Family, Meditation, Parenting, Yoga

Breaking up with FOMO

Yesterday I realized that Anne Lamott, who is one of my favorite authors, lives near our new house and regularly gives workshops in the area.  My first thought was that we would be best friends.  Then almost immediately I started worrying that now that I was moving there, she would never give a workshop again and I would have missed the opportunity to actually learn from her.  There is nothing about her schedule that suggests that this is true.  In fact, she seems to speak and work fairly regularly with no intention of stopping, but for a moment I was overcome by fear of missing out.

I had never really thought about “fear of missing out,” or FOMO as it is often referred to, as a condition.  The first time I heard someone refer to it, I laughed, recognizing an all-too-familiar trait of mine.  My mother says that even as a child I hated naps because I was afraid I was going to miss something.  I still find myself resisting bed time because there is always more to do, even if it is just hitting the refresh button one more time.

Whenever I think I might be missing out I respond by ignoring my intuition and speeding towards an emotion or decision I probably don’t need.  Fear of missing out is what sends people deeper into yoga poses than they should go. It’s what makes you say yes to a dinner invitation when you know you would rather be at home. It’s even what makes you buy pants that don’t fit just because it’s a sample sale.  Fear of missing out comes from the idea that we think that everyone is having more fun than we are, or more interesting conversations…  They aren’t.

The Buddhists call it “poverty mind,” the idea that you are always missing something.  In our current age when we have instant access to a world of goods and information this idea of poverty mind can be easily reinforced.  It is true, we are always missing something, every minute of every day, all around us are stories that we are not a part of.  We develop a habit of putting our body somewhere and then letting our mind go a million different places.  We reinforce this habit throughout our days.  However, the only place where you can make real change and have real experiences is where your body is.  We limit our ability to enjoy our present moment if we are worried about what we may be missing out on. We create a sense that there is never enough, by not noticing or appreciating what we already have.

We have to train ourselves to stay present, that doesn’t mean we only do one thing at a time or we never daydream.  Staying present means noticing that we are daydreaming, or procrastinating, or multi-tasking, or worrying that we may be missing out on something amazing happening somewhere else.  If we start to become familiar with our own patterns we start to realize that we aren’t really missing anything, it’s all right in front of us.  We just have to learn how to look at our own complicated, messy lives with generosity not judgment.  We have to take time every day to be quiet, to sit, to go for a walk, or any activity that roots you in some way.  It is only then that we can start to recognize that we aren’t missing anything.

I am working to let go of FOMO.  The next time I catch myself wondering if I should sign my kids up for two activities because we might be missing something, or I say yes to a dinner in Midtown on a Tuesday when I don’t have a babysitter, I am going to stop myself and ask myself whether I am doing this because I want to or because I am afraid of missing out.  If it’s the latter I will stay home, and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes from knowing you aren’t missing a thing.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Yoga

Fragile and solid at the same time…

Mae and ColinThis morning I sat down to work my way through a giant pile of mail.  Tucked in with all the other mail was a giant medical bill I wasn’t expecting.  It has been many years of giant medical bills and they should no longer take my breath away, but for some reason this one made me feel like the wind had been knocked out of me.  It was Mother’s Day and Colin knows me well enough to know that thing that I would want most is time to myself.  He and the kids were out hunting and gathering a picnic for later in the day, and as I first sat and then stood in the office, then the kitchen, then outside, then inside all desperately trying to calm myself down, I just wanted him to appear.

In my head I was ticking off everything I have learned in my meditation and yoga studies.  I was going back over all the other massive medical bills we have paid, and reminding myself that it would be fine.  Still my head was spinning, I tried to sit for meditation, to lean into the feeling, to see if I could get at what was really at the bottom of it.  Fear? Why the intense reaction to a problem I don’t want to solve but know I will.

When Colin walked in I was so relieved, I showed him the bill and described my complete and total meltdown at its arrival.  He was calm, he agreed it sucked, he said we will deal with it tomorrow when it’s not Sunday.  He didn’t tell me to calm down, or ask my why I wasn’t expecting it.  I was able to exhale, we will deal with it tomorrow.

