Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Zen and the Little Things, Zen and the Heavy Things

“Thick, heavy snow is blanketing my yard as I type; a March “Kaboom” as our favorite local weather guy would say.”

I wrote this last week.

I have realized I cannot write anything if my family is around. And that 4-8” of predicted snow turned into 16” of high volume, tree-shattering, power-killing snowmaggedon. We spent a fair amount of time that day trying to save trees in our yard (mostly successful), and then spent 5 days without power.

Thank God for our post-Sandy generator. It can’t power EVERYTHING in the house, but water/heat/and most of the lights make all the difference.  We are so grateful to all the crews trying to get Jersey back up and running.

At the same time, a lot of our good friends in the brain tumor community have been in really challenging medical situations. The peril of having so many close friends in a community of smite, especially a community of smite characterized by the marathon-like duration of the smite, means that most of the time a lot of people we know are getting smote.

This past week or two has been Smitefest Extreme.

The heaviness of the snow and no power was dwarfed by the heaviness of our friends’ struggles. We have been in similar spots. I don’t know why we aren’t now, and I feel grateful and guilty and so deeply concerned for our friends who are mid-struggle right now.  One of my children scans in 2 weeks. That is heavy on my mind, too.

So last week’s blog was one line that never got published.

I have thought a lot this past week about the heavy things. 

I can’t lift them, or throw snow shovels at them (tried that with a horizontal cedar at the height of the storm, to try and get some of the high snow off, that actually worked), or make the heavy things change.

In the respite we’ve had, I have realized how much working to notice the little things helps me. It doesn’t make the heavy things go away…but noticing the little things lightens my perspective.

I tend to be a hyper-noticer anyway (survival skill for a teacher), normally noticing causes me anxiety or frustration, I notice ALL THE THINGS.  In a certain karmic balance, my husband notices NONE of the things, so…yes.  His response to my “hey, we scan soon!” reference—“Oh. Well, we can’t worry about that now.” AND THEN HE ACTUALLY DOES NOT WORRY!!! If he could sell THAT skill, we would be bazillionaires. Well, except that I would buy all of that, thus creating a weird market vortex between supplier and demander…

ANYWAY, In the last several months I have really worked to notice not just who is chewing gum in class or how many crumbs are on my floor, but I am trying to acknowledge and appreciate the world around me, to be in the present moment and to let those little noticings of nature and life and people soothe my troubled mind. Does that even make sense?

The peculiar pale blue cast of the snow crevices on our street (never seen that before!), the frost on the edge of each fallen leaf, the shape of my dog’s pawprints in the snow, the sound of the robins returning even though more fresh snow fell today…

These little noticings remind me that the universe is bigger than the heavy things. Heavy things are heavy…but life is not JUST defined by those things.

Noticing the little things enables me to be grateful for the little things. I can’t get a friend’s chemo approved or help a child in a dire spot, or ease the strain of medical testing for a child we love—but taking time to appreciate the smell of snowfall or the vibrant colors of my felt-tip pens or the soft warmth of the heating pad my sister made—in noticing these things I find strength to unbury myself from the heavy things.

THEN I can better support our friends. I need to be available, not buried.

This is a work. I have a long way to go, and if we get buried in smite again I am not sure if I will be able to maintain this practice.  But I have to keep practicing, strengthening the “notice the little things” muscle. Our respite demands no less.

What little things do you notice that help soothe your soul?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Zen and the Present Moment

Shoes on? Shoes off?

In the moment of tackling my fear of flying and my fear of flying alone (no offense, other 149 people on the plane), the security line shoe thing plagued my brain. I kept trying to see what other people around me were doing…the line wasn’t moving, so nobody was really doing anything except listening to incoming passengers talk about how they would need to leave time for this security line when they went back to the airport for their return flight.

My anxiety rose, and I figured ok, let me text somebody or something.

My phone wasn’t in the outside pocket of my bag.

It wasn’t in the pouch with my bullet journal.

It wasn’t in the bag with the extra charger and cords.

I searched my bag about 8 times (while scooching ahead a few inches every few minutes). I could feel my pulse in my head, my panic rising, my mind racing.

