Mindful Mondays Return

I used to do an installment, every once in a while, called Mindful Mondays. In the beginning they were quite frequent but when I added Working Mama Mondays to the mix they kind of fell away.

Spirituality is something I long for in my life. In my quest for a deeper meaning I came across Buddhism and knew immediately that it was a good fit for me. When I was dealing with my ectopic pregnancy and my struggles trying to get pregnant I found a lot of comfort in the teachings of Buddhism, especially in the ideas of mindfulness and acceptance.

Turns out mindfulness can also help me combat the low grade depression I’ve been dealing with. Depression is a complicated disease, one that involves destructive negative thought processes – thought processes we feel we have no control over. By employing mindfulness, I can experience those thought processes for what they are, simple ideas and not nonnegotiable truths. This is the first step in breaking the cycle of negativity and depression.

It’s a simple step but not necessarily an easy one. It will require practice in mindfulness. The foundation for that practice is meditation. This is always where my search for spirituality has stalled. Meditation requires time and commitment in my busy life; it’s so very easy to set that practice aside for more urgent commitments like laundry and dishes.

It’s obvious that I can’t set it aside any longer. It’s obvious that I need to make this commitment a priority. I know that it might be hard but I also know the rewards could be great. Finding the time to go to yoga three times a week is no easy feat, but I’ve found that practice to be incredibly positive to both my mental and emotional health. I didn’t realize how positive it was until, in the past two weeks, I was barely able to go. Last night an hour and a half of yoga was able to sooth the extreme disappointment of the weekend and leave me feeling refreshed and energized. Yoga is an incredibly powerful practice for me, one that has it’s roots in mindfulness.

I have no doubt that mindfulness can help me move past this depression. I’m equally as sure that meditation is required to build my mindfulness muscles. I will no longer allow other priorities to crowd out a meditation practice. Just ten minutes a day can, and will, do me real good. I intend to explore this experience on the recently renewed Mindful Mondays.

I hope you’ll join me.

Mindful Mondays: Equanimity

I’m a dabbler but I dabble in a unique way. My dabbling does not look like tinkering with something here and there. I don’t dip my toes in, making little circles in the shallow end. Instead I usually dive into the deep end, submerging myself completely in my new passion, taking all the expensive accouterments with me. So when I say I’ve dabbled in rock climbing, surfing, photography, yoga, meditation, running, cycling and Buddhism, what I mean is I’ve dedicated huge parts of my life to these things, but for a limited amount of time. Some of these interests (surfing) have been more fleeting than others (rock climbing, cycling, yoga). And some are still a part of my life (running, photography, Buddhism) though I wish I could dedicate more time to them.

It might seem strange to dabble in one’s own spirituality, but my experiences with Buddhims seem best described that way. Not shockingly, I started exploring Buddhism after my ectopic, when I was trying to find meaning in a world suddenly defined by loss. I began reading books and attempting meditation. I started attending talks at the Zen Center near my house. I enrolled in a class there and took a weekend retreat on approaching depression and anxiety with mindfulness. I realized quickly that I did not know how to quiet my thoughts or experience the present moment and that if I could, I’d be a happier person. I also found a lot of wisdom in Buddha’s teachings and felt that incorporating them into my everyday life would bring me peace and fulfillment.

Now that much of the wound of my ectopic has scabbed over and the anxious turmoil of my pregnancy is past me, I’ve found less and less desperate need for spirituality in my daily life. I know that I would benefit from it, but it’s not necessary just to get me through the days.

I have managed to incorporate some Buddhist teachings into my daily life. And one has really been a very positive presence. That teaching is equanimity.

As I understand it, equanimity is the practice of approaching all things without judgment, accepting the present moment in any incarnation. This means accepting emotional or physical pain in the same way that we accept happiness and joy. It’s a very difficult idea to wrap one’s head around.

When I began working on equanimity I started small. At the time I was tutoring after work which meant I was hitting the end of my commute at the worst traffic time. Some days I could fly through and others I spent 30 minutes sitting in what resembled a parking lot. Rounding a certain curve I would hold my breath, bracing myself for my immediate future. If it were smooth sailing I’d be ecstatic, if it were a sea of illuminated tail lights I would be despondent. I decided that I wanted to approach this moment with equanimity. No matter the traffic situation, I would accept it without judgment.

