On Fitting it All (Including Writing) In, A Love Letter

Meditation. Love it or swear you’re going to scream if you hear someone say the word one more time, right?

I had a great meditation practice established for a long time.  Fifteen or twenty minutes every day, sometimes even twice a day. I loved meditating. It made me calmer, helped me focus better, and expanded my creativity.  It felt like putting my brain through the laundry.   Never mind that half the time I fell asleep during the rinse cycle. I always came out feeling mentally bright, shiny, and new.

And then I stopped. For a variety of reasons, most of which were subconscious.

For one thing, I went to France for a month. There, I was busy each day teaching, writing, eating lots of fish, and drinking the good, cheap, local wine. There wasn’t a lot of time for meditation.  Because: good, cheap, wine. And lots of good people to drink it with. And, to be honest, I forgot about it.

But there was also walking, and lots of it. Walking into town several times a day, walking to gaze at the nearby Mediterranean, walking to partake of some of that divine wine and food.  And walking was a big deal for me. Because for the last few years, walking, one of the things I’ve loved to do best in the world, has been painful. Sometimes very painful, thanks to mild arthritis in my left knee.

This year, though, I was determined to be able to walk as much as I wanted in France. And so I got a cortisone shot. Went to physical therapy several times a week. Rode a stationary bike to build up my leg muscles. And yes, I walked a ton in Collioure and Paris.  When I came home, I wanted to keep walking.  And so the time designated for exercise every day has become devoted to physical exercise, not mental.

And there went the meditation practice.

Lately, though, I’ve been missing it a lot. I’m working on finding time to fit it back into my life. Along with walking or riding bike.  And eating, and showering, and reading, and answering emails and all the other things that make up my day. And oh yeah, that other thing—writing.

Doing all the things that are good for us to do take time.  I put off having my hair cut or getting a pedicure because those things take time.  Which I’m forever trying to find more of, my main goal in life finding more time to write.  Yes, writing takes time. Lots of it. And it takes devoted time, time when I’m able mentally and emotionally to focus on putting words on the page. Because that is the crux of it, isn’t it?  When I’m trying to make time in my life, it’s because I want time to write.  When I’m doing things that are good for me, it’s because I hope they will enhance the writing.

And yet.

I so seem to have time to read my favorite blogs.  Scan the news sites.  Look at Ravelry for knitting patterns, or Etsy for tools.  I’ve realized, though, that something all these activities have in common is that they are about consuming. The things that really make me happy are about creating. Creating a strong mind, physical health, books to be read, warm shawls to wrap around me on a gloomy, gray afternoon.

And creating takes more energy, whether it is physical or mental, than consuming. But in our culture, consuming has become the predominant activity, fed by the 24-hour news cycle and a voracious online marketing machine. (Which I’ve got nothing against, I do just about all of my shopping online these days.)

I’m pretty sure there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do. But I do know that taking a closer look at the things I’m actually doing—consuming versus creating—makes me much more aware. And hopeful that I can tip the balance most often toward creating.

So, yeah, that’s about all I’ve got for you. No magic answer. I don’t know quite how to fit everything I need to do into my life. But I do know this. Whether it is meditation, or walking, or writing, when I practice it, even a little, I feel better. I’m a big believer in the Kaizen theory of life—that taking tiny, small steps leads to big improvement over time.

And to start taking those small steps, we need to be deliberate in our choices. When I think about it, that’s the key.  Becoming deliberate and mindful in choosing what I want to do at any given moment, as opposed to going into easy, default mode.  Choosing creating over consuming.  And maybe, just maybe, creating enough time in the day to meditate and walk—after I’m done writing, of course.

Lower Your Expectations

I have been a walker for years. Measuring_tape_262653_l

For the past twenty years, maybe more, I've walked three times a week with my friend Sharon.  We met when our kids, then wee, were in a cooking class together, started walking, and kept up the habit ever since.  We were a familiar sight on our route around the Rose City Park golf course in northeast Portland. 

Until last year.

2009 was rough on me in many ways–my mother died, my daughter's husband got deployed to Iraq, my beloved pug died in my arms.  But it was also a year in which I saw the breakdown of lifelong habits, walking among them. 

Sharon injured her Achilles tendon, later snapping it, which resulted in painful surgery.  She and I quit walking together in July, and haven't walked since.  But I myself had a knee injury that I needed to nurse and nourish all year long.  It prevented me from walking much the first few months of the year, and after that the pain came and went sporadically.

The worst of it, though, is that I've gotten out of the habit of walking.  I used to know, innately, that if I didn't walk I'd feel bad.  That if I walked, I'd feel good.  A no-brainer.  Even on the days I didn't walk with Sharon, I generally got myself out the door, either for a walk or to the gym.  But, suddenly, last year, that all changed.

After a year of acupuncture, with the best acupuncturist in Portland, my knee is in quite good shape, thank you very much.  But my walking habit has been awful.  I've been lucky if I could drag myself out the door even 2 times a week.    I hate being so slothful.  My body hates it.  My brain hates it. 

Something had to be done.

And finally, I realized, duh–follow the same advice I give my students.  You know, that idea I beat into everybody's head repeatedly, until they are so sick of it they want to scream?  This advice: write every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Translated to walking, this means, walk every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Now, I'm a woman who is used to walking several miles every day, so 15 minutes is, um, not much.  But what I find happens is that once I get out the door it feels so good that I often keep going.  And even if I don't, at least 15 minutes is better than nothing.  And the consistency of it is helping me to rebuild this habit I've lost.

So, by lowering my expectations I've managed to start walking daily again.

As is so often the case, writing bleeds into life, and life, writing.  What works in one works in the other, maybe because, at least for me, I cannot seem to separate writing from life or life from writing.  So, if you've hit a rough patch with your writing, try lowering your expectations.  In writing, this can be seen two ways:

Time–As detailed above, lower your expectations for how much time you need to get writing done.  You don't have to have hours of uninteruppted time in which to work.  Here's a little-known fact–sometimes even full-time writers like me don't have hours upon hours to lavish on our work.  You can get a lot done in short bursts.  And even if you only take a few notes, you're keeping the work on the front burner of your brain.

Content–Lower your expectations for what you are writing, also.  Perfectionism has killed many a writing project.  Put it all on the page, even if it is total crap.  The first time through, it will be.  So just expect that.  Better yet, require that.  Tell yourself you have to write a bad page.  And then another.  And another.  Pretty soon you have a bad draft that might not be quite as bad as you think.  And even if it is, that's what God invented the concept of rewriting for.  So have at it.

Lower your expectations and raise your writing output.  Now excuse me, but I have to go walk before I head off for a Superbowl party.