Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Which I Reveal Two Major Things About Me

I do not make many decisions from a rational place. Which I realize is a strange thing for a judge to say. I do make my legal decisions from a basically reasoned place. But most of my decisions - like what am I going to do in this little moment - are made from a more intuitive impulse. Mostly I "just know" stuff. Even when I take multiple choice tests - it's like the right answer stands out in a mentally bolder type than others. Sometimes I literally cannot see the other answers. Things I really want and need tend to stand out or look more vivid to me. Take books, for instance.

So, today I went to the library to do something I really needed high-speed Internet to do and I thought, "I should go get that book Havi1 raves about, that one about nonviolent communication" (intuitive impulse one) and of course it's checked out but then I decide to go browse over in that area anyway, even though the library closes in literally five minutes (intuitive impulse two), and I find two books to put by my bed that I've already started to read (intuitive impulse three). To wit:

life is a verb - 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally by Patti Digh (in which I have already found several great quotes and one great poem for my humanities class as well as moments of laughter and relaxation into just being me)


Fitting in is Overrated - The survival guide for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider by Leonard Felder (which says so many things I've always thought only nicer and more PhD in psychology-er)

I don't know how to explain how I knew that I needed to check out these particular books, except that their covers just seemed to pop at me and I felt weird leaving without them. I knew from almost 37 years of experience that if I didn't get the books now I would be thinking about them for days and finally get them anyway.

Most of my very good decisions came to me in this way. I referred to some of those very good decisions in my last post. Others include going to BYU just so I could take a class from Gene England and then doing so my very first semester there, reading Gene's "Why the Church is as True as the Gospel" as a teenager in the first place (that was another book-shining-on-the-library-shelf moment), applying for a job with DWS, dropping by the house that is now ours when it was for sale and "just happening" upon the sellers who let us just tour the house at will, going to Milo Bishop's "how to buy your first house" class just a month previously, dropping by another house a month or so before that (which did not become our house) and meeting a realtor who was "just helping out a friend that day" who did become our realtor, saying "yes" to the question, "Would you like an appointment with Sarah Jane, she's really good," (see facebook).

I think we all get the picture.

My intuition is often smarter than my brain. My brain knows it, too, and is always arguing with me in this alternatively snotty then patiently pleading voice. I occasionally give it ice cream and let it watch Digimon (or take a bath), so I can hear myself not think for awhile.

The second thing about me that I've only recently realized is that I'm a helper (the intuitive thing I've been aware of since high school at least). I help people. All. The. Time. Like today, riding in the elevator at the library down to the parking area this woman with a very Castillian accent was asking her gentleman companion how to explain in English that her heart was going very fast. He said he did not know. I gently butted in asking if she meant beating rapidly or accelerating. And just right this moment I'm feeling slightly bad that I didn't think of the term "racing," she would have liked that. She seemed very glad I butted in. Her gentleman friend seemed embarrassed.

At work I help all the time - customers, coworkers, strangers. I don't mean to be rude, but if I know the answer or know where to look for it, I am VERY likely to share. It's just this thing about me that is so intrinsic that I haven't really been aware that not all people are like this until recently. I think I finally noticed this tendency because I've been working on not "fixing" stuff for people, especially when they haven't asked me to and maybe even more especially when they have. I also like fixing stuff. And putting together puzzles and unraveling things. Gives my pattern-crazy mind something to do. :-)

Also, I like cheese. There, that's several things about me.

You might ask why I am writing all this stuff about me. Well, book one that I referred to above, reminded me that were I to suddenly shuffle off this mortal coil, I would like there to be something for my beloved kids to know me by - to know me, not just Mom, but Amanda. And here's one way I am starting to keep a record for them. As the subtitle says - this blog is simply a measure of me.

1Havi Brooks of Fluent Self dot com

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Finding the Roots of Anxiety & Letting Go of Doing "It" Right

For much of my life I have experienced nagging anxiety, a sense that something about me or what I'm doing is "wrong," and that I need to fix it. This is not a pleasant way to live and so for the past couple of years I've been trying to get at the source of this omnipresent feeling of not being good enough. I've found an excellent therapist, a great women's group, and perused many wonderful books. Here's a summary of my thoughts for now:

One way I have confronted the anxiety in the past is by fixing "it" so I do everything right. That's right, I've spent some time as a perfectionist. The problem is that I suck at it.

