is not simple

Confession time: as a child, I never learned how to do a number of things, including riding a bike. 

My grandma was always afraid that something horrible would happen to me if I did something she deemed unsafe. So, not only did I never learn how to ride a bike, but I never swam, took the bus, or went for a boat ride, among other things. Pretty sheltered childhood, huh? Don't worry, I did lots of other things for entertainment: read books, watched TV, shopped.

Now, I married an outdoorsman. He likes to hunt, to fish, to ride his bike. And, of course, he wants to raise our daughter to enjoy the same things. It is either that, or teach her to like the activities I like, like shopping - which is what I'm trying to avoid. (Books will be high on my priority list, though.)

After she was born, I knew I had a choice: I could continue on with my life as it is, being afraid of everything, and losing time with my family, or I could suck it up and face my fears. 

My in-laws bought me a bike for my birthday. Of course they knew I didn't know how to ride, but the hope was I would learn before the baby did. So, I tried it. Night after night, I hopped on and tried to balance. Once I could balance, I tried to pedal. Once I could pedal, I tried to do both. And I failed. I failed over and over again, to the point where I thought I wasn't ever going to learn. It was too late.

And then, one night, I did it. It just happened. I don't even know how, but it did. And I felt free - free from my fears of riding and free from the fear of not being able to participate in these events with my family.

A few days later, my husband went fishing with his parents while the baby and I got a muffin at the local coffee shop. Then, he texted me.

Can we pick you up and take you for a boat ride?


We will go for a quick ride and then get lunch.

I took a deep breath. I didn't know how to swim. I had never done this! I was scared. And then I texted him back. I didn't say yes but I said "OK". 

Now or never. And then I panicked.

I drove out to the dock praying quietly that I wouldn't drown or throw up. I got in the boat, shaking, and put on my life jacket. I played with my hair, something I do when I'm very nervous. Off we went.

It was awesome. It was so relaxing and beautiful and fun.

I didn't drown. I didn't throw up. I couldn't believe how many years I had wasted with fear.

I realized that day that living a simple life means letting go. Letting go of spending money, of routines you think are necessary, and of expectations, sure. But letting go of fear is huge. Fear holds you back from so many experiences and events in your life. It is a weight that drags you down. An anchor, if you will. Nothing is simple if you are afraid and worried all the time.

I accomplished two big things in the course of one week. Two things that I had spent 28 years avoiding, afraid of doing. And with the simple choice of saying yes and trying, two things that have opened my life up to more joy and possibilities for the future. Isn't that what I'm trying to achieve? 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meditation 101 and Project 333

I'm about a week into meditating and it hasn't been going as well as I'd hoped. 

It is so hard to clear your mind, or at least, my mind. It never fails - four minutes in, my mind starts to wander. One minute I'm focused on breathing and the next, I'm thinking about pizza. Or last night's True Blood. Whatever. (But seriously, can we talk about that? I've always been a big Bill/Sookie fan, but after the whole "Billith" debacle, I just don't know. I don't buy Sookie and Eric together, either. There's so much to wrap up with only one episode left!) 

It takes some time to realize I've drifted and to make myself come back to the mantra. By then, I feel like I've wasted precious minutes. Minutes that, had I just focused, could have meant the difference between a ho-hum existence and enlightenment, right? Or is it not that easy?

It hasn't been all bad, though. I definitely feel a lot calmer and better equipped to handle the stresses that life throws at me. I've even had a few moments where I felt like I was asleep, even though I was wide awake. I'm no expert, but it think those moments are the ones I'm supposed to notice.

One other thing I've noticed is a difference in my desire to shop. On the days I meditate, I'm happy with all I have; I'm grateful. On the days I don't, I get a little stressed and squirrelly, and then I want to self-medicate with a little online shopping. I start to convince myself that I absolutely cannot live without a new pair of jeans or that my daughter needs a new toy, even though my closet is overflowing and she's perfectly happy playing with the newspaper.

I know this comes from childhood. My mom liked to shop, so after she got done with work, we would bond over a trip to the mall and food court Chinese. If I was bored, my dad would take me on a midnight run to the 24-hour Walmart. 

When I started college, I dealt with the stress of my new, adult life with a new wardrobe (and an eating disorder, but that's another story for another time). When my parents got divorced, I consoled myself with new dresses and costume jewelry. When I moved out of my mom's house, I found items from all of these excursions still hanging in my closet, still with tags. 

This is not good. I don't want my daughter growing up believing that happiness comes from things and that purchasing cures all ills. But in order to prevent that, I have to cut the problem off at the source, and the source is me. 

Enter Project 333.

What is Project 333 (http://theproject333.com)? A very simple explanation is that it is a opportunity to try living with less. You choose 33 clothing items (not including pajamas or workout clothes) and mix and match them, and only them, for three months - a season. Then, you do it all over again, introducing new items for that season and removing others. The idea is that you develop a capsule wardrobe and live by your signature style instead of following trends that don't work for you (and cause you to spend money). When you do buy items, they will not only be of higher quality because they have to last, but they will work with everything you have. And you will wear them, then. Gone are the days of buying that hot pink peasant top and never wearing it because it doesn't fit with your lifestyle. 

