Fooling myself

For a good chunk of my life I had no idea how to relax. I would be so excited for what seemed like endless amounts of time on the weekends or school breaks, and then it would feel like I squandered it by doing… I don’t even know what, exactly.

By the time I reached high school, I simultaneously was excited for and dreaded breaks or time off. Through high school and college, I suffered from depression during those times, especially summers. The lack of routine and set schedule really got me down.

Since then, there’s been a push and pull of priorities, some due to the privileges I enjoy now and some due to many years of creating healthy boundaries and “work-life balance.”

In talking with my therapist the other day, I discovered that in the times I felt depressed on winter [or insert whatever holiday] break, I didn’t trust myself. During the week or times of routine, I relied heavily on my schedule to determine the appropriate times for all my activities. I hadn’t quite learned self-regulation of my own schedule.

For instance, I have a history of starting a project and either getting so carried away with that I can’t stop until it’s finished, or I leave it to collect dust for a number of months until I remember my fondness for it and dig it out of the pile of Misfit Projects. I think many times I would abandon a project because I would get too much into my own head about “wasting” time on something that I actually did enjoy instead of engaging in something more “productive.”

This practice of never penciling in unscheduled activities came to a fever pitch when Aaron was out and about (either in the field or deployed) with the military. Whether it was for two weeks, a month, or our longest separation of 10 months, I found myself jumping at every last opportunity to be busy or spend time away from the house. It was just too hard to be there alone.

There’s a long path of steps up to my current level of self-actualization that could not have occurred without those trying times and bouts of depression, however. I needed to go through the tough things to appreciate the good ones. To appreciate myself for who I am – independent, worthy of relaxation.

These days I still have a list of projects, some that are completed with a feverish pace, and others that sit for months until I pick them up again. I always am caught in a flurry of hobbies and love immersing myself in creative things when I’m not working. But no longer do I feel guilty or weird if I spend, for example, two hours on a Sunday afternoon napping, or watching football, or cooking food for the week.

I think the key is that I can’t have so many boundaries for myself during my time off. I need to allow myself a large swath of time to ponder, explore, and create. It keeps me mentally healthy. I inwardly rejoice even upon waking up early on a weekend morning, or especially upon waking up early on a weekend morning. I see nothing but potential for the day, be it through a cup (or entire French press) of coffee, reading, cross-stitching, napping, cooking, whatever. The joy in the day is not derived by the activity necessarily, but in the agency involved in choosing the activity. And having no regrets for how I spent my time.

Life right now is not at all what we planned it would look like. Humans are kind of programmed to predict events, so this pandemic really threw a wrench into everything. Nonetheless, it gives us a perfect opportunity to see our habits and actions for what they really bring to our lives – either how they serve us or how they manipulate or cause destruction.

In the view of the finite breaths we all have left, it’s imperative that we take the time to reflect on how we spend our time and if it’s all “worth it.” We can take everything out of our pockets, lay it out on the table, and really examine every piece in an objective light.

For me, hemming and hawing about the way I spend an hour or two, or even an entire day, doesn’t serve me well. If I complete an activity and then spend time regretting it, that is a waste to me, my friends.

In fact, I guess you could say I’d be fooling myself….

Coping through COVID

Every day seems like a new opportunity to observe, rework, and rewire the workings of my mind. When there is so much changing and the change doesn’t seem to quit, it can feel like a daily attack to my human brain that likes to predict everything.

“Taking things day by day” hits a little too close to home right now. But that’s really what I need to do. At the same time, I have to look ahead because lessons and meals won’t plan themselves. I find that there’s some solace in routines.

I have changed both schools and grade levels this year. My work demands and schedule seem to change constantly. My great-grandmother passed away in August. Holiday plans have changed. Our church has been through some intense changes in the past several months – going virtual, receiving a new pastor after ours retired.

