Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week 15, Zanna: Secret Acts of Virtue

Exercise:  Each day for a week, engage in a secret act of virtue or kindness.  Do something nice or needed for others, but do so anonymously.  These acts can be simple, like washing someone else's dishes, picking up trash, making an anonymous donation, or leaving chocolate on a co-worker's desk.

As long as I can remember, Secret Acts of Virtue -- and the associated thrill -- have been part of my world.  It started quite innocently in early childhood with May Day baskets.  I would make baskets out of paper cups and pipe cleaners and put candy or whatever was lying around (maybe not so virtuous, I'm pretty sure I gave rocks some times... but they were PRETTY rocks and I meant them as gifts) and then go to the homes of my elderly neighbors, leave a basket, ring the door bell, and then run off.  I didn't want to be thanked for the basket or have attention called to it.  But it gave me a thrill to do something like that and then imagine the response.   I've left secret Valentines, Easter baskets, and Christmas stockings for friends (though, annoyingly, they usually figure it out pretty quickly). Now, it's entirely possible that these things were met with scorn and fear, but in my mind, they all loved everything I left for them. I suppose cats leaving dead birds for their beloved God-Food-Giver-Petting-Machine might feel similarly, but I try not to dwell on such things.
I do sometimes worry that these "Secret Acts" could someday be held as evidence in a stalking case, so I try to vary my targets as much as possible.
This one is tough to blog about.  If I mention the things that I did or tried to do, it takes away from the "secret act" thing. Maybe I should keep a list that can be declassified after I'm gone.  That's not really the point of the exercise though. 
I chalk it up to my mid-western "don't make a scene" upbringing.  "Be nice, but don't you dare think you deserve any credit for anything."
 I'll continue to do these sorts of things whenever the mood strikes. It was harder to think about it on a daily basis, mostly it just comes up... I see a need and I have the means or time to tend to it and so I do.

Week 15 for Juliet: Secret Acts of Virtue

Exercise:  Each day for a week, engage in a secret act of virtue or kindness.  Do something nice or needed for others, but do so anonymously.  These acts can be simple, like washing someone else’s dishes, picking up trash, making an anonymous donation, or leaving chocolate on a co-worker’s desk.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I have long held the belief that when we give something away, whether it is a material thing, or our time or energy, we are the ones that receive the greatest benefit.  When I give something away anonymously I usually feel a rush of pleasure.  For me, the key to this feeling is intention.  This feeling only happens when I make the giving from a place of offering rather than from a place of obligation.  For example, washing someone’s dishes does not feel like an act of virtue to me, but rather an unpleasant daily chore.  Maybe this is a place for some more spiritual growth!

While I did all of these suggested acts of virtue this week, (leaving soup rather than chocolate on a co-worker’s desk) and enjoyed the rush of pleasure of giving something away, what I more keenly noticed was how many of these acts of virtue were performed for me.  I noticed my husband washing the blender out for me after I made my morning smoothie so I have more time to get ready for work.  I noticed my son, helping me carry trash out without being asked to.  I said a silent thank you to the anonymous person who made space for me to pull out into busy traffic.  I felt a warm rush of connection to the woman at Trader Joe’s who stopped to give me a compliment.  All these many small kindnesses that I received over the week that made my heart burst open with gratitude and love.

This exercise reminds me that each of us are in this constant game of exchange with each other that we call relationship.  May we give as good as we get.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Week 14 for Juliet: Loving Eyes

Exercise:  This week, endeavor to look at things and people with loving eyes.  Notice any changes that occur in your eyes, face, body, heart/mind, visual field, and focus when you remember to look with loving eyes.

This week I endeavored first and foremost to remember to make better eye contact with people when I am talking and when I am listening to them.  I first became aware of my habit to converse to the ceiling when I was a Toastmaster.  In my nervousness, I found it easier to concentrate on what I was saying if I didn’t look into anyone’s eyes.  In the years since Toastmasters, I have improved but I still have to remember to make a conscious effort to look into someone’s eyes.