In a moment of revelation, I remembered. Right before I walked out the door, I put my bag down on the futon to check to make sure I had my boarding pass for the 87th time—my phone had been in my hand, and I placed it on the seat of the stationary bike (2 feet from my back door) so I could check my paperwork.

And there it stayed.

Now, admittedly, the first 2/3 of my life, I did not have a cell phone. Until 2.5 years ago I did not have a smart phone. I know that civilizations have risen and fallen without such technology.

But the phone was meant to be my lifeline on this trip. I had carefully chosen soothing music and uplifting podcasts to get me through my crazy brain on the flight.  YoYoMa and Oprah were going to fly with me! I had Candy Crush. I had the directions to the hotel in my phone (I had gone to print them out and then decided not to).


And worst of all, I could not call anyone to say help!

Side note, there are no payphones ANYWHERE any more. Even at gigantic international airports.

I knew Dave was flying down on a later flight, and that he would see my bright pink phone as soon as he walked in the door. I knew that another cheer mom would be on my flight, I could at least call Dave before we left. But all of my plans of zen were sitting on a bike seat at my house.

The best laid plans…

But weirdly, my massive panic/anxiety about forgetting my phone helped me. Stay with me here—in not having my phone, I had to regroup, focus my energy on getting through the present moment without a panic attack, and Do The Thing. I knew this was going to be work, but I was all in now.

By the time we got on the plane, I focused on breathing. I watched the flight attendants (who are so together) and all the relaxed people. I got my gum—I never chew gum, so the novelty factor of that was distracting. And then I took my bullet journal and started to draw. As we sat, I drew. As we taxied, I drew.  As we sped up I thought of the cheer mom who told me that at the moment of acceleration (when I tend to see my life flash before my eyes) she wants to say BEEP BEEP!! In celebration.  I wrote motivational words and drew clouds and the dragon that I was going to befriend. I had to be in the moment.

And it was ok.

I am still a little shocked, but it was ok.

Like, really ok. Not the 3 hour panic attack of my last flight.

The clouds were beautiful. The flight did not feel as loud or crazy as my last flight 8 years ago. JetBlue has Dunkin Donuts coffee. And I kept drawing. For about the first 90 minutes of the flight I doodled and drew and focused on befriending the dragon. It was ok. It was all ok. Planes are safe. I am brave. It is all ok.

And in the words of the Little Red Hen, cluck cluck, so it was.

I was relaxed. Not asleep or anything (SUPER AWAKE), but relaxed. And you know what? People at the airport helped me. The rental car guy wrote directions for me on the back of the receipt—old school!, and I got safely to my hotel driving a car that looked like a shiny red box of candy (Dave was not amused when he saw the car I was willing to take, but it actually drove pretty well , and we never ever could lose it in a parking lot).  It was ok.

In the last few weeks (especially as I’ve gotten into the season of Lent), a lot of my reading/listening has referenced the importance of present moment awareness, of authentically and fully being in the moment you are in. For me, the lost phone forced me to be in the present moment in a way that was ultimately helpful for me. I had to work through my fears in a way that was NOT the way I planned…but I did it.

So much of my life in the last many, many years has been spent in a struggle over fear of the future, fear of the present, fear of the past coming back.  This is the reality of life with a chronic catastrophic illness.  I make lists and calendars to help me feel in control of life, but at the same time these distract me from being in the moment I am in. Over the years, the present moment has sometimes been really dark, and clinging to future hope is challenging.

Escaping the current version of me by looking ahead/back/around is not a recipe for becoming the best version of me today. I have to be present in each moment to do that. I have to be in the moments, uncomfortable, challenging, and great, to really figure out how to live most authentically.

So while I do not plan to become a jet-setter anytime soon, I can see myself getting on a plane again. At the end of the day (literally, late that night) Dave brought me my phone, and I had it for the ride home—but I did not really use any of the stuff I had planned. I didn’t need it (and I had used up all my nervousness on my flight getting cancelled and then having to spend 10 hours in the airport, but that is another story for another time). While I am on the ground now, I am trying to find more ways to be in each moment—something I thought about months ago, noticing the little things, fits into this—and I will write about that more another time.

