Finding true quiet

I’ve written a little about my quest for more output and less input (or maybe a lot, who can remember?). That’s an ongoing goal for this, my 47th year — and it’s led me to an interesting offshoot that I didn’t necessarily expect:

Finding “true quiet.”

What the hell IS true quiet, you might be asking yourself. I know I did. My life is very loud — not necessarily because of people talking or cars honking or whatever, but because I’m bombarded with messages 24/7. On the radio, in music, on television, in magazines, on social media, on various websites, at the office, in the newspaper’s opinion page … I’m never alone with my own thoughts unless I make an actual effort to shut all that down.

I mean, how will I know what I think if I can’t hear myself think?

I’ve found a few chunks of time during my day where I can tune it all out and just sit by myself in (relative) silence: During my morning journaling time, with my pens and my notebooks and the cats; during lunch, when I find a quiet spot and read (or blog, like I’m doing now); on my commute, when I shut off the radio, breathe and think about the day ahead / what I’m grateful for / whoever needs some good vibes (after dropping Jo off at school — she’s a radio listener); and in the evening after my chores are done and I can sit by myself and read or write.

At first, this was REALLY HARD. Torturous! You want me to sit without any distractions? In the quiet? No music or phone? Talk about scary. I’m finding it less daunting the more I pay attention and seek the quiet out, although I am not always successful, may as well admit that right now.

Sometimes I like the noise.

One thing that helps set the tone for the day is waking up “phone free.” (I first wrote about that HERE.) When I started this whole ordeal, I could last maybe 10 minutes before I reached for that thing. Now, I am up to about 25-30 minutes, which is about as long as my journaling routine lasts.

I’m basically trying to break one habit with another. It seems to be working.

I also try to remind myself why I have a phone throughout the day, when I catch myself unthinkingly reaching for it: To connect with my family and friends. I do NOT have a phone so I can scroll through headlines about celebrities I don’t care about or watch comment wars unfold on social media.

I’ve found that mostly, I really like the quiet. Sometimes I don’t want to sit with myself and it’s harder, but I figure those are probably the times I need the quiet the most: What’s this nagging thought I don’t want to think? What is this feeling I don’t want to feel? What is this issue I don’t want to confront? But usually, I’m happy to do the breathing exercises, to write in my journal, to read a book, to pump out that blog post. I’ve even started to look for quiet time at work — because wow, when I can focus, that story I’m working on seems a lot less daunting. And gets written a hell of a lot faster.

Anyone else thinking about this? Have any tips for us, the phone-addicted? Or stories of quiet moments?

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More updates: Plastic Free September, output vs. input, etc. etc. etc.

I’m out on the deck this morning. We had a rare Oregon thunderstorm last night (I should probably mention I’m writing this on Sunday), which knocked the power out for a few hours. We lit a few candles and it was all terribly romantic. Just kidding, it was dark and loud. All I could think about was Laura Ingalls Wilder trying to read or darn or whatever the hell they did back then by candlelight (well, kerosene lamp, I guess) — how hard that must have been on her eyes.

But the upshot: The air is clean and crisp. And it feels like autumn.

Plastic Free September continues. I was thinking earlier about how much packaged and processed foods we used to buy when we were newlyweds and how much we’ve stopped buying in those intervening years — mostly for health reasons, like forgoing packaged lunchmeat for actual chicken or roasts or whatever. But also because of environmental reasons, like buying bulk carrots (now at my favorite farm stand and they are delicious) instead of packaged carrots. It didn’t even occur to me back then that bulk was an option. Progress!

(Now it’s Monday morning, back out on the deck — Abby Facetimed and that put an end to my thought process; air is cooler still, but I know my days writing out here are numbered so what’s numb feet?)

Anyway, I have had a couple of challenges on the challenge front: The first was last Friday. I’d planned on taking a nice lunch break with my favorite salad and an Americano at a coffee shop; instead, I found myself the only member of the newsroom in the office with a breaking news story (or is that a heartbreaking news story?) and a loose 22-page paper to fill. Because I was planning on eating my salad at the coffee shop, I did not bring any containers — and this was an eat at your desk kind of day — but I did have a cloth napkin and fork hidden in a drawer, so while I my to-go order was in a paper box (lined in plastic, trash), I was able to save on the plastic fork and paper napkin (when I placed my order, I asked for no utensils). I always have my coffee mug, so while that was technically a win, it wasn’t really — I do that anyway.

The next was on our Saturday grocery trip. I needed coffee and forgot to bring a jar. I used one of their paper bags — again, lined in plastic. I can save it and reuse it, and that will be my punishment for the rest of the month. This is slightly better, plastic aside, than the packages of coffee I’ve been getting at the coffee shops lately (Stumptown! Ammiright?!) because those packages are immediate trash; there’s no reuse possibilities there. And also, the coffee I purchased Saturday was roasted right here in town.

