What We See in the Mirror – Thoughts on Identity

Make_yourselfI’ve been reading Madeline L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet. For those of you who are readers out there, you might know her as the author of A Wrinkle in Time. A Circle of Quiet is not like her youth fiction, it’s her reflections on writing and life. I’m enjoying it immensely. In fact, it is the first book in a long time that has made me stop, get out a pencil and some sticky notes, and start underlining and marking passages.

One of the things she talks about is our mirrors. She points out that when it comes to our homes, we are careful about the mirrors we choose to do our hair or brush our teeth in front of. We don’t choose darkened mirrors or funhouse mirrors, we choose true clear mirrors that let us see our image. She says that people are also our mirrors – the mirrors of our soul. She says she takes care who she uses as her mirrors – her husband, her children and her close friends. When she uses other people as mirrors, she stops being true to herself.

I know what she is talking about. Let’s call it the What Will The Neighbors Think syndrome (WWTNT?). It doesn’t have to be neighbors, of course, it could be coworkers, family members, whoever – it’s when you let other people’s opinions dictate your choices, instead of your own. The thing is, it isn’t even always What the Neighbors Actually Think – it is more frequently what we think the neighbors think. Reality might be that the neighbors are too dang busy with their own lives to have an opinion on yours, but we think that they do.

For some of us, WWTNT? can drive a lot of our choices – what house to buy, what career to go into, what to wear, where to shop and so on. It seems a little silly, but really, it is a very powerful force. And there is some validity in it. After all, social structures exist for a reason. Simply following the social conventions can make life easier, (why recreate the wheel?) and create more social bonding, (people that look alike and do the same things tend to group together.) However, it can also cause inner conflict. For L’Engle, she talks about her struggles with being a writer first and a mother and housekeeper second. How terribly guilty she would feel because she didn’t feel like she was keeping up with her neighbor’s standards of what a housewife should be. I would guess that a lot of us have gone through something similar – a internal struggle when we realized our passions and dreams differed from what other people thought we should do.

As I have mentioned, I‘ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. My identity has changed a lot in the past couple of years. Many of the words I would have used to describe myself a couple of years ago, aren’t true anymore. And, many of the words I would use now to describe myself, would have been unimaginable then. I’m not done, either. I am just getting to know this new woman who I have become. When I look in the mirror now, (both the actual physical mirror and the reflections of those closest to me,) I see someone completely different. Someone who I am just getting to know. I find myself saying, “When did I become this woman?” a lot. I usually mean it as a joke, when I am getting up at 4:50AM to go to a morning Boxing class, when I’m choosing nonfiction over a novel, when I’m tying on my running shoes… things I wouldn’t have ever thought of doing not that long ago.

I’m also saying “no” to things I would have never turned down. I’ve been active in our community theatre organizations in various ways since 1989. It’s been my lifeblood. All of my friends I met through theatre. But, for now, it doesn’t interest me. I still love my friends, I just don’t have any interest in being at the theatre. It could be just a pendulum, I was very, very busy with theatre the past four years or so, and maybe I am just burned out. In time the pendulum will swing back again. Or maybe not – I honestly don’t know. That’s what I mean – I’m still getting know this “new” me.

Without a doubt I have let other people’s opinions of me effect my choices. I can’t honestly complain, either. I’ve had a good life. I might have had a very different one if I had just listened to my own heart, but the one I have is good. However, I feel like I have the opportunity right now to examine it. I also have the wisdom and experience to start cutting out the parts that don’t work for me, and start adding more that does.

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This Is Life

My heaven.

My heaven.

Recently I took a week off and went up to my cabin. The cabin is a fantastic place for doing what I love; I spent a part of each day hiking with my dog, kayaking, biking, cooking, napping and reading. It’s a little like heaven. The cabin is also good for thinking. There are fewer distractions, plus it is much easier to think about life when I am well rested and relaxed then when I am running from one thing to the next.

Yesterday I wrote about coming to accept that I don’t have a “big dream.” That was something I spent a lot of time thinking about. One morning I took the kayak out and spent time thinking about passion. We all are familiar with people who have always known what they wanted. They have a drive and a passion and go after it with determination. Then there are others that have dreams that they wish they could do, but have accepted that they may not become reality. I have a dear friend who recently said that if she was given millions of dollars she would open a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. She said it with such conviction that I was impressed, even though we both know that for a variety of very good reasons she probably won’t make it happen in this lifetime.

Then there is me. When I thought about what I would do with millions, my first thoughts were mighty mundane: install insulation in the attic, build a sleeping porch on the cabin, take a trip to Ireland, and so on. What didn’t pop up was some big dream. It is frustrating because I am a planner. This is why I am very successful at my job. I am very good at identifying goals, mapping strategies, making budgets, setting goals and figuring out the best way to achieve them. Not having a big goal or an endpoint is difficult for me. I keep struggling because I feel like I should be working towards something… I just don’t know what.

