mindfulness

Inviting Joy to Dinner

It seemed like any other night.  I had made mac and cheese, sliced apple wedges and put them on the table.  My seven year old son talked happily about a new video game, while husband listened and scooped noodles on his plate.  I settled in my chair and looked across at them and smiled.  Although on the surface this night was uneventful, the undercurrent of my own emotions was radically different.

Over the course of the previous four years, I had been undergoing invasive fertility treatments in an attempt to have a second child. I had become pregnant with my son easily, but now this second time, after two miscarriages, things were not happening.

For anyone who has had infertility issues, you know it is laden with frequent doctor visits, aggressive medicines, and invasive tests.  However these are small in comparison to the emotional pain one faces each month when your desires fails to come to fruition time and time again.

Although I spent a lot of time worrying about the outcome of each month’s treatments, here, at the dinner table with my husband and son I was feeling a departure from my normal worried brain.  To my surprise I was not staring into space yearning for a baby, but in fact quite the opposite.  Looking at the two of them that night, something had clicked for me in that moment.  My heart was warm with satisfaction, absolute joy, realizing that all I ever needed ever was to be here in this moment.

I don’t know what stirred it on the particular night, but something cracked open in me and I saw that life was good…more than good, it was beautiful.  Yes, I didn’t have that little baby, the sibling for my son that I longed for, but there in the moment listening to my husband and son chat about this and that, I saw that there was nothing to pine for.  I had everything I needed.  I knew then that a new baby need not be part of the equation for my happiness.

Two days later I went into the clinic for the final injections.  This was to be our last attempt.  I was done trying.  I was ready to accept my losses and enjoy what I was given.

However on the final appointment I went in and lo and behold, I was pregnant. With twins!

I look back on that time and wonder if something had clicked for me at the dinner table, that the act of releasing  my desires was exactly what I needed. Once I was no longer after my goal, it was now coming for me.

Eleven years later, I sit at the dinner table and look at my husband, teenage son and my beautiful ten year old boy and girl and smile with that same feeling of warmth in my heart that I felt that night and know that this is good. Equally as good.

The funny thing about joy is that it can’t be chased or grabbed at.  It’s like seeing a reflection in a lake and trying to pull it from the water. The minute you declare to the world “I want happiness!” It slips from your hands.  It’s not something you can have – like that baby I dreamed of.  I was chasing after it so hard that it evaded me. But now I know, happiness isn’t something you own, it’s something you are.

I had told myself over and over, “A baby will make me happy,” but what I didn’t realize is that nothing can make me happy…except me.  If I was discontent in a family of three and someone dropped another child into the mix, nothing says that I would then be happy. In fact I can pretty much guarantee if I was unhappy before, another child would not fix that.

My joy that evening eleven years ago with my husband and son came from being in the moment, content with where we were, three happy beings sharing a meal together.  Nothing more.  In that uneventful night, I had inadvertently opened up the window to my heart and allowed the beauty of the present moment to wrap around my soul.

After the twins were born there have been joyful times, but also some very difficult ones. I am still continually amazed and grateful for their presence in my life, but I know it is not their role to give me joy.  I have to do that myself.

The twins did not fix anything in my life, in fact they made it whole lot more complicated, however I am learning the importance of pausing, breathing, and making the space for joy to slip in, no matter where I am or what I possess.

The bottom line is if we stick to our old habits of dissatisfaction we will always find new things to yearn for.  Sure, I might have my babies, but what about getting a new house, or a new job? Dissatisfaction is a choice. The cycle is endless unless you choose to stop it.

We’re the only ones who can open up that window in our hearts and let the joy in, but we have to find ways to cultivate it.  This means finding ways to listen to our own hearts – through quiet, reflective activities like prayer, mediation, dance, walking, time with the people we love.  The more we relax and free ourselves from our desires, the more the light shines in.

Life is filled with gifts – from the act of witnessing the dew on a petal to the arrival of a brand new baby.  Whatever it is, it’s our choice to see the beauty.

May you always let the light of joy shine in.

Peace,

Becky

I’ve Been Thinking Too Much

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Hello. My name is Becky Pourchot and I’m an over thinker.

If there was such a thing as Over Thinker’s Anonymous I’d be the president. I’m a pro. Some days I think (and think some more) about all the energy I wasted in my life brooding over things that didn’t deserve any brooding.

Tonight, fed up with the overthinking I’ve been doing lately, I walked down to the beach (two blocks away), sat down, closed my eyes and breathed slowly in and out. I relaxed and let my heart open. Within moments all of my frustrations and fears seemed to fly off into the air, dissipating with the clouds.

