Five Years Plus

{December 13, 2013}   Time Fast

How often do you check the time?

I believe it is respectful of others to be on time for appointments, yet I struggle to do so. In fact, it’s an ongoing issue for me that I never feel like I have enough time. In particular, I often feel challenged to fit in my yoga and meditation practices in the day. I’m not an early riser and have never managed to sustain the recommended first thing in the morning practice.

In November, Chuck and I had the honor to attend a wedding of some dear friends at Copa de Arbol, an isolated rainforest and beach resort in Costa Rica. The only way in or out was by boat or on foot. Once we arrived I turned my phone off and settled in to relax and enjoy. The tiny clock beside our bed helped me pace each day, but otherwise there were no clocks evident around the place. Even though the situation was ideal for simply being, I noticed that I still stressed about the time – after all, I didn’t want to be late to the wedding!CopaDeArbol

On our last day while visiting our friends’ cabana, I noticed they had unplugged their clock. Duh! Since Thanksgiving followed our vacation, I decided it was a good time to experiment with unplugging from time. I began my “time fast” by removing the two visible clocks at home. Over the weekend time fasting was novel, easy and fun. I made a point of spending more time on my yoga mat and relaxing. I felt free. I wanted more.

Each Monday I teach yoga at 10 am, so I need to know the time. I set my alarm for two hours prior and simply work on what I know needs to be done to get ready. I feel more focused in my preparations and easily arrive on time. It took me over a week to realize that the car clock had to go. After all, once I get in the car I am not really in control over how much time it takes to reach my destination. So now there’s a strip of tape over the car clock.

My time fast is now two weeks old. I no longer glance up to where the kitchen clock used to be. I notice I am less worried about how long things take. I have learned not to look at the time when I pick up my phone. I go to bed when I am tired. On the three days I teach tennis in the afternoon I set my alarm at a designated time before I need to leave so I will not feel rushed getting ready. If the time fast becomes stressful I can consciously choose to look at my watch rather than doing it reflexively. I’m beginning to see that ultimately neither time nor the time fast is particularly serious.

I can also see that I used to be obsessed with time, often feeling overwhelmed. The time fast has helped me to notice when this is happening so that I can consciously develop better mental habits. For example, last weekend while we waited for friends to join us at brunch, I was able to enjoy the company of my husband rather than obsessing about the time and checking the door for our friends with each new arrival.

Finally I am beginning to understand that there is always more to do than time available, and that’s ok. If I don’t make time on my yoga mat a priority, it will never fit in. I know that sounds like simple common sense and I’m not sure how it is for you. For me, it feels different now. I’m starting to give myself the time to practice despite everything there is to do and manage. My time fast has been just the thing to allow me to let go enough to be present in my practice rather than worrying about what I have to do next.


{July 18, 2010}   Six Months

This week marks the first 6 months of this blog. That’s 26 posts, 2,269 views and 78 comments. In this time I have learned to insert hyperlinks, pictures and do internet research at lightening speed (lol). I decided it was a good time for a review to provide a summary for my regular readers and introduce new readers to the discussion thus far. Hopefully the links will easily direct you to the posts you want to read or reread.

It was a lot of fun to review, as I clearly remember writing and the events preceding each post. It ended up taking quite awhile to read through all of the posts and make some kind of order out of the smorgasbord of my life. As such, I want to thank my #1 supporter, my husband Chuck. He initially set up the blog and is my editor and problem solver. He also patiently endures the times (like now) when I spend “our” Saturday night at the keyboard.

I began Five Years Plus in the dead of winter, on the eve of the five year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. The act of starting the blog spun me into a period of over-excitement and sleep deprivation which I chronicled in Good Night Sweet Princess.  The response to this on and off-line was striking, with people sharing their own mood issues so openly and honestly. In my third post I introduced my struggles with over-eating and the constant vigilance it takes to feed myself properly.

The subject of eating is a big part of my life and has likewise been featured in a number of blog posts. In Special Breakfast I introduced the general idea of food as medicine and that eating well is an act of self-love. At times I included recipes which reflect the changing seasons, such as cabbage soup in winter (a reminder of the simple good things in life) and coconut ice cream in summer. I have written about foods that I use, like eggs or the sugar substitute stevia, and those that I’ve moved away from for health reasons, such as soy.

With the coming of spring I got fired up about eating locally, writing a series on this topic and coming up with four keys to get started:

  1. shopping at local farmers’ markets
  2. sourcing local pasture raised meat and eggs
  3. subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture)
  4. supporting local foods restaurants

As summer and berry season rolled around I think it’s appropriate to add a fifth key: pick local (organic) berries

Currently there are further options for both budding and experienced “locavores”. Tomorrow is the first day of Madison County’s “Buy Local Week” which includes an opportunity to discover some of the 33 local farms that are opening their gates to visitors on Saturday, July 24. There is also a new I-phone app that directs one to local foods in upstate New York.

In addition to being dedicated to eating locally whenever possible, I am committed to the Paleo diet that features meat, fish, eggs, plenty of vegetables, fruit and some nuts and seeds, thereby resembling what our Paleolithic ancestors may have eaten. Although I was a vegetarian for many years I now choose to include meat in my diet. I have to admit, I find it an ongoing challenge to eat in accordance with my intentions, especially when eating out or on vacation. Even so, I have managed to lose 10 pounds and am maintaining a comfortable healthy weight. One of my most enjoyable eating journeys and something I would like to explore further was a period of paying deep attention to the way I eat.

