Creating New Habits

I have been trying to live a more mindful life in the last year. It’s not something that I woke up one day and said to myself, “Self, you should be more mindful.” No, it was a way subtler shift than that. 

My mother died in February 2021. I had to double-check that since I am terrible with times and dates. The last two and half years are feeling like more like five. I have trouble sometimes remembering how old I am sometimes. But I blame my best friend partially for that since her birthday precedes mine by six months. For half a year, referring to us as whatever age she was, even if my birthday was still 4 or 5 months away.

Then there is how I think about birthdays in general: when you have a birthday, you have just completed that year. You just successfully finished living the 1st, 10th, 25th, 36th year…of your life and are about to embark on living the 2nd, 11th, 26th, 37th…When I explained this to Mark one day, he didn’t like my reasoning as sound and correct as it was. I just made him a year older. No, I didn’t – he and many others have been thinking about this all wrong.

New parents understand this initially as they watch their children go from hours to days to months old. “How old is your baby?” Three months becomes six months. But they don’t stop there. “How old is your baby? “Nineteen months old.” The answer is seldom “One and a half years old.” 

But all that has little to do with what I originally started talking about, which was trying to become more mindful. I was 56 when my mother died, and I felt very untethered. It was too much – my mind racing around with all sorts of things, too many things. Life had been so unsettling that I felt as if I was clinging to a boat on high seas, and the storm would not pass.

Mark is my anchor and my navigator. As an offshore sailor who has crewed on teams sailing from Newport to Bermuda, he understands life at sea and lived through calm waters that churned up in moments forcing him to hold on for dear life and try to navigate through the storms. His mind, too, races, and he also was looking for a way to be able to settle it.

Together we decided to try to create a new habit of meditating daily. Now we made a mindful decision right there but didn’t recognize it as our first step towards living a more conscious life. The app we use is Insight Timer. I’ve written about this app before, and I guess I just can’t say more about it since it has helped us so much. As well as the guided meditations, there are many talks and lecture series which you can also listen to.

Mark wanted to learn more about Taoism and Buddhism, so we listened to lectures like the Taoist Principles for a Prosperous Life and Practicing the Tao Te Ching by Solar Towler; Exploring the Basics of Buddhism and Exploring the Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism by Silas Day. We listened to The Power of Tao: Live a Life of Harmony & Balance by Olivia Rosewood, as well as Learning From The Masters by David Gendelman. Every morning before we sat for our meditation, Mark and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, eating breakfast, and listening to a session of one of the lecture series. For the most part, each session is no more than 10-25 minutes long but lasts 10 to 30 days. For 200 days, we listened and learned so much from these courses.

In my March 2022 post A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation, I talk more about Insight Timer and one of our favorite teachers, David Ji and the courses we took of his that we found to be so incredibly helpful. It was in his Forty Days to Transformation course which delivered a transformation in us – solidifying our new habit of mediation. I won’t repeat myself more than I have here in this post; just suffice it to say that I will forever be grateful that we took that course.

With mindfulness, I have discovered that I am consciously becoming a more grateful person. In the past, I took many things for granted. Perhaps age has something to do with that. We tend to be young and naive – we don’t know any better since we are newbies to experiencing life. Some people learn that lesson earlier than others, and some never learn the lesson. When choosing to live a mindful life, you don’t take things for granted. You live in the present moment, understanding that the past is done and the future isn’t something to waste your time worrying over in the present. You do that, and you miss what’s happening here and now.

Our cell phones and laptops have distracted us from being present. I have become increasingly aware of this and purposefully try to limit my time on these devices. Today’s children spend way too much time playing on their phones and devices – and our parents worried the TV would make us a bunch of couch potatoes! Which it did. No mindfulness is going on when you are staring into these electronic opiates. Which is precisely what they are and were designed to do.

I am glad I have adult-aged children who benefited from running around in the woods and spending time in the woods camping or on a mountain skiing. It’s not to say that my son didn’t have his video gaming phase. Call of Duty was his game of choice that he and the Cavemen played. The Cavemen are his friends and were so called when they dubbed my basement The Cave and spent as many nonschool nights overnight in the Cave as they did in their own houses. If I were raising a child in this day and age, it would be very different and challenging. Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be handing out video games, laptops and cell phones. I would probably also be homeschooling as well. But that’s for another blog post. I’d like to think that at this point, we would have a much more mindful approach than we did in the past.

In being more mindful, I have been able to set more goals for myself and achieve them. For the last few years, I have been active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which has you set a reading goal for yourself. I always wanted to be a reader. I was a very slow reader in school and didn’t enjoy reading then. They always told me I needed to practice, practice, practice. I just wish there had been audiobooks around then. If it weren’t for the audiobooks, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my lofty reading goal, which I set for the age I will be at the end of the year – 58 this year. So far, I am thirty-seven books in, three of which were physical hardback books!

