Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Recap (Week 4)

During Week 3, I realized that I was savoring multiple things each day, without making a concerted effort to do so. In fact, it became harder to pick just one thing as the week went on. In Week 4, I savored a number of things each day: tasks, chores, activities, quiet time, meals… I found myself slipping almost automatically into a focused state quite frequently, which was really neat.

When I chose this experiment, I had hoped it would give me some tools for dealing with my tendency to rely heavily on escapism. At the beginning, in Week 1, I needed to specifically pick something each day to savor, and then walk myself through the steps of savoring the activity. As the days went on during Week 2, while I was still choosing a specific thing to savor each day, I found I was no longer consciously following the steps. It became much easier to flow into the savoring mentality. By Week 3, I was mid-savor before I realized what I was doing, so I was pretty much deciding upon my daily choice post-savor!

During the final week – Week 4 – I found myself simply savoring things frequently throughout the day, without consciously deciding to savor anything in particular. That’s why I stopped posting daily updates on Facebook and Twitter, and why I am not including a daily recap of items savored in this final recap of the experiment. I was simply savoring too many things to choose just one, every single day.

That was a glorious discovery – realizing that I could savor without deciding to savor. It meant that I had reached a comfort level with myself, since savoring requires that you accept that you’re doing the exact right thing at any given moment.

This experiment has given me more than I’d hoped to get out of it, and I intend to continue to be mindful of opportunities to savor each day. However, my hope is that I am able to simply flow into the savoring mindset frequently throughout the day, without having to consciously choose. I feel as though that would be a step back, but I’ll certainly keep tabs on it, and will do my best to keep practicing these new skills, so that I don’t end up where I started. I like where I’m at now too much to let myself backslide.

Thanks for coming on this journey of discovery with me!

This is the last post in this series – what did you think? Would you like me to try another experiment? What would you be interested in seeing me do?

Moving from escapism to being present

I rely greatly on escapism. I believe that the pursuit of ways to change myself (the blog itself) is a form of escapism. I have never really learned how to be alone with myself. I listen to the radio in the car, watch TV at home, read books, magazines, websites, blogs, and surf social media sites in order to escape being alone with myself.
Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in San FranciscoOne of the reasons I started this blog was to force myself to look a little deeper at this need to escape “me”. To discover the reasons behind the driving need to change, improve, press forward, but never looking inward. What is it that I dislike so much about myself that I don’t ever want to be completely alone with my thoughts? It’s still early in my journey of discovery, but I’m already practicing being more present with myself.

I was happy to have the opportunity to conduct the savoring experiment. It was exciting because I thought the exercise could teach me how to ignore the desire to escape the moment, and to be fully present for a variety of activities. And it did! For a month now, I have been actively looking for ways to focus on me, on an experience, a moment, a feeling…  And it has become much easier to get into that mode, as I have practiced savoring daily. The full summary of the experiment (coming on Saturday, March 2) will have more details about what I discovered, and how I might incorporate these findings into my daily life moving forward.

I’m no closer to figuring out why I have tried so hard to avoid being “me”, but I believe I’m much closer to being comfortable being alone with myself, as I am today. If you haven’t yet tried savoring, I highly recommend it. It’s habit-forming in a really good way!

Craving more of the benefits I’ve experienced through the savoring experiment, I went looking for more information on being present. In no time at all, I found a post on Zen Habits from 2008 that was just the thing. Check it out – it’s a great article.

Have you tried savoring yet? What about being present? Do you find yourself seeking out escapism?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Update: Week 3

I observed myself living more in the moment on a day to day basis, wondering less about what else I should be doing at any given minute, and instead focusing more on what I was actually doing. This was good for me, but not as good for the experiment, as I didn’t feel as much of a need to savor a specific thing each day – I was truly savoring everything more than I ever have before.

