Drawing: One Way To Stay in the Moment

When I tell my friends I need to relax more, they often suggest that I should meditate. I’ve tried off an on for years to meditate, with mixed success. Trying to sit and think of nothing doesn’t work for me. Mantras and counting are a little better, but I confess I don’t meditate regularly because it’s just too hard. Then I came across Danny Gregory, an artist who says that drawing is a form of meditation because it keeps us in the moment. I recently put his idea to the test when my husband was having mysterious belly pains on a Sunday.

As soon as I knew we were on our way to urgent care, I began debating with myself. I knew we would have to wait, possibly for hours. Should I take my Kindle or my sketchbook along? I chose the sketchbook, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to read. I’m Anxiety Girl. The minute anything looks off, or there’s a hint of trouble, I’m leaping to horrific conclusions far beyond the facts of the moment. A racing mind has a hard time following even the best story. So I took the sketchbook, which turned out to be the perfect companion for our long day.

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We spent nine hours getting medical help, and for more than half of it, we didn’t actually know what was wrong. Nurses asked questions. Doctors asked more questions. They poked and prodded Kurt. He described his last 24 hours, where it hurt, how it hurt, again and again. They drew blood, and we waited for results.

When my thoughts started to race — what if he needs surgery? what if they put him in the hospital? what if it’s something hidden and big, like cancer no one knew was there? — I would pick up my sketchbook and draw. Making notes of the progress we were making, even that we were just waiting, brought me back to where I was and helped me to avoid being afraid about the unknown.

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I started just doodling, guessing I would get interrupted and we would be relocated fairly often.
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I started drawing Kurt’s hand. They took him away before I could finish.

When we got the blood tests back, the doctor was clearly puzzled. Except for a slightly elevated white blood count, everything was normal. He was a good doctor, not giving anything away, but I sensed he wasn’t sure what was going on, and that was scary. He said the next step was a CT scan, so they did the scan, and we waited for those results.

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I drew this while waiting for the CT scan results, then added the diagnosis when we got it.

At last, we had a diagnosis — appendicitis — and a plan of action — surgery, right away.

Everything went smoothly, and we were back home that night, looking at one another in amazement at the way our day had gone. I was especially proud of how calm I was, even when we were waiting for test results with no idea what was wrong. I learned that Danny Gregory was right. My drawing and doodling kept me in the moment and kept Anxiety Girl from busting out all over the place and freaking everyone out.

When Life Forces You To Let Go Of Your Plan

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I’m pretty sure when E. M. Forster wrote about letting go of our planned life, he was thinking about the big picture — those ideas we have when we are kids about marriage, children, and career, where we’re going to live, who we’re going to be. I’ve had to do that in the past. Getting a divorce is a real lesson in letting go of what you thought your life would look like.

This week, however, I’m facing this issue on a different level. Over the weekend, my husband had an emergency appendectomy. We spent all of Sunday in medical facilities, which was certainly not how we had planned on spending the day, and the week has continued to not meet up to my expectations. While Kurt is taking good care of himself and has been free of complications, his recovery is slow. When he isn’t asleep, he’s bored and anxious to get back on his feet.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how much his operation was going to affect me. I feel like my week has been dropped on its head. I can’t focus and have been unable to do my work. I’ve canceled and postponed appointments and put off any chore that can wait. I’ve barely written, been unable to try any of the simple exercises from this week’s drawing class, or to make progress on my challenge quilt for this summer’s show.

I don’t understand why I am feeling so discombobulated. Kurt’s fine and on the mend. I have a few extra things to deal with because he isn’t able to do the things he normally does, but it’s not that much more than I normally do. Is it the knowledge that my father-in-law is now in hospice and won’t be with us much longer? Or is it the insomnia that is keeping me up most nights? Or all of these things combined?

While I want to know why I can’t seem to get back into my routine, what I’d like even more is just to be back in my routine. I have a plan for my days that I am unable to follow right now, and that’s frustrating me. Forcing things isn’t working. I’m too tired to push through. So I’m going to follow Forster’s advice and let go in the hopes that things will right themselves, and we’ll back to a more normal schedule soon.