The other goal that I set for myself was to write and publish a book. I am happy to say that in the last two years I have been working very purposefully on achieving this goal and seeing it through fruition. I would not have been able to do this without all that I have learned about mindfulness in this last year and half. In many of the guided mediations I have listen to in the last 446 days, many of the instructors have you plant a seed of intention. At first when I listened and was instructed to do this, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish I didn’t know what to focus on. I have many seeds in my bag to plant. I settled on one of the seeds that I had been holding onto the longest. And that was to write and publish my book.

Currently my book is in the hands of a publisher and it will be published. Thanks to the seed of intention that I planted, focused on and fertilized. I don’t know where this mindfulness and meditation will ultimately lead me. I am just focusing on the present moment, and presently I must start the laundry and get back to selecting photos that are going into the book. Namaste.

The Only Constant is Change

It’s mid June and the summer will be officially beginning next week. It’s one of the subtler shifts of seasons. Spring to summer is not as dramatic as the other shifts in seasons. Summer’s shift into fall greets us with crisp cooling winds and the leaves shift from greens to reds, oranges, yellows and browns. We switch our wardrobes, putting away the spring/summer clothes and start bringing out the leather boots and suede jackets. From fall to winter the landscape features changes even more dramatically as the trees shed their leaves and we are left with their mere silhouettes. Our heavier wardrobe comes front and center – coats, gloves, hats and scarves. Mother Nature gessoes her canvas with snow and ice. Winter into spring is one of the most dramatic shifts as we all thaw and watch with amazement Mother Nature begin to paint the barren landscape with fresh colors of a new season.

As the days fly by, my body seems to constantly change. An old ache here, a new ache there. Last summer I dropped 20 pounds, only to gain it all back by the end of the year. I made the mistake of buying myself smaller pants as I was losing the weight, vowing that this would be the last time I was a size 14. I’m back in my size 14 pants. Buying the 12s was fine but I tempted the weighty gods too much when I bought myself the 10s.

I’m 57 and my body continues to change as I age. I’m not yet in menopause but I have been experiencing night sweats since July 2011. I remember it well since I away with my kids looking at colleges. I had borrowed a t-shirt from my then new boyfriend (we are still together 11 years later) to have with me while I was traveling that I used as a night shirt. I remember at first thinking it might be the shirt because it had a Bob Marley graphic on it and the plastic stuff that made of the graphic I thought might be causing me to sweat. No such luck, it wasn’t the shirt. Just the first of what would eventually be many nights I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold from the soaking wet front of the my nightshirt.

I understand that it maybe easier to regulate my body temperature if I slept in the nude. According to WellandGood.com “Sleeping naked can also be beneficial for women experiencing menopause. “Hot flashes and night sweats can [wake] women up several times a night,” says Jodie Horton, MD, chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness, a women’s wellness and personal care products brand. Sleeping naked can help alleviate the not-so-fun symptoms of hot flashes.”

I slept naked for a while (although Mark would say it was for just a little bit). When the kids would come to visit I would wear a nightshirt. I raised two kids by myself, a single mom doesn’t sleep naked. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of sleeping naked in winter when it’s freezing cold. It seemed ridiculous so I fell out of the habit. Now from time to to I think maybe I should try to give it another shot.

One of the big changes that I was able to make for myself was in creating a new habit. I am trying to be more mindful in every aspect of my life. To make something a habit, I have read that you need to do whatever it is that you are trying to make that new habit for three weeks straight, And then keep going. I have been mediating daily for over a year now. I has helped give me tools to use when I get anxious. That’s another change I have been facing more recently – increased anxiety.

My anxiety increased yesterday when we discovered Mark has COVID. SO now after being so cautious and careful for the last two years, it’s here in our house. I feel like I now waiting for it to be my turn. He arrived home from a weekend away for a family funeral which required him to have to fly to Chicago. Who knows if it was the plane rides, was it on the way out? on the way back? Was it while he was with his family? I will never know the answer to these questions and it doesn’t really matter at this point. If I am going to get it, I am going to get it. He came home Sunday and today is Friday and he just started feeling shitty yesterday. So if I am going to get it I guess I may present symptoms this weekend? Breathe and stay in the present moment Xine ! Don’t let your mind go wildly off into tangents that may freak you the fuck out but never happen. Breathe.

Thankfully he is feeling better today than he was yesterday. He never gets sick so seeing not feel well is tough. I pray each day he gets stronger and we can continue on with our summer. We don’t have any plans to speak of really. We just want to enjoy working in our gardens, playing with the dogs, puttering around on the boat and enjoying one another’s company. I am so thankful for his presence in my life and the life that we share together. I am truly blessed. Which is probably why I feel like something is going to go wrong, something is going to change.