I started my exploration of this exercise this week by looking at myself in the mirror trying to make loving eyes to see what this really looked like.  How do I convey this feeling through the eyes?  Do they get wider or smaller with crinkles in the corner?  Is there a subtle smile involved or a big grin?  How do other people pick up on the non verbal cues of my loving intention?

I decided that there wasn’t really a right answer to these questions.  That to me looking at something with loving eyes wasn’t so much an outward action.  It was looking at someone or something and offering the inward blessing of my love.

It has been a rough week.  My stepfather, Rich has been in the hospital for several days and has had three heart catherazation procedures resulting in four stints being put in his heart to open up severely blocked arteries.  Rich came into my life in my late 20’s when he married my mother, so I have never had to live with him as my parent.  For a lot of reasons, he and I have had a bumpy relationship.  However, I know he loves my mother completely and is a good grandfather to my son.  This knowledge has helped me to see his good points.

So this week I practiced on him.  I gave him my best loving eyes listening to him talk from his hospital bed all week.  I also gave loving eyes to my mother, to the nurses, doctors, visitors, and other support people who came into the room to take care of him.  When my mother called me on Tuesday to tell me that they were finally going home, she paused and told me that Rich wanted to talk to me.  When he came on the phone he told me that he loved me.  I replied that I loved him too.  In my memory this is the first time we have ever said that to each other.

The eyes are windows to the souls.  Give someone the look of love. 

Week 14, Zanna: Loving Eyes.

The Exercise: This week, endeavor to look at things and people with loving eyes. Notice ant changes that occur in your eyes, face, body, heart/mind, visual field, and focus when you remember to look with loving eyes.
I am smiling. No, really. Seemingly
cold indifference means, "I love you"

Compared to the media fast of last week, this was a breeze... but it wasn't nearly so dramatic, so writing it up isn't all that easy.  I tend to look at folks this way anyway (shut up, no... I really do... unless I'm being snarky or sarcastic, but really how often does that happen?)

I didn't notice too much of a change, though, I felt I needed to be careful with "loving eyes" at work.  That can be a Corporate Compliance issue. I was a little more sensitive this week, and seeing sad child eyes on Easter just about sent me over the edge.

I have to be very aware of what my eye expressions are at home around my cats. I'm an honorary member of an indoor feral cat colony, so I've had to learn to communicate. Most of the time I'm at home I try to keep my face relaxed and my eyes slightly slit, because, in cat world, that's code for "We're cool. I won't eat you. Promise."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week 13, Zanna: A Media Fast

The Exercise: For one week, do not take in any media. This includes news media, social media, and entertainment.  Do not listen to the radio, iPod, or CDs; don't watch TV, films, or videos; don't read newspapers, books, or magazines (whether online or in print form); don't surf the Internet; don't check on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. 
You don't have to plug your ears if someone tells you about a news event, but do avoid being drawn into a conversation about the news.  If people insist, tell them about your unusual fast.  You may, of course, do reading that is necessary for work or school.
What to do instead?  Part of this mindfulness practice is discovering alternatives to consuming media.