Being married is hard. Being married with young children is harder. Being married with a special needs child and all the stress that comes with it is harder still.  Sometimes, I can’t believe how hard it is, but when Colin walked in the door and just his presence made me feel better, I was also overwhelmed by how lucky I am. Sometimes it takes these crises that come up — in this case an unpleasant problem with a solution — to remind me to be appreciative of all that I have.

It can be easy to overlook each other in the same house, or respond to the difficulties of a grown-up life by being nasty to each other.  It is much harder to be honest, and sad, to be overwhelmed, and need help.  I hear all the time from people about how their marriage or partner is different than they had imagined.  When you are dating you never play the “How will you respond to medical bills?”  game.  Or, how about “What will we do if our child has a life long cognitive condition?” I didn’t seek out a partner thinking about the dark moments.  But I am grateful every day that I found someone who sees the darkness and even if there is no quick fix will always keep reminding me that there is light up ahead as well, and just to keep moving forward together.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Yoga

I might be getting in my own way…

sit500As both the wife of an adopted person and an adoptive parent I think about identity a lot.  When we adopted Mae there were many families at the embassy that day taking an oath that their child would be protected and safe.  It is a hugely emotional moment, one that most families in the room had waited many years for.  As I looked around the room I saw young Chinese children in the arms of Amish families, Asians, Italians, single parent, families of all shapes and sizes.  Each one of these children would go to a home to its own culture and lessons.  Those lessons would in part shape how that child identified themselves.  I am Amish, or Christian, oldest or youngest, but ultimately it is all just who brought you home.

The same is true for those of us who weren’t adopted.  It is just less obvious.  Over time, we identify as a mother or daughter, lawyer, liberal; we assign labels and qualities to ourselves.  I am flexible, I am a runner, I am terrible at languages, or I am a musician.  Each one of these declaratives serves us somehow. By declaring ourselves  something we relieve ourselves of the burden of the unknown.

Quite frequently someone will say to me “I can’t meditate.”  They are completely convinced that they are incapable of being still, and of course I don’t think that’s true. But as long as they believe it, it is true.  Writing a twitter bio or the bio for this blog felt silly to me because it is a series of declarative statements about who I am and what I believe.  But given the constantly changing nature of who we are, the bio feels misleading as soon as it is out of my mouth.  It is true that I am a mother, and a daughter, and a friend, and a buddhist, but to the teller at the bank this morning not a single one of those details mattered.  I was just the first person in her line on a Thursday.  We smiled at each other, exchanged pleasantries and went about our business.

I once happened to be on the beach when a prominent surgeon drowned in Lake Michigan.  At the moment of his death it didn’t matter that he was a father, a husband, a gifted doctor.  He was dead, and in that moment that became the defining feature of the man.

Our identity is constantly shifting and changing.  My parents tease me that every year they would go to my parent conference at school and every year the teacher would address me by the differing version of my name, selected by me for the year: Katie, Kate or Katherine.  One year I even tried on “Kitty.”  I admire the bravery of children who try out different versions of themselves.  Every year they grow, change and look different so why not shift their identity as well?

I am working these days on loosening my grip on my definite ideas of what I am and what I am not.  I was chatting with a friend recently about how she felt that being a mother was preventing her from taking her career to the next level.  That may be true, or it may be fear of the unknown or fear of failure and motherhood is a convenient excuse that no one can argue with.  I am hoping that by letting go of my very fixed ideas about who and what I am and returning more to that childish notion that my identity can shift and change that I will remove obstacles that I have placed in my own way. I will try to imagine that I am not limited by anything, and see how that feels for a while.  I will let you know.

Family, Marriage, Meditation, Yoga

Push, Balance, Steer

Push, Balance, Steer
Push, Balance, Steer

When my children were learning to ride bikes this is the mantra we would repeat for them.  In the videos of their first successful two wheeler rides you can hear them whispering to themselves, “push, balance, steer, push, balance, steer.” It became the magic words that propelled them onto two wheels.

I hear it in my own head when I feel like I am on shaky ground.  It has become my own mantra, my own magic formula for reminding myself what I really need.

Push: We need to apply effort in our lives.  Some days the effort can be just getting out of bed.  It requires effort to sit down and meditate every day, or go to a yoga class or exercise.  Even being polite especially to those we love most can be an effort.  Sometimes, it is the effort of not listening to our own defeating chatter, or doing something that scares us.  If you push too fast or far, you will fall, but if you don’t push at all you won’t ever move forward.