Saturday, February 16

My little girl missed her mama this week while I was in San Diego, and she did not want to let go of my hand as she slept for her nap. She was in her own bed, and didn’t fuss about napping, but she refused to let go of my hand. Even after she passed out completely, she had a firm grip on me. Initially, I tried to extract myself, but then I realized that this was a prime example of something I should simply accept, and enjoy. My daughter needed me, and I needed to slow down. I sat on the floor next to her little bed, and held her hand, stroked her hair, and thanked God for the sweet, perfect little girl I have been blessed with.

Sunday, February 17

On Sunday, I took my daughter on our big monthly grocery shopping trip, and we hit up four stores which took us three and a half hours. I wouldn’t say that I savored this trip, precisely, so much as I marveled at how incredibly well behaved Emma was the whole time we were out. She entertained herself, she obeyed my instructions, and she was simply amazing all day long. It was one of the most delightful shopping excursions we’ve ever been on, and I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I was fully present in the moment throughout the trip, responding to her questions, talking with her about what we were doing, engaging her as we walked around each store. I’ve done these kinds of things on other trips, but my mind has typically been on other things as we shopped. This time, I didn’t worry about anything else – I just took my daughter shopping for groceries, and it was actually fun!

Monday, February 18

A couple friends of mine and I were off work on Monday, and we decided to take our kids to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for the day. One of the moms and I carpooled, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk, while our daughters chatted away in the back seat. We talked about all kinds of stuff, from ourselves, to our husbands, to our homes, and cars… We talked a little bit about the kids, but not as much as one would expect. I focused on my friend, and really truly enjoyed getting to know her better.

Tuesday, February 19

My husband and I were both feeling under the weather, so I made chicken tortilla soup for dinner. It takes a long time to make, so I let Emma watch a movie while I cooked. The methodical rhythm of cutting up all the vegetables and chicken that go into the soup was therapeutic, and a few minutes into it, I realized that I was savoring the experience without consciously deciding to do so. Time seemed to slow down as I moved from one step to the next, stirring, measuring, tasting, seasoning… The soup was delicious, and I took great pleasure in making it.

Wednesday, February 20

Godiva makes some incredible chocolate, and I hadn’t savored any since the beginning of this experiment, so that’s precisely what I did! Bite by delicious bite, I closed my eyes, held the chocolate on my tongue, and just let the flavors and texture transport me to a place I like to call Bliss.

Thursday, February 21

I’d been fighting a cold all week, and my productivity at work has suffered. On Thursday, I dove into work in order to get a few really urgent things accomplished, and it was interesting how easy it was to do them, once I chose to make them my “savoring” for the day. Savoring work is different than savoring chocolate, in that it’s not inherently pleasurable. However, the “savoring” manifests itself in the blocking out of the rest of the world; the exclusive focus on the task at hand. It wasn’t precisely “fun”, but I did actually end up enjoying myself, without meaning to do so.

Friday, February 22

Oh, spicy, creamy, sweet creation known as the Chipotle Steak Burrito, why has it been so long since I last ate you? I savored the hell outta that burrito!

What did you savor this week?

Loving when you want to scream

Parents… I KNOW I’m not alone in this. Picture, if you will…

scream and shout

Photo credit: mdanys

Your kid is acting up. Big time. They have lost their ever-loving mind, and are beyond reason. In the middle of a full-fledged tantrum, your little one hauls off and smacks you across the face. Your eyes fill with tears, you see stars, and then you see RED.

Now stop.

How do you react? Do you yell? Scream? Retaliate? Or are you able to find compassion? Empathy? Understanding?

I’ve done both. I’ve reacted badly, allowing my anger to color my response. Lately, though, I’ve been working very hard on reacting with love.

What makes a child freak out like that? What brings on that level of tantrum in the first place? I believe that it’s one of three things. Hunger, sleep deprivation, or fear. I don’t mean that kids don’t get angry, frustrated, or just plain grumpy, but when things reach a fever pitch, there’s usually one of the primary drivers behind it – hunger, lack of sleep or fear. Reacting with anger or frustration only exacerbates the problem. So, I’m trying to react with love, understanding and compassion.