After a week of my equanimity-towards-traffic-jams-practice I realized something interesting. While I was quite good at accepting the traffic without anger, it was difficult to accept the absence of traffic without elation. I found it harder to not be overly excited by positive things than upset by negative things.

You might think, why would you want to be less happy about something? Aren’t there few enough things to be happy about in this life? I would have said that two years ago. But now I feel differently.

I now realize that intense highs and lows do not cancel each other out. Intense highs can be as destructive as intense lows. If one can approach both the good and bad without judgment, over all they will be more content.

After I mastered the zen approach to my daily commute, I kind of forgot about equanimity. Until I went back to work and found that I was miserable during the week days and over joyed during the weekends. I spent all week counting down until Friday afternoon and spent Saturday and Sunday watching the precious weekend minutes slipping away. Every work day was just a stepping stone to the weekend. And every week was just a tally mark on the way to my next week off. It was a horrible way to live.

So I took what I knew about equanimity and applied it to my daily life. Now I approach every day with acceptance. I even find things to be thankful for in a given day. I’m thankful that I have a job that pays my bills. I’m thankful that I get to see my daughter when I get home. I’m thankful that my students make me laugh. I’m happy to see my colleagues during lunch. On the weekends I enjoy the time with Mi.Vida and with my daughter. I enjoy seeing friends and family. I enjoy spending the morning reading blogs while my daughter bangs toys into her sides.

This seems like a small thing, but it has fundamentally changed the way I live life. I’m no longer waiting for some distant day in the future when everything aligns to promote my happiness and well being. Now I feel content despite what day it is or what I have to do. It’s a new kind of freedom I’ve never felt before. And while I do sometimes miss the elation of a day off, I know I’m much more fulfilled by the quiet gratitude I now experience each and every day of my life.

Mindful Mondays: Practice

In Buddhism, people speak a lot about “your practice”. Your practice is, at it’s most basic, your life and how you incorporate Buddhist teachings into each and every moment. But “your practice” is more specifically meditation. Meditation, or sitting silently and experiencing the present moment, is the key to Buddhist practice.

There are entire books on how best to meditate. I have not done much meditation. It’s incredibly difficult for me, which is okay, because a “Beginner’s Mind” as it is called by one teacher, is what we should all strive for.

My point is, I don’t feel qualified to speak much about meditation (and there are so many people who are – if you want some references please ask). What I can say is that meditation generally takes place in a sitting position (though there are practices in walking meditation). The imagine of a serene figure smiling subtly in the lotus position is probably what comes to mind. And while you are welcome to sit in the lotus position, many people are physically unable to achieve that posture. Instead, they sit cross legged, or kneel or even sit on a chair. As long as you can sit quietly in the position without excessive discomfort, you’re okay.

Now the hard part begins. The purpose of meditation is to focus on the present moment. Most beginner meditators are encouraged to use the breath as a tool to return to the present moment. The breath is always with us and yet we rarely notice it, let alone accompany it on it’s journey. I’ve read instructions to count the breath to five and then start again (I frequently find myself on 46 before returning to the breath). I’ve also read about helpful sayings. A simple one I use frequently is, “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out I know I’m breathing out.” Or simply, “Breathing in. Breathing out.” Another mantra I like is “Breathing in, I know this is the perfect moment. Breathing out, I know this is the only moment.” Or, “perfect moment, only moment.” These mantras help us return to the breathe easily and without excessive effort. More accomplished meditators can bring only 25% of their attention to the breath, leaving the rest to just relish in the present moment. I can’t write much about that, because I’ve never been able to do it.

As you meditate, thoughts will bombard you, ricocheting around your head. Sometimes it’s just small things, like, Wow, this is hard, or I have to itch my nose, should I itch it? But small thoughts snowball into other, more involved ramblings. I can’t imagine how people who are being held captive deal with itches they can’t scratch. It would drive me insane! I’ve had moments during meditation were I would suddenly find myself in a very involved drama that I didn’t understand at all. I didn’t recognize the characters, I didn’t understand what was taking place. It was extremely disorienting and sometimes I wondered if I were having a psychotic break.