Balance: We all use the word, I am not sure we know what it means.  To me balance means mostly follow the rules, but maybe break them a little every day.  Balance means sleeping when I am tired, and eating when I am hungry, snuggling when an opportunity presents itself, and taking every chance I get to make sure I am plugging in to my life.  Balance means showing up to the people who care about me, including myself. The road underneath me is always changing, balance means not thinking it will all be smooth and flat.

Steer:  Being in the moment does not mean that there is no plan for tomorrow.  We need to steer ourselves along a path.  We don’t meditate to become awesome meditators.  We meditate to become better human beings.  We shouldn’t do yoga so that we can be at the front of the class in tight pants balancing on our noses.  We should do it so that we are connected to our breath and body.  We shouldn’t just fill our lives and hearts with people to avoid loneliness.  We should fill our lives with relationships that uplift and encourage us.  When we are steering ourselves in the right direction anything is possible.  When we aren’t we end up on our asses by the side of the road.

Push, balance, steer, push, balance, steer, push, balance, steer….When you feel yourself wobbling, say it a few times, and you will be back on the road in no time…

Meditation, Yoga

I can’t find my zen in this mess…

I can't find my zen
I can’t find my zen

This morning I lost something.  It has been pinned to the wall in my office for at least two years.  I have never needed it until this morning, when I actually did.  I could picture it, a CD in a pale blue envelope with some writing on it.  It is the record of my daughter Mae’s 24 hour EEG, and I needed to Fedex it, to a doctor in New York.  I waited until 7 in the morning to look for it, because really the optimum time to look for something important is while you are also trying to get your kids out the door for school.

The corkboard in my office where I swear that thing has been pinned, is also home to the kids’ school calendars, my bib numbers from races, important notes and cards from friends, a giant skeleton poster of the muscles and bones, and one of the central nervous system, 6 bumper stickers, a flyer for the first yoga workshop I ever taught, two pictures of me with my parents when I was little, a man made out of a popsicle stick, a tiger made out of a paper plate, and this very important piece of Mae’s medical history that I absolutely needed this morning.

The entire corkboard situation is actually hard to get to because my office chair is in front of it. You can’t actually see the chair because it is camouflaged by remaining christmas cards, snowsuits that everyone has outgrown, a gallon size ziploc bag of lego directions, a copy of the yoga sutras and two old copies of the New  Yorker.  When I moved the chair, all of that stuff slid off it and onto the vacuum cleaner which was perched just behind it.  This caused the vacuum to tip forward, sealing my body between it and the desk.  At this point, my blood pressure was through the roof.

Losing something, especially something which you could swear you see every day is annoying.  Being trapped in your own messy, disorganized office, wasting valuable minutes when you need to be getting your family and yourself out the door, is a recipe for disaster.  I desperately wanted to yell at someone, or something.  Luckily, my family had scattered, either some animal sense for self-preservation had kicked in, or they actually saw me entering the war zone with a take no prisoners look on my face.

There is nothing zen about my office, in fact certain sections of it would land me on the show Hoarders.  Most of the time, the mess doesn’t bother me, until I need something and then it makes me crazy.

This is the same relationship many of us have with our own minds. We are fine being busy, and multi tasking.  We are fine just stacking thoughts and feelings in random piles to be addressed later. That is, until for some reason it all starts to move so fast that we feel like we can’t slow down, we can’t find anything. The corkboard in my office with it’s layers of unrelated papers and other snippets of my life is probably a fairly accurate representation of my thought process.

Just as cleaning and organizing a wildly messy living space gives us a sense of possibility and maybe even ease, so does taking some time to sit and bring a little space into our minds.

Take some time today to sit down and look at the space where you spend the most time: your head.  Just take 10 minutes, find a quiet place to sit. Organize your body in a comfortable, alert but relaxed position, listen for the sound of your breath.  When your attention wanders from  your breath, just bring it back.  It will wander a lot.  That is OK.  You don’t want to clear your mind of thought the same way you don’t clean your office by emptying all the shelves.  You just want enough space in your mind that you can actually see your thoughts clearly, and weed out the ones not related to where your body is and what it’s doing.

