Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vision Board - An Intuitive To-Do List

As part of getting centered and paying attention to my true desires this month, I asked Carol Moss, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Life Coach and chanteuse, to lead a vision board workshop for a few friends and me.

Carol's sample vision board contained themes
of healing,  balance and water.
According to Carol, a vision board is a creative do-to list that includes emotion and pictures, making it more dimensional and compelling than a handwritten list of goals.  The act of seeking out images helps to clarify what you want.

"A vision board is an effective tool for tapping into the subconscious," says Carol. "It can be used for a specific purpose - like to plan a garden or clarify a relationship, or you can proceed with an open mind and simply let a theme emerge."

People are often surprised and delighted to find that things they put on their boards later manifest in real life.  You can call it the law of attraction or just getting specific, but many people, including Carol, have seen concrete results. I find that very exciting!

So, this Sunday afternoon,  a few open-minded girlfriends and I sat around my dining room table armed with scissors, glue sticks, poster board and a mimosa or two. To help us create an intention for the exercise, Carol read a poem by Mary Oliver and led us in a short meditation. Then we eagerly began flipping through stacks of old magazines. 

Carol urged us to cut or tear out pictures that attracted us or made us feel good, without getting too analytical about the reasons why. She also told us there's no right way to create our boards and not to worry about what the other women were doing - it wasn't a competition.

After about 45 minutes of flipping and ripping, we retreated to separate corners to put our boards together. It got quiet. As I placed items on my board, I looked for connections between the pictures I'd chosen.

My vision board was jam-packed. I'm greedy.
"If I put the clock by the eggs, do you think that symbolizes anything?" I wondered aloud. Hmm.

Once we finished, Carol invited us to show our boards to the group and talk a bit about what they meant. You can see my finished product, above. It looked nothing like anyone else's; they were all unique. 

I didn't have a specific purpose or topic in mind, so my board is jam-packed with many themes. I guess I'm greedy. Here's my top line analysis its meaning.

  • I yearn to spend time in green, fertile, primal places. I've actually had a dream about the vine-covered stone cottage in the middle of the board.
  • I long for juicy, bright, uplifting experiences and surroundings.
  • It's time to write a book!
  • I want to hit the road (maybe a bike trip with my man?)
  • I want to be strong, active, and sexy. 
  • I desire to connect with an audience, I want to stand out.
  • Basically, I just want to be Beyonce.

"It says I Did It," said Carol, pointing to the upper right corner. "What is it, what did you do?"

"I don't know yet," I answered, "But it was really good, because I'm in the spotlight and everyone is applauding."

Maybe I'll have to do a separate board about the "IT" on my own.

Anyway, it's too soon to tell if any of these things pictured will manifest in my life, but trust me, I'll be looking for them. Regardless, the whole experience of creating a board with my friends was fulfilling, fun, and helped us get to know one another better.

Have you ever used a vision board to clarify your goals and desires? Would you give it a try? Please share your thoughts and experiences here. I'm envisioning a lively discussion. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Today I went to a yoga class. I've tried yoga a couple times in the past and could never get into it. It's sooooo slow. For the last seven years, my exercise of choice has been tennis. Run, hit, smash, spin, win!! My obsession with tennis and competitive sports has been one of my happiest discoveries since turning 40. But I'm taking a break from tennis right now because, as I keep saying, I need time to have my midlife crisis.

Archer Pose
Today I didn't go to yoga for the exercise. I went because everyone (especially you, Laura T.) is telling me it's THE way to find peace of mind, focus and tranquillity - which is my theme for the month of March. So, I found an hour-long Intro to Yoga Basics class just a mile from my home at a studio where many of my friends go.

"This class is for beginners, right?" I asked the lovely and limber instructor, who's name I didn't catch.

She said something like this was my practice and I should honor wherever I was and do as much or as little as felt right. Sounded good to me.

There were four other women in the dim studio. We started with an exercise to clear the mind, then moved to some poses and series of movements that seemed incredibly basic to start with but turned into pure torture after about  20 seconds. As I breathed deeply through my nose trying to maintain my archer pose, I decided that yoga had one thing in common with yesterday's run. The pain makes any wandering of attention impossible.

The intense poses and breathing exercises were perhaps a little different than I'd experienced before, but I'm such a novice I wasn't sure. Just as the hour was winding up, the class took a different turn. We relaxed on our backs on our mats, pulling up blankets to warm our cooling bodies. The instructor, let's call her Bree, came around and put little pillows over our eyes. Then we just lay there, in silence, breathing.