The summer solstice is approaching, sunset is now as late as 8:31pm here where I live. The irises are all in bloom, the wind is blowing in from the south right now. It’s 79ºF at 6:18pm and the barometer is dropping like a stone. The weather is changing – again. What is they say about New England? If you don’t like the weather just wait 5 minutes. I think they say this about everywhere.

When it comes to changes I try to remind myself that change can be good. Things can get stale and stagnant when there is no change at all. We change as people, not just outwardly in our physical appearance as we age – although that’s a biggie. I find I am in a minority when it comes to women my age. Many people just assume that I have already gone into menopause and are shocked if they find out otherwise. My mother was 60, she told me when she finally had her final period. It caught her off guard since she hadn’t been bleeding regularly and it had been some time, enough time that she thought she was done. Of course she was out when it decided to show up for the party one last time. She had been wearing a yellow dress and was at my brother’s graduation. Ironically she had been wearing a yellow dress the first day she got her period too. A terrifying day for her since – she had literally no idea what had just happened. She was at school and had to wear a sweater tied around her waist for the rest of the day.

At the graduation, my mother had a backup of sorts. It was my skirt that I was wearing. We had driven up for the day so we had no luggage to dive into for spare clothing. So I had to wear a pair of my brother’s pants which I literally had to hold up with my hand because his belt didn’t fit me either. What can you do? You just have to go with the flow?

One last change: Mark’s fever is back up

A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation

A little over a year ago my mother died and about a year ago I started a new habit of daily meditation. After my mother’s death, I felt untethered and my mind was overwhelmed with emotions, feeling, questions and thoughts. I needed to regain some control. There are so many things in life that we can’t control. When I get upset, I clean. It’s the one thing I can control when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

I write in a journal on a daily basis and have for well over a decade and have diaries that date back to 1980! Writing is a form of meditation for me – a download of thoughts and emotions. I found this to be incredibly helpful for me to proceed with my days having dumped out whatever was on my mind earlier that morning on paper. Unlike right now where I am typing this article directly into my computer; my diary is handwritten. I love the feeling of pen to paper. I find that therapeutic in of itself. However, I needed some tools in my tool belt to be able to help calm me down sometimes for when sitting down with pen and paper is not an option.

Many years ago when my life was spiraling out of control, I started having panic attacks. So I turned to meditation. I started a little each morning here and there. That was about 7 years ago now. I had been meditating on and off for many years but never every day as I have in the last 346 consecutive days (and counting). I have meditated 577 days using my Insight Timer app over the course of all those years.

I like the Insight Timer app since you can learn to meditate through the app which offers a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths and focuses. I have listened to a number of talks and lectures about Buddhism, Taoism and more. I have used their app at bedtime at times when I need a guided meditation to help me drop off to sleep. They even have bedtime tales you can choose from – one night I fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit read to me. By the way, I don’t get anything from them to talk about them. I just really have enjoyed using their app.

I enjoy the way Insight Timer is set up allowing for searching by topics such as Affirmations, Chakras, Mantra, Mindfulness, Pranayama, Vipassana, Walking Mediations and Zen. Both Zazen and Kōan. If you want to use their timer feature to create your own customized meditation timer with the ability to use starting, interim and ending bells, chimes, gongs, or nothing at all. You can set background music or sounds or mediate in silence. You set the time and can save your presets. They make everything quite easy for you.

You can also save your favorites and can follow teachers that you like. They encourage you to donate to the teachers and make that easy for you to do charging it to your Apple Pay account. The teachers are from all over the world.

After so long by far one of our favorite teachers has become DavidJi from Los Angeles, CA. He offers a number of courses and we have taken three of the four of them that he offers on the Insight Timer. Mark and I dove into The 40 Days of Transformation where he guided us through meditations, intention setting, yoga philosophy, pranayama and so much more.

We were hooked after completing the forty days and followed it up with his course 30 Day Journey to Rebirth. We have also done his Awaken The Sacred Power of Shakti this year and plan on taking The Healing Sessions: Freeing Your Soul Through The Second Meditation of the Day.

Early on, we took the Masterclass –Mindfulness and Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn. This was an extremely helpful class to take which broke down a lot of questions that we had about mediation and ways to do it, what it was all about, etc… Soon after finishing that class I bought Mark and I both proper mediation cushions and pillows to ensure that, as David Ji says “Comfort is Queen and feather your nest” so that you can be still during your mediation practice. It’s amazing the difference the right set up can make which will allow me to sit still and “drop in” to meditation for 30 minutes or more. Sometimes without moving at all. Other times, I may have to stretch a leg to regain circulation.