For one thing, I have to believe that there is good coming from all these changes. I find I’m more satisfied at work now that I’m back in secondary and am not assigned to multiple schools all over the county. I’m happy that my great-grandmother is no longer sad from having outlived so many loved ones. I’m okay with being in my own house for holidays this year. I am thankful for our church family and being able to worship together this past Sunday, the first time since March.

For another thing, I have to let go of yesterday, last week, last month. Someone pissed me off today at work? That’s fine, but I have to let it go before tomorrow morning. I had an intense conversation with a family member? Okay, but I gotta let it go and not dwell on it. Students weren’t attending class or participating in the lesson I spent 45 minutes creating? Oh well – there will be another lesson. Make modifications, introduce a new strategy, et cetera.

I keep coming back to the Four Agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

Always do your best.

Don’t make assumptions.

Don’t take anything personally.

I read the book awhile back at the recommendation of my therapist, and she definitely didn’t steer me wrong. I think I could spend my whole life trying to master these four agreements. Some days are definitely better than others. I started trying to apply these way before COVID, but now they need to be even more in focus. Guess I’d better put my glasses on.

Making amends

For a long time I was at odds with my own past. My own experiences. It’s a weird place be to because there’s animosity and sadness and regret, but the only person it’s directed to is the person in the mirror. Or out into the void. It’s very confusing.

I went to a small private university only 15 minutes away from where I grew up. It was the only college I applied to, and with my grades, GPA, and “well-rounded” experiences, I knew I would get in, and I did. I was majored in Spanish and secondary education, and I remember with my mom meeting the head of the foreign language department in his dingy office that smelled like old books and cigarette smoke. I was a little unsure of my decision, but my conscience reminded me that this was the only school I applied to, the only one I believed and told I could go to, so I just went with it.

Westlake Hall, Bradley University | where I learned how to be a teacher

And I went with it for four years, four really difficult years. I worked a couple jobs outside of my 15 to 16 hour semesters and carefully plotted my classes so that I could graduate in four years. I even took a literature and an earth science class at the community college and a Spanish grammar class at another university close by so I could transfer the credits.

I lived in my room at my parents’ house, but also out of my car and in the university library. I found solace in coffee and green tea in travel cups and those ridiculously expensive smoothies they served at the student center. I racked up a credit card with purchases of bottled Starbucks frappuccinos.

And then I graduated with about $50,000 in student debt, a mixture of different kinds of loans all with low interest rates (thank goodness). I couldn’t study abroad due to jobs and bills, so I took some loan money and flew to Spain to visit a friend. I went on a missions trip to Bolivia. I tried to have as many immersion experiences in the Latin world so I would be ready to teach Spanish.

For a long time, the student debt hung over me, hung over us. We got married right when I graduated, so then all my private school debt became our private school debt, and I felt horrible about it. Every day. It was a dark cloud hanging over our new life together.

Eventually we paid all of it off (February 2017, nine years after my graduation). That helped me feel better about what I thought was a ridiculously expensive degree and a mediocre experience. Representatives from the university calling me on a Sunday evening asking me for more money couldn’t get off the phone without hearing an earful about how I worked two jobs and now was a teacher who could not afford to give even more money to the institution.

“Mrs. Wilcoxon, we’d like to hear about your experience at Bradley. What were some of your favorite extra curricular experiences as a student?” the bright-eyed work-study student would ask.

“My extra curricular experiences involved working two jobs and visiting my long-distance boyfriend. I had no time for anything else, not even friends, because I wanted to escape that expensive place as fast as possible, ” is what I wanted to say. Eventually I stopped answering the calls.

Recently, indirectly, I’ve come to terms with the difficult experience of undergrad. I realize how fortunate I was to even go to college, to have at least one parent who was college educated, and other family members who were, too. To have a working vehicle, and to be employed. To study something that actually has never failed me as far as acquiring skilled work. To study something that gave me a springboard for graduate studies and a slight shift in my career. To have a really solid liberal arts education that got me thinking outside my own world, that actually did a great job of teaching me how to be a teacher (besides the one measly foreign language methods class).