I’m not saying that it’s OK for my kid to hit me. Absolutely not. But if I can reach her through the incoherent haze of fury, and let her know that she’s safe, she’s loved, she’s being heard… then typically, she will calm down and we can talk about what’s happening. If I react at her level, screaming and yelling, then I’m guaranteed an epic battle, and I’m not guaranteed a win.

Cuddle Time

Photo credit: ~Dezz~

So, exactly how does one react with compassion, while seeing red? It isn’t easy. I try to tell myself in the heat of the moment that whatever she is doing, it’s not by her choice. She’s reacting from instinct, and it’s up to me to bring reason into the situation.

I literally repeat to myself, “this isn’t her, this isn’t her…” and what I’m telling myself is that whatever is happening, my daughter isn’t in control. Remembering this really helps me empathize with her – how scared she must be feeling to be so far out of control.

Then it’s usually much easier to react with compassion and love. Sometimes I have to do something really off the wall to get her to snap out of the tantrum. I typically pretend to cry along with her, which she hates. She gets angry that I’m crying, and then I tell her that I’ll stop if she stops.

We both get a moment to compose ourselves, and there’s always a hug. I tell her I love her no matter what, and then we talk about what happened, why she got upset, and how she can react better next time.

Controlling my emotions in the face of her raw emotions is the one of the hardest thing I do these days. But I’ve seen the difference in how she reacts to me when I respond with compassion as opposed to anger, and it’s amazing.

How do you keep from overreacting when your kids are out of control?

Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Update: Week 2

I found it easier to savor moments this week than I did last week, and was able to block out the outside world much more readily than before.

Saturday, February 9

I can’t remember the last time I had Skittles. But, we had them in the house left over from Halloween, and I have been ignoring them ever since. That is, I ignored them until Saturday, when I tore open a fun-size package of the little devils, and nearly inhaled them. I was already four Skittles in before I realized what I was doing, and made myself slow down and savor them. The crunchy candy coating, the firm but chewy inside, the sugary sweet-yet-tart flavors… They brought me back to my childhood, and put me in such a happy mood that it became impossible to deny that savoring is a worthwhile practice.

Sunday, February 10

I savored everything about Sunday morning, knowing that I would be flying out that afternoon and wouldn’t see my daughter and husband for four days. I snuggled with my little girl for a good long while in bed, before heading downstairs for a hearty breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon and cheesy hash browns, with orange juice and coffee. We enjoyed an early afternoon movie together as a family, before sending Emma upstairs for a nap. She was surprisingly willing to sleep, and I could not have been more grateful. Leaving on a sour note would have been heartbreaking. When it was time to take me to the airport, we were all feeling glad to have had such a nice day together.

Monday, February 11

It is rare for me to just walk anymore. If I have extra time on my hands and it’s nice enough to be outside, I always seem to run these days. However, since I’d already had a run on Monday morning, I decided that a leisurely stroll would be great. I was not disappointed. I walked along the Embarcadero, pausing at a picnic table to sit and enjoy a 10 minute guided meditation (using an app on my phone) before continuing on back to the hotel. The walk and meditation left me feeling revitalized, yet more relaxed than when I began.

Tuesday, February 12

It was a lovely morning in San Diego – sunny and cool. I took advantage of the brisk weather to savor a 5k run along the waterfront. What fun, running past incredible private yachts, a retired aircraft carrier (the Midway), through the Embarcadero, and along Seaport Village. I listened to myself breathing, felt my heart beating, and paid attention to the rhythm of my footsteps, while taking in the sights (and smells) of the seaside. I was surprised to find that I maintained a steady pace throughout the run, simply by losing myself in the run. Usually, I am trying to distract myself, and my pace is generally all over the place. This time, I took the opposite tack, and was rewarded with a very steady run. I’m looking forward to trying this again in the near future.