Then a thought hit me… what if I had already achieved my goals? I have a pretty darn good life; I have an amazing network of people I love and who care about me in return, I have not one, but two, houses filled with books (and one is by the water!), I have a silly but awesome hound dog and my life is filled with doing things I love. The last couple of years I have been working on my weight and my health, and I finally feel good about that too. Sure, not everything is perfect: I never have enough time with my loved ones, one of the houses… no both houses, have roofs that leak, my dog has had a string of very expensive illnesses, and so on. But what is perfect? There isn’t such a thing. Even if you have the perfect house, for example, entropy will come in and things will break (or the roof will leak.) It’s true with everything in life – stuff happens, things go sideways, and even if they don’t, we change ourselves. So what was “perfect” five years ago may not be perfect today.

It slowly came to me that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about “what’s next?” (it is originally why I started this blog,) and I haven’t been taking time to enjoy what I have right now. And at that exact moment, I looked up to discover that I had paddled halfway around the lake in deep thought staring at my knees! I hadn’t been enjoying the beauty around me. It brought home the point perfectly. After that, I tried to take off the thinking cap and instead be very “in the moment” and really enjoy the rest of the trip.

life movesLater, when I got back to the cabin, my first thought was from Ferris Buller’s Day Off. Remember this:

But it didn’t quite fit with how I was feeling. It’s not that life is fast or short or long, it’s that This Is Life. Right now. Everything I do is part of my life. Even the things that don’t seem like “life” like going to the grocery store, sitting at a doctor’s office, brushing my teeth – it is all my life. I’m not just putting in time waiting for something better to come along, this is my life right now, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not saying that I’ll never have a big life changing dream. Anything can happen. But I keep running in mental circles trying to build a foundation for an unknown future, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m realizing I need to bring my focus my closer. I can work on smaller goals – like fixing at least one of the leaking roofs and figuring out how to spend more time doing what I love. I have what I need, it’s more of a matter of enjoying the here and now.

This Is Life.

Be Patient

Quote

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

Locked by Stephen Wolfe

 

 

Photo credit: Stephen Wolfe on flickr

Snowflakes are Falling

winter wonderlandHere’s me, feeling festive! Like much of the Midwest, we’re getting a fair amount of snow. That opens up a whole other area of winter exercising – snow shoveling! Also scraping off cars, donning winter gear, and of course the ever popular sport of clutching the steering wheel white knuckled with fear. All good for the heart and respiratory systems!

The funny thing is that I have always loved winter. As a kid I had pretty bad seasonal allergies and winter was one of the few times I could play outside and not be bothered by pollen or dust. It’s also a lovely time of year. One of my favorite sights is fresh snow at night when it is like a big sparkling blanket.

I have to say though, that it’s a little different having lost forty pounds. Winter is still pretty, but brrrr! I am so very cold! Of course, Hermes the dog thinks this weather is awesome, so we’re still trekking through the neighborhood twice a day. I swear he deliberately looks for snow banks to jump in, silly little dog. I mean, I know he is wearing a fur coat, but the bottom of their paws is just skin – how is it that they don’t care? It’s a mystery.

I am so ready for this!

Yes! Winter!

I won’t be running in this, that’s for sure. I’m just too scared of slipping and falling. I even wear cleats on my boots when I am walking the pooch, so I don’t think I’ll attempt running. My new snow pants are awesome, though: “Bugaboo” by Columbia. (I got them at T.J. Maxx.) They much such a difference! They really are warm, and they keep the snow and damp off me, which is even more important.

What about you? What winter exercise do you do? What are you planning on? What’s the weather like in your part of the world?

Winter Messages

The River in winterI’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. As I mentioned Monday, I’ve fallen out of my routines. I seem to have a slight case of the blues. It’s nothing serious, there is nothing really wrong, I just feel like the Gods of Entropy and Apathy have taken notice of me and decided to teach me a little lesson.

I think I know what started it all. The Thursday before Thanksgiving I was in a minor car accident. Really minor – an inattentive driver rear-ended me. Fortunately, it was at a traffic light and I have one of those 5 mph bumpers. Though it felt like a lot more than 5 mph when he hit me, my car was fine – not even a scratch. I did, however, bang my right knee into the steering column. (I drive a stick shift.) That knee has been giving me some grief for a couple of months now, so it took me some time to realize that the new sharp pains came from the accident. There was no visible bruising or swelling, it just hurt like someone was repeatedly hitting me with a ball peen hammer. I thought I must have really messed it up somehow. It hurt to walk the dog and it was impossible to run. Weight lifting, with all the squats, got thrown out the window too. I could have done other things, but that’s when the vindictive nature of the Twin Gods of Little Movement struck.

We all know Newton’s First Law, right?

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

I seem to be at rest, but I want to be in motion. In order to change my state, I need some kind of force – a lever to pry me free of my inertia. With the holidays and rotten weather, I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors, much of it in front of screens. I decided it was time to get out in nature. I’m out walking the dog every day, of course, but I was feeling called to do something else.

I went for a walk in the woods.

