Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 2014 - Practicing Joy

For a few months now, our family has been trying to follow a "practice of the month." In November we practiced Gratitude, and in December we practiced Giving. I got the idea from a group at our church last year that was focusing on practicing compassion, and I wanted to try it as a way of integrating those practices and values that are important to me into our daily life.

I bought a glass vase and a bunch of colored glass beads. When we remember to do it, which is often only a couple of times a week, we talk about our "practice" around the table. When we think of an example of the practice, either something we did or saw someone else do, we name it and put a bead in the jar. At the end of the month, if the jar is full, we get to go do something fun. It's led to some good conversations, and sometimes it's been helpful to get us out of the rut of complaining and snipping at each other.

So January was the month to practice Joy. I chose Joy because, let's face it, January can be cold, dark, long, and dreary. The kids did not adjust well to going back to school after the Christmas break. Bryan's mood tends to go down in the season of short days. I'm not crazy about the cold or the air pollution. So I was somewhat skeptical about our ability to put Joy into practice. In general, I'm not a big fan of "positive thinking" as a self-help ploy...even if it works, it frequently feels false to me. But I do think that joy is a choice - and an important one to make often - and so I gritted my teeth and committed to exercise my joy muscle this month.

Surprisingly, it's actually worked pretty well. Part of my approach was to try to incorporate more play into the daily grind. I'm not naturally very playful as an adult, unfortunately for my kids, and I wasn't even very playful as a child. So I tried the Jerry Seinfeld idea of doing "opposite day" - if I didn't feel playful, I played. If my kids were annoying me, I made myself respond playfully and tried to turn things into a game or a joke. "Act as if." "Fake it to make it." I didn't do it consistently, but when I did, it helped.

The other place I found joy this month - believe it or not - has been the laundry. First, when you really stop to think about it, our way of doing laundry should always evoke gratitude. When's the last time you washed all your clothes by hand, or scrubbed them against a washboard, or a rock in a river as the majority of humans have done for a great long time? In the spirit of being mindful, I took to noticing the multisensory experience brought to me by my laundry. Compared to the clothes most humans have worn through most of history, don't we have amazingly soft, comfortable fabrics? beautiful designs? rich colors?

My sister-in-law Grace gave me the gift once of telling me how she did her laundry. When folding my brother's clothes, she focused on her love for my brother. She remembered the time before she met him when she prayed to meet someone to love. OK, I admit, this is overly sentimental and totally hokey! But today when I folded the laundry, I held a few clean, warm, soft shirts to my face and breathed in gratitude for the husband and children in my life.

And finally, when I clean out the lint screen these days, I get an extra hit of joy. Why would dryer lint give me joy? Because my 9-year-old daughter has taken to collecting it. Every time I give her a big lint ball she breaks into a smile and makes a happy "ooh!".

January is almost over, and I'm not sad about that. But thanks to this month's Joy practice, I can honestly say it's been one of my better Januarys in recent memory.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I wrote this for our Galloway Group's new website, which includes a blog for runners. Thought I'd post here as well. I started running in 2010, and it has done so much for me. Still can't believe I do this! 

Running, the Brain, and Joy

My story is similar to the others posted here - I NEVER thought I would enjoy exercise, least of all RUNNING! Growing up, my favorite activity was curling up with a good book and moving my eyes left to right for hours on end. My brothers played soccer and my sisters did ballet, but I was too incoordinated and unmotivated to enjoy any sport on a regular basis. (I still cannot do step aerobics to save my life.) I also learned to fear ball sports after being injured while made to play with bigger-stronger-faster kids. When I biked or ran with kids my age, they all just left me in the dust. Years later I would find out more about why...keep reading...

When I took swim lessons, I saw that other kids could somehow float, but I sank to the bottom like a stone. I did learn to ski, but was slower than my friends in passing each level, which meant I watched them take off for the big hill while I stayed behind. In middle school, I was effectively trained to HATE the mile by our PE teachers, who required us to run it in a certain time - conveniently ignoring that we all had different bodies with different abilities. (I would love to go back with a heart rate monitor and be graded on EFFORT rather than an arbitrary time cutoff.)  In high school, I even developed exercise-induced urticaria, which meant I broke out in big red blotchy itchy hives after each run. 

So I did what any self-respecting clumsy short person would do - I developed my brain rather than my body. I played violin and piano and did well in school. The culture and my parents rewarded me for this, even if I was still pretty much a nerd among my peers. I made friends with other musicians and smart kids and we focused on getting into college and pursuing our careers. For years I ignored my body. My body basically existed to house my brain, which was where I lived. I did exercise half-heartedly to keep from gaining weight, but I sure didn't enjoy it or look forward to it. It was like eating my veggies - I knew it was good for me, but I wouldn't do it of my own accord.