I’ve been back to visit the university only a couple of times in the past 12 years. Once to try to change my name on my diploma (didn’t realize that I couldn’t, and now I don’t want to) and once with my sister just to walk around. I guess you could say I’m not your typical alumnus, going to homecoming, sporting all the gear, reminiscing on the parties and social gatherings (I never did go to a college party…).

This transition in my feelings towards that era of my life is actually a transition in my feelings towards the person I was during that time. I was the extremely busy and overworked person I harp about now. I was nervous and anxious when it came to just about everything. I was very intimidated to speak Spanish or act like I knew anything about the culture. I was unsure of myself in so many ways, and I think I was actually embarrassed of the person I was.

pensive, unsure, full of doubt but trying to make it look like I have it all together
ca. 2006

But it’s okay. I’ve grown a lot in the past 15+ years. I’ve had some incredible experiences in life, in further education, in other cultures that have given me something new to latch onto.

First, I heard that high school was the best time of my life, and then when I got to college I heard that no, that was the best time of my life. Both were not the best time of my life, and it’s very depressing to think that for some people, they peak in high school or college. What about the (hopefully) 60+ years beyond that?

I think making such a black-and-white declaration of what is supposed to be the best time of someone’s life is myopic at best and damning at worst. We don’t know what everyone goes through in those stages. Some people, like me, have hope that other parts of their life will be the best.

For example, the life I’m living now is pretty damn amazing. I have an education, a long-term partner, a beautiful and safe home, a career that’s been built up over many years and experiences. But more than that, I’ve made a series of good decisions (and been a recipient of some blessings and luck) to get me here. Somehow I was able to see beyond the debt and the hardship and the infertility and even the Illinois River Valley to something new, perhaps wild and untamed, but always worth it.

I want to always pine for the life I’m living right now, not get snagged on the hard things in the past, or the attitudes I had, or the person I was. It’s all important and worthy of mention and meditation. All experiences in life converge into one tiny pin prick in the expanse of time – this moment right now.

Plan A is Plan A

In a one-on-one session with a student today, these literal words came out of my mouth: “Bear with me with biology; it’s been 20 years since I’ve had this class.” (For the record, I teach ESOL but a student came to me for language help with her bio class.)

I became a teacher long before now. Professionally, I’ve been at it for about 15 years. But before that I taught piano lessons at my local music shop. Before that, I was giving my sisters lessons using a chalkboard mounted on the wall behind the Laz-E-Boy in the living room.

I thought teaching was a great aspiration, but for me it was always a placeholder until I could do the thing I really wanted to do: take care of my own children.

When I learned that having my own children probably wasn’t in the cards for me (for many reasons.. check out those posts here, here, and here), I had a major identity crisis. Yes, I was a teacher still, but in my heart of hearts I was also a mother. I was a wife and a mother before anything else. Besides “teacher,” it was probably the first identity that emerged when I was a little girl. I’ve always been very maternal, be it with dolls, stuffed animals, my sisters, the younger siblings of my friends. I always knew I would be very suited for a long-term relationship ax someone’s wife. And even then, becoming a wife was an avenue for becoming a mother. (Yes, I’m very traditional about some things. But only for myself. You do you.)

It’s taken now many years and dozens of therapy sessions, plus a whole lot of mental bandwidth, to disengage from my identity as a mother. During that identity crisis, I was still serving as a teacher but refused to accept that it was now (or still?) my life’s work. Another one for the record: I do believe in callings, in God’s will. As such, teaching has always been my life’s work.

It hasn’t been until this school year that I’ve finally felt liberated from my dormant and unfulfilled “mother” identity. It could be that I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Or that I’m back teaching in a high school as I spent four years in elementary, which has a role of its own in my healing from the hurt of infertility. I spent a lot of time and energy exploring other potential life paths in the past few years.

I started my professional career in high school, first in student teaching at a school in a very small town in the middle of cornfields, and then in my very own (windowless) classroom of wide-eyed Spanish students in a school surrounded by cornfields. I even started my (amateur) teaching career while I was a high school student. So many positive formative experiences happened to me while I was that age.

