July 23, 2014

Under Construction

In 2001, I created my first webpage. Unsure of my work, I included a hard-hatted man next to the words "under construction." My initial viewer was Mark. (Besides being my husband, he's a software engineer with a good eye.) He gave many suggestions, but this was his first: "Every webpage is under construction, always. You needn't make that announcement." 

Thirteen years later I see that everything is under construction. Every idea, project, and relationship. We're all works in progress. It's impossible to wrap up life with a colorful bow and say "done!" Life is continual practice, sometimes on shifting ground. Everything is under construction. But this feels vulnerable, so we protect ourselves with explanations. This is only a first version, an initial idea and I'm in the process of making changes (read: these are all the reasons my work is imperfect).

I often provide unneeded words of clarification or explanation. This habit has stumped me for years. I assumed my behavior was unconscious armor against the judgment of others. Yet when I look deeper, I see it as distraction from my own self-judgment, which is far fiercer than external criticism. With this insight, I have a new practice: each time I feel my throat tighten around words of justification, I try to come home to myself. I notice my breath. I investigate and stay with difficult emotions. I treat myself tenderly. And I do this over and over again. 

July 21, 2014

Life Interrupts

I hit a wall yesterday. Life didn't cooperate with my plan. I felt like Lord Business in The Lego Movie: "You're ruining my perfection!" Desperately, I held tight control. Not real control, just perceived control. That's my habituated reaction to fear, shame, and uncertainty. And I'm sitting in a pile of uncertainty.

I often relearn this lesson: life isn't tidy; life interrupts. Sometimes I move with the flow. Other times I meet my edge. Meeting my edge yesterday was helpful. It exposed my soft spots. I can't fix the world, but I can attend to myself. I can pay attention through all the interruptions: electricity not working, friends' cancer diagnoses, unexpected car repairs, peddling a new business, and my father's heart surgery. I either stay with my edge or abandon myself. I'd rather stay. In these raw, vulnerable moments, I most clearly see my heart--my beautiful, tender heart. These are not interruptions, they are life itself.

July 14, 2014

Lost in Thoughts

Yesterday I went for a run and was completely lost in thoughts. A small dog, tied up in a yard, barked at me. I jumped out of my skin. Then I laughed and reflected. The stories we construct in our minds can consume us. I was running outside, yet I didn't experience my body or nature, only my thoughts. I was living in another world--in my head--where I was disconnected from everything, including myself.

Thinking is good. It helps us process and understand. Yet if our thoughts consume us, the understanding weakens. When do you receive your best insights and ideas? Possible answers: the shower, while gardening, on a walk, brushing my teeth, a quiet moment sitting on the couch. 

Often, we box ourselves in. We overthink a problem or situation. Indeed, our culture reveres intellectual hard work. But we can't solve all problems just by thinking. It's also important to process emotionally, let an idea sit, and gain larger perspective. The spaces that naturally happen in life--showering, walking--provide a break from the thinking and often allow for insight. Imagine if we purposefully created more space.

When I'm lost in thoughts--and I notice--I use a variety of techniques: nature walk, yoga, weeding my garden, breath awareness, meditation. My best strategy, though, is simply lying on the couch. Non-doing. I don't necessarily meditate, but I scan my body. I feel my emotions. I notice my thoughts but I don't follow them. I don't jump from the couch to do the next thing that pops into my mind. I lie on the couch for a while--longer than I think I can. And I settle. I stop believing the stories in my mind. I find a bit of clarity and perhaps a new perspective. Just by lying on the couch, intentionally doing nothing.

July 2, 2014

True Confessions

I slowly looked through a women's magazine. I sat with the images, the perfect images. Everyone's skin was flawless--no scars, wrinkles, or spots. Page after page of glowing, perfect skin. Impossibly perfect skin. 

As a photographer, I understand the importance of light. If only our lives were bathed in golden light. Instead, we see ourselves in varied light with unflattering views. So what is real? What is real in a culture of photoshopped models and my-life-is-beautiful social media? 

What's real for me is when I get offline--when I walk outside, hug a friend, savor a meal, share from the heart, or laugh with Mark. Life is messy. And I'm grateful for every messy moment. As a counterweight to all the impossibly perfect skin in magazines, I share with you some true confessions:

I'm not a natural blonde. Every six weeks I receive highlights from my stylist, Sarah. Here you can see my roots just before an update:

I delete 90% of the photographs I take. I shoot hundreds of images a day in order to get one I really like. I take many bad photographs.

I get frustrated by piles of dishes stacked in our drying rack. On occasion I start throwing the non-breakables around, to which Mark responds, "Yeah, take that!" And I smile.

If two words sound alike, I sometimes misuse one for the other, with the incorrect meaning. Me, the writer. 

Our lawn is one-half grass and one-half weeds. My flower beds are dense and wild (with fewer weeds).

I regularly have a good cry. Sometimes for a specific reason and other times because I feel generalized sadness. I always feel better after I cry.

I have no good reason, but I dislike crows. [Later: My friend Amy convinced me that crows are immensely likable. I'm sure there's something else I dislike for no good reason.]

I am both grateful for and horrified by the attention I get on Flickr

I have very deep laugh lines. And red, broken blood vessels all around my nose. 

I sometimes take inauthentic actions because I want someone to like me.

I'm a mindfulness teacher and some days I don't feel very mindful.

Sitting too much makes my lower back hurt. Stretching, yoga, and pilates make my back feel better. Some days I sit too much at the computer and don't stretch. Other days I stand at the computer and take yoga breaks. Life isn't perfect. And I'm grateful for every messy, imperfect, real moment. I'm grateful for it all.