Increasingly, I know that zen and being in the present moment is something I have to work towards—there are a lot more dragons I need to befriend.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Zen and the Power of Why

Something big has to happen for me to leap.

A four foot snake sliding under my Adirondack chair—I am levitating in about 2.8 seconds.

A bad MRI for my brain tumor kid—I sign up for a half marathon, even though I hate running far.

But getting into a pool—I go slooooooowly. Oh so slowly. No leaping. Not enough reason to willingly freeze.

Even when everyone is yelling—I can’t leap.

In high school we went on a trip with a bunch of other families up to New Hampshire, and at some point in the trip we went to this rope swing on the side of a hill. Everyone was excited to try. You had to jump off a rock while holding this rope, and then sort of flop onto the board that served as a little seat thing.  When my turn came, I stood on the rock paralyzed. I just could not do it. The drop seemed so far, the chances of landing on the board so uncertain. The folks in charge helped me down to the little rock that served as a smaller leap spot, and I was still paralyzed. Younger kids were yelling at me, everyone was trying to get me to go…

I could not do it.

I was mortified, but finally gave up. I still remember the kids making fun of me.

I am not upset about it anymore, but I remember.

So leaping is not my thing. I have realized more and more the power of intrinsic motivation. I have to have a really, REALLY good reason for leaping.

I have to have a why. 

More accurately, a WHY. All capitals.

In some ways that is super un-zen, right? I should just zen for the sake of zen. But my zen needs a Why. Everything I do needs a Why.

Anxiety tries to outweigh the Why with worst case scenarios that will happen if I leap. Nightmares. Crabbiness. Ever-spiraling circles of thought.

But Why can be so powerful—more powerful than anxious second guessing. That snake was a Significant WHY for me to stand on top of a chair even though normally I would not recommend balancing on an Adirondack chair’s arms like stilts. . The bad scan was a huge WHY to make me run, even though I look like a cartoon character when I galumph along, and everything hurts–the Why was my daughter’s future.  As I slogged through the streets by my house in the August heat I kept repeating my why like a mantra … “bleep NF…bleep NF”…you can fill in the bleep.

As I try to work towards zen, I keep coming back to Why.

My brain needs order and reason at the same time my brain tends towards colorful chaos. I have to work to organize myself in a way that seems to come naturally for others.  And the anxiety really does work against my forward progress, stirring up all the thoughts even as I try to put them back in orderly-ish boxes.

But in this time of medical respite, I am finding I am able to grab on to the why to make myself do the “hard” things.

When my daughter was so ill, the Why—surviving the catastrophe, getting her well, keeping a brave face on for her and her siblings, getting out of bed in the morning even on the most hopeless days—that Why simply kept me going. I think in the midst of crisis that is what the Why does. When people would say, “I don’t know how you do this!” I was always a bit befuddled. What choice did I have? It was my kid. Anybody would try to keep going for their kid.
I see my friends who are navigating rough waters with their children right now,  their tenacity in putting one foot in front of the other, and the power of Why just shines through—even when that power is just barely enough to keep a family above water. The Why helps you survive, even if thrive seems inaccessible.

With space from catastrophe, I am trying to take advantage of the Why and to figure out what my Why is now, now that we aren’t at the hospital 4 times a month, or dealing with improbable yikes of other kinds. I am still not used to having the courage to commit to anything more than a few weeks out.  

So I am tackling “hard” things, trying to take little leaps (things that are admittedly not so hard for other people—but hey, I have to be ok with me being me. It is what it is). 

* I took on a new work project that ended up going really well—Why? Because  I need to figure out how I can best use my passion for education and research, and the only thing holding me back from this project was my fear of not doing it perfectly.

 * I scheduled (and went to-no wimping out!) my annual-ish physical—Why? I need to be healthy for my kids, my spouse, my own future. So far so good.

 * I then scheduled (and went to-gosh I wanted to wimp out) another annual sort of appointment that maybe I hadn’t done in 8 years. *cough. Same Why as before.  Even though I kind of broke the machine…another story for another time.