Are you a planner? Do you have trouble letting go when the unexpected happens?

Forgiving Sets Us Free

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As children, we are taught to apologize to others when we do something wrong.

You smacked your little sister? Broke your best friend’s favorite toy? Told a classmate he was ugly or she was stupid? You are told to apologize. This is supposed to make the person you’ve hurt feel better and ease your guilt.

These childhood lessons make it seem like forgiveness is all about redemption. I hurt you, you forgive me, we both feel better.

As an adult, I’ve learned there’s more to it than that. Sometimes people hurt us and they don’t apologize. They seem indifferent or oblivious. Or they are so angry that it doesn’t stop with the hurt — they walk out on us forever. There’s no desire and possibly no need to make our angry friend feel better about what she’s done, so we don’t worry about forgiving.

When we fail to forgive, however, we give ourselves a new burden. Our resentment at our ex-friend stays with us. Whenever we hear her name, we grind our teeth and our gut clenches. We remember the words she said or relive the painful moment when she betrayed us. We add our anger and hurt to the invisible pack we carry with us everywhere, one more thing to weigh us down.

Forgiving those who seem least to deserve is the hardest form of forgiveness there is —and the most rewarding one to achieve.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you. — L.B. Smedes

Sometimes, forgiving releases the guilt of a person who has done the wrong, and sometimes it doesn’t. But forgiveness frees the forgiver every single time.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about forgiveness. To see a list of other posts on forgiveness and compassion, click here.

Grieving for Fallen Stars

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This week, giants have fallen. The earth is still trembling from the jolt.

I don’t think of myself as someone who idolizes rock stars and actors, but I have been deeply affected by the sudden deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

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David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King (Labyrinth)

I am struggling to understand why I am so upset at the death of complete strangers. I never met either man. I never even saw them in person. I never wrote them a fan letter (and now never will). I know them only from their work, some of which I love.

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Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility)

Why are these deaths so troubling? Perhaps the death of all great artists looms large for those who are touched by their work.

Maybe it’s the fact that they both died of cancer at the age of 69. I think everyone should live until 80 at least. What work might they have done given another eleven years of life?

Or could it be as simple as this? They remind me that we are all mortal, even the talented and hard-working creative geniuses who seem to light up the sky without trying.

Strange Habits I’m Learning From My Activity Tracker

Back in November, I bought myself an activity tracker. I’ve been trying to get more regular exercise and I read in Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits that tracking an activity helps us to improve our performance. I bought a Garmin Vivofit 2 because it was the simplest model that had the features I was really interested in (a water proof device that counts steps and tracks sleep quality).

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The Garmin Vivofit 2. Note the prominent Red Bar of Death.

The Vivofit 2 also has a feature that I was sure would help me be much more aware of my daily patterns: the Red Bar of Death. (It’s actually not called that. The manual calls it the “Move Bar” which is accurate but boring. I toyed with calling it the “Move Your Ass” bar, but that wasn’t dramatic enough for my tastes.) The Red Bar of Death tells me I’ve been still too long. Time to get moving! And it doesn’t go away until I’ve moved enough to counteract the time I spent stationary.*

While the step tracking and the Red Bar of Death have both helped to increase the amount of exercise I get on a daily basis, there are some unexpected side effects. I’ve been forming some new and surprising habits in order to meet my step count goal and get rid of that nasty red bar.

First off, I look at my daily activity in a whole new way. Everything counts. Everything. Stroll to the mailbox? Counts. Walking from the car to the store? Counts. Pacing while on the phone? Counts! I now walk to the farthest available stall in public bathrooms in order to get some extra steps.

The next surprising change is that I am less efficient than I used to be. Two trips means twice the steps, so instead of lugging all the groceries in at once, I go back to the car a few times. Why kill myself trying to carry everything in at once? I get credit for the steps I take, not how much weight I carry or time I save. I’ve also stopped piling things at the top or bottom of the stairs and then taking them with me when I need to change levels in the house. Instead, I put things away at once, even when they belong on a different floor.