There’s a type of magic for me of being in a high school building. There’s not only nostalgia, but a feeling of “home,” and if you lead me to the band room, that feeling is only amplified.

School in post-COVID-closure 2020 may look very strange to my 14-year-old self who once sat in freshman biology class thinking about what 34-year-old Elizabeth would be like, or do with her life. But there’s something about imparting knowledge on others, about creating a classroom community, about leaning into the hard days and frustrations that makes me feel like I belong.

I don’t communicate these words lightly. In the five weeks since school has been back in session I have considered quitting my job at least five times. I could write many many posts about the difficulties of teaching these days, and a treatise on the inequities and bureaucratic bloat of the American public education system.

But late last week I had a realization. Me di cuenta… I realized that now is a good time to lean in. To embrace my chosen profession. To receive my new students, whom I have known for all of a month. To welcome new families, immigrants or not. To keep creating lessons that are fun to teach and hopefully to learn. To call on my creative brain to step up. To take advantage of the wealth of pedagogical knowledge I’ve amassed in the 13 years since I was a teacher candidate.

In our society that says that having a plan will make you successful, “they” are awfully silent about the plans that emerge from the shadows, or a child’s dreams that want to be Plan A when they grow up. I have come full circle, where my Plan A is still my Plan A.

Snap out of it

The world is at a fever pitch right now. Everything is heightened, stressed, tenuous, uncertain. Almost anything could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were. Everyday I resist the urge to actively look for said straw. It’s tempting to fall into a feeling of hopelessness and live just for today.

I’ve had thoughts of “I can’t believe this is the world I’m living in” or “I don’t want to live in this particular world anymore.” Let me be clear: this is a thought of escapism that all humans are prone to, not one of suicidal ideation.

This thought usually comes to me at the strangest times while participating in the most mundane tasks: driving home from an uneventful grocery store trip. Sitting outside on the patio. During seriously normal things that I would be doing in any world at any time.

There are days that feel totally normal; at my school we’ve been back in the building for a week now. A week ago I was pretty nervous and unsure about it, and really having a moment saying goodbye to my home office and my furry work assistant (for now). As a person who is very easily distracted and needs a good solid block of quiet time to get good deep work done (Have you read Deep Work by Cal Newport?), I’ve curated a really cozy, quiet space at home.

It’s quite a change from when I began working from home in mid-March. I hated mixing work and home life. As soon as I walked in the door, the teacher persona came off and the regular Elizabeth returned, along with comfy clothes. But then I was Teacher and Regular Human Being in the same space. But as the time went on, it got easier and as it turns out, for me it was all a state of mind.

Being back in the building was actually nice. I was able to be in my classroom, making it quiet and cozy just like my office at home. I was able to interact with my students virtually and even get some really good deep work done.

Stepping out of my classroom after a long but good week of work, I looked at the blue sky and changing trees and realized that we have a little less than three full months left in 2020. There is a presidential election looming. Who knows what else could happen.

However, there was a salient moment when it all came together for me, and I return to this moment in my memory often. Usually I’m jolted awake by my alarm, but there was a day (probably a weekend morning) where I slowly woke up, first my mind woke up, then my eyes opened, and I found myself on one side of a very cozy Missy sandwich. She and Aaron were still fast asleep, and I just lay there, letting myself wake up, and realizing that this is what it’s all about – we’re healthy, safe, have curated a pretty nice life, actually, and we’re grateful for it.

On the edge of thirty-five

There’s been a lot that’s come up in recent months that I haven’t expected to address right now. And lots that I have expected. On the surface, I will be reaching “advanced maternal age” when I turn 35 in April 2021, notwithstanding the fact that I don’t have children over whom to be maternal. They say 35 is just an age… but for a woman, that doesn’t seem to be true. In addition to changes wrought by nature, it brings some existential questions to mind.