I went on my lunch hour. It was dark, rainy, wet and cold. I was also inappropriately dressed, (since a muddy walk wasn’t my plan when I left for work that morning.) Fortunately I always keep a spare pair of walking shoes in the car. I was about 20 minutes in when I stopped to take a few photos, then walked a little further… and saw what nature wanted me to see: a pileated woodpecker. Many people see signs in every day things, like numbers or colors. I have a deep affection for birds. Some birds, of course, are particularly special. The pileated woodpecker is one of those. There he was, up in an old tree, proudly strutting his stuff.

Like me, my dad was also a bird lover. For many years I gave him books on birds and bird watching for Christmas, especially when he became sick and couldn’t read much anymore, but could still enjoy the pictures. He was amazed by the pileated woodpecker, and I remember him saying “Look at these huge woodpeckers! They are the size of a crow! I want to see one!”

As far as I know, he never did.

But I have, several times since he passed away. They are shy birds and usually found only in heavily wooded areas, like the areas up and around my cabin. Every time I see one, I think of him.

And perhaps that’s the message: Buck up, buttercup! Live large and follow your dreams. Life is a crazy thing, you can die of cancer at 59, so don’t waste it moping about – get out and do something. You’ll be glad you did.

Fair enough.

pileated woodpecker

 

Photo credit of the pileated woodpecker: Matt MacGillivray on flickr

Little Miss…

brokenI’ve been writing about the habits I’ve been trying to build and work towards and I know it can all sound a bit Pollyanna. I just want to say, it isn’t all perfect.

I have weeks when things are clicking along – when I’m doing what I want to do and feeling productive and in control. But there are also weeks like the last one – when everything is just a little off. Some goals I get close to, but miss. Others don’t even come close. I haven’t done my weight lifting or been for a run in weeks. I’ve been getting some sleep, but not enough. I’ve been spending money and I haven’t been meditating.

It happens. The trick is not to let it take over. The world gets crazy sometimes and you have to set some things aside. There are priorities and responsibilities that take precedence. Other times life just goes a little sideways for awhile. There’s no shame in not being perfect, in falling short of your goals, of having to do a half assed workout or eat fast food. However, once those habits slip, its a little tricky to pick them up again. It is not as easy as deciding to do them in the first place when you’re all wound up and full of “I can do this!” energy. Entropy is a nasty beastie.

I’m ready to let last week go and start fresh. I’m not going to beat myself up for what did, or didn’t happen. I’m also not going to let go of my goals. It’s time to just wipe the slate clean and get back at it.

I’m worth it.

 

Photo credit: Faruk Ates on flickr

Quiet Time

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

“Sitting still is a pain in the ass.”
Noah Levine (1971 – )

I’m trying to develop a practice of daily meditation. It’s another one of the habits I am tracking on Lift. I like to meditate after I work out and during the week on my lunch hours. Other times I meditate just before bed. I like guided meditations, I have an app that I like (Simply Being) and a couple of different podcasts, including some out of UCLA. I pick the meditation based on my mood and how much time I have, but typically I sit for 10-15 minutes.

I enjoy meditation because it gives me a chance to just be quiet and still for awhile. Thoughts come rushing in, but I can let them go for a bit and focus on a simple idea or just my breathing. I’m not looking to be a yogi or anything, all I want is to just have a few moments in every day of quiet. Occasionally I sit in lotus, but most often I don’t. (Especially when I’m sitting in my car during a lunch break. The steering wheel would get in the way!)

It’s a small thing, something I am doing for myself because I enjoy it. I think it is all part of a healthier me – physically and mentally.


For those of you interested in meditation, check out this article: How to be Uncomfortable about learning how to sit. It’s good stuff.

Photo credit: Adophie Borie: Girl Meditating, HumanSeeHumanDo on flickr

A Great Article on Meditation

Meditation Labyrinth by Nancy McClureAs you know, I am working on getting meditation back into my life on a daily basis. It just so happens that Dale Favier, a Message Therapist who has a blog that I follow, put up a great article last week about what to expect (and what not to) when starting meditation practice.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Confessions

[] The thing to bear in mind is that it isn’t sitting down and being quiet that has made you nuts. You were already nuts. Sitting down and being quiet has just given you the chance to notice that you’re nuts. Your mind is doing that all the time. All day, all night; a ceaseless fret of worry and desire, fantasies of the future and replays of the past, a constant evaluation of everything in terms of what it means about me. What does the fact that I’m sitting down to meditate mean about me? What does the fact that my mind won’t settle down mean about me? What does the fact that I’m worrying about what things mean about me mean about me? It rolls on that way, playing out as dream at night, playing out as “reality” in the daytime. []

If you have thought about meditation, you should pop over to his blog and read the whole thing, it’s a great article.

As for me, I am doing pretty good at getting back into practice. Mostly I meditate at night before bed, but I’m also experimenting with lunch hour breaks and after work outs. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Photo credit: Meditation Labyrinth by Nancy McClure on flickr