How is wifi like an epidural? (Habit Experiment Check-In, Week 3)

When I was pregnant with my daughter I would think about my desire to birth without pain medication and couldn’t figure out why so many women had trouble refusing it. The way I envisioned it, the hospital staff would say, “Do you want an epidural?” and I would say, “No, thank you.”

In retrospect, I was a bit naive. I figured this out myself during eight hours confined to a hospital bed with an ever-increasing pitocin drip.

It was way easier to avoid pain meds when I birthed my second child at home where there wasn’t an anaesthesiologist on call. (Replacing the pitocin with a big birth tub also helped.)

Sure, avoiding the internet isn’t really in the same ballpark as avoiding an epidural, but there are similarities. Just as it was easier to avoid pain meds when they weren’t available, it was much easier to avoid the internet when we were spending each day in Boston and didn’t have access to it. (Replacing grammar lessons with carousel rides also helped.)

At home, I lose all resolve. The laptop sits there, beckoning me. “Come on over, Charity,” it says. “You can just look for a few minutes while the kids are occupied. See what your West Coast friends are up to. Click on a link or two. You can totally read that incendiary post and ignore the comments.”

Really, it’s not the laptop’s fault. People tell me that all I need is a little self-control, and I admit, they are totally right (and also kind of jerks). I actually have a fair amount of self-control, it’s just not limitless. I can’t have a bag of potato chips in the house without consuming the whole damned thing, and maybe I can’t have an internet connection without losing myself in it.

I either need to unplug the wifi, or I need to find the secret to ignoring my yen for looking at pictures of the babies of people I’ve never met and finding out what my “old person” name should be (it’s Gladys, in case you were wondering).

Maybe the secret is replacing the habit with something else. Maybe a lap around the house or a glass of water or ten jumping jacks. Maybe I should get myself a birth tub and take a dip every time I feel like refreshing my e-mail unnecessarily.

I’ll figure something out. Maybe next week.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Evading the Still, Small Voice Within

This first week of mindful internet use has been moderately enlightening.

Some of my insights so far:

- When I was away from my computer, I didn’t feel a pull to check my e-mail and social media. I assumed that I would still feel the desire even though I have no internet-enabled mobile devices, but that wasn’t the case (at least not for this week).

- According to the log I kept, I felt compelled to hit refresh mainly in two situations: when I felt bored and when I felt frustrated (or otherwise emotionally charged).

- I felt a huge pull to hit refresh in the hours after I published a blog post or put something on Facebook; I just really wanted to see if people “liked” what I had to say. This one was not a surprise.

The biggest surprise this week was how strong the pull was. The strength of the compulsion was reminiscent of my long-ago days of quitting smoking; I had no idea the pull to hit refresh was anywhere near as strong as the jones for a cigarette.

Most times the compulsion faded by the time I got done logging it in my notebook. Sometimes when it still lingered I would find something else to occupy myself—I’d pick up a book or start some laundry or write out some Latin vocabulary flash cards. I also found myself digging into the peanut butter jar with a spoon rather more frequently than usual.

When distracting myself didn’t work, I tried to just be still and quiet, and that’s when I noticed the fear underlying the compulsion.

Each time I felt compelled to open my laptop, I was looking to escape. I was looking to escape my kids or my emotional discomfort. I was looking to escape my own thoughts and feelings.

It was when I was quiet that I felt this most distinctly. I didn’t want to journal. I didn’t want to be quiet. I just wanted to get away from whatever it was that was trying to bubble up in my mind.

In her book Writing to Wake the Soul, Karen Hering writes:

“Each time we turn to our email inbox or our smartphones for the next newsfeed or text message, we are tuning out and turning away from our inner voice and the conversations we might have with it.”

Feeling bored when I’m with my kids is one of my most persistent mothering fears. It’s been present since before my daughter was born. For some reason, I’ve always associated feeling bored with my kids as a sign that I’m not suited to the life of intensive parenting that I’ve chosen.

