Projects instead of resolutions

I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions this year, but I have been thinking about how I spend my time and recognize there are changes I want to make.

In my head I can plan all kinds of activities, or endlessly mull over some dream schedule configuration, but these things don’t get me very far in reality. Apparently neither to resolutions so I am trying something different this year: paying attention.

new glasses (week two)

I have this theory that mindfulness will help me be less stressed and anxious. (Not that I’m freaked out all the time, but more peace of mind is always a good thing.) I also think mindfulness means I will choose to spend time doing things I truly enjoy vs defaulting to “meh” stupid shit that leaves me wondering where those hours went.

What does paying attention look like? So far, I’m experimenting with a few different practices:

  • Keeping a log book. I 100% stole this idea from Austin Kleon, right down to the moleskine I bought. I pay attention better when I write things down, and this is simple and straightforward enough the dailiness doesn’t seem like a burden.
  • Doing a 52 weeks project. I think the more relaxed approach of one self portrait every week (instead of every day) will keep the project from being overwhelming, as well as give me the impetus to take more photos overall so my stream on flickr isn’t just my face. I also think it’s a good way to see how yeah, middle age is happening. The camera doesn’t lie; I look older than I did in 2007 because I am older. This is a good thing; here’s to hoping more wisdom comes with the years.
  • Drawing things. On my list of things to do before I turn fifty, this took the form of “Draw, even though I think I can’t. (I can’t as in “that does not look real, it looks malformed” not can’t “my fingers don’t function well enough to hold a pen”)” This means making time, at least once a week, to fill a page in a sketchbook. It forces me to slow down, stop looking at screens, and concentrate in a different way.

So far, so good 2013. Happy new year.

In the moment at 105 degrees

I haven’t thrown up or passed out in two years of Bikram yoga classes.

Though there have been fewer than a dozen instances when I really thought I might pass out (so I had to sit down before I fell over) or be sick (so I held still and waited for it to pass), I stubbornly keep thinking it might happen.

Today was the first warm day in a long time, and it was ridiculously humid out. These conditions make it harder for the yoga room to be optimum humidity (I think it is 40%) and temperature (105 degrees). The room is optimized for the practice, not practitioner comfort — which means plenty of opportunities for my sneaky brain to lie to me about it what is going on.

When I find myself wondering if I am going to pass out or throw up, I know I’m probably not, because it would have happened already. What’s more likely is that I’m tired, I’m unfocused, I’m uncomfortable–in other words, I’m dwelling on how I feel.

Today I realized that my rough class was really an indicator of my progress.

Even though I have been practicing for awhile, there are still lots of things I can’t do. I can’t get my forehead to touch all the improbable things the instructors tell me to touch it to, and if you saw my attempt at triangle you’d never in a million years figure out that was the name of the posture. When I started, I could do only two basic things: stay in the room for the whole ninety minutes (harder than it sounds, when your brain is screaming at you to leave because it is so unreasonably fucking hot) and not cry (also harder than it sounds, because not being able to do any of the postures and feeling like crap is pretty demoralizing).

Now I can hold my arms over my head for the opening sequence, and I can hold them out straight for all three parts of awkward. I can touch my forehead to the floor in one posture, and to my knee in a couple of others. My camel is pretty good. Most of the time, I can manage to be still between the postures, like the instructors are always reminding us to be. Most of the time, I can follow the directions and remember that 100% right effort brings 100% benefit, even if my forehead isn’t where it’s supposed to be. When I do something new (like finally getting my forehead to knee) or do something well, it feels really good.

When I don’t do very well, it doesn’t feel so good. Like today: first set of triangle (that’s right, in Bikram class you do everything not once, but twice) I managed to keep my legs in sort of the right position, but the whole elbow in front of knee, other arm shooting up in the air make a triangle thing was just not happening. The instructor asked me if I had something going on with my hips — sometimes people don’t do what they usually do because of an illness or injury — and I said no. I said I wasn’t having my best day.

I forget exactly what he said in response, but it was something to the effect of making our best effort was important, that bringing that energy was needed, and it was good for the whole class.

He was right. I tried harder on the second set (though I still didn’t look like a triangle).

Here’s the evidence of my progress: I didn’t feel any resentment, anger, or shame when he called me out. (That wasn’t his intention, I’m sure it never is, but that doesn’t stop my sneaky brain from taking things that way.) Instead, I took it as I think it was intended: a chance for me to pause, refocus, consider what I was doing, and ask myself honestly if I was doing the best I could be doing at that moment.

I think accepting where I am in the moment — instead of reacting with shame or anger — will lead to even more progress.

If only it wasn’t so damn hot.