Note to self: I need to start stopping by that particular coffee roasters again with my jars. They totally know how to fill them. I’ve gotten out of the habit.

(The clouds have parted just enough that I can see Mount Hood has a fresh layer — albeit slight — of snow this morning. That is awesome. Poor thing looks so bare by this time of year. Our glaciers are toast.)

Output vs. input

I came across an interesting online article by Ryan Holiday with tips on spending less time with your phone. Besides the usual (turn off all alerts, remove social media apps, don’t use for entertainment), he had a couple that struck me as so obvious but so genius: Start your mornings phone free; use the do not disturb setting; and whenever possible, replace your phone with another solution.

Oh, Ryan Holiday, have you been reading my diary? That is advice I can use.

NOT grabbing my phone first thing each morning is slightly difficult because I tend to fall asleep using a white noise app (it also serves as my alarm), but I can click those buttons, shut the app off and then place my phone face down on the dresser and go about my morning.

I’ve got the do not disturb setting on from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.; I may lengthen that time. I’ve got it set so family members can get through. Everyone else can wait. (Fact: No one really calls me anyway so.)

As for finding other solutions to the phone, that is interesting as heck. Instead of using my phone to check headlines, I can read a paper (or fire up Freida the Laptop, which I’m not as apt to do). Instead of using my phone for entertainment (looking at you, word games), I can play Uno with Johanna, who LOVES that kind of thing. Instead of using my phone to numb my feelings or help when I feel bored or anxious, I can … well, I’m trying to figure that one out.

My phone helps me connect with my kids, create paperless lists, fall asleep, listen to music. FIND WHERE I’M GOING. (All caps because wow, I am terrible with direction.) That’s amazing. Everything else is just noise.

Etc. etc. etc.

Back to my Friday from hell and no lunch break — basically a seven hour day at my desk wanting to cry: This week I have been working on taking breaks. Setting boundaries. Not killing myself. It’s hard because at the time, it seems so important to push through and crank out pages / stories / web updates / insert whatever here, but I think it’s also important to recognize that there is only so much I can do as a human, that I am not perfect, and that all I can do is make the best of the circumstances in which I have been given (small staff, big needs).

I can’t say I’ve been great about it, but it’s on my radar, which is half the battle, anyway. I think technically, just in my line of work, I need to be aware of the fact that there are days I am not going to leave the office for seven straight hours. But on the days I can, I need to take full advantage.

Because I’ve noticed that my stomach / anxiety is acting up these days as I head into the office. I dread it. That can’t be good.

Victories this week

I took everyone to a coffee shop for our weekly staff meeting Tuesday, and everyone got their orders in regular mugs. We talked about paper stuff, but we also just decompressed and messed around and had fun. I think that’s important. (And also I could do that because our editor was on vacation and I had no adult supervision. That’s what you get for leaving me in charge, corporate!)

Our publisher came in on Monday and asked if anyone wanted coffee. Hello! Yes I do! She pointed to my travel mug before I could even hand it to her. It’s nice to be understood.

(And now it’s Wednesday morning as I finish this post — just to keep you in the loop about my deck time. I did not expect this post to take so long to write, but here we are.)

Input vs. output

All members of the Walker Four are now equipped with iPhones — Eric finally broke. The best part was seeing Johanna’s face when we gave her that box because it wasn’t even remotely on her radar. Abby immediately set up group chat threads. Eric immediately started complaining about all the notifications received from said group chat threads. 😉

It’s funny how, being without a smart phone for literally years, we have all quickly adapted to the new technology.

Driving around and need directions? Siri can help with that!

Bored in the waiting room and wanting to kill some time? Word games!

Funny thing happening at home that Abby needs to know about? Snapchat!

But I’m old enough to remember a time when phones were connected to the wall and you actually had to be home to answer — no call waiting, no message service. You had to sit there and talk because the cord only allowed you to go so far.

I’m also old enough to remember a time when we would actually pay attention to the people around us. Get this: We would eat a meal or play a game or just have a conversation and that was ALL WE WERE DOING.

I know, crazy. Even crazier? We could work on a project and not be interrupted by bells and whistles and our own sense of boredom. We could focus.

I can no longer focus.

Looking at myself here, I’ve been thinking a lot about input — what I take in — vs. output — what I create. The cards are stacked in favor of input. I spend an awful lot of time just cruising around news apps, Twitter, Instagram, playing word games and checking out daily featured apps, and at the end of those countless hours, I can’t even remember what I’ve read or learned.

Probably because I’ve learned nothing. Or at least nothing worth retaining. But I have managed to get myself worked up over some stupid something that I have zero control over.

