Sunday, March 28, 2010


I have a love/hate relationship with growth. On the one hand, it is growth. It evokes imagery of greenery and opening buds and fresh-faced children. It seems like such a beautiful, embraceable thing. On the other hand, whenever there is growth, there is that whole change thing.

I am not talking about change, as in change your socks. I am talking about Change, as in Change your habits, Change your lifestyle. Scary Change. I struggle with Change, even when I know it is for the best. For example, I know my self talk is totally out of control, but I still fight changing it. After all, it is my self talk. It is like an old shoe, stretched out in all the right places, and breaking in a new shoe would be harder than leaving things the way they are. Noticing this pattern has suggested to me that I don't really want to grow, I want to have grown. I want the benefits of being in that better place, but I fight the difficult process of getting myself there.

About a year ago, I decided to take a yoga class. I had never done yoga before, but I liked the idea of getting fit without a lot of jumping around. I also liked photos of people doing yoga. Yoga photos always seem to feature someone who looks like someone I want to be, with outfits that I want to have. So, devoid of any admirable reasons to want to learn yoga, and falling completely for the marketing, I signed up for a beginner's class.

If you have ever done yoga, you may be able to guess what came next. At that first class, I was disappointed to learn that yoga is not as easy as it looks. There was a lot to learn, and a lot of training involved. I had to concentrate to learn the names of the poses, and how to hold my body in them. In some poses, keeping my balance was difficult, and my body was shaking. I did not feel filled with inner peace after my first class, and my legs were sore the next day.

In the last year, I have gone to three rounds of yoga classes, and engaged in a home practice off and on. I had hoped that yoga would give me a little more fitness and an excuse to buy some cute yoga pants, but I have gotten more than I bargained for. Yoga has introduced me to an approach that is different from most. From where I sit, most of the advice in the world can be boiled down to a "You just need to..." statement. You just need to do such and such, and then you will have arrived. Just exercise more. Just listen more than you talk. Just eat better. Just clean your house regularly. If only you would make this Change, or that Change, you wouldn't have your problem(s).

Yoga does not teach that you could be different if only you tried harder. You can set an intention to try hard if you want to, but it isn't for any specific gain. "Trying hard" in yoga is not better than taking your time, and being gentle with yourself. What is important is that wherever you are, you observe yourself without judgment. Just observe, see, notice. And then stretch.

Stretching is like Change, only slower. It does not depend on trying harder. Think about a forward bend. You stretch your muscles forward and down, reaching towards the floor. After weeks of stretching, you may find that the stretching gets easier, and that you can go further than before. No amount of effort would have gotten you to that same place on the first day of stretching. The key is not effort, but regularity, repetition, and time.

Stretching has helped me to understand more about growth. Growth also happens slowly. The change that comes with growth is not flashy, but quiet and gradual. We never really see anything grow. We can only conclude that is has grown when we compare the ways things are now with the way they were before. Stretching has suggested to me that growth occurs not because of one dramatic shift, but because of a thousand little choices.

I am choosing to breathe now when my anxiety tempts me to hold my breath. I am choosing to stretch my hamstrings in downward-facing dog and staff pose, even though they ache when I do. I am choosing to engage in my own yoga practice a few times a week. I may not practice for very long, or try very hard. But I am trying to practice with regularity, with repetition, over time.

When I started doing a yoga a year ago, I couldn't stand in tree pose. Now I can, at least on my left leg. That may not be Change. But it is growth.

Maybe it is not so scary after all...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Here fishy, fishy, fishy

Just before Andrew and I started dating, I attended an apartment-warming party for him. This was probably the 4th or 5th place he lived since moving to Winnipeg (he had been boarding, and rooming with various people), and it seemed like a good move for him, and we had decided to celebrate. My brother was good friends with him, and he was over at our place quite a bit, and so both my younger sister and myself, got him gifts. My younger sister bought him a broom. I bought him a goldfish.

When we started dating a few months down the road, my older sister said that it made a lot of sense, because she had thought a goldfish was a pretty personal present for just one of my brother's friends.

Andrew named that first goldfish, Qui-Gon Finn, after Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars Episode 1, a movie we had all seen together that previous summer, but we mostly called it Fish. Later, when that first goldfish died, we bought 3 more goldfish. They were feeder fish, the kind that you are really meant to buy to feed to bigger fish, and I think they were 27 cents a piece. We felt we had plucked them off of death row, so their expectations for care wouldn't be too high, which was a good thing for us. Since the purchase of the first fish, we had learned that Andrew was not the most diligent of fish owners, and so getting fed on a semi-regular basis, and cleaning the bowl a few times a year, was about as much as they could hope for. We named the fish, Luke, Leia, and Han Solo, to keep within a theme. We called them all, "Fish". Two died within the first year or so. Fish survived.

We still had Fish when we got married, after which we learned that I am not much better of a fish keeper than Andrew was. I was a better decorator, however. We got a bigger globe-shaped bowl, and polished river rock to replace the flat-sided bowl and gravel that had come in Andrew's goldfish starter kit. I added a large piece of white quartz for a while, and switched it out for a castle. There was even a die 10 in there for a while. Whenever I would clean out Fish's bowl, which wasn't nearly often enough, I would redecorate, and Fish would freak out. He was a creature of habit, I guess.

There were a number of times when we thought for sure that Fish was going to die. He would be swimming around kind of sideways for a few days, seemingly struggling to keep his tail from floating to the top of the bowl. Or we would leave town for 3 days, and only remember on the way home that we hadn't asked anyone to stop by and feed Fish.

Fish was a tough cookie, though, and survived despite the sub-par fish conditions he lived in. We came back to Fish after our honeymoon. We had Fish when we moved from our first apartment together into our first house. We had Fish when Nik was born. And then, one day about a year ago, Fish died.