I am trying to be open to opportunities—WHY? Because I want to live with vision and purpose, and right now I am figuring out what those are in this new season of my life. I want to work at something that helps the world be better.

 * I am getting on a plane this week for the first time in almost 8 years—WHY? Because I know I need to be there for my R when she competes in Florida, this might not happen again, and I want to be there for her—and last year I could not go. I am remarkably zen about this, actually, which is a little weird.

(side note, if I don’t make it—because…airplanes-- know that I truly have no regrets about going. Being brave is better than hiding from life. I keep telling myself that. But really—you can pray for me on Thursday when I get on a plane (and then again on Sunday—and my husband and daughter who are on different flights), that would be awesome. )

Side side note: this is why I have not blogged. All my energy went to these things. Womp womp.

I want to do the things. I want to see the places. I want to not hide from the disasters that I still see around every corner (a Pavlovian response to 2004-20015). Why?

Because I want to be zen. For me. For my husband. For my kids. For my friends.

It’s like the old Hoobastank song, “The Reason”. This song helped me so much when I signed up for that first half marathon (I had 5 times worth of Why for 13 miles. Urp). Having a Why, a reason, can counteract the power of anxiety—especially when that reason is the people we love. I am working on having my OWN Why (ie for me) being enough—and I am starting to figure out that when I am intrinsically motivated to do things for my own improvement, that actually makes me a better wife/mom/friend for everyone else.  

Sorry, should have had everyone sit down for that Captain Obvious kind of newsflash. Hmph.

Anyway, having people cheer (or yell derisively) or push won’t do it. The motivation has to be intrinsic—helped along by the outside circumstances, perhaps (GIANT SNAKE!)—but the Why has so much power, if we can just take the time to identify what the Why is, and how it drives choices. Focusing on the Why helps me tell my anxiety to shut up already. I have more important things to focus on.

And yes, I have to repeat it a lot. My fears are super persistent and naggy and talk just as fast as I do.

So—what’s your Why? And where has it lead you to leap?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Zen and Let it Go

The past week/month have resembled Chutes and Ladders a bit…climb up the ladder, work on good habits, work on focus, tippy toe out of my comfort zone, then Whoosh! Down the chute of a hospital visit or a weeklong headache or chaos I have to wade through but can’t alleviate.  I am not sure why this surprises me—I think it’s just that some days life feels like The Most Endless Game of Chutes and Ladders EVER (anyone who has ever played this game with a three year old knows what I mean…and unlike Candyland, you can’t really “help” the spinner avoid that last giant slide right before the finish. There is no Queen Frostine card that can magically get placed at the top of the deck…not that I have ever done that. *cough).

Slogging through some of my resolutions (side note, this January feels pretty endless), I am confronted again by the reality of how much of my mental energy is spent summoning the will to climb the ladders, and finding the peace to not wail in despair while I’m going down a chute AGAIN. Reframing in gratitude helps. Yoga helps. Even gentle yoga during the weeklong headache helped.  Keeping up with the simple habits (morning devotional, etc.) helps when the bigger stuff seems hard.

I am also realizing more and more how much of life is not just made up of metaphorical Chutes and Ladders, but how much of everything is a push/pull, a back/forth, opposite moments that both work together and pull against each other. I know I have to be braver about certain things, like being by people (still trying), or taking opportunities that come (writing work, check), or trying to conquer fears (booked a flight, like on an ACTUAL AIRPLANE, CHECK). I also know that sometimes being brave or taking care of my brain means pulling BACK from things—saying “ok” and walking away from chaos, avoiding certain situations, working to not care more about things I cannot fix than the people who are generating the issue care.  I am not very good at this yet, and that lack of skill creates a lot of frustration.

I need to go forth and get things done, while stepping back/away from other things.

This challenges me. 

For every flight I book (ok, one flight, and we’ll see if I survive—and if I don’t—for the record—no regrets. If it’s my time it’s my time, regardless of my altitude, you can’t avoid when it’s your time—that is how I made peace with this. Ok, and I bought some of my sister’s art on a backpack on Society6 as a reward), I have to get better at finding ways to step back from things without feeling bad/angry/frustrated about my inability to fix things or make things right.  I’ve gotten better at walking away—I just need to fix my response once I do—I need to figure out how to go all Elsa on that stuff (LET IT GO, LET IT GOOOOOOO!).

