A challenge we face during these uncertain times is how do we hold onto the best parts of ourselves. How do we keep the worst parts of us under check and let them not overwhelm and overtake our lives. How do we care for ourselves and those we live with. How do we demonstrate compassion and warmth when we ourselves our frustrated and anxious.
Our daily routines have changed, we can’t leave our homes. We can partake all the online world has to offer. Can that be enough for now?
We yearn for beaches, ski slopes, forests, shopping malls, concerts, movies, brunch with friends, dancing. We don’t know when we can hug, kiss, and be closer than one meter again. The uncertainty of it all is what really brings me down (when I allow myself to think about it).
If there was ever a time to practice living in the here and now, it is today. We can’t go back and fix our mistakes, we don’t know how long before things seem normal again. But we have today. 24 hours to fill with rest, faith, acts of kindness, extracting joy from small moments, and gratitude for what we have today.
Week 2 is done. When I first read the chapter for this week and listed the tasks, I felt a bit overwhelmed. It felt like a lot of work was being assigned and this week would test the seriousness of my intent. I’m happy to report, I passed with flying colours. Morning Pages are becoming an essential morning activity. The words flow easily, though one day I was so distracted, it took me three times as long to complete.
My favourite task required me to list 20 activities I enjoy and then noting when was the last time I did any of them. At first, I struggled to list even 10 items (can you believe that?). I always thought of myself as a person of many varied interests. When had I stopped enjoying myself. My first few activities were – cooking and baking. Two activities I do enjoy but are also performed primarily for someone else, i.e. family. What do I do for myself? Somewhere further down the list are dancing, kayaking, concerts, and spa treatments. Only 4 of the 20 activities were mine and mine alone. The remaining 16 were all about others. I have lost a bit (or maybe more) of myself in the last few years. This was a really good exercise to realise how much I had changed in the past decade. And yes, I had an impromptu dance session at home. Lady Gaga’s Stupid Love is stupidly wonderful to just let go.
Once again I had to get creative again with the Artist’s Date. I had the most fun time colouring a book I bought in 2015 in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands while listening to the Berlin Philharmonic play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Brandenburg Gate.
The affirmations and Basic Principles seem more real this week. I feel more connected to ‘me”. I’m grateful to have this program to follow during these uncertain times. For next week, I intend to dig deeper and be more honest and vulnerable.
Dear Woman by Michael E. Reid is one of the most inspiring books I have read in recent times. The fact that a man has written an entire book meant to inspire women to take charge of themselves and their lives is remarkable. There is a particular poem in the book that speaks to me and makes me think that I am enough as I am.
Having been raised by a feminist father and a supportive mother who still wanted the traditional things for her daughters, I have followed a path that was more or less defined for me. I have tried to balance work, household, marriage, children, family, and myself. And mostly things have gone well. But ever since I’ve had time to think about my path and purpose, I’ve come up feeling lost and confused.
With the loss of my youth, I have started to gain wisdom. I have decided I’m going to be enough. I don’t have to be more or less for someone else. I am going to be the best woman I can possibly be. This is where Michael’s words have felt like they were written for me. So many times we make ourselves small to better match those in our lives, – spouses, friends, colleagues, family members. But that is not necessary. Why should I step back or give up parts of what make me so that someone else doesn’t feel less or inadequate?
Overcoming a life’s worth of conditioning isn’t easy. For me, it was combination of factors – I left my job giving me time to think about myself and I turned 40 – that created conditions conducive to inner change. I had to like what I saw in the mirror, count all my blessing, think hard about what I already had in my life rather than what I was missing. I had to give myself credit for all that I had accomplished without comparing myself or my life to anyone else I know. And most importantly I had to stop waiting for validation – stop waiting for someone to say how wonderful I was, how accomplished I was, how loved and cherished I was. I
It isn’t easy to change how you feel about yourself. There are some things you need to let go and new things you need to embrace. And how do you build resilience? How do you remember each day that you are enough?