Take a look at the sad state of my closet. It's a mess.

 I counted 157 items in there, not including things in drawers or in the laundry. I know I have more than 165, but let's just say I only gave 165: that means I'm going to be cutting my closet down by 80%! I'm a little scared, but I know it is for the best. If I can live with only 33 items (and I know I can! How silly is it to ever say that?), then I can resist the pull of purchasing something I don't need. 

I plan to start the project tomorrow and will post more about the experience then!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Calm your mind, calm your life

The decision to simplify came out of a moment of despair. Overwhelmed with trying to balance work, household chores, motherhood and life in general, I had a constant feeling of dread. I felt like a failure - a bad mom, a bad wife, a bad friend - because I didn't have enough time to be devote to just one of those things in order to be good enough.

Good enough for whom? I'm not sure. Probably my own standards but there was an incessant chatter in my mind, a little voice that kept saying "You are letting down everyone you love. Do more."

How long can you live with those expectations before you break down? Not long.

I finally realized that doing more was NOT the answer. The answer was less. I decided to make a list of things I wanted to simplify. 

Besides focusing on paying off bills, decluttering and living with less material possessions (Less clothing doesn't just mean less shopping but also less laundry and less time deciding what to wear. And what do all those things mean? More time.), I really wanted to simplify my diet and exercise routine. With Lu starting to eat solids, I knew I needed to figure out how to transition from time-consuming recipes to more nutritious and easier meals. I also wanted to incorporate regular exercise into my day. I knew it would give me more energy and that it needed to become a habit. So, I decided to start Beachbody's 21-Day Fix (more on this later) on 8/11.

Now, remember how I said I had this voice telling me I was failing? And I phrased the experience in past tense? I should have used present. I still feel that way. 

Yoga is one of my great loves, so I've had many people tell me that I should try meditation to calm myself and clear my mind. But I've always laughed it off - my mind? It is going a mile a minute, all day, every single day. Meditation is not for someone like me. My mind could never be clear!

Tonight, reading Buzzfeed (yes, I know, waste of time!), I came across a piece about meditation where Deepak Chopra answers questions about the practice (http://www.buzzfeed.com/whitneyjefferson/deepak-chopra-answers-questions-about-meditation?s=mobile). Halfway through, I came across this:

How about someone with stress and anxiety who can't even fathom having a "clear mind"?

DC: Such a person needs meditation more than anyone else because they are headed for a crisis. If stress and anxiety are so great that you can’t even imagine a calm clear mind, that indicates you are reaching your coping limits, and need to begin something like meditation just for the stress reduction benefits.

Wow. That's me.

The piece was connected to promotion for a 21-day meditation program that starts on (get this...) 8/11.

If that's not a sign that this is something I need to try to incorporate into my  simplification journey, I don't know what is. 

Have you tried meditation? Any advice?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The beginning

How do you know when it is time for a change?

This is something I have been asking myself a lot lately. When you are stuck in a habit, that habit starts to feel like the norm. And the norm starts to feel like the "right" thing, the answer, the way you should live your life. You keep going through each day in a state of fog, half asleep and definitely not aware of the beauty of each moment. 

For me, the norm can be summed up in one word: busy. I'm a Type A personality. I can't slow down and just enjoy the moment I'm in - I'm constantly thinking about the next thing I HAVE to do. The next thing I WANT to do. The next thing I SHOULD do. Multi-task, multi-think, multi-everything. 

I grew up in a bigger city where this pace of life was pretty normal, as well. Two years ago, my husband and I moved to his hometown, a smaller town in northern Minnesota. The day-to-day is much slower - people actually stop and talk to each other in the grocery store. It's beautiful and I couldn't pick a better place to raise my daughter. But I always feel like I don't fit in completely - I need a Target. A Starbucks. A martini bar that has live jazz, forgetting the fact that my hometown has one and I still spent every night in front of whatever was showing on Food Network. I don't NEED these things, nor should I want them. Simplicity is beautiful. I mean, look at this! How can you not relax when you can look at this everyday? 

I've lived in this state for as long as I can remember. Nothing is simple. If I'm cooking dinner, it has to be a four course meal of completely organic ingredients. If I'm going to workout, I better just get my TT200 yoga license and train for a 5K. If I'm watching a movie with my husband, I'm also playing with the baby, reading a book, and on my phone because I absolutely cannot wait until tomorrow to find out what the ingredients are in that salad I want to make for the potluck next month.

But here's the thing: I'm not getting more done in less time. I'm wasting away the precious moments I have with my infant, with my husband, with my friends, with myself.

It is time for a change. It is time to simplify. How do I plan to do this? My goal is to research different solutions that have worked for others to bring life back into balance - spiritually, mentally, and physically. I want to simplify my time, yes, but in order to do that, I need to simplify not just the physical things like my finances and my clutter, but my expectations (of myself and of others) and my mental clutter. 

This blog will be an outlet for me to write down my experiences - a chance to document the things that work and make life sweeter and the things that fail. Hopefully, I'll have some experiences to help others, too. Because the time we have is a gift and I'm choosing to not waste a single additional second. 

Have you simplified your life? What worked for you?