When we think about taking care of ourselves, diet and exercise come to mind first. Moving my body is fundamental to my own well-being and my work outside our home is dedicated to teaching others to be present in their bodies through yoga and tennis. I credit tennis with helping me “get back into life fully” after my breast cancer treatment and continue to better myself through competition. The desire to play tennis well helps fuel my motivation for working out two or three times each week. I am so happy every time I effortlessly move from a deep squat to standing, as this is an improvement that is a direct result of working out.

Although my experience with breast cancer has infiltrated every aspect of my life, I see that only a few posts relate specifically to cancer or medical issues. I outlined ideas for getting started on an alternative path when first being diagnosed and written some advice about do’s and don’ts when dealing with friends who have been diagnosed. I touched on iatrogenic (medically) caused illness and the uncertainty of imaging techniques through a story about my beloved cat. I am also well aware that I have not settled my inquiry into breast screening techniques and that my next oncologist appointment is approaching. I have already started researching the effects of ionizing radiation (i.e. mammograms) on breast tissue health, so you can expect to see this soon.

Writing this blog does take a tremendous amount of time and determination. In return, it helps me to live a more examined life and to believe that perhaps through my efforts I am making a difference. As I reflect over this past six months I recognize that I have made positive changes in my life. My diet has improved, my workouts are regular and my sleep and moods are in equilibrium. At the same time I see there are areas where I continue to struggle and need more awareness and self-love.

I really appreciate you reading Five Years Plus, commenting and passing the link along to others who might enjoy it. If you want to have each weekly post automagicallly delivered to your Email inbox, fill in your address and click on “Email Subscriptions” on the right side of this page. Beware though, you need to open a confirmation Email which may end up in your “junk” folder. I believe we all have a great deal to share with one another and I intend to continue to learn to harness the power of the internet to benefit all of us.

{May 8, 2010}   Eat, Love, Sit

Have you ever been in the grocery store or some other public place when an overwrought mother is yelling derisively at a small child for some minor infraction? I know I have and it makes me cringe inside. “How can a parent talk to her child that way?” I say to myself, “I would never be like that!”  But of course I am regularly and instantly brutal to myself when I don’t measure up to my own exacting standards. Is my harsh inner critic really so different from the hapless mother screaming at her 4 year old in aisle 9?

For example, when my 30 day Paleo Challenge didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I gave myself a hard time. The beginning went great, but I began to falter by day 13 and didn’t really recover my enthusiasm until day 25. In that difficult period wine, cheese and sweet foods, which I had intended to avoid, found their way regularly to my mouth. Once I moved beyond my disappointment in myself, I saw that perhaps I didn’t have the support I had needed. So the Paleo Challenge is a do-over, restarting on Monday with an online support community. Upon reflection I realize that the inner-critic comes into so many areas of life and actually undermines my best intentions for health, happiness and spiritual development.

Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis I began having sessions with Carolyn Dell’uomo, a therapist who combines psychological techniques with a strong spiritual component. Over the two years I worked with her I learned a lot about myself and how to be more fulfilled in life. She taught me to hold the intention for self-love and simply notice and accept when my inner dialogue becomes negative. By self-love, I’m not talking about being conceited or self-absorbed – just gentle and kind. Even though I still have to constantly remind myself to be compassionate, I feel like I really get this both intellectually and in my heart. Self-love is just treating myself the way an ideal parent would treat a child – accepting mistakes, letting go of disappointments and supporting unconditionally while non-judgmentally reflecting areas where I need work.

As a tennis player and coach I know that my inner dialogue on the court  is not always so pretty. However, I am sometimes flabbergasted by the level of self-contempt some players publicly express. I tell my students that you should not say anything to yourself (out loud or internally) that you wouldn’t say to your doubles partner. With this awareness some students are shocked to discover how extremely hard they are on themselves, even in the game of tennis where we are supposed to be at play. This can be extrapolated to life by noticing how often we give others the benefit of the doubt while chastising ourselves for the same sort of mistake.

I have found the practice of meditation to be fundamental in learning to live with my inner critic. In its most simple form meditation is the practice of sitting quietly so that we can notice the mind, allowing thoughts to arise and pass without following them. Many techniques use a focus point (such as the movement of breath) to represent the present. Each time we notice the mind has drifted we gently bring it back to paying attention to the breath. This is the knack, catching that moment when we stray. It is a small success each time we can come back from a journey into the past or future.

I find some days I am lost in thought for minutes before noticing I have drifted, while other times I am more able to catch myself before traveling too far. Occasionally  the contents of my mind are so turbulent and disturbing it feels almost impossible to continue sitting. With practice, meditation does get easier. But meditation is not something to be good or bad at, it is a practice – a practice that has benefits in many areas of life.

Whether we’re sitting, eating, playing tennis or doing something else we love, doing so consciously makes it better. Eating can become an eating meditation, playing tennis a tennis meditation and yes there’s also the sitting meditation. Remember that the practice is to notice what you’re doing without judging and to keep coming back to the present. Make it a practice to come back to being kind to yourself and be compassionate when you notice that you’re giving yourself a hard time.

et cetera