2013-02-13 12.32.31Wednesday, February 13

I savored an extended period of time on Wednesday – a private, behind the scenes tour of several exhibits at the San Diego Zoo. I am an avid animal-lover, and seeing a lion this close (about 7 feet away) was simply amazing. Our host was delightful, sharing insights about the animals, exhibits, plants, and zookeepers. It was an unique experience, and I made sure to keep myself firmly in the moment throughout our exciting visit.

Thursday, February 14

For Valentine’s Day, I received a half dozen cupcakes from Sweety Pies, a local bakery. I ate one for breakfast, and should have taken a photo of it before I dove in, because it was beautiful. The frosting was extra-thick and rich; a vanilla-y cream masterpiece that seemed to go on and on. The cupcake itself was a marble, chocolate chip numminess that was bursting with flavor. Truly, the breakfast of champions! It was easy to lose myself in that cupcake – time seemed to stop every time I took a bite. I enjoyed that single cupcake so thoroughly, it was really easy to share the rest of them with my coworkers, and not feel the need to keep them all for myself.

Friday, February 15

My daughter wanted to ride her little bicycle around the block, and I wanted to spend time with her. So! I dressed in my warm-weather running gear, and jogged beside her as she pedaled her little heart out. Super fun, and we both appreciated the one-on-one time together. When we made it back home, she didn’t want to go inside – she wanted me to push her in her old stroller! How could I say no? So we went around once more, chatting about the birds, melting ice, snow, and a few dogs we saw along the way. A great way to end the week!

What did you savor this week?

Morning meditations

I am not a “morning person”, but after my daughter was born, I took advantage of the opportunity to work flexible hours and opted to work 7am – 3:30pm, so I could spend more time with her in the afternoon/evening. This means getting up at 5:30am, which doesn’t come naturally to me.

In order to get up at that hour, I try to be in bed by 9pm. I am a night owl, so I’m fighting my body’s natural tendencies to live this way, and it’s not easy. But, the payoff is time with my precious girl, so I have a huge incentive to make it work.

Working out on a regular basis really helped with getting to bed at a decent hour, as I was actually tired enough to hit the sack at 9pm, and I believe the quality of sleep was better, as well. After a decent amount of restful sleep, waking up is much easier.

An article on that I read very recently also has had a positive effect on my mornings. Once I read it, I practically smacked my head, the advice was so obvious and spot on. The article, by Robert D. Smith, was about how to start the day with maximum focus. The very first piece of advice he had was to start the day with gratitude.

That one nugget right there changed a lot for me. Robert points out that waking up isn’t something we should take for granted – it’s not guaranteed to us when we go to bed each night – and we should be grateful for the chance we are given each morning. I use my iPhone alarm as my morning alarm clock, and I’ve changed the messages on my alarms to notes of gratitude. They serve as reminders to stop feeling entitled to a few more minutes of sleep, and to simply be glad that I woke up.

Robert also recommends meditating on the things you want to happen that day. I love this idea, though I haven’t incorporated it yet. I think it will be helpful in setting my intention for each day, much like I set my intentions with the Feng Shui experiment at work. I feel like that worked out really well for me, so I look forward to beginning my morning meditations, in order to help shape my days in a more direct way.

I’ll be setting my alarms a little earlier starting next week so that I can take a few minutes each morning to explore these morning meditations. I’m not yet quite sure what they will look or feel like, but I think they’re going to be good for me.

Do you make time each morning to set your intentions? Or are you more like me, just going through the morning motions?

Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Update: Week 1

This week, rather than making a list of the things I wanted to savor during this experiment, as I had originally planned to do, I decided to just keep my eye out for an opportunity to savor something each day. This approach worked well, and I was able to savor a wide variety of things this week.