The third change is an unexpected benefit: moving more is resulting in a cleaner house. When the Red Bar of Death shows up, I do a quick chore like sweeping or starting a load of laundry. If I’m not careful, the chore might not be active enough to dismiss the red bar, so I have to work briskly and keep moving.

The last lesson I’ve learned is that standing still is optional. I’ve always paced while talking on the phone, but now I pace while listening to phone messages and brushing my teeth. Since I work at a standing desk, I can side step while reading Facebook or watching videos.

We just got back from a 1600-mile driving trip, and my odd behavior continued even while we were on the road. At one stop, I walked circles around our car to get rid of the Red Bar of Death. Another time, I paced four steps in a bathroom, back and forth, until that nagging red bar disappeared.

I keep looking for opportunities to get more exercise, so my activity tracker hasn’t just made me more active: it’s made me more observant and more creative, too.

Do you have an activity tracker? Has it changed your habits in surprising ways?

*It’s not as bad as it sounds. The first bar appears after one hour and pacing around the house for a minute or two will get rid of it again.

Ten Worries To Drop in Order to Relax in 2016

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I like to set goals for myself and don’t see the point in waiting until January 1st to get started. However, New Year’s is always a reminder to pause and see how I’m doing with my many plans for myself.

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While I’m not up for resolutions, I started thinking I could set an intention for the year. You know, that thing where you pick a single word and make it a goal for the next 365 days? It’s been hot with artists and other creative people for a number of years now. In the past, I haven’t done it because I figured it would take a lot of thinking to choose my word. I was wrong. It was easy. The word came to me at once.

Relax.

I need to get better at relaxing. I need to plan more breaks and vacations, get to more yoga classes, meditate more, and take time to watch paint dry. (Sounds a little stressful when I put it like that…)

An easy first step is to cut down on how much time and energy I spend worrying about things. Here are ten things I’ve been known to stress about that I am not going to worry about this year*.

Ten Things I Am Not Going To Worry About Anymore

1) A comet hitting the earth
2) That no one reads anymore (and here I am, spending all my time writing books and blog posts)
3) That the exercise I can do without hurting myself isn’t intense enough
4) The zombie apocalypse
5) That the throw quilt I’m making doesn’t match a single thing in our living room
6) That I’m only correct about which way is left 50% of the time
7) Who is going to win the presidential election
8) That whichever volcano I’m closest to right now is going to explode
9) That other dogs are laughing at my poodle’s home haircut
10) That my idea of style isn’t actually stylish

I can think of more things to add to this list, but I better start with ten. I wouldn’t want to overwhelm myself and completely undermine my goal to relax.

*Assuming I remember not to.

What is your plan for the New Year? Are there any worries you would like to give up?

Tiny the T. Rex: Santa’s Not-So-Little Helper

When Aunt Rexie asked Tiny what she wanted for Christmas, Tiny said, “I want to be an elf and help Santa make toys.” Being a loving aunt, Rexie got out the yarn and needles and knit Tiny her very own Christmas elf outfit.

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While she’s much better at sleeves than she used to be, it still takes Aunt Rexie several tries to get them right. At least she’s learned to adapt on the fly. When she made a legging that was too short, she turned it into a hat.

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Tiny wishes you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and the gift of an aunt who knits.

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My favorite story about this project: I was at Jo-Anns buying some yarn and bells and the clerk asked me what I was going to make. I said “An elf outfit for a T. rex” and she gaped at me. She said, “That’s the cutest thing I’ve heard all day,” which made my day.

For those interested in the technical details: I used some acrylic and some wool yarns on size 2 needles. I keep thinking I’m going to be able to knit new designs first try, but this outfit took several attempts for nearly every part. Leggings and sleeves required multiple experiments before I got something that looked the way I wanted and also fit. The presents were particularly fiddly: I covered square wooden beads with scrap-booking paper, then tied them with metallic embroidery thread.