This thought is not logical, but knowing that doesn’t make it go away. I can’t think my way out of it, so when I feel it, I try to escape it. Same with the frustration and other strong emotions. There’s this sense that there is something else under the surface, and I feel nervous that if I let that thing up, it’s going to reveal something that is going to necessitate some change that I don’t really want to make.

What’s strange is that I don’t really think there’s a huge, earth-shattering revelation there. I have a feeling that the biggest revelation would be that I could feel bored, frustrated, or otherwise upset and I could be okay just feeling that way. I’m not sure why that’s so scary, but it is. And so I turn to the internet as a very convenient way to avoid feeling that fear.

It’s been funny this week to watch myself do things to avoid feeling the compulsion to hit refresh. Usually I’m fighting tooth and nail for “alone time” on the weekends, which means enjoying a quiet house while my spouse and kids galavant. This weekend, however, I was tagging along with the rest of my family on all of their outings. I watched three movies, including my first theater movie since before we left Utah more than three years ago. I started going to bed earlier (not super-early, but by 10:30 most nights).

And for this week, I have the kids’ and my schedule packed with adventures away from the house. I am so excited to be with them without my laptop looming in the corner! I know it’s only postponing the inevitable—I have to come home sometime, and I expect my compulsion will be waiting for me when I get here.

But maybe after a break I’ll feel a little more ready to hear what that small voice has to say.

Smashing Assumptions

Flute PracticeMy children’s flute teacher retired from teaching last month, and the process of finding a new flute teacher has been fraught. Their relationship with their teacher was so close, the thought of replacing her feels wrong, like we’re reducing our relationship to the mere pragmatics of finding someone to teach the mechanics of playing the flute when it was so much more.

“It’s like trying to find a new brother, or another parent,” my daughter says.

My son is reluctantly willing to play for prospective teachers, but insists he doesn’t want anyone but the teacher he’s known since he was eighteen months old to teach him.

The depth of my children’s connection doesn’t particularly surprise me, but the lessons I’m learning from this process are not the ones I expected. My daughter is quite advanced in her flute playing, so we’ve been focusing primarily on the obvious hard-hitters of the eastern Massachusetts flute scene, which are numerous but often a significant distance from where we live.

During this process, I learned that a fellow homeschooling mom is a piano and flute teacher, and she teaches right here in town. After I spoke with her, I decided we’d consider her for flute for my son or piano for both kids, but I thought she wasn’t high enough caliber to be my daughter’s flute teacher. This might be true, but when I went over my reasons for this assumption, I was really surprised with myself.

Here was a teacher with similar credentials, experience, and mentors as the other teachers we’re interviewing, but I put her at the bottom of the stack because she’s a homeschooling mom.

Like me.

That was a shock. It’s quite possible that this teacher will not be a match for my daughter, but I shouldn’t dismiss her because she’s a mother and a homeschooler. Here I am spending conscious effort every day to change the negative perceptions people have of stay-at-home parents, and I’m applying the same stereotypes I’m trying to fight.

I’m trying to see how positive it is that I even recognized this latent assumption and how it colors how I perceive other women, but at the moment, I’m just ashamed and very, very sad.

What does this say about how I think of myself? Why am I engaging in such self-defeating thinking? I’ve internalized the messages of our culture, that by choosing to focus on motherhood and put career well down on my list of priorities, I’ve relinquished my claim on any expertise I might have. What would the nineteen-year-old me sitting and steaming in Women’s Studies classes think?

How many times have I dismissed fellow mothers and not even realized it? How many other assumptions and biases influence my perceptions every day?

I’m trying—trying—to feel hopeful that this awareness will help me get better at seeing people for who they are in the future, instead of blindly following my biases. I’m starting by scheduling trial flute lessons for my daughter with the homeschooling mom flute teacher. If she’s not a match, she’s not a match, but I won’t be writing her off simply because she’s chosen a path similar to mine.

Introducing: The Habit Experiment

I love routines. I thrive on routines. I could never leave the house without routines.

I also have a lot of trouble developing routines.

Every day, I think, “If only I could make X a habit*, things would be so much easier. I’d have less stress, more energy, and just in general feel happier and more relaxed.”