Saturday, February 2

Emma, my preschool-age daughter, was unusually cuddly. I took advantage of the rare occurrence, and blocked out the rest of the world for about 10 minutes while she napped in my lap. Life does not get better than that. It was blissful. Unfortunately, it turned out that Emma was cuddly because she was feeling really sick, and she ended up throwing up a few times that evening. I didn’t have an opportunity to really evaluate how the experience of savoring had affected me that day, since I was busy being a caring, devoted mommy to my poor, sick girl (she was fine by the next morning).

Sunday, February 3

I threw myself into the preparation of chili and some jalapeño-cornbread muffins. Then, just before it was time to eat, I savored a few minutes of designing the photo of a tasty, attractive bowl that I shared here. It was fun to arrange the bowl, a colorful towel, and some chopped green onions on my counter top, and then to spoon the chili into the bowl (no drips!), shred and carefully place the cheese and a few of the green onions on top, and select just the right muffin for the shot. In that moment, I was a professional food blogger, and it felt great! Of course, I used my iPhone’s camera, and not a DSLR or other proper camera, so the illusion was incomplete, but I think the picture turned out nice.

Monday, February 4

I enjoyed some unexpected quiet time at home to truly savor the writing experience. I drafted a few blog post outlines, wrote a new post from scratch, edited some posts I’d already crafted, and created a plan for future post topics. It was a productive and wonderfully creative time. And fun, too! But, how was this any different from just writing for the blog? I tuned out all distractions, paid attention to how ideas came to me, and really opened myself and my mind up to whatever flowed through me. It was really neat, and I will be doing this again!

Yoga Video Tree Pose - VrksasanaTuesday, February 5

I savored doing yoga for the first time in ages. Granted, it was Wii Fit yoga, but I really dialed in on the poses, focused on my breathing, felt the stretches, and paid close attention to how my body responded to the new-again moves. I had great balance at the start, but as my ankles began to fatigue, I was unable to hold the tree pose, and others. The quick fatigue surprised me, since I know I’m stronger than I was the last time I did yoga, but I haven’t been strengthening my core or my ankles, apparently. My mind felt refreshed after the yoga, and my body surprisingly weary.

Wednesday, February 6

I woke up before my alarm for the first time in forever, and I figured it was a sign that I should use that time to really savor the wonderfully warm, soft, safe feeling of being ensconced in my bed under a few layers of covers. The ambient temperature in the room was quite chilly, so my nose, cheeks and ears were noticeably cooler than the rest of me. I wasn’t wearing socks, so I could feel the satiny smoothness of our sheets against my toes. The feeling was positively luscious. When my alarm went off, I got out of bed feeling grateful, and ready to start the day.

Thursday, February 7

Five Guys makes a burger and fries worth savoring, so I did just that on Thursday. I ordered the little bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and barbecue sauce. I always spritz a little malt vinegar on top of their french fries for an extra kick, too. There was an explosion of sensations with every bite of the burger. Tangy (bbq), smooth (meat), crunchy (bacon), crisp (lettuce), soft (bun)… The burger itself was savory and juicy, the lettuce firm and cool, the bacon salty and cooked just right, and the bun was fresh and slightly sweet. The fries were hot, as usual, with a lovely crunch on the outside, yet chewy and airy on the inside. Topped with a sprinkle of salt and a hint of vinegar, they were a delightfully tart accompaniment to the burger.

Friday, February 8

On Friday, I savored the ritual of getting ready for bed. I usually rush through the steps as quickly as I can, to ensure maximum time in bed. Instead, I went about the steps a little earlier than normal, while my family was still enjoying a movie, and I had a little time to myself. I took pleasure in taking care of myself. I changed into some clean pajamas (flannel pants and a matching soft cotton top), flossed and brushed my teeth, and then I washed my face. I took a moment to clean the sink and the faucet, as well as the counter space around it, and I wiped down the mirror, as well. It felt fantastic to really pay attention to myself, and to remember that even when I take my time with it, the whole process is only about 10 minutes long. I should make time for it more often!

What did you savor this week?