Over thinking is an interesting thing. I may at first feel all mellow when a thought will pops in my head. Alone, a single thought can be beautiful and simple, but when worry and the need for reassurance kick in that problems start happening. When left unchecked, pretty soon a tower of fear and noise populate my once peaceful head. My mind has been known to travel from tranquil to end-of-the-world status in mere minutes.

When I was a kid these weighty thought clouds were all encompassing. In fact it got to the point at the age of fourteen that my parents took me to a psychiatrist. Pretty soon my clouds of overthinking were no longer just mental weather patterns but illness with all kinds of dire names: depression, anxiety, OCD.

Because I came from a medically focused family, medications were quickly prescribed and in time my thought clouds lifted-slightly. However as well intentioned as my parents and the doctor were, what they failed to tell me was that the drugs couldn’t “cure” me, in fact it was ME and me alone that had the power to change the climate of my own mind.

Forty years later I’m finally getting it. In the past few years I’ve learned what Glinda told Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz “You’ve had the power all along”. I’ve learned to manipulate my moods and the weight of thoughts with simple actions. All it takes is a faith in myself and a lot of practice.

For me I’ve developed a series of tools, like a life-sized tool kit that I pull out when I’m getting stuck. We’ve all got our own set of tools, it’s just a matter of recognizing and cultivating them. For me it’s meditating, dancing (turning on the music real loud and dancing like mad), baking, listening to music in the car, working out at the gym, or riding my motorcycle. Sometimes the best thing I can do is just sit and pause, maybe eat a piece of fruit real slow, and savor every detail of it, the texture, the flavor, the snap of the skin in my mouth. Buddhists call this mindfulness. Slowing down to appreciate minute details always seems to help me.

Over time I’ve developed a pretty good awareness of my different mental states. When I’m all wrapped up in whatever life hands me, I pause and think: “Oh man, you’re really caught up in this, aren’t you?”

There’s no judgement, just recognition.

Then I find a quiet spot, close my eyes and breathe deep. All it takes is maybe five breaths now to settle back into a place of joy. The longer I sit the “lighter” I feel. The weight of my thoughts and worries is lifted and I feel more at ease. I often notice a little smile on my face as my heart opens up with joy.

What I’ve learned from this new found “power” is that the weightiness we give to life is not real. It’s just a heavy illusion, layers of thoughts that act like veils, covering all that simple joy that resides at the center of it all.

I will be honest, some days my tools have been less effective. Sometimes I’m out with friends and I’m so wrapped up in whatever is going on that I lose my center and some days, alone I dig myself in so deep in my mind that it takes several “tools” and some hearty distraction to get me out. The more I learn to recognize my states of being and the more I train myself towards this lightness of being, the easier it is to get there.

I was told back when I was a kid that the mental illnesses I was diagnosed with would be with me always, however I no longer identify myself as “sick”. In fact I’m healthier now than I even have been before. Sure, I may brood more than the people around me, but rather than allow myself to be a victim of my mind, I choose to use my weakness as a point of growth.

I look back to when I was a teenager, trapped in my fear, and I think, “Holy cow! Look how far I’ve come.” I struggle, yes, without a doubt, but I also, for the first time feel like I’m the one in charge as I learn to navigate this wonderful life.

Peace to you,

Becky

 

Catching Sunbeams: The Delicate Art of Stopping Time

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This weekend I went to a symphonic concert featuring the music of one of my all-time favorite bands-Led Zeppelin. Hearing the music performed live was intense and wonderful, perhaps one of the highlights of my decade.

As I sat there in the darkened auditorium and watched the violin bows moving in a synchronized dance, beneath the lights that poured on the stage, I felt as if the music was rushing at me like a wild wind, sometimes forceful, sometimes delicate. Two hours of perfection. When my favorite song, Kashmir played, I listened mesmerized. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted sit there into the night, just soaking in the continuous rolling, luscious sound.

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Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook that made me think of this previous night. A friend was talking of the inevitability of change and reminded me of one of my favorite aphorisms: “This too shall pass.”

This saying works great when things are bad, but what about when things are really, really good? Like that moment during Kashmir. I didn’t want that to pass. I wanted to hold on tight to it and not let go.

Time is a tricky beast. It is slippery and the more you try to hold on the quicker it slips away.

I experience this a lot in life. I try to grab onto time, but it never stays, in fact the harder I grab, the faster it slides from my hands. I want constancy in my life. I want to preserve the magic, the goodness, maintain in those perfect moments.

The other night my eight year old twins were lying on the bed with my husband and I all wrapped up in the blankets, when my sixteen year old son came in and jumped on the bed too. In a rare moment we were all there rolling in bed, laughing in one big tickle pile. It was ridiculous and wonderful. I was laughing so hard tears came from my eyes.

However moments later, as these things go, someone got elbowed, another got tickled too much and the crying began. That precious little sliver of time was gone, as quickly as it came.

