Mindfulness

Valley of the Shadow: Living Life in the Now and in the Not Yet

It’s been six months since we left Korea and even as life here becomes more and more familiar, the loss of our life there still feels fresh and raw. Every day I experience some level of emotional tension between genuine contentment with our lives here and a deep longing for the lives we left behind.

As the months have passed I’ve become more and more certain of one thing – it’s hard for me to imagine a life where we never live abroad again. Living in Korea was hard in many ways –especially when it came to being so far from our families and friends—but it was also the greatest thing we’ve ever done and it changed our lives forever. The takeaway was overwhelmingly positive and I only regret that we didn’t do it sooner.

I’ve written about my struggle with FOBO (fear of being ordinary), but along with that (or maybe the source of that) is a somewhat crippling fear of Time. Sometimes I can’t help but look at my life as a clock that’s always ticking down. I know that I am young, but I can see the process of aging already beginning in my body. There are wrinkles on my forehead and bags under my eyes and my back hurts when I sleep on a bed with a soft mattress.

I don’t want to be young forever for vanity’s sake, but often Time feels like a cruel restraint on my dreams. For several years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of getting a working holiday visa in a place like Australia or New Zealand or the UK and spending a season or so living in one of these places while earning a small income to support (or somewhat support) living there. Just yesterday, I was reminded that these types of visas are only available to people who are 18 – 30 years old and have no children. When Jonathan graduates from his program he will be one month shy of his 31st birthday and the clock will have run out on this dream.

Not to mention the whole having children thing –a decision that is constantly hovering in the background as each year passes and we collect more and more unsolicited advice on decreasing fertility rates and the problem with being old parents.

I wonder if this is my version of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I live and love and move and be here in this valley and much of the time I’m even quite happy here, but all the while this shadow of death hangs over me and over us all. In the Psalm, David says he fears no evil as he walks through this place, but I am not like him. I don’t fear death itself as an eventuality, but I do fear that it will come too quickly and that I will have too little to show for my life.

You might say this fear of death and of missed opportunities is sinful and that a person of faith shouldn’t cling so tightly to life. That I should have confidence in eternity and be expectant of the life to come. All of this is probably true, but the fact remains that I can’t always change my feelings or what’s in my heart. Only God molds hearts and I am not God.

I hope and pray that my heart does change, but until then I have a choice to make. It is easy for me to get so caught up in not wasting my future that I end up wasting my present.I am here in Columbia, South Carolina for at least 2 ½ more years and I can either live here pining away in fear that I won’t make it to the next, more exciting thing, or I can live here fully and accept that THIS is my next exciting thing.

Because in the end, what would be more of a waste – living well for 3 years in a place that doesn’t feel sexy and exciting to me, or getting to the end of our time here and realizing that I’ve wasted 3 whole years of my life thinking about where else I might be?

There is always tension between living fully where we are and planning for where we are going. I need the grace to live in the now while I hold onto hope for the not yet.

Image credit: HealingHeartsofIndy.com
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Mindful Mondays: Walks Without Destinations

One of the things I like best about living in the South is that winters are shorter and milder, but also less gray than they are in colder areas. Even more than the cold, the eternal grayness of winter is what tends to get me down. It’s been cold enough in South Carolina for us to get some snow flurries last week, but the sun has still been out most days and the sky has been clear and bright. Today it practically feels like spring.

I’m an on-again off-again runner. At different points in my life I’ve trained for and run half marathons and marathons, while in other seasons I’ve done no running whatsoever. I’ve been trying to get back into running for the past month or so with only limited success. It’s always hard to start again once you’ve stopped completely, which I suppose should be incentive not to quit in the first place, but it never seems to work.

In all the self-pressure to get my rear in gear and start running again, I forgot how nice it can be just to walk. On these clear and bright winter days I am content to walk for miles, wandering through neighborhoods I’ve never seen before and down streets I’m still learning the names of. Sometimes I walk while I talk on the phone to my sister or to my mom. Sometimes I walk with my husband and we dream about the houses we pass and an imaginary future where we might live in one of them. But sometimes  I walk with only my own breathing for company, and these are the walks I like best of all.

These are the moments when I’m not so focused on where I’m going or how fast I’m getting there, but simply appreciate where I am. On these walks I can go as slowly as I want to. I can pay attention to the way the roots of the oak trees ripple under the sidewalks, breaking through in some places, and to the chalk drawings left behind by little artists who forgot to sign their names. I walk until I find myself wandering back home, at peace with myself and with the world around me, knowing that even if it only lasts an hour or two, it will be enough.

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

~”A Walk” by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly)

Mindful Mondays: Mindful Eating

 

I’ve never understood those girls who eat like birds, picking over their food like chickens in a hen yard, a bite here and a bite there until they push back their plates declaring, “I’m so full!” before they’ve even made a dent in their meal.

I was born with a huge appetite – both for food and for life – that’s never quite satisfied. Cooking is a passion of mine – something that relaxes me and brings me joy. In my free time I read cookbooks and pin pictures of fabulous meals and research new restaurants and try new techniques. Even when I’m not eating, I’m thinking about eating.

Like most young adults, something happened to my metabolism the year I turned 23 and I lost the ability to follow my appetite wherever it led me. Nowadays my metabolism goes so slowly that I gain weight if I eat more than 1200 calories a day (which is the amount most people eat when on a strict diet). Unfortunately, my slow metabolism has not changed the fact that I still want to eat all the food in the world. In fact, I want to eat them all twice. What it has done is increased the need for me to be mindful about my eating.