As I confessed back in February, in a statement surprising absolutely no one who has ever met and/or heard of me:  Hi.  My name is Zanna, and I'm a mediaholic. This is the week that, when flipping through the book at the start of all this, I dreaded the most.  A whole week without TV.  A whole week without listening to music in the car (or anywhere else, the car is just the one that could be potentially life threatening).  A whole week without facebook!!  So, I removed my fb and Words with Friends and anything else tempting from my phone. I let my battery die on my iPod.  I shut down my netbook and put it away.
As expected, this was a good bit more difficult than any of the other things we've done so far. Happy to report it wasn't catastrophically bad, but you may notice that this is being published first thing in the morning rather than later in the day.  I'm done with it.  I want my MTV (OK, not really, MTV has sucked since they stopped playing music... and likely before that too, but I was young). 
The good things to report from the week:  I got a lot more sleep.  I went to bed around 9 most evenings.  Normally "just finish this show" or "let me check fb" keeps me up way past my bed time.  My house is clean. I took all the books off the bookshelves in the library and rearranged and dusted.  This is much easier to do when not distracted by the media... but I wished every second of it that I had music to listen to.  I didn't fall asleep on the interstate at 6:30 am on my way to work, but it was close.
The bad things to report from the week:  Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Unpleasant thought!!! AH! Don't leave me alone inside my head!! Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.  I almost fell asleep on the interstate every commuting morning because of the lack of anything but road and wind noise  to keep me company.
The ugly truth: I really technically failed to actually "fast".  I did pretty well at avoiding facebook, and that turned out to be not as traumatic as I thought it would be.  For a variety of reasons, I needed to keep email and texting available.  I caught myself surfing a number of times.  The little side bar headlines would catch my attention and before I consciously knew what was happening, I was clicking on news stories, and then the "you might also enjoy"s.   I watched my company's news videos... which I guess are technically "necessary" to do my job... but it was mostly just to see moving pictures and hear sound.  I couldn't make my husband fast with me, so he got two levels ahead of me on Skyrim... and I watched it happen.  I didn't play, but watching was technically entertainment (though, in my defense, watching other people play video games is not really usually all that exciting, especially when they're leveling up in blacksmithing). 
The "Final Words" of the exercise in the book were: "A steady diet of negative news makes the mind ill.  Give the mind the good medicine of silence, beauty, and loving friendship"

Maybe.  But I don't know that what I was receiving was a "steady diet of negative news".  More likely a steady diet of LOLCats and George Takei musings. 

Week 13 for Juliet: A Media Fast

The exercise:  For one week do not take in any media.  This includes news media, social media, and entertainment.  Do not listen to the radio, iPod, or CDs, don’t watch TV, films, or videos, don’t read books or magazines, and don’t check your Facebook or Twitter feed.  

When Zanna and I first looked through this book and decided to do the exercises, this was the week I dreaded the most.  I will tell you now that I tried my best to convince her to skip this week or to bend the rules.  I whined that I was at an ashram all last week for goodness sake and had not really had any access to the internet while I was there.  Surely that counted for something?  Being the rule stickler that she is, she insisted that we do it although I know deep down she didn’t want to do it either.  So we suffered together through the week of media fasting.

Since I work on a computer all day and live with a family who doesn’t want to media fast, I knew I would have to make some concessions.  I decided to list out what I thought I could commit to and what the exceptions were.  For example, I would not listen to music in the car, but would play it in my yoga classes; I could use the computer for work, to pay my bills, and to check my email, but no Facebook, no internet shopping, and no surfing of any kind.

For the most part, I did pretty well.  I found that I really missed Facebook the most.  Toward the end of this week, I confess that I did go to Facebook a few times to sneak a peek at the newsfeed.  I made myself do it mindfully and quickly, and felt a guilty afterward.  I missed hearing what was going on with my friends.  It is fascinating to me how social media has become so ingrained in my life and the life of others.

The second hardest thing was working out at the gym without my own entertainment to distract me.  The TV is always on in the gym, but personally I consider watching ESPN to be torture rather than entertainment.  It has been especially tortuous the last few days since I was forced to watch a golf tournament.  Please, can you play a commercial?  Anything but golf!

I also conceded that the TV would be on in my house and I didn’t want to isolate myself from my family to follow the media fast.  I don’t watch much TV, so this was pretty much business as usual.  Like usual, sometimes I got stuck watching American Pickers (Adam) and other times I luck out and get to watch Game of Thrones (Tim). 

During this media fast, I have also started my twice a year 21 Day Detox.  During this time I follow a non-processed diet, consisting mostly of fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains.  No caffeine, no sugar, no gluten, no alcohol.  There is a great similarity between this detox and my media fast.  Both fasts are a reminder that the food and media we consume have an impact on the health of our bodies and minds.  Both fasts have the end desire to nourish our bodies and minds with things that truly feed us; not numb us or block us from a full enjoyment of life.