But just like a three year old who DOES NOT WANT TO LET GO OF THEIR SPOT ON THE TOP ROW OF CHUTES AND LADDERS, I haven’t figured this one out yet. How do you let things go? My husband can just do it. His brain just sends things on their merry way, while mine cooks up stress stew. THIS is one of my challenges for the New Year—to channel that frustration into more acts of kindness, or zen, or productivity.  I know I have to learn to BE more effectively, but for now…maybe I can use action to help let things go.

And yes, I am thinking this out as I type it. I am tired of being frustrated. And I am determined to get a blog done today—so thanks for thinking through this with me. If you have any insights on HOW you let things go, how do you shed frustration/walk away from situations that cause you mental ugh (and that you cannot remedy)—please comment below. I am crowd-brainstorming solutions here.

And now I have kind of an odd desire to play Chutes and Ladders…

(if anyone is interested in how I am bribing myself to overcome my deep seated and long held phobia of flying, check out Anne Appert Illustration on Society6 Roses by Anne Appert --the backpacks are the right size for the under the seat item on JetBlue. :) --and there are sales all the time, I had a really good coupon for this. I maybe also got a small flying pig tote because a pig flying is about as likely as ME flying, so... yes.  When Pigs Fly by Anne Appert)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Zen and the Slow Leak

My New Year’s Resolution sprung a slow leak that morphed into a gaping hole.

Ok, so in Australia it is Friday…but not last Friday. Nor is it Tuesday. Blog Fail warning horns are blaring everywhere here. Each day I have written BLOG in my bullet journal in increasingly larger letters. Today the word is about an inch high. And fancy.

Even now, I am forcing myself to write—mostly because the alternative is “grade history midterms”. Procrastination priorities are in order, at least…

One of the things I have come to realize is that I have a very limited emotional/mental gas tank. I work really hard to try and keep it full, or at least full-ish. For me, that refilling is a work, it doesn’t just happen. But there are things that put a slow leak to gaping hole kind of kibosh on my tank.

Last week was hospital week. Reports were good. Things are stable. I am grateful.

And yet those days take every bit of mental/emotional energy reserve I have.

I figured Wednesday/Thursday appointments, I’ll be golden to write Friday, heck, I can use my time at the hospital to write!

Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids. There is no concentrating at the hospital when you are holding a TGI Friday’s style beeper thing waiting for your child to come out of sedation. There is CERTAINLY no concentration when the time gets long, and then the hospital CALLS YOU ON YOUR CELL PHONE while your child is in the scanner, because your TGI Friday’s beeper didn’t work. Yikes. There is no concentration when you wait several hours past your appointment time to view the scans with a pediatric neuro-oncologist. I pulled out my school papers, looked at them, and put them back in my bag. I just had nothing left to use to think about that. 8+ hours total driving time over two days…car time left no mental room for metacognition. I just can’t concentrate on anything beyond National Geographic or looking out the window/praying for the WaWa coffee cart people to come.

Hospital stuff is just a keep on going kind of moment. I wish that this many years into it I could be less frozen by these days. I am less psycho about them than I used to be, but they still freeze me solid.  In the days after these hospital visits I had to set up the SAME series of appointments for another kid…more chillin’ in the quagmire…but it’s done.

Now that I understand how my brain works, I can plan for it, at least somewhat—but I can’t seem to find a way around that resource suck of hospital days/appointment making/planning/processing—and tackling things I dread. I made some appointments for myself in the last week—gave myself a gold star…and then went and sorted papers kind of mindlessly while listening to Daily Show clips on YouTube. That kind of task is a mental resource suck, too. I just can’t find a way around it.

I just have to make peace with it, and try to keep moving.

