My 30 Day “Just Be” Challenge

Ever have a day where you leave work and the entire time you’re walking, driving, metro-ing, biking, you’re consumed with a replay of a rough day at work and a series of frustrating conversations? Even though you’ve physically left the building and are at last blissfully solitary, you find yourself somehow still present “there” and not present “here.”

This happens to me a lot–almost on a daily basis. Compartmentalizing or practicing mindful containment in my life is not my strong suit. When something has bothered me, it affects me and permeates every aspect of my life. My mind replays the moment, conversation, email, text, etc. My body tenses, my breathing becomes shallow, and my concentration wanes. I become stuck in a cycle of reliving something when I am no longer being asked or required to participate.

Why is this so hard?

Before you know it I’ve walked half a mile to my car and not once bothered to take a deep breath, be grateful that it’s the end of my day, or listened to the sounds of the birds or the wind rustling through the forested trail. I’m completely wrapped up in the same stuff I have been all day. A work day is no longer 8 to 10 hours because there is a never-ending dialogue that’s rehashing anxieties and stressors long after you’ve left the physical office.

In my latest life coaching session on my journey as a recovering control freak (see this recent blogpost) she challenged me to a 30 day challenge of “just being,” “just living.” As I’m sure you can imagine, I had lots of questions about that. What do you mean “just be?” Am I supposed to not go into work? Do I stop making plans for things that are happening in the future? Do I stop running errands? Do I only do things I want even if they aren’t healthy or the “right” thing to do?

The first 48 hours of this “challenge” have been absolute hell. All the ideas of being zen-like, peaceful, and calm, going with the flow, floating through my days saluting the sun and breathing deeply has literally flown out the window. This is what the first 48 hours looked like:

Restless sleep.

Recurring dreams continue about going back to college and running around it because I’m trying to reach a goal or be on time for a class or help my roommate win a scholarship and subsequently meet Phil Collins all while profusely sweating (yep.)

45 minutes to get into work on Day 1. I live 5 miles away.

Lock keys in car while still running on Day 2. Have to pay for roadside assistance.

Retrieve car, A/C seems to be broken. It’s the beginning of summer. Get home smelling ripe.

Stress eat.

Stress clean.

Feel guilty about stress eating. Think about going to the gym. Remind self that the couch is far more welcoming than the gym.

Meditate.

15 minutes into the practice decide to call it quits.

Feel guilty about quitting after 15 minutes.

Relive work for past 48 hours. Anticipate all work to happen in the next 48 hours. Replay frustrating conversations and decide how I want to respond to them in all future instances from now until the end of time.

Reminded by my own handwriting on sassy whiteboard about my challenge / affirmation for the next 30 days and realize that I have to just be.

…30 days feels impossible.

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I’m Always California Dreamin’

About 6 years ago, I fell deeply, euphorically, head-over-heels in love with California. I vowed on that trip that I would find my way back as often as I possibly could and I wouldn’t be that person continually saying “in the next 3 years when I’ve done this and this has happened, I’ll make the move.” I promised to move as soon as I could.

And then 6 years passed.

I am nowhere near moving to California. I have accomplished many other things I wanted to do and have been encountered with other obstacles, challenges, and joys that have stopped me from the “big move.”

Every time I hear of someone that I know either presently or in the past moving to California, I experience soul-crushing sadness. Deep disappointment. Melancholic jealousy.

Why them and not me? California is MY dream. 

When will my time come? I’m already 30. 

Will I be stuck here forever? 

California is where I belong.  

Can I be truly happy here if I’m not in California?

This feeling is so intense that it is often hard for me to keep a straight face when the “We’re moving to California!” announcement gets shared. I flinch, I flinch every time.

My mindful-zen-yogi-namaste mind knows that each of our individual paths will unfold as they are meant to. And that timing isn’t everything. And that California may be a lot of people’s dreams…but somehow, I’ve become possessive (and subsequently not very mindful) about this.

Each time this strikes, I am not present because I’m thinking about how I’m not in California. I am not present because I am focused on other people living out my dream while I’m seemingly stuck in my half-baked one.

I put California on a pedestal.  A pedestal that is a dangerous, for as the Buddhists so wisely remind us: desire is the root of all suffering. By focusing our attentions on the possibility of a seemingly impossible dream, are we, ultimately either in a state of disappointment or setting ourselves up for disappointment? Is this one singular dream, really, truly, the single most important key to my happiness? 

Guess what? When I ask myself that question, I am met with a clear answer. That soul-crushing sadness turns into a smile and I am able to sigh a deep relaxing breath because I am able to acnkowledge the love, happiness, and light that surrounds my life today, right now–palm trees or no palm trees.

The Bell Curve of Vacation

We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.

In my humble opinion, going on vacation looks a lot like a bell curve. There is all the preparation, anticipation, and even stress that goes into getting ready for the big trip. Wrapping up work projects, cleaning the house so you don’t come home to a giant mess, making sure you have all your travel reservations taken care of, double-checking a packing list and somehow still worrying about inevitably forgetting something.

There’s all this build up to the peak of that curve. And then you are at the peak, the crescendo, the great bliss of vacation. Of no responsibilities, of no alarm clocks, of no meetings, of no adult responsibilities that sound like: “I have to go grocery shopping,” “I have to go to the gym,” “I have to pay my Comcast bill.” You are in almost every way vacating your current life for an adventure that you are writing in real time.

It is a well-known fact that the United States doesn’t have the greatest vacation policy for most employees. My mother, a fiercely proud French woman, was aghast when she first learned of the policy here.

“What do you mean I have two weeks for the first two years?!”

After all, she hailed from a country that started you out at 6 weeks minimum. Not to mention a country that as of most recently,  legalized a law that just made it illegal for your boss to contact you after-hours. The French (and I know many other cultures) never lived to work, they worked to live. So, vacation was precious to me once I learned how hard it was to accrue and how quickly it can go away.

I just returned from vacation and I was riding the bell-curve-bliss pretty hard. I had driven through some of the most scenic states on the East Coast; seen majestic and mysterious animals that we still to this day know so little about; and made it to a country where French was spoken but I didn’t get on a plane. In every way, this vacation was magical–like so many others

As I drove back closer and closer to home, I realized that something was happening to not only me, but my S.O. as well. The closer we inched back home, the more tense we physically became, the more on edge we talked to each other, the more frustrated we got with tiny things. The closer we got to home, the less mindful we became of our actions. The closer we got to home, we started to come down that bell curve at an alarming speed. Careening back down to reality and to all the responsibilities of LIFE. 

We came crashing down hard. Our conversations changed from awe and “look, how beautiful!” to “I really don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” and “I’m so worried about what to do about x, y, and z.” Because as quickly as we vacated our lives, we had to go back.

I felt my shoulders and jaw muscles tense. My brow furrow. My breathing become shallow and quick. All the cars, the noise, overwhelming and overstimulating. And, I looked at him and said: “We have completely lost being in the moment, our vacation isn’t even finished yet, and we’re already dreading tomorrow and the next day–hell, even the next week!”

How does one capture and bottle that feeling of bell-curve-bliss in everyday life?

What is so awe-inspiring is not the scenery or the amazing adventure of a vacation, but it is truly living from moment to momentThat, above anything, is the foundation of mindful living.

So I challenge us to try and remember that feeling of living moment to moment. Opening our eyes and taking in the beauty that is around us, even if it is driving to work every day, or picking fruit at the grocery store, or the simple satisfaction of taking a deep breath once a day.

Until the next vacation!