Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Year to Live - Stones for Change

Of course changing habits is hard! There are a million books written on the subject.  I've probably read at least 20 of them over the past 10 years.  I like the books. They give me hope that things can change.  They make it seem possible.

But, merely reading the books doesn't help.

The only way to make change is to practice.

So, I devised a system to help me keep track of my progress. But this system is a little different, because it sits in front of me everyday on my coffee table as a reminder.  A physical 3-dimensional reminder that I am on a path to change.  It looks like this. . . 

Yes, bowls filled with stones!

Here is the premise:  I started with 44 stones in my Growth Bowl.  This visually represents the practice I need to accomplish to make the changes I want to make.  When I practice good behaviors I transfer a stone from the Growth Bowl to the Success Bowl*. 

In my case, I have chosen 3 ways to earn a stone. 

     1.  I can eat at home the whole day to save money and make healthier choices.
     2.  I can go to the gym for cardio.
     3. I can take a walk around the High Road (the 1 1/2 mile loop around the Brandeis Bardin Campus where I live).

But!  The stones can go both ways! If I exhibit less healthy behaviors, I have to return a stone to the Growth Bowl (reminding me I have more practice to do).  However, the key is not to punish myself if I make a poor choice, but to recognize that my choices, both healthy and unhealthy, have a cumulative effect, and that I am looking for the overall success. 

I "lose" a stone a few ways:

     1.  I eat out more than 1x a day.  (3 meals out = 2 stones!)
     2.  I eat a gluttonous amount. (usually because I eat while I'm tired or stressed out)
     3.  I eat more than one sweet a day. 

For me this practice is all about moderation and the visual representation that I am making more healthy choices than unhealthy ones.  The result of course gives me confidence that I can make changes and the changes make me feel good. 

The best lesson is the act of taking a moment to pause and think before I make a decision.  Do I really want to spend money eating out? Do I really want that second brownie? Will taking a walk before bed reduce my stress level? Of course, I know the answer, but this holds me accountable to my value set.

Earning stones is my way of practicing awareness in my life and learning to be mindful of how I want to exist in the world.  My stones have to do with living a healthy lifestyle in the areas where I think I need growth, but this practices could be done with any behavior.  My husband has his own set of stones (in white bowls) and doing it together is fun.  Some days I earn more stones than he does and other days he earns more than I do. But, it encourages us both to stay awake and alert of our actions as we go through our days. 

We also will gift each other a stone for exceptional behavior that is not on the list.  For instance, if he helps a friend with yard work or I have a particularly productive dance rehearsal.  This allows us to be flexible in our growth and see all aspects of our lives through the mindful lens. 

Today I have earned 3 stones.   
     1. 20 min Yoga in the morning
     2.  Afternoon walk around the High Road
     3.  Eating only fresh foods at home!

*Note: I think it is key that the terminology of the bowls be positive on both sides.  Growth gives me hope that I can grow to change. If I labeled it "Bad" I would likely abandon ship-- Just writing about it gives me a heavy heart.  Think positive for lasting change! 

Side note:  Why 44 stones?  Because we only had 88 on hand so we divided them equally.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Year to Live - 323 Days Left

Don't worry! I am not ill, and I hopefully have many, many more years to live.

But, what if I didn't?  What if this was my last November, my last Channukah, Christmas, New Years, Birthday. . . ?  I have started a practice with my spirituality group called "A Year To Live" inspired by Stephen Levine's book with the same name.  Of course we are doing it our Buddhist inspired way, but the essential questions remain the same. 

How can I live my life to the fullest? . . . What does that even mean? 

I started my year to live on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and I am now down to 323 days left.  It's been a while since I have posted to this blog because this first month has been a doosey as I have reorganized my thinking, my approach to life and in some ways the contents of my life. 

I started by calculating the total hours it would take for me to do everything I want to do in a week.  I turns out I would need some 121 hours a week (and that was without allotting time for meals or family).  Alas, I am only awake approximately 105 hours a week. So, therein was the first problem I identified in my quality of life. I wanted to do too many things and in result everything suffered and most of all I suffered.  I was losing integrity.  And, fast. 

So I made the difficult cuts to things I enjoyed in my life but just didn't have time for.  Sadly, my yoga membership and my participation in the Razor Babes was among them.  But, I simply couldn't live the rest of my "year to live" feeling overwhelmed and generally disappointed in myself for not being able to accomplish everything I wanted to in a week. I was doomed to failure, by the mere math of there not being enough waking hours! 

But, simplifying was just the first step.  The "year to live" perspective has permeated most of my daily decisions.  Now I find myself asking how I want to live my life starting with the here and now.

How do I want this moment to be? To feel?

How do I want this evening to be?

This day? This week?

The good news is that I believe I am on track with most of my life decisions. I love teaching, I love creating dances and I love learning.  I have loving relationships with my husband and family.  In general, I am living the way I want to live in the big scheme of things.  But, the little stuff is what gets me from time to time. Getting caught up in the illusions that cause anxiety. The demands of the moment that feel like life and death, but really are trivial, silly or simply not worth my time. 

This practice is, however, not as simple as it seems.  It is often hard to see the truth of the situation, to dig past the eye catching details of the moment and see the essentials of life as it is.  I still have bad days. I still have moments of insecurity and uncertainty. But, this practice has already changed my attitude toward myself, others and the world. 

I won't last forever; no one will.  This too shall pass. I shall pass. The joys, the suffering, the clarity, the confusion, the life, the death.  It is all transient.

So, what do we make of the here and now?  

The present.  The gift of being present.