So in Australia it’s Friday already—I should be continuing to write about the Happiness Project, and I will get back to that. One of the valuable lessons of that book is to let yourself BE YOURSELF. It’s ok to be who you are, you will find more happiness in NOT trying to force yourself to be something you are not. Being Kristin means acknowledging that I have to regroup after challenging days.  I can’t just breeze through things. And that’s ok. Even when it doesn’t feel ok—that IS ok.  Being Kristin means I hate making phone calls and I have to bribe myself to do it. That’s ok. Being Kristin means even if we are running low on data, I might need to stream some Sia in the car to remind myself I’m unstoppable. That even on these days where I seem stopped, I really am only “like, totally paused”. ;) 

Just keep movin’ right along. If I miss a day, the internet won’t break.

But now, I really do have to go grade those midterms. Or eat lunch.  Hm….wonder which option will win?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Zen and Writing Down the New Year

So did you write down any resolutions this year?

New Year’s resolutions are SO last week, I know—but I love writing down goals, even if they are belatedly shared. I actually love writing down EVERYTHING.  Writing is the only way I can sort out my brain, which is why my few years of mostly silent was kind of alarming for me. The physical act of putting words on a page is very therapeutic.

One of the great gifts of using a bullet journal is that most of my random writing ends up in the journal and not all over my house…although full disclosure, the base of my laptop keyboard is currently set on top of 4 post it notes covered with flight information and hospital notes for this week’s appointments.  But I have far fewer scraps of paper now.

This year, led by the example of my sisters-- not some kind of cosmic sisters, I mean my actual sisters, at least the 4 who happened to be home when I stumbled into their goal setting session-- I wrote “18 for ‘18”—a list of 18 goals for the year.  The “18 for ‘18” caught my imagination. I still have a few slots open in case I get inspired (and I do have one big goal that I don’t want to announce, but I think I am going to write it down when I’m done writing here—when I achieve it I will share. I am determined to beat my brain at its own game)…but most of my goals are set.

Some are big. Some are creative. Some are professional. Some are improbable (will I master an inversion in yoga, like a legit head stand? Going to try!).  Some are scary. But just the act of writing things down helps my zen.  Setting goals helps my zen.  The feeling of getting a fresh start helps my zen. Writing all of these things in colorful felt tip pens brings my zen a whole new level of hooray.

I am trying to encourage my family to try to embrace the zen of writing things down, but right now I am still a voice crying out in the wilderness on that front, even though I got them nice colorful felt tip pens, too.

One of the things I have gained by writing things down is a dual sense of progress (hey, I have been exercising/praying/doing yoga/practicing gratitude  regularly for months!) and a sense of where I am still paralyzed (I am now 4 months past needing to set up certain annual appointments. One of my January goals is “make the darn appointments already”).  Putting the mayhem of my brain into some kind of order, even if that order reveals that I put off scheduling a haircut for 3 months, that order helps my sense of peace. Giving myself gold stars for the things I get done (a Happiness Project insight) gives me a sense of accomplishment. A “W” is a “W”, no matter how small ...from one of Dr. Seuss’s lesser known projects, Horton Keeps On Moving.

I also realize, in writing down calendars and notes about my day, where outside circumstances feed my anxiety. Schedule chaos at work creates a particular set of challenges for my brain.  Unexpected small annoyances get in my head—like how can ShopRite be out of bananas? Literally ONE SAD SOFT BUNCH LEFT??  Sick kids, needing to reschedule very stressful hospital appointments, car problems—all of these normal life things can throw me off my A-game pretty fast, a paradigm I am working hard to shift this year.  Jotting down notes about my day helps me see where my goals are challenged by my sometimes lack of skill in dealing with small adversities. I see how far I still have to go.

 I know that some of this is a product of the Tsunami of Adversity we rode out for years. But I know in 2018 I do not need to be a prisoner to past ways of dealing with things. And writing down goals, habits, resolutions, gratitude, and ongoing progress/paralysis points creates a path towards freedom.

Writing everything down, even in extremely abbreviated form (no long form journal entries—teeny bullet points at best) helps me be more aware of everything, really, instead of being overwhelmed by a sea of swirling stresses. Anxiety thrives in that particular figurative oceanic habitat, and I want to create a different environment for my brain where possible—and work through the moments where anxiety fed by circumstance or otherwise rears its ugly head. 