This is what I tell myself, but is it really true? I don’t know because the first hurdle on the road to habit acquisition is so high, I rarely actually follow through, and if I do, I don’t follow through well enough to form a habit.

So, I’ve decided to change that.

Continue reading

Classic Imperfect Happiness: Mining Meaning

Lately I’ve been thinking even more than usual about what it is I’m passionate about. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this, but it turns out I already did, way back in December 2010.

I’ve changed a bit since then; for example, with the help of one particularly understanding friend, I’ve made great progress sloughing off judgmental thoughts about other people’s birth choices. She helped me discover that, although we made essentially opposite choices about birth, we made our choices from a very similar emotional place. I thank her for opening up that empathy in me.

I also think I’ve gotten a little better at crafting a non-wandering blog post, and I no longer obsess about blog stats. But aside from these changes, I think I could have written this post today and had it turn out pretty much the same. (Note: I couldn’t resist editing the original post slightly, just for style, though, not content.)

Just last night, I sat on the sofa wondering what it is I’m passionate about. I don’t have cable, so while this isn’t an uncommon pastime for me, I usually distract myself with a novel before I get too involved in an ultimately frustrating thought process. Then this morning I read Tucker’s post, “Who Am I?” which, aside from the references to sailing, I think I could have written. Continue reading

Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thích Nhất Hạnh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I attended a women’s retreat. At the retreat center, they had these little cards up all over the building with these great little meditations on daily living. All day, the meditations prompted me to pause and reflect as I washed my hands or looked in the mirror or took a step outside the front door. I loved the feeling of calm they facilitated.

My friend and I asked the women in charge of the retreat center where the cards were from, and they said they were Thich Nhat Hanh meditations, but the cards were out of print. Through the magic of the internet, I found out the meditations were from Present Moment Wonderful Moment and managed to find two sets of the cards and a copy of the book. I gifted one set of the cards to my friend and kept the other set intending to put them up around my house. But when my eight-year-old daughter saw the book, she independently suggested that we make pretty, hand-written cards to put up around the house. So we did.

One afternoon, we used a paper cutter and some pretty card stock my daughter got as a gift a couple of years ago and made eight cards, four for her and four for me, to put up around the house. We each have the Waking Up meditation by our beds, and I have the Ending Your Day one by my bed, as well. She has the Opening the Window on her bedroom window, the blinds of which she opens every morning first thing so she can look outside and read her meditation. We also have the Washing Your Hands, Looking in the Mirror, and Brushing Your Teeth meditations on our bathroom mirrors. We are enjoying them so much, we plan to make more.

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It’s apparent that we need to investigate other gluing options for the silver paper, but even with their imperfections, I like our little cards.

This is a gem of a book, and I love how it’s brought these moments of mindfulness to our days. I don’t know if it’s directly attributable to the book, but since we put up the meditations, my daughter has been joining me for a short sitting meditation every morning. It’s such a lovely way to start our day! (And our cat Owen must think so, too. Every morning he climbs into my daughter’s lap and offers her a purring meditation.)

The only thing missing from this book is a meditation for when my kids are squabbling over something that seems incredibly tiny to me.

View all my reviews

Guest Post: This I Believe

My friend Linda always has something to say that simply and deeply speaks to my heart, so I was thrilled when she agreed to guest post on Imperfect Happiness this week. I hope you find her words as powerful as I do. If you do, please let her know in the comments.

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My husband and I married when we were both in our forties, and as we say in Texas, it wasn’t our first rodeo. We invited our families to participate, and when the minister asked: “Who gives this man?” we laughed out loud when Rad’s family loudly—and in unison—proclaimed: “We do. As is. No returns.”100_3035

I’m a Virgo, born under a new moon when Mercury was in retrograde. (I have no idea what any of that means.) I’m left-handed and an introvert. I have a strong family history of heart disease. I’m 5 feet 8 inches tall and have green eyes and used to be a brunette. I tend to be anxious and sometimes suffer from agoraphobia and panic disorder. I was labeled “too sensitive” as a child because I cared and felt deeply. I used to think I had to be perfect to be loved. I’m often in physical pain. I’m a decent, kind and caring person. I have a good sense of humor, and have always had a strong sense of justice. And I have an endless list of likes and dislikes.