So yeah, thoughts will arise (see how that little thought quickly became a paragraph-long rant) but when you realize that you’re thinking you just label it thinking and return to the breath. There is no judgement, there is no discerning whether things are as good or bad, just labeling your thought “thinking” and returning to the breath. This is the core of any mindfulness practice.

I’m reading about Buddhism again, trying to incorporate it’s teachings into my life. In doing this, I’ve come to understand that I MUST meditate if I want to practice mindfulness. Only in meditating can I cultivate the ability to remain present and aware. Only in meditating can I encourage loving-kindness and an open heart in all things.

But how do I find the time? I need to carve 20-30 minutes out of every (most) days to foster any real change in my life. That seems easy but I’m sure it will be exceedingly difficult. Still, I need to find a way.

I plan on doing Yin Yoga, which involves practicing mindfulness while holding yoga poses that open the different chakras and encourage energy to flow more freely through the body. I love Yin Yoga. I love how it makes me feel. I want to do it three times a week for about 30-60 minutes a time. On the other days I want to meditated for 20-30 minutes a day. We shall see if I can do this.

There are few things I know improve my mindset on a day to day basis. Exercise does, making Mi.Vida a priority can as well. And being mindful. Being mindful makes me feel less anxious and more accepting, even of the immense uncertainty of life. I know it will be hard to make this time for myself, but if I do, it will improve pieces of every single day, maybe even every single moment. I need to make this time for myself, for my daughter, for Mi.Vida. If I do, I will reap the rewards. If I do, I might just find peace. But only if I do.

March (ICLW) Madness

Hello ICLWers! I can’t believe it’s already March ICLW time. The months do fly by. I suppose now I need to give people a little back story into me and my TTC/pregnancy journey.

My blog name is Esperanza. I’m almost 30 and live in San Francisco with my partner Mi.Vida. We were going to get married but when Prop 8 was passed we decided to wait until California made it legal for everyone to get married. Instead we became domestic partners (in the city of San Francisco, as the state won’t let us do that because we’re not a same sex couple) in January of this year. We immediately started TTC after that.

I was already going to acupuncture and taking TCM herbs before we started TTC because of my history of amenorhea (no periods). I continued acupuncture and herbs along with charting and after a short six months was pregnant. Unfortunately a trip to the ER early in my pregnancy revealed that my baby we nestled snuggly in my left Fallopean tube, instead of my uterus. After an MVA (to determine for sure that I had an ectopic) I got two shots of methotrexate and was sent home. Two weeks of intense bleeding and  abdominal bloating later, I had started to heal physically. Emotionally I had a long way to go.

I was very lucky to find myself pregnant again in October, only four months after my ectopic. This pregnancy has been successful and I’ll be in my third trimester next week.

I know I’ve had a relatively easy journey through TTC, but it has been accompanied by much anxiety and depression (conditions I’ve suffered from since high school). I’ve turned to meditation, Buddhism, therapy and now Zo.loft to find some ability to cope. After a very rough first trimester fraught with anxiety and some lingering depression during my second trimester, I’m hoping the final third of my pregnancy will be easier. I’m so happy to be pregnant and am enjoying it immensely, but I can’t deny that I’ve struggled. Let’s just say I’m terrified to set up a nursery because I’m still worried something will happen before delivery.

As for the rest of my life, I’m a middle school Spanish teacher who is also in grad school. I have a cat I call Squeaks who brings me a lot of joy and happiness (and helped us through the tough summer after our ectopic with her kitten-y cuteness). I love being a part of the blogging community and read and comment on blogs daily. I hope you enjoy my blog! If you comment I will definitely check out yours and return the favor!

BUENAS NOTICIAS (Good News) – Mi.Vida comes home from Austin’s SXSW tonight. I can’t wait to see him!

Nightmares

Last night I had a dream that I miscarried, or more accurately that I started my period while I was pregnant. I remember being devastated in the dream, and at one point I even asked myself if it were a dream but I thought, No, it can’t be a dream, because this bathroom is so intricate and detailed, this couldn’t be happening in a dream. Moments later I woke up and I was so relieved to know that I had, in fact, been dreaming. But I still lay there feeling very upset, wondering if this dream was a premonition of some kind.