My sisters have always told me I’ve been perpetually 35 my whole life. I think they mean that I’ve always been this responsible, mature, get-shit-done sort of person. Now that I’m getting to actually be 35, will I still be “35” in their eyes even after I surpass that age? I think when you hit certain milestone ages, you think about what your predecessors were doing when they were your age. First of all, my mom had a 13-year-old (me) when she was 35. It’s a sober reminder that I’m literally old enough to be the mother of some of my high school students.

Thirty-five is the roundabout age when women begin perimenopause. I read about this recently in the book In the Flo and was floored. It’s one reason I decided to cut out alcohol and make sure I’m keeping my hormones happy and healthy. According to research, what happens in perimenopause determines how awful or how not awful menopause can be. (I’m still reading up on all of this, but from what I can gather so far from hearing family members’ experiences, menopause is either awful or not awful. Change my mind.)

There’s some major cognitive dissonance to address, thinking about my reproductive life in the last third of its reign (though I’m not necessarily complaining…) and also the many years I could potentially live post-menopause. If I become as old as my Nana was when she passed away in August, I could live several decades past menopause (she was 104).

The last thing I want to mention about “35” is that I had a certain vision of future Elizabeth and who she was as a person when I was a wee lass. Thirty-five year old Elizabeth would live a life that encompassed being a mother and a wife. But I think even more than that, past Elizabeth would want to see future-soon-to-be-present Elizabeth have characteristics like integrity, perseverance, healthy mental faculties, emotional strength. Know a lot about a lot of things. Have many interests. Be interested in people. Know how to comfort someone when they’re grieving or sad or upset. Know how to set boundaries and live within them.

Maybe beyond the age of 30 people see the next milestone as 40. But I think there’s something about 35. And I don’t think I’m the only one… John Mellencamp mentioned “17 has turned 35” in one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums, “Cherry Bomb”. (He’s from Indiana, so a fellow Midwesterner. He speaks to my heart.)

“Seventeen has turned thirty-five,
I’m surprised that we’re still livin'”

And when I think of “17” being sung in a song, what else can I think about, who else can I think about besides Stevie Nicks with “Edge of Seventeen”?

“And the days go by
Like a strand in the wind
In the web that is my own
I begin again”

I think both of those ages are precursors to the next phase of one’s life; 17, to young adulthood, and 35 to…. adulthood? (Surely not middle age? But I guess if the median life expectancy in the US is 78, 35 is pretty much middle age…)

What’s classic about the Stevie Nicks song, and why it came to mind even though I was thinking about 35, is that many of the existential angst one has at 17 can still be a thing at 35, at least for me. The questions I wrestle with may be different, but there is wrestling all the same. I know the moves, I can anticipate the hits a bit more. But there are still questions that knock me off my feet and steal my breath.

With Mellencamp, his lyrics show that 18 years, the time between 17 and 35, can just be gone in the blink of an eye. Essentially, that’s a lifetime. My adulthood has almost reached the age of an adult… let me think about that one for a minute.

All in all, it totally makes sense that I’m having these feelings about turning 35. To clarify, I don’t feel “bad” or “good” about turning 35. Generally, I’ve been very grateful for reaching and living through my thirties. Because of the self-awareness and the space I’ve given myself, I feel that I have learned and grown more in the past almost-five years than I have for a decade or more. Of course, I did grow so much over my twenties, but now I’m aware and woke enough to see it.

Inevitably, thinking about 35 and the music that plays and has played a huge role in my formation makes me think about where I came from, the land I was brought up on, the land that my forefathers and foremothers turned 35 on. These thoughts and ponderings slowly turn the wheel of grief as well, thinking about those who have passed on. I ponder, I meditate, I try to commune, I remember, I cry, I grieve, I comfort myself, I sleep, I rise again to another day, and on and on.

Routines are hidden self-care

I have always thrived on routines. Though I held them with disdain as a child I know that children thrive on routines. It feels safe and comfortable to know what’s coming next in the day. The feeling of safety allows you to be more present in the current moment.

