Category Archives: 30 Day Challenge
This is my challenge to myself to start writing again. 30 posts, as close to one post per day as possible. Here I go.
When I first began watching the thoughts that came through my mind I was astonished at how little useful substance they had. Then I started noticing that if I followed thoughts they often created “problems” where there were none.
I began to experiment with this is in my life by paying attention to small details of my day. If I was making the bed, a task I enjoy immensly if I pay attention when I do it, a thought might come through that said “hurry up, you’ll be late.” If I listened to that thought, or followed that thought, then all of a sudden I wasn’t just making the bed and enjoying the feel of the fabrics on my hand, or the morning light shining through the window, I was anxiously making the bed, hurrying and stumbling through the process, my mind on what was next rather than what was now.
Later I’d be cleaning dishes, “That’s not good enough, do it over.” If I believed it and looked closely at the pot and saw a smear that I missed or an old stain that had settled into the pot’s enamel, I’d suddenly be getting out the cleaning supplies and starting a pot cleaning project that could last me an hour. These are simple concrete examples but I’ve found them to be the most profound teachers because I learned that they applied to just about everything in my life.
With some time watching my thoughts, I noticed a pattern to what my mind had to say. The specific content would change but the general message was almost always either: “hurry up” OR “do it better.” This applied to conversations with people in my life, relationships, work projects, exercise, you name it.
I was familiar with the idea that there were different voices of criticism, judgment, or praise in my own mind. What I wasn’t familiar with was the idea that I had a choice about whether or not to believe what those voices had to say. In the past I’d always heard those thoughts and listened, now I began to question their validity in the first place. This was a slow gentle process. There were plenty of times when I believed the thoughts, “hurry up, no good, you are late, you are…” and found myself needlessly rushing, pushing, or anxious, but with time and the fact that the thoughts, though different in exact content, were saying almost exactly the same thing over and over with different words, I began to find some freedom. It was stunning in its simplicity.
Meditation, that old friend that I found during a grief-filled divorce, continued to be an incredible teacher. After my divorce I did not continue meditating regularly. Once my crisis moment passed I abandoned it until I got my homework assignment from our first women’s group–mediate for five minutes everyday. This seemed really easy. “5 minutes,” I thought, “that’s nothing!”
In fact it was at first incredibly challenging. I was amazed by how hard it was to have the discipline to sit still for five minutes daily. There was always something more urgent, pressing, or fun to do. However, once I conquered the hurdle of whatever reasons my mind came up with for why I should not sit still, I loved it. 5 minutes quickly grew to 10, 10 to 15, and 15 to 20 or 30.
I learned that I loved being still and alone every morning. Everyday I sat quietly with a cup of coffee to wake up, read a chapter from a wise book, and then set my alarm for mediation. The most wonderful part of meditating within the instructions of my women’s group, was that it was not complicated. I’d been turned off in the past to the idea of meditation because I thought it tied to a religious practice and therefore to a strict set of rules. Jennifer, my teacher, invited me to: “Just sit still and let what happens happen.”
Her instructions were so simple, in fact, that my mind had a lot of questions about exactly what I should be doing during that time. I’d read about meditation and had a lot of ideas about what was supposed to happen, or not happen, or how long, or how to sit or what to sit on, or how to begin and how to end or…
No matter my questions, Jennifer just invited me to sit quietly and comfortably, with a straight supported spine and “let what happens happen.” After some months of frenzied and difficult meditation, during which I tried to do things right–whatever right was that day–I slowly I let go of my preconceived notions about meditation and began to trust the practice of meditation itself. Gradually that quiet stillness inside, that I found by chance in my backyard years earlier, revealed itself again.
It is this quiet stillness that I mean when I say “follow your heart,” or “listen to your intuition.” It’s always been here, and remains here now, but it gets covered up easily by noise, activity, anxiety, worry, and perceptions of what should happen in everyday life. I give myself these instructions on a daily basis.
I am slowly learning to release thoughts and perceptions about what is happening in my everyday experience, to follow instead the stillness that let’s life unfold. I’m reminded and humbled everyday by the difference in my quality of life when I live from jumpy and erratic thoughts that float through my head, or from the quiet stillness inside.
“Trying to keep your territory enclosed and safe, is fraught with misery and suffering. It keeps you in a very small, dank, smelly introverted world that gets more and more claustrophobic and more and more misery -producing as you get older.” ~ Pema Chodron from The Wisdom Of No Escape
The path of the warrior is to find that beam of guiding light that cuts through everything else rattling around in my mind– the voices of doubt, worry, fear and clinging that try to guide my body’s every move. “Sit still long enough to let that light shine through,” I tell myself this morning.
“Follow your heart,” I told my roommate last night. She is making a life decision about job and income, I laughed out loud after the words exited my lips. “That sounds so cheesy,” I said to her, “because the only place we’ve heard it said is in Disney movies where the princess finally gets her prince. But actually if you feel into it and find what it really means i, it’s great advice!”