For a while I even wore a bracelet to remind myself of the love in my life. I know it is going to be a lifelong process but I’ve started with an acceptance of my body, recognition of my strengths and limits, and an attitude of gratefulness for every day.
Dear Woman (the book) by Michael E. Reid is described as “a book of quotes, letters, short stories, and poems written to provide education, motivation, encouragement, and a little tough love to women of all ages. Dear Woman is a journey through womanhood that visits some of the deepest and darkest corners of women’s lives, with hopes of shedding a little light and love. This book is written from the perspective of a man who wants nothing more than for you to be the best woman possible, regardless of circumstance.” Here is the poem that inspired this post.
Week 1 is in the bag. It was easier than I expected. I did the morning pages (3 pages of stream of conscious writing) every day, and I completed most of the other tasks assigned for the week.
I eased the expectation that I would do the pages first thing every morning. With the entire family at home due to COVID-19, it was not going to be possible. Instead I wrote them as soon as I had helped my children with their morning routine. On one occasion I misplaced my journal and wrote the pages at night before bedtime! I didn’t berate myself for the lapse, instead I decided to keep going. Pages done late are better than no pages at all.
I also wrote down a page of affirmations and read them (sometimes aloud) every day. I find this very empowering. It helps to silence the voice of doubt that tends to get very loud sometimes. I plan to read the affirmations as a daily practice.
The Artist’s Date posed a challenge. But thanks to the modern technology I was able to go on a virtual tour of the Vatican museum, gawk at the Sistine Chapel from different angles and pretend I was going to enjoy a plate of pasta and a gelato after my very intense tour. I also visited the Rjiksmuseum to view Rembrandt’s The Night Watch among other paintings by Dutch masters.
I’m happy to have restarted this journey to find my creative self, my voice. Especially given these uncertain times. I’ve been stressed about the health and wellbeing of my love ones; of keeping them fed, occupied, and safe. Doing this program now allows me to carve out time exclusively for myself. It’s my version of self-care for troubled times.
I cook for myself every day. Over the last few months I have been venturing out of my comfort zone, and trying new recipes, new techniques, applying new techniques to old family recipes, or cooking favorites more efficiently. Cooking and baking have become my anti-depressants. If I’m feeling low and unenergetic, as long as I can get myself to the kitchen, I find myself feeling invigorated. There is something deeply fulfilling about pouring yourself into cleaning, prepping and making food that excites and nourishes those you love.
I was chopping vegetables for a new recipe, enjoying the soothing rhythm of the repetitive action, when I realized that my writing has suffered because I haven’t treated it as a practice. It has been deprioritized again and again. It happens in fits and bursts. Successful creators, create every day. I have channeled all my creativity to the kitchen with astounding success. Now I need to do the same with my writing. Stephen King writes every day. Liz Gilbert has the most delightful journaling habit. I need to write every day. A lot of writers recommend doing it the first thing in the morning. Well, the first thing I do is help my kids get ready for school, including pack lunch and snacks. One could say, wake up half hour earlier and get the writing done. I’ve never been a morning person. If it weren’t for muscle memory, I suspect I wouldn’t get a lot of my morning chores done. What about after the kids have gone to school? Well, it’s time for my yoga class. What about after yoga class? Well, then it’s time to eat and read the news and gossip from around the world. And really after that it’s a whole bunch of tasks and errands until it’s time for the children to return from school. Then its snacks, homework and sports. Followed by dinner and bedtime routines. By the time the children are asleep, I’m ready to Netflix and chill.
Today I’m setting an intention; I’m going to build a writing practice. After the children leave for school, I’m going to make a cup of tea and write. I will go to yoga class later in the morning. To help build this practice I’m going to follow Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It is a 12-week program “intended to increase creativity by capturing the creative energy of the universe”. A creative friend recommended it. I have the book, a stack of empty notebooks, and a bunch of pens I like. I will write and post a weekly update, thus maintaining some accountability.