That said, shifting to a work-from-home play-at-home do-everything-at-home routine six months ago was not easy. It was touch-and-go for several weeks while we figured out what teaching might look like from home. I finally set up a proper office this summer, knowing that we were at least starting online. If anything, I imagine snow days will be a thing of the past – they could turn into online learning days. (Not sure how I feel about that quite yet…)

But now this week my routine changes again. I am willing myself to welcome my routine of driving to and from work. I am willing myself to welcome the routine of packing a lunch and leaving at a prescribed time. I am willing myself to think twice the night before and get everything as ready to go as possible for the morning, which are earlier for me than they ever have been.

When certain routines become more rigid, everything has to shift. Shower time shifts; bed time shifts. Wake-up time shifts. (I went without setting an alarm from March through August.) Planning meals and grocery shopping have to shift. Doing little chores as “brain breaks” throughout the day will have to shift.

But in the end, all these routines are good. They bring a sense of peace and normalcy in a very trying time. While I have been through many things in my life that have upended my routines, I welcome Routines in the Time of COVID.

On one hand, it feels selfish to engage in some of these routines, as they naturally diminish time I have to catch up with family or friends or volunteer for all the things. On the other hand, keeping certain routines sacred is necessary for my mental health. I know this time won’t last forever. At some point, fluidity will make its way back into my daily life.

As we enter into fall and winter with shorter days and cooler temperatures, into flu season and into more uncertainty about what regular life looks like, there are some routines I’m not going to budge on.

Coffee and reading before work. If this means I need to wake up two hours before I hit the road, so be it. I started this routine when I made a promise to myself to read more and have found it indispensable. (Check out my Goodreads shelf to the left.)

Physical fitness every day. Some days this looks like leisurely dog walks. Others it looks like yoga on the patio. Still other days will find me going for a run.

Cooking real food at home 95% of the time. So far, we’ve still been only ordering out once per week, usually pizza on Friday nights. I can’t not cook for an army of people, so there are always leftovers to heat up. Plus I gotta keep up my sourdough game… it was a little deflated this week if you know what I mean. Oh, I’m sorry, is my millenial showing?

Tea and reading before bed. I’ve been partial to Tulsi Turmeric Ginger with honey. So calming, earthy, and delicious.

These routines have proved to be a God-send as well as sustainable for the time going forward.

The Year of No Zero Days – Garden Edition

Disclaimer: This is not a tutorial. There are no “here are 5 steps to gardening.” Nope.

I came home one day from work (well, from actually being in the school building) and found a little green bean peeking out from the chicken wire I tried to nicely place around the garden bed. I felt such a childlike elation it made me think that I shouldn’t have waited so long to have a garden.

After all, we’ve been able to live in a single-family house for almost 10 years (“This is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed”). I’ve told myself I don’t have a green thumb, I can’t grow anything, etc etc. The truth is I’ve never made the time to have a garden.

I’ve been religiously, I mean religiously, following homesteading and gardening channels on YouTube (Garden Answer, Planterina, Simple Living Alaska, Elliot Homestead). It wasn’t until I actually made the decision to build a garden bed and tend to some late summer-early fall veggies that I realized that farming/homesteading is neither cheap nor not time-consuming.

After we built our patio, I used many reclaimed bricks left over to build a simple but rustic-looking garden bed, kind of raised, kind of built into a hill. I used two simple items – bricks and construction adhesive. Plus some leftover sand from the patio leveling adventure to put under the bottom layer. With ten bags of top soil later and a few trips to Home Depot, I ended up with this:

I knew I had to get this done no later than the first of August so I could plant a few veggies & herbs before it got too late. I think I finally planted everything the first full week of August.

This I considered the “soft opening” of my garden. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, and I had waited too long for spring/summer crops.

Today I harvested the first green beans, organic Blue Lake variety. I vaguely remember picking beans when we had a small garden growing up, and I know how to snap them. We probably canned them.