All I can say is I never expected to get attached to a goldfish named Fish. It seemed like getting attached to a houseplant. And when Fish died, I didn't cry, but we didn't get a new fish either. I cleaned and dried his polished rocks, his castle and his bowl, put them on a high shelf in the linen closet, and shut the door.

This past Saturday morning, I was cleaning the house like a mad women (it was long overdue), and I noticed the bowl in the closet. I had a million other things I needed to do, and maybe that is why, but I took out the bowl and the rocks and the castle, and made a home for a fish. Today, I took Nik to the pet store, and we brought home a new little cold-blooded addition to our family. Maybe it is easier now, because I can say it is Nik's fish. Or, maybe I just wanted the practice in moving on from lost life. But our currently nameless little fish is here either way, and I am kind of happy to see him. And so is Nik.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Calm spirits, thankful hearts

Yesterday, I attended a nutrition workshop for parents. All the participants were from different backgrounds, had different household sizes, perspectives and philosophies, but for an hour and a half we were united by a common goal of improving how we eat. We were united by more than that, actually, because all of us had come to the motivation for making these improvements not for our own health, but for the health of our children. It was when we became parents that we wanted nutritious food in our fridges and pantries. But you have to wonder, if it is important to us to not fill our children's tummies with junk, why were we eating it ourselves?

I think a lot of people examine their choices much more critically once there is another little person in the mix. For me, having a child has brought into sharp relief the chasm between what I want and how I live. The space between that which I value, and that which I do, is much easier to spot when I am trying to pass a value on to my son. It seems the failure to practice what you preach is more obvious when you are preaching out loud.

So, consider the following:
My son is two and a bit, and extremely active. When we get into loud and stimulating environments, it doesn't take long for my little sponge to soak up that energy and start bouncing off the walls. At home, he can sometimes play quietly and with intention, but if we are in an open space with a few other wild kids, he is swept up in it so fast, and what starts as fun degenerates into throwing and hitting and running into walls in very little time. This behaviour is spilling over into our home life more and more.

I do my best to set him up for success. We go to the Children's Museum during it's slow hours, so that it is easier to be calm. We pop in at the mall's play place only if there are just a few children playing, and no one is jumping off the slide. We avoid the play groups where the kids play rough, ignored by their bored caregivers. At home, his toys are kept organized, in good repair, and at a manageable quantity. We play calm music, and limit TV. We try.

I also am always trying to encourage my son to be content with what he has. For example, he often does not want the snack I have given him, and asks for something else. Aggravatingly, if I give him the something else, he asks for a third thing. And then juice. No, make it chocolate milk. In the yellow cup, not the green one. No, the yellow SIPPY cup! And on and on it goes.

I try to teach him to accept and appreciate what he has. "Sorry, buddy, it is apple slices and raisans right now. Maybe we can have fish crackers another time. You like apple slices!" Maybe it is not the most effective approach, but once again, I try.

One day last week, Nik had a whole morning marinated in these attractive qualities. Running and throwing, and knocking things over into a big mess, and generally being wild, interspersed with the "Nothing I have been given is good enough" attitude for extra flavour. By the time I had wrestled him to the table for lunch, I was at the end of my rope. I didn't know what else to do, so I added a line to my short lunchtime blessing:
Our Father in Heaven,
please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and souls,
and this day to Your glory.
Please help us to have calm spirits, and thankful hearts.
These things we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

I felt pleased with my word choices. A calm spirit and a thankful heart, yes, that is what I want Nik to have. But I prayed, "Help us"... That was not really intentional. I mean, I always pray the prayer in the collective person. I say "our" and "we", so I logically said "us" and "spirits" and "hearts", even though I meant it to be about Nik, and his running in circles and his discontent.

But by now of course you see where I am headed. If I wanted this so badly for him, why was I not living it myself. If I wanted him to avoid the junk, why was I eating it myself?

My spirit is most times far from calm, and my heart far from overflowing with thankfulness. If my son is a little sponge for agitated energy, it is only because he is a chip off the big sponge. Like him, when I am at home base, I do have moments of quietness and intention, but put me in a crowded room, and stir me up, and soon I am mentally running in circles, and verbally throwing out words I did not take the time to think through. And I think that my previous post, From mall to museum, shows that I also struggle with being content with what I have.

I am starting to realize that my wishes for my son are born of wishes for myself. They reflect the way I want to be, even though I so consistently fall short of my own ideal. Maybe that is why his wild and discontented behaviour gets on my nerves so quickly. It is hard to look into an unflattering mirror.

Like I do for my son, I try to set myself up for success in acheiving these goals of calmness and contentment. I practice some yoga and meditation, and have learned some breathing exercises to help me slow down and disperse my own anxiety. I play calm music, and when the weather is nice, try to get outside just to walk and listen to the birds. I do my best to count my blessings, to realize what I have, to curb my tendency to always want the next thing. I try.

I try because part of me believes that if only I read enough books, organize enough closets, spend enough time, etc, then my life will fall into place. Then I will be free from all anxiety. Then I will be confident. Then I will feel calm. Oh yes, it can all be mine if only I try harder.

But I am coming to recognize this pattern for the chasing after the wind that it is. Faster and faster I run after my all-important ideals, and, for all my trying, I never seem to get any closer to living them. If anything, I am more anxious and less content with myself after trying, than I was before.

I come to the end of my rope with myself, too. So now I am going to try something new. I am going to ask for help, and let go of the control a little:
Father in Heaven,
you know how much I am prone to running in circles,
and you know how often I forget to appreciate all that I have.
Please give me a calm spirit, and a thankful heart.
I don't want the junk for Nik, and I don't want it for me either.
These things I pray in Jesus' name, Amen
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