WhatsApp was blowing up today with all the back and forth messages celebrating International Women’s Day. A friend sent a message with the line “Always Awesome, Forever Fabulous’. I immediately told her I was stealing it. I’ve been lately feeling low and unworthy and this line just perked me up.
“Always Awesome, Forever Fabulous”, huh? I know I know, easy to say difficult to follow. And don’t I know it? Maintaining awesomeness and fabulousness is hard work. There are always competing priorities, emotional messes, and emergencies. The basics of daily life are hardly a breeze – our jobs are demanding, parenting is a challenge even on the best days, and relationships require effort. Then there are social obligations, family issues, office politics, career changes, planning for the future. And let’s consider the courage needed to live a life of one’s choosing. What about the bravery involved in standing up for yourself, making decisions, and dealing with the consequences of those choices? Hard work, indeed. But so worth it!
My friend’s words have inspired me to be kinder to myself in 2018. Just because I want to continuously improve myself doesn’t mean what I am now is not good enough. I am already awesome and fabulous!
2018 has started exactly as I expected – a runaway bullet train hurtling towards 2019 at record speed. We are half way through February; I’ve broken all my resolutions, but I have come up with several new plans for a less chaotic, more ordered life. I have accepted that my house, my head, my life has too much stuff. Stuff that did nothing for my happiness; it was just stuff that needed to be kept organised, updated or tended to in some way. I figured the easiest way to deal with it was to just simply get rid of it.
I have also realised that incremental change is the way to go. I find it easier to execute small, bite-sized projects, record a success and get motivated for more improvements. Here are some of the things I call “quick wins” that you should consider for a less cluttered 2018.
- Take a hard look at your email inbox. Is it cluttered with unread newsletters, marketing emails, notifications, UBER receipts, and junk. Did you miss an important email in the sea of Did you still need a updates from meetup even though you last attended an event 2 years ago? Or marketing emails from a store you haven’t shopped at for 5 years? Or travel updates from a country you visited on your vacation last summer? How many newsletters do you really need? Unsubscribe from all but the most important or interesting. You will save yourself for having to clean thousands of unread messages or even worse, creating a new account every time an account gets too big to handle.
- Review all subscriptions. Are you absolutely using all the products and services you are subscribed to? Are you getting good value for your money? Are there subscriptions on auto-renewal that you had forgotten? Think quality and not quantity. Are they positively contributing to your life or just sucking up time and money?
- Consolidate banking and investment accounts. It’s easier to track one account instead of multiple accounts with different institutions with different terms and conditions. And you might even qualify for preferential services for the extra business you bring to the bank.
- Keep as few credit cards as possible. It’s easier to track, earn more rewards, limit the amount you could possible spend, protect against theft. Find a card that provides the benefits most important to you – cash back, points or miles.
- Plan and prep meals. Save time and money by taking 15 minutes each week to plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Also, save yourself from poor food choices, and emotional eating by planning in advance. There are scores of articles available on preparing weekly meals. Check here, here and here. (Disclosure: I really struggle with this item. Logically I understand why I need to plan and make ahead meals but I’m still working through eating my emotions).
- Think about all the low-value, frequent use STUFF you have accumulated. Look at your stash of Toiletries, Spices and herbs, and Snacks. Are there any expired items? Spoilt? Is there something you are don’t like anymore or are most definitely not going to use again? The same principle applies to kitchen appliances, tools and gadgets, and cookbooks. I cannot adequately describe the joy and sense of control I have felt after a quick clearing out of a shelf or drawer or two.
- Lighten up the social calendar. It is tempting to sign-up for every school event and attend every birthday party. FOMO is very real when it comes to parenting. Say no when you need to. Killing yourself trying to do everything and be everywhere just takes away from the joy of the events. The same holds true for those without kids – are you overextended, overcommitted, running after too many things? Pick those that mean most to YOU.