I’m pumped. And I love this one-handled yellow colander I found at the thrift store. Like, it made my day to get in there and harvest the ones that were ready. I’m pretty sure I planted the seeds too close together because it’s a veritable jungle. But I have food that I grew myself.

I also have some Sumter cucumbers, carrots, and cilantro growing. I’m proud of the fact that I know my cilantro is now taking off because it’s getting cooler outside. And that it’s good to harvest a lot of things right before the frost because they’ll store more sugars. It’s a heck of a lot more than I knew a few weeks ago.

But then again, I’ve been wondering as I’ve taken so well to plants and gardening and working outside, how much of this inclination is genetic. After all, on my dad’s side of the family, we were farmers going all the way back to when my ancestors came across the ocean and settled in New York. Maybe it explains why I look lovingly on tall yellowing corn, or appreciate how the wind blows over the soybeans at the height of summer. Or how I get so damn excited to realize that even I can grow simple vegetables.

The journey to delighting in boredom

By training in…boredom, we train in accepting things as they are. This helps us wean ourselves from the habit of closing down into our soothing world of familiar, imputed meanings.

Pema Chodron, Welcoming the Unwelcome

I used to be terrified of being bored. As a teenager in high school who lived life at 90 miles an hour, I anticipated but dreaded times like spring break or winter break. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself totally enjoying time off – waking up late, lazing around, maybe reading or writing or watching TV – but when that time actually came, I was a ball of anxiety.

This continued well into my 20’s, and even into my early 30’s (almost in my mid 30’s!). At some point, though, I was able to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of being bored. I started small. Instead of browsing through some app mindlessly on my phone while waiting in line at the post office, I’d just stand there and let my mind wander. Maybe smile at the person in front of me. Maybe strike up a conversation if it felt right. Instead of picking up my phone immediately when my lunch date got up to use the restroom, I’d sit, take a sip of my drink, and just contemplate whatever came to mind.I’m not going to lie – that was hard at first. And if I had to think back to when I began doing this, it was probably when I began practicing yoga.

The town I live in now has a very cute riverside yoga studio connected to a marina (with real sailboats!) just a couple blocks from my house. About a minute walk as the crow (or osprey, or heron..) flies. After having some back issues and paying good money at the chiropractor’s office to get some relief, I decided to treat myself to a monthly membership at this yoga studio. I was apprehensive, as much as I wanted to “get into yoga” and cultivate a regular practice… and get rid of my horrible posture… and be able to do a real pushup.

But the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes of class were near tortuous for me during that first month or so. I hated sitting cross-legged “in a comfortable seat
… it wasn’t comfortable. I did not like focusing on the sounds outside, which included other people breathing, cars passing by, the occasional siren sounded for the volunteer fire department. I couldn’t understand the point of focusing on those sounds. And focusing on my breathing? I was here to get a workout, dammit. I breath in, I breath out. Simple enough. Let’s move on.

Savasana, or corpse pose, was equally horrible when I first began. I couldn’t fathom laying still on my back (total side/belly sleeper here) for any amount of time, let alone trying to focus on a guided meditation about letting basically all my muscles slacken (even my face! what!). My favorite part of savasana at the beginning was when we were told to “carefully roll over to one side and press yourself up to a comfortable seat.”

But the thing about savasana is that it’s sometimes hailed as the most important pose in a yoga practice, when all the good stuff from your yoga practice settles into the body and mind. It’s when the body rests after working to keep you upright and moving for about an hour. It’s boredom but it’s everything good that boredom could be.

As we individuals grow in our resilience–as we become better at staying conscious and not losing heart–we will be able to remain strong in challenging conditions for the long haul. This is within the capacity of all of us.

Pema Chodron, Welcoming the Unwelcome

So now that I’ve contemplated the genesis of my being able to sit still for any amount of time, I’ve been growing in my practice of boredom. This can look so many different ways. Right now, boredom for me looks like having no music or TV on as I write this, just an awareness of the other sounds around me: the comforting syncopated sound of the dryer tumbling the bedding, the dog breathing as she sleeps, the clack-clack-clack of typing on the keyboard, the occasional creaking of the stairs as my husband comes down from his office for a snack or something to drink.