Why do I do that to myself?

What if I focused on output instead?

It’s an interesting concept: Create more than you consume. Is that even possible? I have no idea, but my September goal is to find out.

I’ve broken it down like this:

Input that makes me feel bad about myself

  • Twitter
  • Facebook (especially our newspaper page because the comments are generally terrible)
  • Unfiltered news pages that are more entertainment and shock value than actual news
  • Unfocused scrolling time
  • Playing games

Input that I enjoy and value

  • Books
  • Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary method of communicating
  • FaceTime conversations because ditto
  • Reading blogs and real newspapers (aka papers, not screens)
  • COFFEE

Output that I enjoy

  • Journaling
  • Blogging
  • Working on my 365 project, which is basically a memory a day for a year … that I’ve been working on for like five years because sometimes I don’t want to remember
  • Working on The Simple Year draft
  • Writing news stories for work
  • Cooking (hashtag question mark because I’m kind of over cooking but also I like to eat)
  • Conversations and time with Johanna and Eric
  • Decluttering and cleaning (well, when it’s over and I can see progress)

Possibly I’ll add to these lists as the month goes on. It strikes me as ironic that I KNOW the inputs that make me feel like a terrible person and waste all my time and keep me from doing the things I actually value, but I DO THOSE THINGS ANYWAY.

On purpose.

I choose that.

Output makes me feel less scattered and more focused. I feel more grounded. I am calmer because I can release pent up thoughts and emotions when I’m able to be creative — I can let go. I am able to detach from what really doesn’t need my bandwidth. And I feel more gratitude and less … like I’m being put out, put upon, asked to give up too much mental and physical space.

Input that I enjoy — the books and coffee and blogs (like those by our friends Chris N and SarahN) seems to produce those same outcomes / feelings of wellbeing / sense of connectedness. Input that is just noise does the opposite.

Well, I’ve journaled about this and said it out loud on the blog, so I guess I have to do it.

Wish me luck.

And tell me your experiences or thoughts.

‘New Year’ resolutions

Goodbye, July. Hello, New Year!

I found out the afternoon before my scheduled birthday massage that it was canceled. The therapist was dealing with a life-and-death situation with a family member and I understood her need to cancel. I’d have done the same.

I have done the same. Looking at you, April.

But I woke up feeling vaguely depressed. As I wrote in my journal (and I’m rather proud of myself for making the connection):

I think my issue with Plan A becoming Plan X and the difficulty I have in retrenching is because I’ve already visualized it all in my head — how it all went. So my mind is expecting THAT and suddenly, the narrative has changed. And that is NOT what I’ve visualized.

And that, internet friends, brings us to My Goal For 47: Learning how to retrench quickly when life throws me a curveball, whether a mild inconvenience or total restructure of the day’s events.

I tend to treat them both the same way: Like it’s life and death. Which is idiotic, I know this, and yet, here we are. My gut is all like, Run from the cheetah! even though my mind is all, Dude, there ISN’T a cheetah, calm down.

I can’t calm down. Also, I am rather fond of cheetahs.

Anyway, I have a feeling my inability to recover is tied to the scarcity mindset, that we have to get ours first because we deserve it and we don’t want to be left behind or forgotten.

Let’s face it, it’s fear that is behind my reaction — I haven’t had time to process this Plan X and that makes me anxious. I’m 99 percent sure I’m coming out the loser on this new scenario and if I take long enough to accept it, maybe I can get it back to my original vision.

So, logically, what I need to do is reframe the negative thought loop:

Who can I help? What can I learn today? Where in my life do I need extra attention and/or grace? When am I at my best and worst? Why am I feeling this emotion and/or thinking this thought? How can I be a light?

It will take time to retrain myself and my gut response. But I think I can do it. I’ve got all year.

A month-long celebration

I have always loved the month of July.

It’s my birthday month and, even though the thrill of birthdays ceased long ago, I still just really love everything about it: Summertime weather, more and more fresh fruit and vegetables at the farmers’ market, the girls are out of school, and life is more relaxed.

I love relaxed!

This year wasn’t a milestone birthday or anything (47), but I had the ingenuity in June to fill my July calendar with all of my favorite things: I scheduled two reflexology appointments, two acupuncture appointments, got my hair cut and thinned and made a massage appointment for my actual birthday. (That ended up getting canceled because the therapist had a very understandable family emergency. It’s been 17 years since my last massage, so I look forward to rescheduling.)

birthday blog

Abby and me at birthday dinner.