It was not only my anxiety making me believe that my dream could be a warning of what would be to come, but past experience as well. You see, I had a dream that I was miscarrying during my first pregnancy and the day I awoke from that dream I started spotting and then later bleeding. Two days after that I was in the ER getting a shot of methotrexate to terminate the ectopic pregnancy that was growing in my fallopean tube. That dream was much more upsetting and specific than the one I had last night. In that dream I was gushing blood and my good friend (who is a first year medical resident) was there, and when I seemed confused she clarified things for me, “You’re having a miscarraige, don’t you realize?” I hadn’t until she uttered those words, and then moments later I woke up.

For the first time in many weeks I checked the toilet paper every time I went to the bathroom. So far no spotting of any kind. I am inclined to think that this dream is the result of my anxiety and not my body and subconscious letting me in on something that has already happened but I’m not yet aware of. I hope that is the case.

If it is the case, I’m again forced to acknowledge that my worry and anxiety are running rampant. I know I should be meditating and doing other calming exercises but I feel so strapped for time with grad school right now that I don’t know how I’d find the minimum of 30 minutes daily I’d need to make it worth while. Of course my mental and physical health should be most important but they aren’t due at 8pm every Sunday evening. I’m going to need to find a way to make some kind of relaxing exercise become a part of my routine, though I’m at a complete loss as to how I’ll do that.

I suppose I don’t have much more to report. I finish my grad school paper from last week but hardly started the three assignments due today, or more accurately, due right now. I supposed I’ll have to get them done over the Thanksgiving holiday. I graded some papers and feel much more prepared for the onslaught of inputting that will have to happen before 1st trimester grades can be posted in early December. My house is a complete disaster but no one is coming to visit any time soon so I can take my time cleaning it up. The best part of next week is not going to be stuffing x 2 (we’re celebrating two Thanksgivings, one with each family) but the massage I have schedule for 3:30 on Tuesday, only moments after my final day of work before the 5 day vacation. I’m also looking forward to spending Saturday and Sunday in Weaverville with Mi.Vida and our good friend and his family. It should be a good week next week. and hopefully it will go a long way in making me feel better.

BUENAS NOTICIAS – Somehow Cal beat Stanfurd yesterday, though I can’t really explain it. All I know is that it feels great to have the Axe for one more year! GO BEARS!!!!

The life I want to live

Last night I did 45 minutes of yoga, enjoyed Rainbow Stir Fry for dinner (so named because it showcased every color of the rainbow) and had my eyes closed at 10:30pm. I also got some grad school work done, though not much. Last night I proved that I could live the life I want to live. It is possible on a day when I have no meetings after school or tutoring sessions planned. It is possible on a day when Mi.Vida is amazing enough to do the grocery shopping and cook us a delicious, healthy dinner. It is possible on a day when grading papers can wait. So it is possible, but only sometimes and that is going to have to be enough for the time being. I don’t except to do yoga every day, nor do I expect to eat home cooked meals all week long. I think I can get to bed on time if I don’t let myself blog surf too much and I leave things like the laundry for the weekend when it can get done without keeping me up. Last night felt good. Yoga invigorated me and dinner was exactly what I have been craving. I went to bed feeling happy and hopeful.

The reality is I’m grateful for how much I’ve fallen off since the beginning of school. It was to be expected that everything in my life was pushed to the back burner when the school year and grad school started up at once. I’m not surprised that I’ve barely made ends meet this past month, especially considering that brutal cold. So it’s understandable that I stopped eating well, lapsed on exercise and meditation and let myself get to bed later and later. I’m glad I let my life go to shit because now I see how much it all effects me and how important it is that take care of myself. Seeing the effects of half-hearted self-care gives me the impetus to make changes. And I feel like these changes are for me, not for fertility or anything else, but for me. I want to eat well, I want to exercise, I want to rest my weary body and mind.

I feel a real purpose in the positive changes I have planned. I feel like they are not only  necessary but helpful. I want to start living better, taking care of myself and Mi.Vida, making my physical and emotional well-being as important as the state of the kitchen sink or the level of the dirty laundry.

So I have concrete goals concerning my physical health: eat a well balanced diet, including plenty of fruit and veggies (this is hard for me); exercise at least three times a week; meditate 20 minutes a day (preferably right when I get home); get at least 7.5 hours of sleep. I’m hoping that after a month of making myself a priority I’ll feel better, be more hopeful and less stressed. I’m sure this blog will accompany me through my transformation.