While sometimes I choose to be bored, mostly I’m forced into it, and that is where the anxiety has come from – having expectations of going to the store and getting out quickly but actually having to stand in line for a long time. Getting stuck in traffic and getting home late when I’d already mentally planned out my obligation-less evening. Boredom happens in the moment, and that’s the key I think. When I’m okay with being bored, with my mind being temporarily unoccupied, I can be in the moment. Instead of driving at 75 mph in heavy traffic down Interstate 95, my mind is on a drive out into the country, perhaps stopped at a park for a few minutes before we continue on.

I think I wrote about silence before here… about going to my grandparents’ and wondering why in the world they didn’t have music or TV on and it was just… quiet. But now I get it. The more in tune with myself I am, the less I want mindless influence from outside. More often than not, I welcome the quiet. It doesn’t make me nervous or anxious like it used to. I’ve learned to sit with it, embrace it, and ask it questions.

And almost 100% of the time, it answers. I come to interesting revelations that I share, or keep to myself. I’m able to sit and spend an entire day reading.. something I’ve always wanted to be “able” to do. I can breathe in the moment and find gratitude for the simple things – the amazing invention of the dryer, the furry, warm companionship of a dog, the fact that my husband is here in “quarantine” with me while years ago he was 7,000 miles away.

Learning to embrace boredom has helped me do some settling. I feel more settled in my own intentions and motivations, in what I like and don’t like to do, watch, see.. in what I want in friendships and relationships.. in the fact that what I do is not who I am. (Whewweee.. I could write a LOT about that last one…). And in the settling, I find flight and change and invention and creativity.

However, learning to embrace boredom that’s forced upon us (kind of like we might experience now in self-isolation) helps prepare us for more dire situations where we must focus on something without warning – where we have to be aware of our surroundings and make decisions on the fly. And, we might have to direct our attention to said situation for a long period of time without a break. This is a skill that at some point is common to all humanity, and we must know how to face such a challenge.

What can boredom teach you? And will you open yourself up to learn from it?

We are who we’ve always been

I have read a lot of good books lately – twenty so far in 2020. I recently finished The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas and I can say that I had a book hangover for a good couple days. I also read another fantasy book, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, for a book club. (Check out the cover – beautiful artwork!) Yes, I am part of a book club where non-nonfiction books are read by yours truly. I’ve been channeling my energy throughout this past month of isolation into all the things I pursued pre-adolescence… reading, sewing, crafting, cooking – all the things that bring my joy and comfort and are simply me.

Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chodron caught my eye at the library. You know, the day I went and loaded up on books before it closed for an undetermined amount of time. But I saw the title in the “new nonfiction” section and thought, Hmm, welcoming the unwelcome… sounds like my life. Let’s get that one too.

It’s a gem. I’m almost halfway through and it seems every sentence is quotable. But here is one of my favorites:

The wonderful irony about the spiritual journey is that we find it only leads us to become just as we are. The exalted state of enlightenment is nothing more than fully knowing ourselves and our world just as we are.

Pema Chodron, Welcoming the Unwelcome

This has been so true for me. The longer I delve deep into the core of my soul, the more I see myself, actually. The unencumbered 4-year-old Elizabeth is there. The 12-year-old Elizabeth beginning to become unsure about her new body is there. The 30-year-old Elizabeth devastated by infertility is there. And the soon-to-be 34-year-old Elizabeth is there. And she’s the same and different all at the same time.

I think this phenomenon is something I also see in the protagonists of these books I’ve been reading, nay, devouring. Searching for something new but seeing themselves as a result. Having gone through some crazy messed up shit, but ending up seeing the same face and soul in the mirror, just changed, a new version of themselves.

I hope that when we come out of this “new normal”, we can all find the same soul in the mirror – farther along in our spiritual journeys.