Starting to keep a bullet journal for my schedule and to-do lists was a goal I made in September, and one that is now a habit. I hope to use this in the New Year to keep track of my progress on my “18 for ‘18”, and to understand why sometimes my progress is at best negligible, or even a weird backflop.

How do you keep track of goals/resolutions? Does any kind of tracking system work for you? If you live with anxiety or generalized ugh, have you found any particular writing strategies helpful?

Next Tuesday I will explain the bullet journal a bit more—this Friday I will continue the Happiness Project conversation. 

Now I have to go put a gold star in my journal because I blogged. J Yay!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Zen and the Happiness Project

On Fridays I plan to write about some of the books I’ve found helpful in my continuing attempts at finding the Lost Kingdom of Zen. Today’s choice: Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.
Info about The Happiness Project

A few years ago, as I was just figuring out that I might need to try and improve my mental health a speck (*cough, understatement), I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project.  This book details Rubin’s yearlong study/quest to improve her own personal happiness, and to determine if in fact certain practices CAN increase happiness.
Spoiler alert: Yes. Certain practices CAN increase happiness. Yay!

I like projects. I like research. I knew I would like this book, and I did.  I re-read it at the beginning of last year as part of my quest to get some zen COME HELL OR HIGH WATER…er, I mean, work peacefully at becoming happy and chill and zentastic instead of just frantically waiting for the other shoe to drop as we entered a new season of less frequent MRIs and hopefully less medical smite, after a decade plus of hospital time galore, topped off with several months in 2016 of highly improbable medical ugh. 
Obviously, the work continues, as I am now repeating, “I did not just jinx us. I did not just jinx us. I did not just jinx us.”
Ergh. Zen.

ANYWAY, there are a lot of things in Rubin’s book that have really stuck with me since I first read it. When I decided to write ABOUT the book as part of this blog, I resisted the urge to go back and flip through the pages. What are the lessons/ideas that STAYED with me? THESE were the things that I should include in any writings, because really—the things I remember without looking back at the book are the things that stuck with me the most.
There are many. I highly recommend this book.

Probably the most important one, the one I reference the most in daily zen-pursuit, is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

Reading through Rubin’s meticulous and conversational record of her research methods, I was a speck intimidated by HER perfection (she would probably argue that point, but really—she is intensely talented and driven; her process inspires me). Still—this has become a mantra that I repeat OFTEN.

I am perhaps a bit of a perfectionist. 

Sorry, I should have told you to sit down before I unleashed that shocker on you.

Sadly, I am not the “house in perfect order/always perfectly coiffed/entertaining goddess/paint the cookies with replicas of the Sistine Chapel ceiling” kind of perfectionist. I just get paralyzed by things NOT being perfect, and turn into a speed bump. Especially as I navigated years of medical ugh, I got buried by my life because I just couldn’t figure out the perfect way to hold everything together—and so everything sort of got figuratively MacGyvered or ignored.

This does not create zen.

Although really, how awkward would it be to eat a Sistine Chapel ceiling cookie?
Taking to heart Rubin’s mantra “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” has really, really helped me get more done in my life and NOT be constantly stressed with how not perfect things are. So not every seam was perfect in my daughter’s memory quilt I sewed for Christmas—but it was good. Really good. So I didn’t waste time ripping out tiny imperfections my visually impaired kid would never notice. So the PowerPoint I put together to help my students who need printed out aids for note taking doesn’t have cool animation or interesting graphics—it is good, and serves the purpose for which it’s designed.

Honestly, I frequently say “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” out loud, when I am doing anything creative especially. Perfectionism is the opposite of zen. And for far, far too long I have been sort of tangled in an impossible perfectionistic paralysis.  Just for this one mantra, reading The Happiness Project was a win.
If only just to make myself get that second blog entry out in the first week or January—"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is a win. Still have 1 hour and 46 minutes left in the day! Woo! I will get to put a gold star in my bullet journal…another Happiness Project insight for next week. J  

If you are so inclined, pick up a copy and check it out for yourself—or listen to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Gretchen Rubin on the most recent Super Soul Sunday podcast.  That’s a great way to get a quick version of some of the key points of the book.

Just Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good!