Well, my brain took me to medical school, where I continued to stuff it with learning and facts. Despite my lack of interest in (and time for) fitness, two experiences there were significant. First, I was part of the "code" team at LDS Hospital. If someone started to die, the code pager went off and the code team dropped whatever we were doing and raced for the patient. One day we were in the basement looking at pathology slides and the code pager summoned us to the 8th floor ICU. Taking the elevator was out of the question - this was a true life-or-death emergency! The code team charged up the stairs. The rest of the team surged ahead as I painfully tried to run up the 7 flights of stairs. By the time I made it to the 8th floor they were out of sight. Sweaty and panting, I eventually rejoined them. No one said anything, but of course I felt remorseful at my slowness. This was life or death - what if people were counting on me one day and I couldn't come through? And another thing - my colleagues were as busy and stressed and out of shape as I was (or more). Why could they zip up those stairs so much faster than I could? I was soon to find out!

Second experience: A few weeks later we were in the Pulmonology lab for a demonstration of inhalers and pulmonary function tests. We were invited to take the tests that patients take, and here comes my "aha!" moment - my tests showed that I had a significantly smaller lung capacity than expected for my age, gender, height and weight. I was off the chart. AHA!!! It wasn't major, and it didn't limit me in normal daily life, but it did explain why I seemed to be a Hufflepuff in a world full of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors (couldn't resist the Harry Potter reference, sorry). I am now, running marathons and loving it! No one is more surprised at this than me. I can't explain what made me want to run, but not long after the big 4-0 I came across an article about the Galloway method and suddenly I thought, "I wonder how far I could run." I looked up the SLC Galloway group and the rest is history. The run-walk-run method just jives with me. It makes me feel GOOD! (unlike running continuously, which still makes me feel BAD even though I'm in better shape now). It may not be for everyone, but it unlocked my joy for bodily play, and I am much  more integrated - a body, a brain, and most importantly a SOUL that enjoys both the physical and mental aspects of life. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

December 2013

End of the Year Musings...

It's December 31st, 2013, and I'm sitting down here in the midst of my messy house, a glass of red wine by my side, feeling mildly frazzled on the surface but grateful in my depths. Some reflections on 2013...

(Note: I lost my camera a couple months ago, so no recent pictures. Back to the dark ages where we described things in words...)

I'll start with Sam. Sam's boundless energy invites me to paint him in metaphors. He is a  dynamo, a torpedo, a tornado, a bullet train, a bear cub, a puppy, and a bouncing Tigger all in one. He spins! He flies! He falls off chairs! It is so much fun to watch him grow. He's becoming a super reader and entertains us with live and expressive Dr. Seuss readings, songs, and nursery rhymes, as well as creative dance moves. He can swim like a shark, ride a bike without training wheels, and ice skate forward and backward (and sideways, and upside-down, and on his bum or sliding across the ice on his tummy or knees...) Nothing stops him!

This year Sam got glasses and was found to have astigmatism and red-green color blindness, which explains years of arguments discussions over what is blue versus purple. He also began treatment for ADHD this year, with good results, and we are really proud of his progress in school. He practices high-velocity hugs on me and writes me beautiful love notes. He makes my day just by saying, "Bye, supermommy!" when I leave for work.

Alle continues to be a spirited, creative young lady. She turned 9 this year and is tackling the challenges of third grade with a mix of courage and frustration. It looks like she has some version of ADD as well, without the hyperactivity, and the extra demands of homework and organization/planning are stretching her limits. She is fiery and passionate, independent, stubborn, curious, articulate, a deep thinker and a very perceptive observer. We have enjoyed reading great books together this year, and now she has discovered the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter and we are deep into enchantment, magic and mystery. She was in her first "Winter Ice Show" at the local rink this year, where she showed off her backward skating-waving-smiling skills and clearly enjoyed the spotlight. :-)

Alle also started violin lessons recently, and her teacher makes it fun, with songs about ants and grandmas riding motorcycles. It's interesting to see the Suzuki philosophy and techniques from a parent's viewpoint and I'm learning a lot too, mainly that there is a big difference between being able to play and being able to teach! I really like Suzuki's emphasis on joy and character and music as a way to develop those.

Bryan is enjoying a thriving and rewarding psychiatry practice, and thankfully is in a good group where the call is reasonable. I've been hearing recently about the importance of play both for children's development and for adults' thriving, and I have a new love and appreciation for his play skills - he's a good influence on me and a fantastic dad. He enjoys playing games with the kids and has introduced them to the creative and problem-solving worlds of Minecraft and Civilization. Games in our house are also opportunities to practice non-violence. :-)  He also enjoys getting together with friends for game nights and movies like The Hobbit.

As for me...I'm a work in progress--aren't we all? At age 44 I am still learning things - and I love what we are discovering about neuroplasticity - it means there is hope for everyone!  This year I am proud to report I learned to ice skate - nothing fancy, but enough to have fun with the kids and finally understand that gliding motion a little bit. I also learned to "loom knit" hats, and I enjoy the process even though I have trouble finding enough sit-down time to get much done. Again this year I also enjoyed training for and completing three half-marathons and two marathons, and collected donations for girls' education. Finally, I've rekindled my love for the piano a bit, renewing my old acquaintances from childhood piano books and finding new interests in Satie and Faure and Debussy. I'm no great performer, but it brings me joy.

And that is about it! The year in a nutshell.

May your 2014 be filled with peace, love, and joy.