I don’t mean mindful eating in the sense of dieting and restricting. I mean being aware of what I’m putting into my body and why. If my body can only process 1200 calories a day then I want to enjoy each one of them. It’s so easy to eat (especially snack food) mindlessly while doing something else. It’s easy for me to cram handfuls of food into my mouth without even noticing while I watch TV or work on my computer.

I want to learn to pay attention. I want to stop and ask myself – Why am I eating? And if the answer isn’t because I’m truly hungry, then I need to stop and find something else to do. And if the answer is because I’m hungry then I want to slow down and savor. I want to fully appreciate the gift of good food-how it tastes, where it comes from, and how it somehow miraculously nourishes my body.

Lately I’ve forgotten the value of mindful eating. This week I want to hit the reset button. I want to make conscious choices about what I eat and when I eat and why I eat. Tonight I’ll try a new recipe for balsamic glazed chicken with acorn squash and roasted root vegetables. I’ll prepare this meal with my own hands, chopping the vegetables, tossing the chicken in the tangy sweetness of the balsamic, and roasting them all together in my oven. Then I will sit down to eat it with gratitude for the earth that produced the squash and for the chicken who died so that I could eat this meal.

Eating good food is itself a great pleasure, but when I slow down and practice mindfulness I create a little more space for beauty. And the world can always use a little more beauty.

Mindful Mondays: Watching TV Mindfully

Today I left the house at 7:45 AM expecting to be gone for an hour. I listened to an audiobook on my way to work. Unexpectedly, I ended up working an 8-hour day. My writing goals fell by the wayside and most of my To-Do list went undone. I drove home from work at 4:30 listening to an audiobook.

By the time I got home this evening I was feeling tired and hungry. I  cooked dinner (spicy chicken andouille sausage sauteed with fresh green beans, onions, and baby red potatoes) while watching a girl talk about her favorite makeup on youtube.  While I waited for the potatoes to get soft, I wrote a To-Do list for tomorrow. It looked something like this:

To Do:
ALL THE THINGS!!!!

We ate dinner and settled onto the couch to watch a show together. Out of habit I reached for my phone – I don’t even know if I intended to resume my game of Candy Crush or just to check my messages for the two dozenth time, but something made me pause.

Mindfulness, I thought.

I put my phone down on the end table and turned towards my husband. I tucked my perpetually cold toes under his perpetually warm legs and we watched the show together. We laughed in the same parts because for once I was engaged enough not to miss any of the jokes.

Maybe you’ll say that I can’t practice mindfulness while watching TV. That the distraction of the TV goes against the spirit of the thing. I’m no expert, but if I had to guess I’d say that choosing to do just one thing at a time instead of three or four is a step in the right direction.

Maybe it’s a baby step, but it’s still a step. It’s only January 4th, people.

Featured Image via hellogiggles.com

The Things I Carry from 2015 and my One Word for 2016

I lived a hundred different lives in 2015. The adventurous expat, the patient teacher, the homesick little girl, the intrepid world traveler, the anxiety-ridden dependent, the supportive wife, the optimistic partner, the heartbroken friend. I have felt a hundred incongruous emotions — hopeful and discouraged, excited and apathetic, inspired and utterly disengaged, generous and self-protective, joyful and bitterly sad. I’ve traveled through 7 countries and made a 6,000 mile move. Each separate life and identity is self-contained like a square on a quilt, inextricably connected to the whole and meaningless without it.

I move forward into 2016 marked by the experiences of this past year and of all the years that came before it. I carry them with me like the very cells of my body. Who I am today is shaped by what I did yesterday and last year and in the years before that. But who I will be tomorrow depends on what I choose to do with today.

There are dozens of ways I’d like to change, but when I think of all the things I need to do better I don’t feel inspired to step into a new year – I feel too overwhelmed to even know where to start. I need to eat better, to exercise more, to drink more water, to be less selfish, to love better, to make more time for writing, to travel, to explore, to learn a new language or skill, to be a better friend, to volunteer, to blog more consistently, to stop whining so much, to pray more, to be more organized.

Last year I abandoned my list of resolutions in favor of just One Word. The idea of One Word is to get rid of your list and to choose a single word to focus on for a whole year. “One word that sums up who you want to be and how you want to live.”

In 2015, I chose the word “Wholehearted.” It was a big word that encompassed an entire way of looking at the world. I’m not finished with wholeheartedness – becoming wholehearted is a lifelong journey – but I have chosen a new word to represent 2016. My word is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” Mindfulness is something I profess to believe in deeply, but fail to put into practice.

From the time I was a young child I learned to disassociate. This began as a coping mechanism for me, a way of dealing with my anxiety, but it grew into a habit. There is a restlessness in me that causes me to grow bored and discontented easily, and when I’m no longer entertained, challenged, or excited, I tend to disengage.

There is nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of living an ordinary life, but most of life is made of ordinary moments. How much of mine do I miss by checking out and simply going through the motions while I dream of being somewhere else? This year, I want to learn to be present for my own life.

The poet Mary Oliver writes often about what it means to pay attention to the world. In her famous poem “The Summer Day” she writes:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I believe that nothing is without meaning if we only pay attention to it. And I believe that I can waste my one wild and precious life not through big mistakes, but through day after day of failing to pay attention and just going through the motions.

I am setting my intention this year on just one thing – growing in Mindfulness. I will choose to be present for my every day life. I want to learn to see the extraordinary wrapped up in my ordinary days and to collect evidences of grace that shine true even when the days are dark.

If you’ve chosen One Word for 2016, leave a comment below and share what you chose and what it means to you. 

Header image via: The Huffington Post