Looking Back: Peace

My word for 2014 was peace. I’m not sure what I had in mind when I picked it, and I don’t know if I can say that I “achieved” it over the past twelve months, but I definitely feel as though I live more of my life in a peaceful state than I did a year ago. What helped me get here?

YOGA. In March 2014, I started a 200 hour yoga teacher training program at my studio in North Carolina. Leading up to the training, everyone who had done it before told me it would change my life. I politely nodded to these folks, but didn’t expect the transformation that has manifested itself in every aspect of my life. Thanks to a daily asana (physical poses) practice, my body is healthy and strong, and my physical self-image is the most peaceful its ever been. But more than that, learning ancient yogic philosophy (some of which really resonates and some of which doesn’t), combined with growing awareness of and love for my physical body and a daily practice of devotion through breathing, chanting, and asana, has lowered the level of emotional reactivity on which I typically function and led to much more equanimity and peace in my daily existence. Drop (and break the dishes of) two quiches in the parking garage stairwell on the way to an office brunch? Oh well, better stop at Dunkin Donuts to have something else to bring. Possibility of a move to various far away locations based on spouse’s job? Just wait and see. These are just two (fairly trivial) examples of how I feel greater peace in my life. As a highly sensitive person, the level of emotional reactivity with which I have functioned throughout my life has been exhausting. I am so relieved that these yoga tools came into my life in 2014 in such a big way.

TIME. I blogged about our emotional move in October, and the peace that I now feel in our current home is certainly due to time. Having more distance in time from other challenges (my parents’ 2013 divorce, graduate school, rough spots in own my marriage) continues to be something that I can rely on to bring greater peace into my life. Not doing so well with something? In time it will be over; time will pass and the hurt will be less immediate and, almost certainly, less intense.

RELATIONSHIPS. Some relationships have been less peaceful this year, it’s true. But the vast majority of the people with whom I choose to interact, the contacts local and non-local that I keep, are a huge part of feeling peace in my life. Whenever an unsettling event happens, or work is shitty, or I need some perspective, I have it in the form of dear family and chosen family for whom I can reach. My deepest relationships always offer me peace in the midst of whatever other stuff is happening. I am so grateful for all of these people.

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2012 to 2013

My intention word for 2012 was breakthrough, which ended up being sort of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation.  2012 was definitely a breakthrough year for me, in both my personal life and professional path.  Hubs and I did serious work around money and intimacy in our relationship (with the help of our counselor), which was challenging, but largely positive.  Breaking through the heavy stuff sometimes feels good, but the breakthroughs related to my vocation have led me to feel uncertainty and fear.

Realizing that a postdoc is not right for me feels true and good, but it also leaves a void.  In not taking the traditional next step, I have to find a different next step and to commit, however temporarily, to another path.  I’ve avoided writing about it here because it’s so hard for me to cede one piece of control that I have, which is how much of myself I put out there.  By not sharing with the world, I get to stay safe.  If my plans don’t work out, only the people I’ve told in “real life” will know.  Even though I’ve told plenty of people in real life, they are mostly loved ones who seem to be proud no matter what.  This public blog feels somehow a bigger deal and I desperately want it to stay safe, happy, and fun.

Part of inviting joy, welcoming joy, yearning for joy, though, seems to involve a fair amount of choice.  I’ve been choosing lately to give in to anxious, unknown, and scary.  My intention word for 2013, therefore, is focus.  It works on a couple of levels:  1) I need to focus like crazy if I want to achieve what I’m planning for this year and 2) I always have a choice about what I choose to focus on, what I choose to lean into.

So this coming year, I will lean into to the difficulties that will inevitably come with pursuing a career as a science communicator.  As I work to complete my PhD, get our house ready to sell, and apply for internships, I will do my best to shift my focus away from fear.  Fear that leads me to delay experiments because I don’t want to know the outcome, to put off contacting people to interview for science stories, and to take three days to write this blog post.  In 2013, I am choosing joy over fear and focus is going to take me there.

Do you have an intention word for 2013?