It was so relaxing I felt like I was floating. You guys, I was meditating! The only thing that ruined my bliss was the tiny worry that we were running late and my parking meter would expire. But there was still much more to come.

Bree explained that we were going to do a very beautiful healing meditation, in honor of the people of Japan and the devastation that occurred there. She pressed a button and a ethereal song began - Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung. My classmates, with their enviable breath control, sang along in one tuneful exhale. I did my best, after an internal giggle over the "so hung" part. The room resonated with our voices. It was moving and powerful. By the time we were finished, several of us were in tears. I may have shed one or two myself.

By now, with the meditating and singing and praying and emoting,  I was pretty sure I was not in a Intro to Yoga class at all.  When I came home, feeling as clean and clear as a whistle, I rechecked the studio schedule online. Sure enough, I had joined a Kundalini yoga class, which ran at the same time as Yoga Basics. Kundalini is described as one of the more spiritual types of yoga that appeals to those who are up for both mental and physical challenges.

Given my purpose for the month of March, I can't help but think I ended up exactly where I was meant to be this morning. And if my chanting in any tiny way helped the people of Japan cope with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, I am grateful. Namaste.

 (The mantra we sung was very similar to the one in the video, below.) 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Running in The Now

To improve my ability to live in the moment, I'm taking the advice of friends. While many of my friends swear by yoga, meditation tapes and classes, (which I hereby vow to try) my pal Liz has no patience for such sedentary pursuits.

"Meditation is too still," she says, "running is where it's at!"

After all my frustrating attempts at meditation I've been feeling a little antsy, so this morning, inspired by Liz, I took a short run. Actually, it was a very short run - about a mile and a half. (I measured it at this very cool website called gmap-pedometer.com.)  And it wasn't very fast either. But for the purposes of mindfulness, my little run was a big success. Because I made a discovery.

Nothing keeps you living in the moment like PAIN! 

As I lurched around the playfields with burning lungs and rubbery legs, I felt completely connected to The Now. There was no worry about the future, no guilt about the past, no incessant to-do list rattling around in my brain. Just me and my ragged breathing making our way through the chilly mist of an almost Spring day.

I'm not really recommending pain as an ongoing meditation practice, but I think Liz has something here with the running. Tomorrow, I'm trying yoga!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Video intro to my midlife crisis

If you're wondering why I am switching topics each month, it's because I've got a plan for Forty Fabulous for 2011 -  I'm exploring themes relating to the female midlife crisis. Why? Because I'm having one!

This 1.5 minute video is a quick intro to what motivated me to tackle this project. I'll be sharing monthly video summaries of my progress at thesucculentwife.com - a very cool site which presents "serendipitous lifestyle finds" for chicks like us.

Meditation Stresses Me Out

I feel like a slacker. I have no insights or inspiration to share so far this month. It's not that I haven't been putting in the effort.  Each day I've spent time trying to get still and quiet to become aware of my inner thoughts and feelings. The first week all I did was doze off; this week I'm just frustrated.

I'm frustrated because when I sit down, cross my legs, close my eyes and to try to meditate, one of the following things happens:

1. I get bored.
Will I ever get the benefits from meditating?
(Photo from meditatebehappy.com)
2. I feel silly.
3. I think about all the other things I should be doing.
4. I feel guilty that I can't clear my mind.
5. I'm disappointed that I have no deep thoughts or revelations.
6. The phone rings, the dog barks or I am otherwise interrupted.

Can't I go back to February and clean out a closet or shred a bunch of documents? I was much happier when I had lots of concrete tasks on my to-do list! Who would have thought that expending so little effort would be so damn difficult?

But difficult or not, it's only the 14th, and I've committed to spending all of March on this theme. No one said a creating a midlife crisis would be easy. Perhaps my resistance to getting quiet, or "becoming mindful" as the experts call it, is partly caused by fear. I say I want to be open to real change and to make room for new things in my life; but now I wonder - what I'll have to give up to do that? Organizing my files was easy by comparison.

But my other problem is that I don't really know how to meditate. I need to do some research.  I found this simple, short video, titled What is Mindfulness? The benefits are impressive enough that I want to keep pursuing this.

I also found these 20 practical tips for meditation beginners at zenhabits.com - some of which directly address the issues I've  been struggling with, such as:

#5) Notice frustrations creep up on you. This is very common for beginners as we think "hey, what am I doing here" or "why can't I just quiet my damn mind already." When this happens, really focus in on your breath and let the frustrated feelings go.
#16) Do NOT stress. This may be the most important tip for beginners, and the hardest to implement. NO matter what happens during your meditation practice, do not stress about it. This includes being nervous before meditating and angry afterwards. Meditation is what it s, and just do the best you can at the time.