I did not make myself up. I am a product of genetics, culture, society, my family, and every single experience I’ve ever had, including my interactions with all of you. I am an extraordinarily ordinary human, always changing, evolving.

Here I am: as is.

This isn’t a theological reflection but it is a deeply spiritual one for me. After participating in a mindfulness program a few years ago, I began the practice of moment-to-moment awareness – well, at least some of the time.

As I practiced this present moment awareness, I noticed there was a constant litany going on in my head. “Why did you say that?” “You should be ashamed for thinking THAT.” “I can’t believe you’re so clumsy.” “You forgot again?” “Yikes, look at that jiggly belly!”

A few months ago I was invited to add the practice of accepting myself as is to my daily meditation. “May I accept myself as I am,” I say silently to myself. In the beginning I would often sit with tears running down my face; I sometimes still do.

As is.

I can stop trying so hard. I can stop worrying about what other people think. I can relax. I can try new things and not be perfect. I can say: “no, that’s not for me.” I can be happy now, not when.

The wonderful thing about this practice is that it’s about possibility and intention. I might not always accept myself as is, but I want to; it’s difficult when I’m feeling shame or fear or anger or pain. I love the story from the mindfulness teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, who tells of a woman, who when asked how she’s doing always answers: I couldn’t be better. Isn’t it true, Sylvia says, if we could be better, wouldn’t we?

When I accept myself as is, I’m better able to discern those things that I might be able to change. For example, I might still feel angry with the driver who just scared me to death when he turned left in front of me, but I don’t have to simultaneously honk, shout obscenities, and make obscene gestures. And I can also notice those things that I want to change, and try as I might, I will never change. I will likely always be prone to anxiety and startle easily. I flush beet red with shame when I make a mistake and hate admitting that I’m wrong. I will likely always have back pain.

A fortuitous by-product of this practice of self-compassion is that I find myself being even more compassionate and accepting of others just as they are, right here and right now.

So this is what I believe: I am an extraordinarily ordinary human, always changing, always evolving, and by practicing self-compassion, I am better able to love and accept myself and others.

Here I am: as is.

May we all accept ourselves as is, no returns.

Still More Grocery Store Lessons: Who Deserves Compassion?

I’ve written about my realization that feeling a sense of scarcity and like the world owes me something is a choice and that I can choose to feel differently. I’ve written about how much better showing compassion feels than feeling annoyed does. Now I come to the third thought that’s been percolating since my grocery store trip the other day:

Who deserves compassion? Continue reading

More Lessons in Compassion at the Grocery Store

I mentioned in yesterday’s post a recent trip to the grocery store, but I only told the middle of the story. Here’s how it began:

So, we’d managed to make it to the checkout line with only a few more items than were on the list and with me still on speaking terms with both of my children. I pushed my cart up to the conveyor belt as best I could and began unloading groceries. My son was enthusiastic about helping that day but is too short to reach into the cart with his three-year-old arms, so I would hand him an item and he would put it up on the belt while I rushed to put up five more items before he toddled back to the cart for something else.

I had just handed him a box of instant oatmeal and turned back to grab a few more things when I heard the man in the next line over say, “Oh, no,” in a grave voice. I turned to see my son sprawled on the floor holding his ear, the man bent over him saying, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry.” Continue reading

Self-Compassion: How Thinking About Bad Experiences Can Make You Happier and More Compassionate

Welcome to the March Mindful Mama Carnival: Mindful Mama Challenge

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have challenges they’ve set for themselves toward becoming more mindful. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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There was a show on NPR a few months ago about an anonymous person who left $100 at a coffee shop and said that it was to cover coffee and treats for anyone who came in after her for however long it lasted. The owner of the coffee shop talked about the positive effects of this generous act, including how it’s inspired other customers to do the same thing. The owner suggested that if we practice random acts of kindness, like paying for someone’s tank of gas as well as our own next time we’re at the pump, we can increase the overall level of compassion in the world.