It seems just as we get a hang of things, they change. It’s incredibly frustrating. Some days all I want to do is yell out “Wait! Wait! Please stop. Can’t we rewind a minute?” Yet this life of ours is tenuous. It is a beam of light pouring in through a window. It cannot be caught. It can’t be held. And no matter what you do that sun will drift past your window, in its continual dance forward.

I’ve learned a little trick that I use from time to time in those good moments. Rather than worry about losing time, I take it all in, breathe and smile and love it for what it is, not for what it should be or might be tomorrow. When I allow for this perfect balance, it feels as if I actually become the moment. I cease to be the woman who is obsessed with preservation and become one who just is.

When I sat in the concert hall I tried this technique. I refused to give into my desire for control and power and I simply listened. I closed my eyes and let myself feel that music fully…so when it ended it was okay, because I knew there was another moment to come, and another and another, and they were all good.

Eventually the show was over and my husband and I with our two friends walked over to my favorite bar for a drink, and that was perfect too. Every moment was different, brand new…and every moment was perfect in its own beautiful fragility.

It feels as if we have little control over our lives…but I sometimes wonder. What if in fact we have absolute control? What if we treated these moments as if they were just a tiny feather resting lightly in the palm of our hands and opted to not hold on? If we did this, I mean REALLY did this, would those moments…or even life itself…. become timeless?

I think yes.

Change is necessary, loss is inevitable, but when we sit back and just let the music play, everything works out just as it should.

Life without Exclamation Points

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Life came to halt last week and it was all because of one very tiny computer malfunction…

My exclamation point key stopped working.

Yes, I know in the real world this is no big deal. Its one key out of 30-some, but being without it affected me in interesting ways.

As a writer, I know better than to litter a manuscript with exclamation points, however when I chat with my friends on facebook, I like to do a lot of exclaiming…because that’s how I talk, with lots of drama, excitement, passion. In person I communicate loudly, dramatically, flapping my hands like a baby bird trying to leave the nest, pantomiming life’s dramas with animated finesse.

However with that punctuation mark missing my words just lay flat.

All of this happened at an interesting time. I had been oscillating between really happy and really miserable—singing in the morning, crying in the afternoon, and ready for bed by five. From a psychiatric perspective one might say I was “rapid cycling”.  Personally, I just saw it as growing pains. I was processing a lot of new information and like a teenager exposed to rapid life changes, I was feeling moody.

My friend, who for better or worse, has had a front row seat to the pageantry of my emotional ups and downs found my keyboard predicament amusing. After a hearty dose of teasing (and flaunting his own exclamation capabilities), he paused to point out a possible advantage to my predicament.

He suggested that maybe without the highs (as expressed with exclamation points) that maybe the lows wouldn’t be so bad.

I smiled at the notion that a punctuation mark could change my mood …but then again…I thought. Why not?

And so as a silly experiment, instead of taking that five minutes necessary to fix the key, I decided to let it stay broken.

At this time I was also trying out another experiment: mindfulness—letting go of negative thoughts, letting them pass through me, like watching birds migrating down the coast, each one moving by slowly, silently without significance.

And so the days without my favorite punctuation mark progressed. It was frustrating at first. My words didn’t have their normal power, but something else was happening as the mindfulness began to set in, I was watching my intense thoughts pass through me.

At first this made me feel kind of dull. I wasn’t used to the quiet.  I thought to myself,

What do I fill my head with when the intensity is gone?

The answer was astounding: in the quietness, in this life without exclamation points, there was something hidden…JOY.  Love in its purest form.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if there was any correlation between my broken computer key and my feelings of rapture. Could my missing punctuation make me feel more calm or was it the gentle acceptance that nothing in my mind needed to be grasped so tightly? Or maybe it was a little bit of both.

I do like to think that by removing the exclamation point I symbolically let go of some of the drama in my head. I don’t know for sure, but it’s fun to think about all the same.

I’m just beginning this lifelong path to mindfulness. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve chosen to do, but I’m tired of the roller coaster. Sure, I’d like to keep the nice rolling hills, but I’m ready to say goodbye to the violent ups and downs.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve given up on excitement or passion. I love life and will gladly live it with a happy heart. I just want to start recognizing those overwhelming emotions—the useless, fear based ones that cause me so much suffering.  I’m ready to let them go.

I can do this and I will. It’s going to take a lot of love and perseverance on my part, not to mention forgiveness and a dedicated willingness to change.

Since I started this story I’ve fixed the exclamation point on my keyboard and I’m going back to telling my stories with pizazz, however something has changed. I am now a little more conscious of my highs, my lows, and the glorious feeling of life in between.

Peace,

Becky

Check out my books at www.beckypourchot.com