I had coffee dates, I read on the deck as much as possible, I took a few walks with Eric, I made sure I took lunch breaks and tried my best not to let any work stresses beyond my control ruin my outlook. My sister-in-law was in town a few days before my birthday, and the greater group of my in-laws had a barbecue party for me, which was adorable and very sweet. My parents also had us over for dinner and entertainment the day after — Mom is in charge of dinner, Dad entertainment, and that’s always scratch-its. It’s hilarious and awesome and we tend to lose. The day of my birthday included a coffee shop stop, Friday lunch with both my girls, reading on the deck and a dinner of my choosing — which was barbecued chicken and salad, because our oven is still broken (that is another post for another time). Not actually my choice, but you know what? We were all together on the deck and I had a lovely time.

Tangent: My birthday was on the coffee shop calendar, which was AWESOME. I share it with a barista there, who was a little more excited for the day to come — she turned 21. Also, I got four presents this year, and two of them were coffee shop gift cards. I have never felt so understood.

Anyway, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve been feeling so well this month because I have been taking such good care of myself. I’ve felt relaxed and happy, and every day has been a celebration, even if all I did was sit on the deck after work with my Kindle. While I can’t continue with this level of self-care appointments — too expensive, not covered by insurance — I can take the lesson with me into August: Giving yourself a break and doing something that makes you happy goes a long way towards greater general health.

Tangent No. 2: Abby turned 20 on Saturday, and I would like to take this opportunity, AGAIN, to mention that she was due on my birthday but was eight days late. I’m still mad about that. She remains unapologetic.

A not so new normal

I was at acupuncture earlier this month, updating my provider on our vacation, how well I’d done and how proud I was for not only surviving, but surviving well. And she was like, Of course you did well. That’s the normal you’ve worked hard to achieve. It’s only your mind that thinks it’s five years ago, when that was not your normal.

I sat there, completely flabbergasted. She was right — I have been feeling well. I have worked hard to get here — it’s been 12 years in the making, actually. That’s when I decided, on my 35th birthday, that something had to change. Um, because I couldn’t get up off the couch and I had a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old who needed me.

All the head meds, all the reflexology and acupuncture, all the doctor’s visits and learning how to eat for my gut, as well as how to manage my anxiety — that’s all paid off. And the truth is I’ve been feeling well for a while now. Setbacks have come when I tweak my diet or life inevitably throws me a curve ball. But overall … I am well.

I am well. I can’t wrap my mind around that fact. I need to flip my thinking so that I look at my life from today’s vantage point and not c. 2007, afraid of what could happen on the gut and anxiety fronts, expecting the worst day in and day out because that was just my reality.

But how do I flip the switch in my mind so I expect to feel well vs. always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next IBS attack, for the next panic attack?

Hell if I know.

Well, maybe I do: Maybe, it’s like any habit I have attempted to form, when I make a conscious effort to reframe my routine — and eventually, it does become routine. Maybe it’s as easy as setting the intention each morning to be well. To recognize that I am well each night before I go to bed.

(That seems too easy, really, but I’m willing to give it a go.)

I don’t know, this is interesting to me because I am not a naturally optimistic person (nor am I a pessimist — I’m just a realist who expects the worst 😉 ). I like thinking about reality vs. perception, what’s really true and what I think is true. And I want to be well. I’m enchanted by the idea that I could expect to be well, all the time.

How different my outlook will be if I can master my thoughts.

A modest proposal

This Fourth of July, I’d like to propose that we ban over the counter fireworks in the United States.

My reasons are thus:

From an environmental standpoint, over the counter fireworks are wasteful. Most are not disposed of properly and can be seen littering the streets and sidewalks for days after they’ve been used.

Environmental standpoint II: This is fire season. Fireworks pose a risk of setting fires. And fires can be deadly and devastating.

From a pet owner’s standpoint, over the counter fireworks cause a great deal of unnecessary alarm. The kittens do not understand what these loud noises are, just that they are loud. I’ve written articles about pet safety for the Fourth, and dogs and horses are also at risk for running away or harming themselves as they attempt to flee the noise.

From a mother’s standpoint, getting a kid to bed when the neighbors are shooting off fireworks at midnight? Yeah, impossible.

I know that there will be those who disagree. Over the counter fireworks are fun, the booths provide fundraiser opportunities and it’s a once a year treat.

My answers to these arguments: There are city-funded fireworks on the evening of the Fourth (that could most likely benefit from a donation of whatever you would have spent on over the counter fireworks — I know our city would — and are more satisfying to watch then tiny sprays of fire), my favorite fundraisers are those where I give you money and you give me nothing, and it’s never once a year — it’s the week before and the week after, and then you have to deal with the noise again for some reason on New Year’s.

In conclusion, over the counter fireworks are an environmental hazard and can potentially cause unnecessary harm to children and pets. If the U.S. won’t ban them, then I’d settle for Oregon. Hell, I’d settle for just my city.

*Unlike my buddy Jonathan Swift, I am serious.