Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Learning to breathe

I discovered this past weekend that I forget to breathe.

Sure, my body does that whole moving-the-air-in-and-out-of-my-lungs thing, but only to the extent that it needs to survive. And while that can sustain me physically for the short term, long term non-breathing, as I just discovered, is not really such a good idea.

So I spent this past weekend waaaaaay out of my comfort zone and encountered my first experience with mindfulness, which means (definition attributed to John Kabat-Zinn) "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." I am not by any means well-versed in this enough to adequately explain it, but the conclusions I came to were that practicing this - albeit in an abbreviated sense - helps and allows - almost gives one permission - to have any feeling, acknowledge it and accept it as it is. In doing that, your ruminations (you know, those obsessive thoughts that you go over and over in your mind...) decrease, thus reducing mental distress.

It was tough. It was tough to get to that place - or even near it. It meant slowing down when everything I knew was on overdrive, and digging deep in places I didn't want to go, and being calm when I didn't feel calm, and feeling emotion that I didn't want to feel.

And I wasn't all in. I mean, I tried, but in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, I was pushing all that potential zen and calmness away in favor of all the things that my brain is convinced it absolutely has to think about all the time. I'm tired of revisiting the past. The present is fleeting. Let's move on to the future. C'mon, c'mon. I got things to do here. It wasn't until after I left that place of sanctity and got back home to the craziness that I seemed so hell bent on getting back to that I started to get it.

I started to breathe. Just a little.

Because here's what I learned. I learned that no matter what, my body can't keep up with my mind. And my mind isn't taking care of itself. And that I need to think about breathing. Not all the time. But every once in awhile.

I need to - and have started to - get into the habit of taking just a moment throughout the day to do a very brief self-check. To make sure I'm breathing. Not just that in-and-out breathing necessary for life. But that breathing that gives you pause. That comes from within. The breathing that starts from the bottom of your stomach and goes all the way to your shoulders and resets your whole body when you finally breath it all out. The breathing that says, "OK. Slow down. Check in. Everything all right here?" Mindful breathing, if you will.

Coupled with that, and with some spiritual guidance that I never really believed existed, I started to buy into the idea of training my mind to live more in the present and less on the "Oh my God what's going to happen tomorrow."

It's not the first time I've considered this. Months and months ago, I downloaded a book by Jeff Goins called The In-Betweens - Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. The title basically says it all. We forget to realize the in-betweens in our lives. The present. Everything that happens while we're waiting for the next thing. It's learning the value of waiting, and to embrace all the things that we're missing that happen during that time.

I finally got around to finishing his book on the plane ride home. How sad - and ironic - is that? But between his book, the insight I gained this past weekend, and the utter chaos that has been my life for more than a year, I discovered that in my quest to "get through" what is my life, I'm losing out on the here and now. The in-betweens.

What does that mean? It means spending less time being pissed off that the dog won't poop on our 7 am walk and more time enjoying the sunrise and the crisp morning air. It means making the time as soon as I get home to sit with my kid and talk about his day without checking my phone or thinking about all the crap I have to do before I can even think about going to bed. It means consciously stopping my mind from wondering how the hell I'm going to get through next week and next month and just get through this day and find one thing to be thankful for at the end of it.

It means taking the time to acknowledge what I'm feeling without beating myself up that I'm feeling it or trying to make it go away.

It means remembering to breathe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I take your picture

I know you don’t like it when I tell you to smile and look at the camera. You’re sitting there doing something cute or at a school function or talking with friends and all of a sudden MOM interrupts and says, “SMILE!”

How embarrassing, right?

I will never live this one down.
I was the same way when I was your age. There was nothing worse to me than posing for a photo – those split seconds of motionless uncomfortableness while my mom fumbled with the camera were enough to make my smile turn into a frown and ruin whatever memory of me she was trying to capture, until she just gave up and snapped the picture that would haunt me at Thanksgiving dinners for the rest of my life. 

But do me a favor. Just grin and bear it. 

I NEED these photos of you, and someday, you will too. Especially when I ask someone to take a picture of you and me together. Or I make you pose for that selfie and you accuse me of trying to be “cool.” I’m not. I want a picture of you and me – to remember these moments with you years from now, and so you can look back on them when I'm gone.

Yep, that's me. Probably summer of '68?
I don’t have a whole lot of pictures of my mom and me together. Sure, there’s the collection of tattered black and whites and grainy colored photos from when I was little: Mom playing with me in the sandbox, Mom reading me a story, Mom presenting me with my homemade birthday cake. 

But as I got older, the photos with the two of us became rarer. Opportunities just didn’t present themselves, or she was the one behind the camera snapping the moments and milestones in her daughter’s life. In fact, the last couple of photos I have of the two of us are selfies I took during her hospitalization. Some might find that inappropriate, but I cherish those photos because it was probably the closest I’ve ever felt to her and I wanted to remember it. Maybe I was making up for lost time. 

Trust me – someday you’ll want to look back on photos of yourself in different stages of your life. There will be spotty, cloudy memories that will be made clear with an image that will take you right back to that place in your life. They’ll make you smile, and they’ll make you cry. The collection of photos I have of you will be my legacy to you when I’m no longer here to snap them. 

Son's idea of "posing for the camera."
And someday, you’ll search through them for the ones of you and me. You’ll covet those the most, whether I have you in a headlock because you won’t look at the camera or if we were lucky enough to have someone snap a moment in time when neither of us was looking. 

That’s why I take your picture. It’s why I take our picture. Know that I do it because I love you and I want to remember you, I want you to remember me, and I want you to remember us.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What Will Matter

Today was my mom's funeral. 

I don't have the wherewithal to write anything prolific at this time, but wanted to share the words that she requested be read by a family member today during the Mass. That family member was me, and it was hard to get through it, but I think it's profound enough and important enough to share. 

Hug your families tight tonight. Don't let petty grievances get in the way of your love and loyalty toward each other. In the end, it's your family who will matter, as well what you give of yourself to this world while you're here. This Mom knew.

What Will Matter

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
The things you collected, whether treasures or forgotten, 
will pass to someone else.

Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.

So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away. 
It won’t matter where you came from 
or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant. 

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,
Not what you got but what you gave.

What will matter is not your success but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught. 

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
But how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone. 

What will matter is not your memories, 
but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, 
by whom and for what. 

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstances but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters. 

-Michael Josephson