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Miranda: Breathe in, breathe out

Late May and June seem to overflow with spring sports, end-of-school trips, rehearsals, recitals, and events. Like many of you, I drive from baseball practice to the dance studio and then back again, arriving at home far too late to get a decent dinner onto the table. The options are: plan carefully and cook dinner in that narrow window between work and the chauffeur routine, or get pizza (again).

It’s easy to be swallowed up by the 1,358 details and pressures of daily life. Last week I retrieved my college son during a two-day road trip to Ithaca, NY, just in time to come home and help my husband rip out an asphalt driveway. Major DIY landscaping projects loom, woven in between graduations, shopping for teacher gifts, T-ball tournaments, and driver’s ed. Normally, the added tasks and activity of this time of year would turn me into a raving bee-atch stress muffin. But this year things are a little different. I’m not a sea of tranquility — not by a longshot — but I’m not fantasizing about my escape to Mexico, either. What’s changed?

I’m running around, but my recent efforts to do less and reduce stress have actually begun to work. I’ve stopped taking on new client projects (the existing clients are more than sufficient) and I no longer need to work nights in order to stave off the panic attacks. I continue to refine my custom planner, which I still love. In the big-picture thinking about moving closer to what makes me happy, the answer seems to live in “just being.” Being, as opposed to doing.

A lot of different threads have come together for me during the past few months as my husband and I began to seriously study and practice Buddhism. Now that I’ve done more than just dip my toe in (I’m probably up to the ankle) I wonder why I didn’t embrace this practice a long time ago. I’d read many Buddhist-inspired books over the years, but I never before connected all the dots. Mediation and mindfulness speak directly to my long-time desire to live in the moment, appreciating my children — how fleeting this time is! — and embrace creativity as much as possible without all the self-flagellation when it doesn’t happen. Somehow Buddhism always seemed to me like something that other people — crunchy, poser Westerners — took to in order to check out of life. But I was wrong. It’s not about checking out, it’s about checking in. You don’t need to be Tibetan in order to practice Buddhism, and it’s already helping me become a better mother. (One of my favorite books in this category: Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn.)

I’m also running again, eating better, and protecting my 7+ hours of sleep a night. And I’m reading, almost every night. What am I NOT doing? Well, I’m not watching any TV, but I don’t miss it. I’m also not doing very much personal writing. But I’m trying not to obsess. Obsessing means losing out on the opportunity of RIGHT NOW. Remember our discussion of someday is today? Well, today brings whatever today brings. I’m down with that. Yes, there are many things that I’d like to make happen. I’d like to finish my novel. My nonfiction book. Heck, just my creative nonfiction essay. I’d like to ensure at least three posts to this blog every week. And I will do all of those things, in time. But I won’t do them at the expense of this beautiful moment, or my children. (It was quite affirming to look out the window just now and see a hummingbird skimming through the sprinkler in my front yard!)

Summer looms, and with it the perennial promise of slower days and a bit of relaxation. (When the weather is fair — for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere — it does seem easier to embrace the moment, doesn’t it? Of course, this is the very reason why my husband argues that we should move to a warmer part of the country 🙂 ) How are YOU feeling during the end-of-year crunch? Are you able to enjoy the beauty outside? Have you developed strategies to stave off the stress? Are there certain items in the self-care category that you refuse to give up, come hell or high water (a nightly bath, journal writing, a weekly yoga class, a photo a day)? And if creativity gets put on hold for a while, do you trust in a cycle that will bring it back? Please share….

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. good for you, miranda!

    generally, i’m trying the same approach, but not necessarily with buddhism practice. just slow down.

    usually i’m pretty good with things being the way they are but i do have moments where it gets out of whack again, and i load too much into the schedule, etc, and my body immediately lets me know now when that is occurring. for instance, at the moment, i’m nursing a bad cold after a busy week and a half since our travels to denver. so then i slow down again.

    i am grateful i’ve been able to do so in the last few years.

    and i’m proud of you doing the same! i remember standing in your kitchen last summer with mary, and saying, ‘what can you let of?’ because i was at a place then that i said to heck with all the bother!

    May 20, 2010
  2. I have to admit that I thought I had a handle on this living in the moment thing. BUT I keep finding myself surprised at all the posts I am reading about end of the school year is NOW! Where did the first half of this year go? I have some accomplishments to show for the time but I feel like I have been checked out. Blame it on a hard winter or culture shock with the move to Germany but all seem like excuses. Thanks for your post-I take it as my wake up WAKE UP call.

    May 21, 2010
  3. I’d like to dip my big toe into Buddhism someday, too. I’ve skirted around it for a while, but never fully explored it. I went to kripalu for a weekend this winter, which definitely put me in a new, better space for a while. Having the opportunity to be still and practice yoga at 6:30 am was just what I needed. A good, peaceful, mindful space. The trick is maintaining it.

    Anyway, good luck with all your end of the year activities and good for you for taking care of yourself – running and sleeping and carving out time and space for things.

    I loved this post!


    May 23, 2010
  4. i feel like you wrote this post just for me! i’m trying to be more mindful of enjoying the things that i often turn into stressful moments. usually, my melting down point involves transit with my children – i’m so disorganized and last minute on everything that going from one place to the next usually ends up in fireworks. my strategy involves a little more structure for myself and the family, which might seem counterintuitive to the notions of breathing and letting go – but i think if i can get a few basic management principles in place, we’ll be able to enjoy the little moments a lot more…

    May 24, 2010
  5. Thanks for the comments, friends.

    What I’ve come to understand, really understand during the past weeks/months, is that happiness is a choice. It is a choice that we have every moment of every day. This moment, right now. Happiness is not conditional. Perhaps some perfect composition of wonderful things will appear in your life tomorrow — but even if they did, the resulting good feelings that you might experience will only be fleeting if they are tied to those temporary “gifts.” The real gift is this very moment, right now.

    Your child spills a big glass of juice all over the carpet. So what? It is so easy to just be annoyed and chastise the child for the accident. “You’re not being careful enough!” or “This is the third sloppy mistake you’ve made in the past two hours!” Or whatever.

    It’s juice. Clean it up. Be present. Be happy. Your unhappiness and irritation are a crushing blow to a young child.

    Happiness is a choice, not a project.

    Love is a choice, too. Love is not a magical, ethereal thing that exists between two people and then seems to dry up when “life” intervenes. Love is decision. Love is more important than toothpaste in the sink or forgetting to buy milk on the way home.

    What does this moment require of me?

    I am here, right now, and I am so grateful for this gift. I chose happiness, I chose love, I chose now.

    May 27, 2010
  6. I’m late to this post! Perfectly said, Miranda, particularly in your comment above. “Happiness is a choice” is the motto I’ve lived by for a very long time! I just talked about this week in my Art Saves guest curator post on Crescendoh! I’m so happy for you that you’ve come to this place. My post is below.

    May 27, 2010
  7. Wait! Nobody read Kelly’s Crescendoh piece because we’re running it here next week!! 😀

    May 27, 2010
  8. Oops! Sorry! I didn’t realize that! Thanks! 🙂

    May 27, 2010
  9. Yes, well, if I responded to e-mail in a timely fashion, then you WOULD have known that! lol

    May 27, 2010

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