Hey, according to these tips, I'm not alone! 

For the second half of the month I'm going to be more deliberate about this meditation stuff as well as look for other ways to be mindful and thoughtful throughout my day. Hopefully I'll have something more meaningful to share in my next post, so please stick with me and check back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My month of contemplation has unwanted side effect

Introspection is making me sleepy
One week into my new theme and my pronouncement is: March stinks. Even though I had high hopes for getting quiet, centered and introspective,  I just can't wrap my mind around this theme. I was sure that if I calmed down, tuned out all the noise, and paid attention to my feelings and conscience I'd discover - well, some sort of enlightenment or higher purpose.  I've cut out the TV and news and excess internet surfing. Instead I've been reading and journaling and attempting to meditate and all I feel is .... sleepy. I can't keep my eyes open.

It's weird. Normally I bolt out of bed at 5:00 a.m. (I'm the mother of a swimmer, we have early wake-up calls), pound three cups of coffee and hit my day running. But this week, I've been letting my kid fend for himself, sleeping past my alarm, even taking afternoon naps - something I've never been able to do if I tried.

You know, all this quiet and contemplation might be leading me to one  earth-shattering epiphany after all. I haven't been getting enough sleep!

Sleep deprivation has serious health risks, especially for women. According to a recent WebMD article, lack of sleep is linked to hypertension,  Type 2 diabetes, weight gain and depression.  Women are more susceptible to these problems, probably because of our hormones. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that I've been conking out so much.

Even though I'm disappointed with my progress, I'm going to stick with this month's theme.  I still hold out hope for some deep revelations or ah ha moments, which I'll be delighted to share the minute they occur.

But for now, I'm going back to bed.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March Goal: Pay attention to what matters, whatever the hell that is

This looks like an awesome book.
Hope I find time to read it.
This year I'm creating my own midlife crisis. The big 5-0 is a couple years off and it's stirring up a lot of anxiety. I figure it's better to be proactive and have some fun with this phase of life rather than join a commune or run off with my personal trainer. So each month I'm dealing with a different theme. In January I came to terms with my changing body, February was about clearing out the clutter in my life to make room for the new me. This month, March, I'm going to tackle clearing out my mind. It's going to be a big effort, because I am so damn distracted all the time.

It doesn't help that the very place I work (my desk) is a Pandora's box of distraction.  I'll sit down to write and my phone rings, or I check my email and shoot off a few quick responses, then someone comments on my blog and I need to publish it, or I get sidetracked by cute kitty videos or Charlie Sheen's latest rants. Before I know it, an hour has gone by and I've forgotten what I was writing about to begin with. It's very upsetting. Sometimes I have such a hard time focusing I feel like I'm disabled.

I'm not alone. This multitasking and constant interruption has become a national epidemic. In her book, Distracted, Maggie Jackson writes:
Nearly a third of workers say they’re too busy and interrupted to process or reflect on the work they do, according to the Families and Work Institute. High levels of interruptions also are related to stress, frustration, even lowered creativity, studies from Harvard Business School and the University of California/Irvine show. Intriguingly, people who multitask most often are less able to focus on what’s important than those who multitask rarely, one new study shows. The veteran jugglers are “suckers for irrelevancy,” according to Stanford’s Clifford Nass.
The loss of creativity and being a "sucker for irrelevancy" resonates with me. Technology is a powerful, amazing resource, but it can also be a seductive outlet for our weaknesses in character. I can procrastinate like a pro in the name of researching an article. But I can't just blame Google. My lack of concentration also has something to do with my hormones. 

Lately I've had trouble sleeping - I wake drenched in sweat or my mind starts mind racing with all the things I have to do the next day. In the morning I'm cranky and exhausted which all affects my ability to focus. According to the Wall Street Journal, for women my age, the likely cause of these symptoms is the lead-up to menopause.

One of the first things to go is often a good night's sleep. That alone would make someone edgy, irritable and exhausted. But then come heart palpitations, difficulty recalling familiar words, loss of sex drive, mood swings and anxiety.
Women who encounter these symptoms in their 30s and 40s are often prescribed sleeping pills, tranquilizers, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Yet all of these symptoms and more—migraines, joint and muscle pain, dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain and digestive problems—can be due to fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone that start as many as 10 years before menopause. - Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal 10/12/10

Oh great, I've got all that to look forward to as well? Well screw it. Whether the cause of my mental skittishness is technology, biology or a character flaw, I've had enough! This month I'm going to do what I can to get quiet, go inward, and focus on what really matters to me - once I figure out what that is.