I have had aspirations of making lists for most of my life. For coming up with and following a plan so that everything in my life can be organized! clean! easy! It's not just women's magazines that have manufactured in me this yearning for containerized living. I blame growing up in the "Covey culture," that special era of planning mania that gripped Utah Mormondom in the 1980s. My Laurel's leader1 was especially influential. She had a day planner that dominated her life. The idea of "plan your work then work your plan" is still predominant in this lovely Desert, whoops, I mean Deseret.2

I have purchased many day planners in my life. My current one doesn't even have a calendar, it's just a project planner. I figured without the burden of dates, I might use it. Nope. I still haven't accomplished some of the "projects" that I wrote down one year ago when we bought the house. I do have a list of things I MUST DO this weekend. I will probably only accomplish the things that I really must do or face consequences I don't want (like having to pay another $50 late fee to the State Bar).

I've learned that something about me at a deep, psychological level resists order. Strike that and make it "resists being told what to do, even by myself!"3 I have a fundamentally free form kind of self. I prefer to flow with the go. If I make myself a neat plan for how to accomplish a particular goal, I will sabotage it. It's like I am constitutionally required NOT to follow a plan. For example, the only students at my law school who did less studying than me where stoned. Seriously.

If I make a plan for my day or a project (like cleaning the house) or whatever, eventually I'll become convinced I can either a) find something better to do or b) find a better way/moment to do whatever it is that I've planned. It's not an attentional deficit, it's a conscious choice to abandon the plan. So I follow my gut and do whatever I want to do in that moment and all is good - until this little nagging sense creeps up that I must be doing "it" wrong because I either don't have a plan or I'm not following the plan that I have. (I think "it" is life.)

With some self reflection and help from a friendly turtle, I'm approaching that nagging sense with the reminder that letting go of the illusion of control/perfection/doing "it" right, is an essential part of letting life glide me over to where I need to be. Not everything that "goes wrong" is my fault. And not everything that "goes right" is due to my righteous efforts either. I wasn't following "the" plan when I fell in love with Shane, decided to have kids, moved back to Utah (without a job!?!), kept getting blood test after blood test until "they" figured out it was cancer (I already knew on that deep intuitive level that the prefrontal lobes can't argue with).

What I know to be right and good doesn't always fit into justifiable, rational goals. And I am beginning to accept that just showing up - just being present for the present - is a miracle in itself. Living here, in this moment, "loving what is" here before me, is better that living for some moment in the future that I've convinced myself can only come if I follow a letter-perfect plan.

A second source of this underlying anxiety is fueled by other people's dreams for my life that I somehow mistook for my own. These are the things people who loved me were sure I would do/could do/should do because they could imagine me doing it. "You're so smart/talented/whatever, you have to 'do something' with your life!"

I think of my beloved debate coach who told me he expected me to "be on the cover of Time someday." My choir teacher's insistence that if I did not become a professional performer I was "wasting my gift." A dear college mentor's anxious sureness that I needed to represent striving, confident career women in the Church and make the Church safe for feminists. Friends who were sure that I would be the general Relief Society President some day.4

None of the dreams were mine, though I accepted that they should be and tried to accomplish them for many years. And oh the guilt when I decided I should do what I liked and wanted and needed!

But my dream is here, sitting across from me in a downtown SLC park eating a Moochies sandwich, and at the playground taking pictures of new friends then convincing them to play Wonder Pets,5 is simply being okay with the fact that I am not working on my syllabus/predrafting my decisions for next week/trying to take over the world.

I don't want/have to be the next big thing, the smartest one in the room, the one who makes sure everything gets done right & on time (& right!!!!!).

And yet. And yet. My heart still tightens as I realize I'm doing "nothing," that there must be "something" so much more worthwhile I could be spending this moment on. I know these thoughts to be illusions, though the emotions are real enough. So I attempt to stay with the feeling and let the mind flow where it might, sans control. I experience the pain this sense of self-lack brings and do "nothing" with it. Just for a moment I feel what it's like to be "me" feeling pain over not being/doing enough and I don't try to argue with or appease the feeling. I just feel it. And eventually it dissolves and my focus returns to the beautiful dreams that surround me, the life I never thought I would have - with a partner who supports/loves/cooks for me, with children who sparkle with intelligence and love. And I remember now is not only "enough," it's all there really is.