It turns out, after several years of meeting, that the common thing that all of us were looking for in that women’s group, was a place to follow our hearts and to be supported in doing so. We were looking for a place to explore breaking free of each of our “territories” as Pema Chodron calls them. We wanted to discover what it looked like to exist in ourselves while breaking down walls and letting light shine through, rather than protecting our ramparts.
For some women in our group, over the past five years, that has meant making external changes in our lives: job, relationship, home, but for the most part it’s meant the opposite. It’s meant taking a deep breath and sitting back into our lives. It’s meant stopping the frenzied searching and leaning back into our own existence, resting into the choices we’ve made and finding peace in what already is.
One of the quotes from our women’s group that I love– ” Enlightenment is the deep understanding that there is no problem.” Investigating this statement in my own daily existence astonished me… not because I took this pearl of wisdom into the world and felt better about myself / life / choices, but because it helped me to see that according to my mind, my fairly cushy and peaceful existence, was fraught with “problems.”
As I explored this statement I began to notice that from the time I woke up in the morning, to the time I went to sleep at night the majority of the thoughts that came through my head had to do with a problem, complaint, or issue. WIth what? Well, with just about anything! Over the course of a three week period (the time between our meetings) I watched my mind come up with problem after problem…
“Ugh, someone didn’t put the dishes away last night. And there’s crumbs on the counter. I just cleaned this floor last night, how can it be dirty again?”
“Oh no I didn’t get up on time, now I’ll be late. I don’t have time to check my email because I got up late so… oh now I’m really late. And now that I’m late, I’m flustered.”
“Yep, I’m flustered. Now I’m having a bad day. I wish I could just go back to bed. Oh man, I haven’t checked my email I bet it’s really full, don’t think about that now just focus. Come on Paige, I mean you’re already late!”
“I bet that document is in my email that I promised I would finish today. Oh but I’m late, I over slept, and the house is a mess! He’s going to be waiting for my response, crap!”
“Did she look at me funny? Did I say something wrong. Why did I have to open my mouth, I’m too damn direct all the time!”
I was astonished at how the thoughts that came through my mind could create a hurricane out of a light breeze, if I followed them. If I followed them. And that was a big IF.
Here we go. 30 days. 1 entry per day. I’m giving myself the challenge.
What would I say to an audience? Speak from the heart. When clutter is removed light starts to peak through.
I’ve been waiting for so long to share my writing with a larger audience. I don’t know if my book will ever be ready for publication or if it was an exercise unto itself to write it. I miss writing so I’m just going to write. What? I never wanted a blog, preferring something more polished but that seems futile at this point. Would there be a theme? A journal of everyday life? How would it be different from what is already out there? What do I have to add? Forget the questions. Here I go.
I, like so many, have been seeking for peace, freedom, and purpose in life. In relationship, in personal growth, in career, in writing itself I have searched, returning again and again willingly or unwillingly to right here, to now. When I was younger I searched frantically for meaning in my family relationships dissecting each one, in love relationships attempting perfection or idealized romance. I’ve searched in work for meaning in the world, to create a better life. Eventually my seeking led me to meditation. I was not led to meditation by an external teacher or spiritual practice. Rather I was in the middle of a divorce and in so much pain, darkness, and confusion that I did the only thing that was left. I stopped running.
I stopped running and sat still in the middle of my backyard, closed my eyes, and listened to the birds. Contrary to my imaginations of meditation, nothing amazing or horrible happened. I experienced stillness, for a moment, amidst my grief.
Shortly thereafter I joined a women’s group. I’d been wanting to join one for ages and suddenly I was invited by a friend to help start one. There were eight of us. We all had two things in common, vaginas, and a desire to create full meaningful lives. None of us knew each other except through one common friend, Christina. All of the women in the group were married and had children, except for me. I was recently divorced, dating a new guy, starting a new job, and not sure what I was doing with my life in anyway.
When we started the group we didn’t know what we were doing or where we were heading, we simply began to meet, once a month. At first we drank wine, ate food, and talked about what the group might become.
“I don’t want it to be like book group… you know where we meet every month and never get to the subject matter?”
“Yeah, I agree with that, I’m in a book group and all we do is sit around, drink wine, and bitch about our husbands and kids.” Several women guffaw in agreement.
“Well, I don’t want to pay.”
“And I don’t want to facilitate anything!”
“Here, here! I just want to show up and be able to relax.”
“Well, I want to be pushed. You know? I want to people to really call me out on my shit and make me own it.”
“Yeah, me too. I know this guy who leads a mens’ group and that’s what they do. They really push each other and hold each other to task.”
These last two voices were me and Christina. I didn’t notice it at the time, but a couple of other women were terrified by the idea that what we were proposing: pushing each other? Holding each other to task? What does that even mean. One of these women told me, years later, that when she heard us talking that way she almost dropped out.