Progress (a reflection on Creative Summer Camp)

When my friend, Jen, whom I have actually only met in real life twice, announced on her blog that she was starting an online Creative Summer Camp (CSC) under the umbrella of No is for Wimps, I jumped at the chance to be part of the testing group.  I am always looking for ways to bring creativity into my life – daily lab work seldom nurtures my creative side and I am usually happier when I’m planning a sewing project or making a gift.  As my CSC project, I decided to focus on picking up my French horn again (after a 5 year hiatus!) in the effort to have a creative thing that was doable over the six week course and sustainable in the long term.

I started out so strong in weeks 1-3 setting reasonable goals and following through, but then in weeks 4-5 hit a wall a little bit and so week 6 was about realizing why it happened.  I think that I have historically been much more of a project starter than a project finisher (half painted walls in my house, half knitted things of all varieties, a bottle of apple juice I have been meaning to ferment for cider for months), and CSC really made me think a lot about why that is.

I’m not sure I have any conclusions so far, but one thing that I get really hung up on is that if I’m not making huge leaps, it doesn’t really count as progress.  This way of thinking about it is very black and white and not the least bit helpful because it usually means that I start out really strong, get busy with other things, the progress slows down and then I feel like, “Why should I even bother with this thing?!”  What’s worse is that my rigidity can extend to other areas of my life (most notably my PhD and my marriage!) and seeing it revealed through the process of interacting with the CSC community has been a really big impetus for growth for me.

Two things that I’ll really take away from Camp are the importance of 1) making tiny, incremental, accomplishable goals and 2) remembering that just realizing that something needs to happen doesn’t mean that all of the roadblocks to it happening are just going to disappear (for more on this concept see Nick Crocker’s blog).  Tiny goals that I complete can still be crossed off the list; incremental progress is still progress.

finding my calling

Man, three months ago I was so convinced that I knew my life path.  Hubs would be a PI at a Research I, and I would be an inspiring and beautifully dressed biology professor at a small liberal arts college.  It would be easy to find two such jobs in geographic proximity, and to each put in the amount of time and emotional/intellectual energy necessary to each achieve tenure.  Also, we would lovingly and equally parent one or more adorable progeny, keep our house clean, and eat local veggies as a family every night.

Enter this semester of teaching that really felt like a burden, and the realization that I maybe am not a more-than-40-hour-a-week worker (if that!!).  I was so sure that the life of a professor was the life for me that to realize that I’m not actually that happy grading and mentoring all day long was a bit of a blow.  Couple this blow to the fact that the only way that I imagined myself fitting into the science world was as an educator, and you can see why I’ve been feeling a little drifty.

This unmoored feeling has set me on a path of finding my true calling.  We hear a lot about how awesome our lives will be, if we can only find work that we’re passionate about.  Really though, do we need our work to be what fulfills us?  Maybe our work is something that we do, something that we might really enjoy and take pride in, but it’s not necessarily the thing that defines us.  Maybe our work is something we do to pay the bills, and we find a way to do it that still lets us pursue our passion, our calling.  Maybe we get really lucky and our passion and our work are the same, but that doesn’t mean it goes that way for everyone or that it’s wrong if things don’t go that way for me.

There are so many things that I love, that I feel passionate about, that I feel called to do, but I can’t ever imagine defining myself in only one way.  I am not only ANYTHING.  Not a scientist, a yogi, a therapy dog owner, an artist, a backyard farmer, a duckherd, a writer, a teacher, a wife, a friend, a daughter, or a mother.  I hope I will at some point [or many points] be ALL of these, but, in all that I dream for my life, I don’t know that there’s room to ever be just one.

That lack of room means that I probably won’t be a scientist the way that academic science [as it currently operates] demands I be.  It also means that sometimes it’s hard for me to be immersed in who I am because I am so wrapped up in how to be a “passionate” scientist or wife or artist.  So for now, what do I do?  Keep beating myself up about not being super-passionate about one thing that can make us rich or fulfill someone else’s idea of what my a good life looks like?  Or maybe realize that who I am called to be is ALL these things and trust that the money will come, and the life path may not be what I envisioned (or what anyone envisioned), but that it’s going to be pretty darn great?  I try every day to choose the trust option, but it’s all kinds of hard to do.