1In the LDS religion, there is an organization for young women called, appropriately enough, "Young Women's." The Laurels are the 16-18 year old group. I think they are still called Laurels.
2It's a Mormon thing, please don't make me explain it. Wait, pretty much everyone who reads this blog has been immersed in LDS culture, whether they are members of "the Church" or not. So nevermind! ;)
3I am hoping somewhere my late Mother will take comfort in this thought.
4The top leader of the women's organization in the LDS church. Oh wait! I wasn't going to explain these things anymore. Doh!
5That's where my dreams were when I first wrote this. They are presently located at the zoo looking at baby tigers and sitting on the couch watching Loonitics Unleashed. My dreams move around a lot.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thoughts on Waking Up

So I've been exploring Buddhism for a little while now (and by exploring I mean reading three or four Buddhist authors that appeal to me) and I've decided that I regard the idea of enlightenment - or waking up to reality - much the way I regarded the idea of "being saved" when I primarily identified as Christian. I never thought of myself as being "saved" once-and-for-all - probably because I grew up in the LDS church, which talks about such things as eternal progression. So I tend to think of enlightenment as a process one goes through rather than an end that one achieves. One awakens to one thing, then another, then you fall asleep a bit on that other thing, then wake up a bit more, fall asleep again. I visualize what little progress I make as going up a huge spiral staircase - I keep returning to the same issues, but hopefully I'm a bit more awake each time I swing by.

I'm never all the way awake and I have my doubts that I will ever fully let go of this thing we call a "self," but every once and awhile I see things a bit more clearly, I catch the habit, I notice my feelings rather than putting words on them so I can argue them down, I refrain from biting the hook (as Pema Chodron calls it). And it's nice. I am finding myself less attached to my own thoughts and ideas, my expectations for how things "should be," and finding that I have less ego - less dogs in the fight, so to speak. Truly life is more pleasant this way.

I had more thoughts two days ago when I was drafting this post in my head. Oh well. :-)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Actual Relaxation

I have a very hard time actually relaxing. By that I mean that I am hardly ever deeply, unequivocally relaxed. The kind of relaxed where your muscles and your mind feel soft, warm (I have to admit though that just describing relaxation is making me feel better). One of my dear friends from college pointed out to me that everything was always a "crisis" and he was right. But I find that knowing is less-than-half the battle.

One of my new year aspirations was to "un-round" my shoulders. I am finding the focus on this aspiration helpful but the actual achievement of it almost impossible. My right shoulder is particularly "frozen." For example, while waiting for my lunch to cook at work, I will stand against the wall and place my hands behind my waist, in the "small" of the back. When I do this, I can feel the right shoulder blade "pop" out, pushing painfully into the wall. I then work on rolling my shoulder up and back, which gets the shoulder blade more in place, but boy is that a difficult stretch. Clearly I have used my right shoulder differently than my left one for years. But I also believe some of my stress, fear, alertness, is stored in that shoulder. (It also has something to do with using my mouse with that hand!) I think I've mentioned before that I believe that our memories are stored in our bodies as well as our brains - as well as out there in that medieval "ether" - I am hoping that my efforts to loosen and "normalize" my shoulders will help me release old pain and step out of my constant alertness and tension. I'm also working on my calves - which are unusually tight partially due to some arthritis in my feet plus poorly healed injuries and partially because I store stress there, too. I know it's a weird place to store stress - just trust me on this.

In addition to stretching, I've also tried just watching my reactions and my energy state for the last couple of months to see what feelings provoke shoulder hunching. I have noticed that most of the time part of my mind is on some kind of alert. Probably a good thing from an evolutionary perspective but hazardous to my long-term health. It is good to be on the alert for danger - especially when you have one child who has no fear of strangers and another with no fear of falling - but I am also aware that constant stress can damage your circulatory system as well as undermining your mental health. I want to be able to activate my parasympathetic system and reach deep relaxation - but sometimes I wonder if I even have a parasympathetic system!

Shane and I took the kids and the dog to the mountains in Nevada last weekend and somehow that was actually relaxing for me. At one point the boys, Shane, and the dog were splashing in a stream and I was taking pictures of them and the wildflowers (which filled the valley and were just awesome) and it hit me - I'm not worried about anything. I'm just here, looking at the lovely flowers, listening to the water and the children, delighting in their and Sophie's delight in the moment, feeling the sun and breeze, smelling the mountain air. It was lovely. I hoped to maintain the feeling for a little while when I returned to work on Monday, and I did, but by Friday it was gone. So part of this weekend I have tried to "just be here," to just feel the life around me instead of constantly attempting to direct and shape the energy. Going with the flow is just simply tough for a marathon life swimmer like me.