I have found that this new habit is addictive and I will do what I need to protect my precious time to sit on the cushion, although sometimes I will be laying down, using on my acupressure mat or on some ice packs for the time. It has opened a door up to so many other doors. Mark and I find ourselves exploring Buddhism, Taoism, Collective Consciousness just to begin with.

I have learned a few things about myself and what I am capable of. I have found that I have a calmness within that I am able to tap into when things around me start to get crazy. Mark and I have started to introduce Tai Chi into our lives. Although it is not a daily practice yet but that is our goal to incorporate it into our daily practice. I look forward to this continued journey of discovery.

Namaste.

A Letter to Myself

Dear Christine,

Today you stepped up to the plate when you had to and overcame a fear. You learned a new skill that will serve you well in the future. Proving to yourself that you can keep on learning new things no matter your age – you just have to want to learn. You knew if was a possibility, even before Mark left. You finally got behind the wheel of the truck and learned to plow. You had to, no one else was going to do it and deliveries were on the way. And if you are going to live up here on this mountain for a good long time, you can’t depend on someone else to always be there to do certain things, like plow.

our double black diamond driveway

These days have been so difficult and trying on everyone. Just processing the pandemic and what these means for our world, our country, our family, the kids, Mark and I. Everything will change. You know that — just like you did the morning of September 11th. You watched the people come off the train, covered in ash, looking like zombies. Shock. We were all in shock. Your birth home – the place where you were born and raised – attacked. Life would never be the same. Just like now.

Looking back – hindsight 20-20 – you see the evolution of how how your journey to New Hampshire evolved. Two pivotal moments that lead you to your change in life and career and eventual move to new Hampshire: 9/11 and Shannon’s death. You are forever changed when you watch a young, smart, beautiful 21 year old girl die before your eyes. The memory branded into your memory, your heart and soul forever. Rocking you off your axis.

Your days as a research analyst, all those years ago when you covered food, agribusiness and water sectors taught you so much. It made you think twice about what was actually important. Lately you been having flashbacks to the days of SARS when you kept tallies on the victims and the survivors. You put Clorox into the portfolio then and kept it there – knowing that there would be another virus that would possibly occur and go global. Bleach is good – everyone uses bleach during a pandemic outbreak. You always loved their commercials too with that comedian lady that you never remember her name – so funny.

But those days back in the office – oh so long ago, was not your dream but someone else’s. Thank you Dennis Hopper. Thank you for helping me reach that epiphany. Check out my past blog post Dennis Hopper Kick off My Mid-Life Crisis – part 1 which explains this more in detail.

You started growing your own food. You started your business with Homegrown Harvest because of what you learned all those years reading about Monsanto and syngenta and others and decided to help other people learn to grow their own food. Learned how we destroyed our farmlands and use water so inefficiently. You know how important it is to have food security especially in this ever evolving world where food contamination has become a regular occurrence. Romaine and spinach pulled from grocery store shelves.

Right now it’s another one of those watershed moments in history. You know it’s time to readjust – adapt to the new reality, the new normal whatever that may be. You know you need to be flexible and bob and weave hen you need to. You will get through this. We will get through this. The greens are growing in the Tower Gardens and their are crops growing under the cold frames. Now if the snow would melt and the sun warm the earth we can continue to start growing more. For now, we will just work with the Tower Gardens.

Our Tower Garden

Enjoy your day. Relax now and sit back and look at the pretty snow. Winter’s last hurrah. Your back hurts a little, probably from the bumpy road and your nerves. But your did it! So you can relax – or what passes for relaxing during a pandemic. Put some CBD on your back.

We’ve started our self quarantine. Yesterday the last day going to the post office or grocery store. no need to go out any more. You have what you need for more than a month if you had to. Benefits of being on the mountain, you’ve been in training for this for four years now. Thank god you got the side of beef in the freezer back in January. Now all you have to do is manage the multiple personalities in the house. Can’t I go back and just do the driveway?

We haven’t all lived together under the same roof in 8 years. And never in this house. This wasn’t set up for that sort of close living – weekends sure, holidays – ok. Pandemics. Umm, not so much. Especially when everyone is used to having their own space. It’s not easy listening to two grown adult children snipe at one another like when they were teenagers. Funny how families fall back into old roles despite years of personal growth on their own. But they are working on bettering their communication, trying to use the period of quarantine to better themselves. Break old habits and form new ones.

Pour yourself a tall one, you deserve it, now go rest. There will be more to deal with – like everyday life which keeps moving on.

Your very best friend, Christine

This is my letter to myself for the writing prompt – Let’s Write Letters