Boundaries

When I was a camp counselor, it was common knowledge that the “soft” cabin counselors were less beloved by the kids.  In a co-counselor situation, the more strict counselor was always the favorite.  The kids, away from home and experiencing new and often challenging things, wanted security when they went back to their cabins, and reasonable rules, enforced fairly, helped them feel safe.

My therapist has been talking to me for ages about creating boundaries in my life.  Just like the kids at camp, boundaries made in relationships are a way of keeping oneself safe, so that no one gives too much of herself, gets lost in the relationship, or starts to feel resentful.

It took me a long time to understand enough to apply boundaries in my own life and (here’s the key) to do so without feeling guilty.  In spite of two close friendships starting to feel like a burden, making boundaries while maintaining contact (with the help of my therapist), and coming out of it all certain the friendship had deepened, I still didn’t buy it.  Cultural expectations exist (for women especially, I think) that we should sacrifice ourselves for others.  And not just sacrifice our time or energy, but in a lot of cases, our comfort and enjoyment.  Example:  I shouldn’t tell my friend (labmate, partner, boss, sibling, parent) that she’s driving me crazy because I need to be supportive and nurturing to her.  And not only should I not tell her, I also should continue to spend time with her, even though it really isn’t fun for me and in many cases makes me mad.

The solution to the above example is to make a boundary with the crazy-driving person that she doesn’t even need to know about.  Because the second key to making boundaries is that they are only for me.  To make the boundary, I play therapist in my head and ask myself, “What do I need to feel safe in the relationship?” or “What would help me feel less resentful?”  Usually the first answer that comes to mind is “if she would stop being so DAMN crazy-driving,” but then I have to ask myself the questions again with the emphasis on I and me because I am the one with the frustration and it’s me that needs to feel safer.

So I might work on adjusting my expectations (because expectations are a boundary in themselves) or I might decide that I need to see someone less often for a little while or when my extremely negative labmate brings up something else that is WRONG in his life, I might nod politely and say something positive or I might even go do an experiment (because let’s be honest I could always be doing more of those).

After a while of operating with this boundary in place, I probably notice that I don’t feel as resentful.  The drop off of resentment could be because my more realistic expectations are no longer being disappointed regularly or because what I really needed was a break.  But what’s even better is when I notice that the friend has made strides forward in her own life because I stopped enabling her negativity (or other toxic behavior).  Because the final key to making boundaries is that they help EVERYONE (just like the rules at camp).  Not only do they help me feel safe in the relationship, but the boundary helps the other person relax, too, because she can tell I’m not resentful any more or because she knows that whatever I was doing before that was really a lot of ask of a friend isn’t expected of her anymore.

So I finally bought in, and I don’t feel guilty making boundaries in my relationships.  Everything that I give now, I’m giving because it’s available within me to give.  (You might say I’ve had another breakthrough).

Breakthrough? (a reflection on 2012 so far)

On January 1, Husband and I did an exercise where I cut circles out of colored cardstock and then we wrote our vision for 2012 on them in each of five categories:  Him, Me, Us, Home, Money.  He wrote the vision for Him, I wrote the vision for Me and we wrote the vision for Us, Home, and Money together.  We taped them to the fridge, so they are VERY present in our everyday lives.  (Our counselor aptly calls it the “visioning fridge”).

Inspired by my very incredible sister-in-law, who before the end of 2011 chose a word to embody in 2012, and with the help of my Relationship Cards, I chose “breakthrough” and wrote it boldly in the middle of the Me circle.  Wishing and manifesting and visioning can all be tricky because the skeptic in me can never be sure whether I am more aware of things that are happening or whether more things are actually happening because of intention.  That said, here is a list of breakthrough-ish things that happened in January:

  1. I finally understood and did two yoga poses (in two separate classes) that have been a challenge since I started practicing regularly in November.
  2. I moved out of the serious science slump I have been in since Octoberish in one day last week.
  3. Hubs and I did serious emotional work on money in our relationship.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s in store for the rest of 2012.