The eight of us seemed to know a lot about what we didn’t want, but none of us could quite put into words what purpose or place we did want this group to hold in our lives. We fumbled through several months of meeting before we decided that we needed a facilitator to help us arrive there.
First we found a guide who was not the right fit for us, we ended up spending more time eating food and drinking wine than connecting with each others’ lives in meaningful ways. I proposed each of us taking turns leading activities, but no one wanted to prepare anything ahead of time. Many of the women in our group were teachers and more prep work was not something people wanted to commit to.
By now a little more than a year had passed since we’d started meeting. Miraculously through all of the turbulence and capriciousness of what exactly this group was, all eight of us were still meeting at least once a month. If nothing else we were dedicated to the idea of this supportive women’s space. That month, after we’d broken up with our first facilitator we met up over dinner to discuss our next move.
We knew each other better but not much. I still remember feeling nervous and unsure of my place in the group at that dinner, not speaking up too loudly, and not wanting to say the wrong thing. Yet, I couldn’t stop coming I wanted so much to create a meaningful community space. We poured ourselves glasses of wine and sat back to check in. There was no format to our check-ins, just talking and ideas being thrown around. I was used to a more formal check-in process from my graduate studies and this casual format that involved a lot of interrupting flustered me.
“If we don’t figure this out soon.” One woman said, “I think I’m going to have to drop out. I just can’t justify being away from my kids to hang out.” Her words stung, yet I understood. I too was becoming frustrated with the whole exercise, it didn’t seem like one thing could please everyone, there were always a couple of us who didn’t quite like where things were heading. It seemed this might be our last meeting. That’s when Christina, the common connection between all of us at that point, suggested one final try.
“I just started seeing this amazing woman. Her name is Jennifer, and she leads groups.” We were all ears. Christina and her husband had been seeing Jennifer, a counselor, for a few weeks with profound realizations in their relationship. “She’s really different.” Christina explained, “but I think you’ll like her.” We talked for a long time about whether or not we should meet with Jennifer. One of the women felt that it was unethical for a counsellor who was seeing Christina in one capacity to also see her in another. The rest of us agreed that we’d like to give meeting with Jennifer a try.
Two weeks later, less one women who’d decided to move on, the seven of us who were left sat in a circle in Jennifer’s office.
For the next hour we were mesmerized.
“If you all decide to continue meeting with me,” thin, grey-haired, blue-eyed, Jennifer told us in a slight southern accent, “we’ll spend time exploring who you really are.” She paused and looked around the room at each of us.
“Have you ever noticed that there are two of you inside your heads? You know, the one who talks constantly, a running stream of commentary, thoughts, judgments, worries etc., and the one who watches?” I looked around the room. I could see questions forming in everyone’s heads, but something else was happening too, and it was more important. We were all listening.
“Michael Singer, the author of The Untethered Soul, ” Jennifer continued as she reached for a book, ” he calls that voice in our heads, our “inner roommate.” Have y’all ever noticed that voice?”
I was unsure exactly of what Jennifer was talking about but was also feeling a resonance deep inside of me. The other women’s faces looked about what I imagined mine looked like: calm, relaxed, receptive, smiling and nodding slowly. It was the first time we’d all agreed on anything. This was the place we wanted to be together.
That first meeting was almost five years ago. There were a lot of questions from all of us as we went forward, at first we met every three weeks, and then every two. Jennifer answered all of our questions as best she could, explaining patiently over and over again the subtle yet profound difference between the conditioned self and the true self
OR between personality and sprit
OR between mask and reality
OR ego and god
OR patterning and freedom…
There are hundreds of ways to describe what Jennifer was pointing to, I learned, for it is a part of every religion and the basis of the human condition. It is what I was looking for someone to talk to me about for 28 years before our group stumbled upon exactly what we were looking for.
Most of our questions as we started out had to do with, “Really?” where do I find this true self?” And “Why would I have a personality or ego, or mask, that keeps me from true self or spirit, that doesn’t make sense…?”
All the same we were hooked. This was the most interesting, enlivening thing any of us had heard. That first meeting was almost five years ago. Our first assignment: meditate everyday for at least 5 minutes. It was one of the most difficult homework assignments many of us had ever received.
This is the first entry in a blog I’ve had for 7 years. In that time I’ve been writing a book, thinking about writing a book, editing a book, sitting on that book, not sure if I will ever publish that book, waiting for the book to tell me what to do… today I woke up and wrote this. It is the first piece of writing that felt like sharing with anyone in over a year. This is not a blog about my women’s group, though the teachings, support, and love of that group will most certainly appear in these pages. These entries will focus on my experiences in life… That’s as close as I want to get to defining what will appear here. Start date: October 9th, 2013 End: November 7th, 2013.