Frankly, I don't exactly know how I'll proceed on this quest - I checked out a stack of books from the library that I'm eager to delve into. But here are my first steps.

1. Limit time on the computer. I will write, I will check email, I will sign off. No surfing, gawking, or idle investigations.

2. No TV. My habit is to tune out in front of the TV around 8 or 9pm. I'm so tired (from my lack of sleep) it's about all I have energy for. But most of what I watch is drivel. No TV in March. NONE.

3. No News. My morning ritual is coffee and the Tribune. This morning I read about a man who froze to death in his own home, and I can't get over it. I think it's important as a writer and a citizen to be informed of what's going on in the world, but in a month where I'm trying to get quiet and focused, it has to go.

I'm eager to hear if any of you are suffering from the same trouble with concentration, and especially your recommendations about how to deal with it.

But for now, my post is written and I'm outta here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lessons from a Month of Organizing

I dedicated February to clearing out the junk and clutter in my life - both literally and figuratively. Here's a quick summary of what I learned. It's in list form, because...
Pics like these are for inspiration only.

  1. I love lists! They're efficient and satisfying. Writing something down is the first step to making it real. I use lists everywhere - my weekly dinner menu is posted in the kitchen. My daily to-do list is handy and portable. My monthly goals are on the white board on the wall behind me. I love crossing off items off as I accomplish them. Lists, lists, lists! 
  2. Getting organized is easy - staying organized is the real challenge. You have to develop new habits and devote time to them. Despite my enthusiasm, my new shredder and fireproof safe sat in their boxes on my office floor for two weeks. I finally set them up yesterday, the last day of the month and my deadline for this project. Which leads me to #3...
  3. Shredding is addictive. There's a motor and a loud noise and lots of confetti at the end. I likey.
  4. Organizing can be a form of procrastination. I missed a very important deadline while immersed in color-coding my sock drawer and printing labels for my files. Make sure the sorting and cleaning isn't an excuse to avoid more important tasks, or people might get very mad at you.
  5. An orderly environment reduces stress and increases productivity. It's a real pleasure to work in a clean and organized space. You aren't distracted or bothered and can get right to work. Ah.
  6. It's OK to get rid of good stuff. Many organizations are dying to get hold of your unwanted goods, so don't feel guilty about letting them go. Keep a laundry basket on each floor for donations, and the minute you doubt an item's value or purpose - stick it in there!
  7. Even Oprah yearns for less. Imagine how beautiful Oprah's belongings must be, but still, they weigh her down. "My life is filled with so much clutter," she says in her March O Magazine. "I'm not just cleaning out my closet, I'm cleaning out my life. And I'm keeping only that which delights me or enhances my well-being." Me too, Oprah!
  8. Develop discriminating taste. This experience has made me really picky about what I buy, what I do, and who I do it with. For example, I've completely quit what used to be one of my favorite pastimes - recreational shopping. I don't want to waste the time, money or energy on stuff that isn't fabulous or essential. I've even dropped tennis for the time being. It was beginning to feel like a job. It isn't easy letting things go, but deciding and choosing what you really want makes everything more delicious.
  9. Only celery colored cosmetics allowed!
  10. Perfectionism isn't practical. The Martha Stewart photos I've shown here are inspiring, but not realistic. There are lots of organizing tips and systems out there. Use what's helpful and jettison what isn't working for you (including this advice.) For example, I've decided the label maker is a pain! 
  11. Celebrate Success. I've made a lot of progress this month. My office, my calendar, and my closet are wonderfully improved. I actually know what I'm making for dinner for the next three nights and the ingredients are in the fridge. All of this is huge progress, and I feel free, calm and clear. And excited about what's to come. I hope my family is benefitting from this too.

However, as I transition to a new topic in March, I have some regrets. There's so much more I'd hoped to explore and accomplish. I wanted to discuss our emotional attachments to our stuff, how invested we are in our daily habits and how all of these things prevent us from really experiencing our lives. I also really wanted to tackle the basement. Alas, February is a short month, and - since I've done my calendar planning - I must move on.

Please check back soon. In February we cut the clutter, but as I continue to create my midlife crisis, March is going to be about cutting the chatter. Life is just too damn distracting! It's time to get quiet, focus, and follow our intuition.