If you go months and months without cleaning your office, things will start to build up. Important papers will get mixed up, and you won’t be able to find things when you need them.  The same is true in your mind, it is easier to do a little bit every day than to wait until the day when you really feel yourself stressed and disconnected trying to center yourself on ever shifting ground.

Family, Marriage

I may be the kind of person who curses in front of toddlers

potOne year after Christmas we went to Michigan with my husband’s family for a few days of rest.  Both his brothers were going through painful divorces and I had gone from being the last of the daughters-in-laws to marry into the family, to the only daughter-in-law in a few short years.  I wanted very badly to do a good job in this role, on one level because family is important, and the less elegant truth that I love being a hero.

My sons were just over 2 and 3, they were adorable.  The younger one in particular looked as if he had fallen off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Blond curls, chubby little legs and sweet smile.  One afternoon, during this winter week, we were all bundled inside, a fire blazing and the gentle quiet that descends on winter houses filled with families. One of my brothers-in-law was on his computer, my father-in-law was snoozing, my husband, Colin, was reading, the kids were puttering around, and my mother-in-law and I were playing Scrabble with Colin’s older brother.  At that moment, the door to the screen porch blew open.  My two-year-old, Peter was just walking by it, and I asked him to close it.  He threw himself against it, and it closed momentarily.  Seconds later, it blew back open, and Peter valiantly hurled himself against it to close it again.  It closed and he said, “Stupid door!” I responded by saying something to the effect of, “Peter, we don’t say stupid,” and looking at my mother-in-law to make sure she understood I was a perfect mother in every way. Peter, was still looking at his foe, the door, and said “If it opens again, I am going to say Fuck You door……”

This is the moment when everyone started to laugh so hard we had to stand up.  Ten minutes later we were still giggling and wiping away tears. The whole thing was so ridiculous, the angelic child saying “fuck you” after his well meaning but sanctimonious mother had corrected him for using the word “stupid.”

This story always makes me laugh, because it is funny.  It also makes me laugh at myself. I don’t really use the word “stupid” very often, but I apparently was not afraid to drop the F-bomb now and again. My children have never failed to remind me what is true.  When I am striving to make the world believe I am perfect, they will unintentionally remind me I am not — either by cursing in front of my mother-in-law, or some other equally embarrassing disclosure.

The person I lie to most often is myself.  I think that’s true for almost all of us.  No one wants to think to themselves, “I am the kind of person who regularly curses in front of toddlers….Or I am the kind of person who prefers to watch the Real Housewives of something instead of the news….”  This was so true in my case we had to cancel the cable, to save me from my from glassy eyed, slack jawed 11 pm self.

The truth is, we are all flawed, we all want to be the hero, curse less, exercise more, improve on what is there.  To improve on anything you have to be honest about it.  If you are going to be honest with yourself, do it with humor, do it with kindness. Every time I find myself pretending to be something I am not, I picture a defiant toddler saying ”fuck you door” and I am reminded that our true nature will always make itself known.  So try and greet yourself with a smile and a wink…..and hope you mother-in-law does the same.

 

Family, Meditation, Yoga

I am my goal weight and still get parking tickets

ImageI am my goal weight and still get parking tickets
*Being your goal anything does not prevent you from getting parking tickets or anything else

You will never have more time after you “just get through this week”
*I have gone months when I say this every week

You aren’t going to yoga class because you don’t have time
*You have time, you are using it for other things

Those expensive pants you bought on sale, will still be too small next year
*No matter how discounted something is, if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.  If you don’t wear them they cost too much no matter what

Gluten-free, organic, soy-free or dairy-free are not synonyms for good for you
*A bag of potato chips can be all these things, but if you eat the whole bag, you will probably regret it

There is no reason you cannot meditate
*It is OK not to want to, but don’t pretend you can’t

That person’s life is easier than mine because.
*This is never true, every single one of us experiences challenges, you just don’t know about theirs

Every day, I hear myself and the people around me hinging happiness on the future or creating a reason to not engage the present. If you want to develop a meditation practice, then sit down. If you want to have yoga in your life, then go to class.  If you want to be happy, you have to understand what that means when you say it.

Fundamentally happiness is being loving and realistic about what you need and how you spend your time.  You have to look at your habits and patterns with generosity, kindness and most importantly honesty.

There is no future happiness, it is a choice for right now, and you are the only one who can make that choice.