My first thought: Wow. What a great idea!

My second thought: But wait…what if the person in the car you just filled with gas is a murderer and needed a full tank of gas to carry out his plans? Or what if he’s getting ready to kidnap his child? How do I know I’m helping the right person?

I often let this kind of fear prevent me from compassionate action. I have identified three categories of reaction that keep me from generosity:

1) Fear of helping the wrong person. This is the one I described above. Along with this is a fear of being taken advantage of. I don’t think this is an unrealistic fear. I mean, Elizabeth Smart’s parents tried to help out a fellow who was down on his luck, and look what happened to their family.

2) Fear of negative judgment from the person I’m helping. Usually what I imagine they’d say is, “What a weirdo!” or “How dare she presume to know what I need!” or, along similar lines, “This [whatever item I've given to them] isn’t useful to me at all. What a pain in the butt that I have to get rid of this thing I don’t want on top of everything else I’m dealing with!”

3) A sense of scarcity. “What if I give too much and don’t have enough left for my own needs?” This is the one that comes up most often when I’m trying to decide how much money to pledge to my church, but I also get it when I think about volunteering my time. What if I make a commitment and then find it’s too much to give?

And then when I let these fears keep me from compassionate action, I feel ashamed and guilty, which, I’ve found, doesn’t inspire greater compassion. Apparently this is consistent with what a number of scientists have found, too (not with me, but with other people, but I assume the results could be extrapolated to me).

When I did my yoga teacher training, one of my instructors was Kelly McGonigal. At the time, she was finishing up her Ph.D. Since then she’s been very busy. She’s been pretty hot lately on NPR and on the Today Show and various other places for her book about willpower (The Willpower Instinct) and for her book about yoga and chronic pain (Yoga for Pain Relief). At the time, she struck me as a very self-confident yet compassionate person. Her yoga practice was beautiful and seemingly effortless. And she cut her own hair, which is, to me, the pinnacle of self-assuredness and not being afraid of what others think. I found her fascinating, but I also felt intimidated by her confidence in herself. She’s one of those people who inspire a recording of Wayne and Garth saying, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” to start playing in my head. But then, I felt pretty much out of my league during the entirety of the teacher training.

At any rate, I’ve been checking out Kelly’s blog and her interviews off and on since she started appearing on the national stage, and I recently watched a video on her blog about the benefits of self-compassion. If you want to check it out, you can find it HERE. It’s thirteen minutes long, and the sound is a little echo-y, but it’s well worth the time.

One of the things that she said particularly struck me. She said that lack of self-compassion is associated with a fear of being compassionate to others. Specifically, people who were lacking in self-compassion were more likely to agree with the statement, “People will take advantage of me if I’m too compassionate.”

Hmm. Yes, that sounds somewhat familiar.

People lacking in self-compassion were also more likely to engage in negative self-criticism and unhealthy perfectionism, and to experience shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

Yes, [clears throat] also somewhat familiar.

McGonigal then briefly outlined a practice that was used in self-compassion studies and which appears to correlate with positive outcomes, including reduced procrastination, reduced anger, better resilience after a setback, and increased happiness compared to a daily practice of self-criticism and guilt.

I could really get into these kinds of positive outcomes.

I admit, self-compassion seems really, really corny to me. But I’m at an age where I’m starting to realize that if I don’t get moving on making changes and accomplishing great (-ish) things, I’m not going to have the chance to do that kind of thing, at least not in this lifetime. So, I’m going to give this self-compassion thing a try.

As part of the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival, I’m going to do the self-compassion daily journaling practice McGonigal describes in her presentation every day for one week. Basically, I’ll journal (not blog…journal. I’m not doing this self-compassion thing in public!) each evening about the most difficult event of my day with a focus towards writing down words of empathy and compassion for myself, rather than the usual “You dweeb. Why can’t you ever do [X] right?”

And I’ll let you all know how I do.

If you’d like to give it a try, too, please take a look at Kelly’s video (linked above a couple of times). I would love to know how it goes for you, so please leave your feedback in the comments section or blog about it and leave a comment with the link to your post.

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